Jan
16
  • Former Wallaby back from the wilderness

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    It’s not quite hell and back, but former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles has endured quite the journey trying to revive his Super Rugby career.

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    Hoiles has been to Sweden and back.

    “My father and I flew over. We had about 11 flights in 11 days,” he told AAP.

    “It was like a massive trek to get there and then I was back out of there about five days later.”

    But it’s mission accomplished after the 32-year-old globetrotted on a wing and a prayer hoping last-ditch surgery on his troublesome achilles tendon could get him back on the paddock for the first time since 2010.

    The gamble paid off, with Hoiles making two appearances for Randwick in Sydney club rugby last August to earn a training contract with the NSW Waratahs.

    Painstaking research, doctors and former coaches pointed him to Dr Hakan Alfredson, who Hoiles hailed as “if not the best, then one of the best tendon surgeons in the world”.

    “He just deals with chronic cases or people who are a little bit left of centre.”

    Hoiles was definitely that, if not at his wits’ end after being frustrated by an injury that started as a “stiff foot” from double training loads with the Brumbies and the Wallabies midway through 2010.

    Clean-up surgery at the end of that season was meant to sideline the classy back-rower for 12 weeks.

    But he’s been in the wilderness since.

    Apart from the emotional toll its had on Hoiles, who couldn’t even chase his two young children on the beach without pulling up sore, the former Brumbies captain has also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost earnings.

    “I had to leave Canberra because of it because I had another year left on my contract and Jake White wasn’t really happy coming into the side with the captain potentially not going to play for the whole year,” he said.

    After two unsuccessful six-month rehab programs at the AIS, Hoiles emailed Dr Alfredson last January and was on a flight two weeks later for surgery.

    “I was either going to go over there and he’d tell me that it’s unrepairable and that I’m done, or he’d be able to fix it,” Hoiles said.

    “So either way, it was going to be closure. If it was no good, I could accept that. I’d have given it every shot.”

    Dr Alfredson asked Hoiles to run up and down on the spot to aggravate the injury before an ultrasound identified a loose bone fragment in his foot.

    “Then he split me down the back of my heel, opened me up and cleaned it up while I was awake,” Hoiles said.

    “It was probably a two-hour operation but, after pretty much two-and-a-half, three years of utter frustration because of it, it’s all sorted now.”

    Hoiles has completed 10 weeks of intense off-season training with the Waratahs without needing achilles treatment even once.

    His only focus now is on the Waratahs’ February 1 trial against the Melbourne Rebels in Albury.

    “There’s been no guarantees, no promises,” he said.

    “I don’t know where it’s going to lead me footy-wise. I’ve got to work pretty hard to try and get an opportunity to play here because there’s a lot of guys in front of me.

    “But I still believe that the years I missed may be a bit of a blessing for me.

    “I still feel like I’ve got a couple of good years in me at least.”

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Jan
16
  • Indonesia warns anew on boat turnbacks

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    Indonesia has again warned the federal government against asylum-seeker turnbacks following reports the Australian Navy secretly turned around at least one boat in recent weeks.

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    Reports from Indonesia and Australia say an Ashmore Island-bound boat was turned back either in December or on Monday – or possibly on both occasions – and subsequently became stranded on Rote Island, near West Timor.

    The Indonesian reports quoted local police, while Fairfax Media cited unnamed Australian Defence sources and the Indonesian water police.

    Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not comment on the conflicting reports for “operational security reasons”, despite the coalition having a pre-election policy to turn boats back when safe.

    Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also refused to comment on the specifics when asked about the reports on Tuesday.

    “But as a policy, I shall repeat this once again: Indonesia rejects and is against the policy of boat turnbacks because it’s not a solution,” he told reporters in Jakarta, speaking in Indonesian.

    Agus Barnas, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Politics, Law and Security – which has responsibility for people smuggling – said he was unaware of any turnbacks.

    He said Indonesia was still observing a moratorium on co-operating with Australia on people-smuggling after last year’s spying scandal.

    “So far, there’s no policy that the co-operation would resume,” Mr Barnas said.

    “The talk on forming a code of conduct is still in process.”

    Speculation about possible boat turnbacks follows a stand-off in November when Australia tried to force a vessel back into Indonesian waters.

    The Abbott government backed down after Indonesia refused to accept the asylum seekers, who were eventually transferred to Christmas Island.

    Mr Morrison says that Australia respects Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty “and will continue to do so”.

    “It is not the policy or practice of the Australian government to violate Indonesian territorial sovereignty,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

    Dr Natalegawa said Indonesia’s relationship with Australia was still in a “difficult phase” in the wake of the spying revelations.

    But he said he was in daily contact with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in an effort to repair the damage.

    “What’s needed is a gradual process of restoration of confidence or trust, and this is where we are just now,” he said.

    The Greens want Mr Morrison to provide details of any turnback operation, saying the lives of asylum seekers could have been endangered.

    “These people could have drowned,” Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

    “How many other boats has this occurred to that we’ve never heard about?”

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Jan
16
  • Women’s drawcards crash in Sydney

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    Refusing to panic, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki insist they remain Australian Open contenders despite making premature exits from the Sydney International.

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    Radwanska slipped up 7-5 6-3 against American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, marking the first time in the professional era that the women’s champion has bombed out in her opening match of her title defence.

    Wozniacki, the sixth seed, followed her out the exit gates later on Tuesday with a 6-4 7-6 (9-7) second-round loss to Czech Lucie Safarova.

    Radwanska is adamant she remains an Open threat despite having not won a competitive match since October and also seemingly carrying a shoulder injury.

    The world No.5 received treatment on her serving shoulder during last week’s Hopman Cup in Perth and, while loath to blame the injury for her loss to the 48th-ranked Mattek-Sands, admitted it was still bothering her.

    “Maybe a little bit, but I have good painkillers,” Radwanska said.

    The non-sanctioned Hopman Cup aside, Radwanska hasn’t won a set – let alone a match – in more than two months after also losing all three of her round-robin encounters at the season-ending championships in Istanbul.

    The former Wimbledon runner-up’s run of outs is a far cry from last year when the Pole arrived at Melbourne Park for the season’s first grand slam riding a nine-match winning streak after picking up back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney.

    But the 24-year-old isn’t concerned, claiming four wins at the Hopman Cup exhibition event is proof enough she’s not playing badly.

    “Every week is different story. You start over and over again,” Radwanska said.

    “You’re not winning every week every match. I think just couple of guys can do it.”

    Wozniacki was the last Sydney champion not to win a match in her title defence – back in 2011 – but insisted her latest defeat was no setback ahead of the Open getting underway in Melbourne on Monday.

    “I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” the Dane said.

    “Yeah, I should be ready for Melbourne.”

    Mattek-Sands’ surprise second-round win – after she beat higher-ranked Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and Radwanska enjoyed a first-round bye – thrust her into a quarter-final with fellow American Madison Keys, a 6-0 3-6 7-6 (7-4) victor over Croatian wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic.

    Czech second seed Petra Kvitova and German fifth seed Angelique Kerber avoided the carnage to safely progress to the quarter-finals.

    Kvitova thrashed US qualifier Christine McHale 6-1 6-0 in one hour neat to book a last-eight date with Safarova, while Kerber downed big-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

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Feb
17
  • Female detectives have problems too

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    Female detectives can have drinking problems, affairs and a partner waiting at home to save them, so why should men get all the good roles?

    That was the reasoning behind British actresses Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay pitching the UKTV series Scott & Bailey.

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    The pair believed it was time to start exploring the personal and professional lives of female detectives and that’s what they’ve done in a riveting and gritty police drama.

    Jones plays detective constable Rachel Bailey and the other lead role is held by Lesley Sharp who plays detective constable Janet Scott.

    Lindsay is Alison Bailey, the sister of Rachel, who is married with children and is constantly concerned about the welfare of their brother who is in jail for armed robbery.

    The series has been a hit in the UK with some seven million viewers tuning in per episode and the second season of Scott & Bailey starts on Foxtel’s UKTV on February 15.

    Jones says the series has lived up to her and Lindsay’s expectations although the pair has taken a secondary role when it comes to writing the series.

    “I felt we needed three dimensional characters, professional women who had some male traits because a lot of the parts are great for men,” Jones told AAP from Manchester where the series is filmed.

    “The great (TV) detectives have drink issues, they have affairs, they’re dark and forbodden there’s usually a wife in their home life who puts them together.

    “I felt it would be interesting to have young professionals women who had all those traits and had a life on the outside as well.

    “That’s why when we did this we had to see them at home and see how, working in a male and dark environment, what that is like to take it home.”

    There were only six episodes in the first season, which launched with more than nine million viewers in the UK in 2011, although that has since been bumped up to eight episodes a season.

    Jones said the smaller number of episodes allows the writers to evenly balance the story arc between home and work life.

    She said if they took a conventional Hollywood approach and made more than a dozen per season, the series would not have a big impact or delve as deeply into their personal lives.

    “Ours is a mix of professional and home life and it’s good to get short snippets and then come back to it a year later when we have moved on a little bit,” Jones said.

    “I don’t know how 13 episodes or more would sustain a home life and a professional life because you had have to do a story of the week and then an arc of a big murder.”

    Jones said even if she wanted to be heavily involved in the production and writing for the series she just wouldn’t have the time.

    She’s rehearsing for a play in the UK, having just come off filming two different TV series, and she heads back into production for the fourth season of Scott & Bailey in April.

    “There isn’t much time to get too involved in that,” Jones said,]

    “At the end of each season we get asked what we think, if we want to do another season and where the characters are going.

    “Amelia (Bullmore) who plays Gill Murray in the series is now writing and they know the characters well, so it’s exciting to go back after seven months and see what they’ve come up with.”

    * Scott & Bailey (season two) starts on Saturday, February 15 at 8.30pm on UKTV.

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Feb
17
  • US to unveil $300mn in Afghan aid

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    The United States will unveil $US300 million ($A336 million) in new aid initiatives for Afghanistan as the war economy winds down and global troops withdraw.

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    The programmes will be announced on Monday and are being rolled out by the US Agency for International Development.

    The first tranche of some $US77 million ($A86 million) aims to enhance trade and fiscal sustainability to support Afghanistan’s accession to the World Trade Organization later this year.

    “Peer-reviewed articles suggest that if countries like Afghanistan make the regulatory reforms required to achieve WTO accession, they will typically see a net jump in GDP of 20 per cent within the first five years,” a State Department official told AFP.

    The programme will help support trade deals with Central Asian republics and India, and aid the government to boost its revenues through implementing such things as value added tax.

    A second, $US92 million ($A103 million) five-year programme will help develop a more skilled workforce, partnering American universities with 10 Afghan universities. This went into force on January 1.

    The third initiative worth some $US120 million ($A134 million) will support Afghanistan’s agriculture sector, focusing especially on areas such as wheat and livestock, improving job opportunities and food security.

    “Among other things, this programme is expected to eventually benefit 400,000 farmers from access to better technology and marketing and produce a 20 per cent increase in yields for wheat and target crops,” the official said.

    News of the programmes come as Congress has conditioned further aid assistance to Afghanistan on the signing of a bilateral security deal to guarantee the presence of US troops after all combat forces pull out this year.

    More than 50,000 combat troops from the US-led NATO force are due to leave by the end of 2014.

    But Washington is proposing that around 10,000 US soldiers are deployed from 2015 to train and assist Afghan security forces in their battle against Taliban militants.

    German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived Sunday in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit and urged President Hamid Karzai to sign the long-delayed security pact with the United States.

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Feb
17
  • Amaretto adds Italian touch to Valentine’s

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    It’s given the world the Screaming Orgasm and is a liqueur steeped in legend and romance.

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    Whatever it’s mixed with, Amaretto adds an Italian accent to any recipe through its combination of apricot pits, herbs, alcohol and burnt sugar.

    The amber liqueur’s origins can be traced to the northern Lombardy town of Saronno. The original Amaretto Disaronno (pronounced Dee-saronno not Diss-aronno) dates back to 1525 with the name meaning “from Saronno” and Amaretto a diminutive of amaro which translates as “a little bitter”.

    In true Italian style the creation of Amaretto is a love story.

    The legend goes that a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Saronno church to paint a fresco of the Madonna of the Miracles. To portray Madonna, the artist Bernardino Luini chose a beautiful young innkeeper with whom he fell passionately in love. As a mark of her affection the woman presented him with a gift of apricot kernels in brandy, and Amaretto was born.

    The innkeeper’s closely guarded recipe was passed down over generations and during the early 20th century, Domenico Reina rediscovered the recipe and opened a store in the heart of Saronno. Reina’s store is widely credited as where Disaronno Originale was first sold commercially.

    Disaronno is also famous for its distinctive Murano-designed square flask which was first introduced in 1942.

    Primarily an after-dinner drink, Amaretto can be used for desserts such as tiramisu and even added to enhance the flavour of chicken and meat dishes.

    Whatever your choice, Amaretto’s aroma and flavour oozes European mystique and is a pleasurable Valentine’s Day tipple.

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    Here are two cocktails for Valentine sweethearts keen to practice their mixology skills.

    The ‘three Rs’ cocktail uses Spain’s Freixenet Cordon Rosado with Amaretto to tantalise the tastebuds:

    ROSE, ROMANCE & ROSADO

    25ml Amaretto, three fresh strawberries, Freixenet Cordon Rosado.

    Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Muddle the strawberries and pour the puree in the shaker. Add the Amaretto and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and top with Freixenet Cordon Rosado. Garnish with an edible rose petal.

    For those looking for something more indulgent with a sweet finish, try the retro Screaming Orgasm.

    THE SCREAMING ORGASM

    38ml Vodka

    38ml Kahlua

    38ml Amaretto

    38ml Baileys Irish cream liqueur

    38ml Double cream

    38ml milk

    Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into glass filled with crushed ice. Tip: use a high quality vodka as cheap vodka can cause the Bailey’s to curdle.

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Feb
17
  • New Zealand drop pair over late-night drinking antics

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    New Zealand coach Mike Hesson told reporters in Auckland on Monday that team officials had lost confidence in the pair and they would not be considered for the Wellington match, although Bracewell was already ruled out with a broken foot.

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    “We need to make sure that all our players prepare themselves accordingly for test cricket, and at the moment we don’t have confidence that that’s the case,” Hesson said of the visit to an Auckland bar until the early hours of Thursday.

    “Both Jesse and Doug did not prepare themselves well for the test match and we’re certainly very disappointed about that.

    “We’re dealing with grown men. If a player was to have a beer with their meal before a game, we don’t have an issue with that at all.

    “But there’s a big difference between that and what occurred the night before the test match.”

    New Zealand won the first match of the two-test series by 40 runs late on the fourth day on Sunday and Hesson was annoyed that Ryder and Bracewell’s behaviour was still detracting from that performance.

    “The fact that we’ve won a test match yesterday and the fact the first few questions are based around off-field incidents is clearly an extreme disappointment for the team,” Hesson said.

    “It takes away from a superb effort over the last four days.”

    Batsman Ryder and bowling all-rounder Bracewell had not been in the starting team for the clash at Eden Park but had been expected to be ready to play last Thursday.

    Bracewell was on standby in case one of the bowlers got injured in the final warm-ups while Ryder had to be ready to come into the team for Ross Taylor, whose wife is expected to give birth to their second child this week.

    CHEQUERED PAST

    Until last week’s indiscretion, Ryder had been expected to be included in the starting side at the Basin Reserve for the February 14-18 clash as Taylor can not be replaced once the game started.

    Hesson added that Bracewell’s broken foot had meant he would not have been available for the second test anyway. New Zealand are due to announce the side on Tuesday.

    New Zealand Cricket (NZC) is still investigating how the 23-year-old suffered the injury after he had taken a full part in training last Wednesday.

    The duo have had a chequered past with cricket officials.

    They were both disciplined for going to a bar on the eve of a one-day international in Napier in February 2012 and getting involved in a verbal altercation with a member of the public.

    While both were injured at the time and not expected to play, the team said they had breached strict rules around recovery from injury.

    Ryder went into self-imposed exile after that incident and spent almost two years away from the international game as he attempted to put his life back together off the field.

    He returned to the national side last December for the limited-overs series against West Indies, having served a six-month doping ban and survived an assault that left him in a coma with serious head injuries.

    Hesson said Ryder had not breached team protocols since his return to the national side until last week.

    The incident was still under investigation by NZC and a decision then will be made on whether they face a code of conduct charge.

    (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Feb
17
  • TV highlights for Tues, Feb 11

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    PARENTHOOD – SEVEN, 9.

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    45pm

    A sitcom featuring three generations of a family will of course draw comparisons to the hit comedy Modern Family, but as with all families, Parenthood is its own unique beast, with an extra dose of drama. It stars Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Craig T. Nelson (Coach) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) and follows the ups and downs and exploits of the rather large Braverman family. Tonight, Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmin (Joy Bryant) are still struggling with the reality of a baby. Meanwhile, Kristina (Monica Potter) and Adam (Krause) deal with a new dynamic with her campaign, while Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) argue.

    2 BROKE GIRLS – NINE, 9.30pm

    When this a-little-bit-naughty sitcom premiered in 2011, many people probably didn’t give it more than a season before it disappeared. Featuring Kat Dennings as street-smart Max and Beth Behrs as rich-girl-fallen-on-hard-times Caroline, the comedy has been called racist and crude, but three seasons later, it’s still kicking on. And, in truth, if you don’t mind a smattering of swear words, innuendo and low-brow jokes, this sprightly show really is a harmlessly fun slice of entertainment. Tonight, Caroline’s romantic tryst with chef Nicholas (Gilles Marini) hits a sour note when she makes an interesting discovery about him.

    HOW TO LIVE WITH YOUR PARENTS (FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE) – ELEVEN, 9.00pm

    If you read the title of this show and thought, “Gee. Now, that’s a great idea” you are definitely in the wrong spot. No, this isn’t a documentary series dedicated to instructing the lazy among us about how they can get away with never paying rent again. Nor is it a tongue-in-cheek look at how many parents are stuck with their adult kids at home much longer than they had planned – but perhaps it should have been. This is another half-baked American sitcom. It stars Sarah Chalke (How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs) as strict mother Polly, who is forced to move back in with her crazy parents (Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett) after her divorce.

    EASY A (2010) – GO!, 9.30pm

    Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Penn Badgley. After a little white lie about losing her virginity gets out, clean-cut high school girl Olive (Emma Stone) sees her life paralleling the fallen Hester Prynne’s in the 19th-century novel The Scarlet Letter – until she decides to use the rumour mill to advance her social and financial standing. Maintaining her chastity throughout the film, Olive rakes in gifts and money for “pretending” to have sex with various nerds at school, who are also keen to improve their reputations. Stone is fantastic in the lead role and comedy gems are provided by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s quirky parents. Former teen favourite Amanda Bynes also stars as a religious nut.

    BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) – GEM, 9.30pm (AV15+)

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly. Leonardo DiCaprio went two for two in 2006 with his great performance in The Departed, followed by an equally striking effort in this Edward Zwick stirring action-drama. DiCaprio plays cold-hearted South African diamond smuggler Danny, caught in a crossfire of moral conflict in civil war-stricken Sierra Leone. Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly are part of his quest to possess a priceless stone. Blood Diamond has a lot in common with The Constant Gardener – also structured around the wages of war in Africa – but lacks its subtlety. On the flipside, the action is thunderous and the heroics are genuinely exciting.

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Jan
17
  • NZ property values rise at slower pace

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    The increase in New Zealand property values has slowed, suggesting restrictions on high debt lending and looming interest rate rises may have prompted buyer caution.

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    Values increased at a 9.6 per cent annual pace in January, lagging December’s 10 per cent rate, according to state valuer Quotable Value (QV).

    Nationwide values increased 0.3 per cent in January from December, when they increased 1.3 per cent, the agency said.

    The Reserve Bank of New Zealand introduced loan-to-value (LVR) mortgage lending restrictions on October 1 on concern rapidly accelerating house prices in Auckland and Christchurch may lead to an asset bubble and cause financial instability.

    The central bank is expected to start hiking interest rates from next month to cool the economy as inflation accelerates.

    “Property value growth has slowed down in the first month of the year,” QV research director Jonno Ingerson said in a statement on Monday.

    “While this is the first month that values appear to have slowed, and generally we would wait for subsequent months before claiming a trend, the timing does align to the LVR speed limits.

    “The predicted increase in mortgage interest rates in the near future are likely to also slow down values further.

    “This may, in fact, already be affecting buyer confidence and contributing to the slowing we are seeing.”

    Values in Auckland increased at a 14.5 per cent annual pace in January while Christchurch values rose 12 per cent, compared with an 11.7 per cent gain for main urban areas.

    In provincial areas, values are variable with some experiencing growth, others remaining stable and in some cases a decline, QV said.

    Nationwide, prices are 12.8 per cent above the previous market peak of late 2007.

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Jan
17
  • The oldest star discovery tells much about the early universe

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    By Stefan Keller, Australian National University

    The discovery of an ancient star formed 13.

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    7-billion years ago just after the Big Bang is telling us much about the early universe.

    The star – designated SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 – lies within our Milky Way galaxy and a mere (relatively) 6,000 light years away but is the oldest known star discovered so far, we’re announcing in an paper published in Nature.

    By studying the light from this star in detail we have, for the first time, seen the chemical fingerprint of the first stars to form in the universe.

    The telltale sign that the star is so ancient is the complete absence of any detectable level of iron in the spectrum of light emerging from the star.

    Starlight shines

    Starlight percolates out from the hydrogen fusion reactions taking place in the star’s interior and as it passes through the outer layers, the atoms of elements present absorb light at specific wavelengths.

    The spectrum of starlight has imprinted on it a unique chemical fingerprint of absorption lines that tells us what elements are present in it, and how abundant they are.

    In the case of the Sun there are literally millions of absorption lines arising from a broad range of elements, from the ubiquitous hydrogen and helium to iron and rare elements such as europium.

    The spectrum of the star we have discovered shows only a handful of elements – hydrogen, carbon, magnesium, and calcium. This star is made to a recipe that is remarkably different to that of our Sun, and that can tell us a lot about how and when it was formed.

    Back at the Big Bang

    The Big Bang gave rise to a universe filled with hydrogen, helium, and a trace of lithium. All the other elements that we see around us today – those fundamental to life – were made in stars.

    As stars struggle against the inward pull of gravity they fuse hydrogen to helium, helium to carbon and oxygen. If massive enough a star continues fusion on to iron.

    At the end of a massive star’s life these products are then recycled back into the surrounding gas through a supernova explosion.

    Any old iron?

    The iron level of the universe increases with time as successive generations of stars form and die. We can use the iron abundance of a star as a qualitative “clock” telling us when the star was formed.

    In the case of the star we have announced, the amount of iron present is less than one millionth that of the Sun, and a factor of at least 60 times less than any other star. This indicates that our star is the most ancient yet found.

    Stars are like time capsules, they lock away a sample of gas from which they form. In the case of the star we have discovered, this has enabled us to study in detail a sample of gas from approximately 13.6 billion years ago.

    This is so long ago that the star predates the formation of the Milky Way. It likely formed in a small cloud of gas and eventually many of such clouds fell together under gravity to form the grand spiral galaxy we call home.

    This star has born silent witness to 99% of the life of the universe – it has spun impervious, slowly converting hydrogen into helium as demanded by gravity.

    What are older stars made of?

    The chemistry of the gas shows that our star formed in the wake of a primordial star around 60 times the mass of the Sun that died in a supernova explosion. This supernova explosion was radically different to those supernova that occur today.

    The explosion was of surprisingly low energy, such that although the star disintegrated, almost all of the heavier elements, such as iron, that form near the core of the star, were swallowed by a black hole formed at the heart of the explosion.

    The shockwave from the dead primordial star spread its outer layers, enriched with carbon and magnesium formed over its lifetime, into the surrounding gas. Some of this gas subsequently condensed leading to the star we have discovered.

    In this way, our star is a member of the second generation of stars in the universe and is unique in that it unambiguously incorporates material from the first stellar generation.

    The early stars

    The first generation of stars to light up the universe are understood to be fundamentally different from the generations that followed. Formed from the pristine hydrogen and helium of the Big Bang, the first stars were massive, hundreds of times the mass of the Sun.

    Without iron and molecules of carbon and oxygen, condensing stars cooled very slowly and small stars could not form. A first generation of mammoth stars lived fast and died after only a few million years (compare this to the nine-billion year lifetime of the Sun).

    For this reason we don’t expect to find any member of the first star generation today. But we can use the forensic evidence left in the wake of their explosive deaths – as encapsulated in the second-generation stars such as the one we have found – to describe what they were like.

    Finding the oldest stars is very much a needle in a haystack search. Our star was one of 60-million stars in our search.

     

    The SkyMapper telescope fundamental to our discovery, seen here under the Milky Way. James Gilbert/Australian Astronomical Observatory

     

    To cleanly separate the oldest stars from the vast bulk of pedestrian stars is made possible by the SkyMapper telescope operated by the Australian National University from our dark-sky site at Siding Spring Observatory, near Coonabarabran, NSW.

    The optical filters used in SkyMapper enable us to find stars with low iron from their colour. With a large digital camera such as SkyMapper’s we can screen 100,000 stars per hour. Using SkyMapper we continue to map the southern sky every clear night.

    Our best candidates are then examined in great detail using one of the twin 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile.

    A dozen left?

    We expect that there may be only as few as a dozen other ancient stars to be found. Bringing these stars to light will allow us to characterise the population of the first stars and obtain insight into an era of cosmic evolution hidden from modern telescopes: the switching on of the first stars.

    This was a turning point in the history of the universe. They mark the transition from warm, dark gas to one capable of generating material for rocky planets and life.

    Stefan Keller receives funding from the ARC

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Jan
17
  • Is the end of smoking nigh in the US?

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    They have long wished for a cigarette-free America, but shied away from calling for smoking rates to fall to zero or near zero by any particular year.

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    The power of tobacco companies and popularity of their products made such a goal seem like a pipe dream.

    But a confluence of changes has recently prompted public health leaders to start throwing around phrases like “endgame” and “tobacco-free generation.” Now, they talk about the slowly-declining adult smoking rate dropping to 10 per cent in the next decade and to five per cent or lower by 2050.

    Acting US Surgeon General Boris Lushniak last month released a 980-page report on smoking that pushed for stepped-up tobacco-control measures. His news conference was an unusually animated showing of anti-smoking bravado, with Lushniak nearly yelling, repeatedly, “Enough is enough!”

    “I can’t accept that we’re just allowing these numbers to trickle down,” he said, in an interview with the AP. “We believe we have the public health tools to get us to the zero level.”

    This is not the first time a US health official has spoken so boldly. In 1984, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called for a “smoke-free society” by the year 2000. However, Koop – a bold talker on many issues – didn’t offer specifics on how to achieve such a goal.

    “What’s different today is that we have policies and programs that have been proven to drive down tobacco use,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We couldn’t say that in 1984.”

    Among the things that have changed:

    – US cigarette taxes have increased, making smokes more expensive. Though prices vary from state to state, on average a pack of cigarettes that would have sold for about $US1.75 ($A1.96) 20 years ago would cost more than triple that now.

    – Laws banning smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces have popped up all over America. Airline flights have long been off-limits for smoking.

    – Polls show that cigarette smoking is no longer considered normal behaviour, and is now less popular among teens than marijuana.

    – Federal officials are increasingly aggressive about anti-smoking advertising. The Food and Drug Administration launched a new youth tobacco prevention campaign last week. At about the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention debuted a third, $US60 million round of its successful anti-tobacco ad campaign – this one featuring poignant, deathbed images of a woman featured in earlier ads.

    – Tobacco companies, once considered impervious to legal attack, have suffered some huge defeats in court. Perhaps the biggest was the 1998 settlement of a case brought by more than 40 states demanding compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. Big Tobacco agreed to pay about $US200 billion and curtail marketing of cigarettes to youths.

    – Retailing of cigarettes is changing, too. CVS Caremark, the second-largest US pharmacy chain, announced last week it will stop selling tobacco products at its more than 7600 stores. The company said it made the decision in a bid to focus more on providing health care, but medical and public health leaders predicted pressure will increase on companies like Walgreen and Wal-Mart Stores to follow suit.

    “I do think, in another few years, that pharmacies selling cigarettes will look as anachronistic” as old cigarette ads featuring physician endorsements look today, said CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden.

    These developments have made many in public health dream bigger. It’s caused Myers’ organisation and others to recently tout the goal of bringing the adult smoking rate down to 10 per cent by 2024, from the current 18 per cent. That would mean dropping it at twice the speed it declined over the last 10 years.

    The bigger goal is to reduce US smoking-related deaths to fewer than 10,000, from the current level of 480,000. But even if smoking rates dropped to zero immediately, it would take decades to see that benefit, since smoking-triggered cancers can take decades to develop.

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Jan
17
  • RET review hangs over clean energy sector

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    Rumour and innuendo is causing grief in Australia’s renewable energy sector, an industry that craves certainty yet has found little in recent times.

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    The Abbott government’s planned review this year of the renewable energy target is fanning fierce speculation about the future of the scheme, none of it especially rosy.

    There’s talk that the RET – which mandates that 20 per cent of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2020 – could be revised down, or worse still, scrapped altogether.

    All the dark gossip – and so far, that’s all it is – has sent an industry familiar with investor skittishness into overdrive.

    “It’s fairly paralysing,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance Australia head Kobad Bhavnagri told AAP.

    “The uncertainty is nothing new, although I don’t think it’s ever been this acute.”

    Analysts say businesses are finding it hard to finance projects, with investors spooked the review will lead to a policy change.

    The government insists it remains committed to the RET and hasn’t announced the scope of the review, but industry isn’t too reassured by what it is hearing.

    Talk of “sensible adjustments” have been sounding out from the frontbench, with mounting speculation the target could be halved.

    Some of the scheme’s more strident opponents – such as veteran Nationals MP Ron Boswell – are calling on government to ditch it entirely.

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he supports the “sensible use” of renewables, but is concerned the RET is driving up domestic power prices.

    “We’ve got to accept though that in the changed circumstances of today, the renewable energy target is causing pretty significant price pressure in the system,” he said late last year.

    That set alarm bells ringing, and not without reason.

    Since being elected, the government has cut $435 million from the nation’s clean energy agency ARENA, and ordered the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop financing renewable projects.

    But energy analysts agree abolishing the RET would be truly disastrous for the renewables sector in Australia.

    “If the renewable energy target… were to be abolished tomorrow, investment in large-scale renewables would cease and the majority of companies concerned with that would close,” Bhavnagri said.

    The importance of the scheme to the industry can’t be underestimated.

    Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said the RET has underpinned the entire renewables industry in Australia for the past decade, creating thousands of jobs and driving billions in investment.

    “Every large-scale project built in Australia has been built as a result of the RET,” he told AAP.

    The figures speak for themselves. Australian businesses and households alike have a proven appetite for renewables.

    By the end of 2011, about $10.5 billion had been invested in large-scale renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms.

    Just last month, the government’s Clean Energy Regulator announced that Australia had installed more than two million small-scale renewable energy systems like solar panels.

    More and more renewable energy is being generated at a time when – for the first time in decades – demand for electricity is actually falling in Australia.

    By 2020 it’s expected renewable power will actually make up more than 20 per cent of the energy mix, prompting calls for the target to be readjusted or the time frame extended to 2025.

    Critics say clean energy is expensive and unnecessarily hikes power bills.

    This is a concern for Abbott, who wants Australia to be an “affordable energy capital” and has commissioned an energy white paper to find ways to lower electricity costs.

    Despite the speculation, not everyone is jumping the gun.

    “I think those scenarios of shutting down the RET or substantially reducing it are unlikely,” Thornton said.

    For one, the RET has been enormously successful in reducing carbon emissions, a fact acknowledged recently by Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

    More than once it’s been called Australia’s largest and most successful carbon abatement policy, one that could significantly assist the government in meeting its five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020.

    Sustainable Energy Association head Kirsten Rose said told a recent Senate inquiry the RET would be crucial to the success of the government’s direct action plan, and do most of the heavy lifting.

    “Any move to relax the RET will mean that the emissions reduction hurdle will only be higher for the government’s direct action policy and therefore more costly,” she said.

    Others believe the scheme won’t be touched because the review will expose what the industry has claimed for some time – that the RET is not a primary factor in increasing power prices.

    “Renewable energy is actually helping to keep wholesale energy prices low and therefore having a very very negligible impact on retail electricity prices,” Thornton argues.

    Bhavnagri agrees, pointing to Bloomberg analysis that shows reducing the RET would have “zero to little” impact on lowering power prices.

    Labor senses the argument about power prices is really a cover for a broader attack by those ideologically opposed to renewables – namely traditional coal and gas companies and Abbott’s top business adviser Maurice Newman.

    It argues the government is deliberately trying to mislead the Australian public that the renewable energy target is driving up power prices.

    “But Australians are smarter than Tony Abbott thinks,” a spokesperson for shadow environment minister Mark Butler told AAP.

    The industry is playing the long game. It doesn’t like policy change, but it hates the constant disruption of reviews that saps investor confidence.

    It’s hoping the spotlight will shift elsewhere once this review is done and dusted.

    “Ultimately, we want stability,” Thornton said.

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Jan
17
  • London Mayor backs smoking ban in cars

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    London Mayor Boris Johnson is joining leading medics in urging MPs to vote in favour of outlawing smoking in cars carrying children.

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    Johnson says the practice is so “disgusting” and harmful to youngsters’ health that even libertarians such as him should welcome it.

    The House of Commons is expected to approve giving the government health secretary the power to impose a ban despite opposition from some MPs including cabinet members.

    Ministers have been granted a free vote on the measure – successfully introduced by Labour in a House of Lords amendment to the Children and Families Bill – meaning they are not tied to a party line.

    Prime Minister David Cameron, who has declined to be drawn on his personal view, is expected to miss the vote to concentrate on the government’s response to the UK’s floods.

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is among his colleagues backing the move, while Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is in the “no” camp of those who say it is unenforceable.

    Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has spoken out against attempts to “sub-contract responsible parenting to the state” and pro-smoking groups have branded it an “unnecessary intrusion”.

    Last week, hundreds of medics and health experts signed a letter in support of the ban, which is backed by cancer charities and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

    Mr Johnson used his column in the Daily Telegraph to appeal to party colleagues to accept that the “bossyboots brigade” he so often rails against were right in this case.

    “Surely to goodness – you might say – people these days are aware of the problem of passive smoking? Surely all smokers know that they shouldn’t be puffing away in a car, while the pink defenceless lungs of kids are sucking in the evil vapours?” he wrote.

    “Alas, I am afraid that people either don’t know, or don’t care enough.

    “These kids cannot protest, and very often the smoker in the vehicle lacks the will to stub it out. This law would give that smoker that extra legal imperative to obey their conscience and do the right thing.”

    Rejecting critics’ claims that it would divert police resources from more serious crimes, he said it would be “largely enforced by the natural social pressure of disapproval backed by law”.

    “So I apologise to all my libertarian chums: I am afraid on this one I am firmly with the bossyboots brigade. Ban smoking with kids in the car. It is a disgusting thing to do, and endangers their health. The proposal before parliament is a good one that will save lives.”

    John Britton, chair of the RCP’s tobacco advisory group, said that every year 160,000 children are adversely affected by second-hand smoking, costing the NHS in England more than STG23 million ($A42 million).

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