Experts find new evidence in submarine mystery

Experts find new evidence in submarine mystery — Researchers say they may have the final clues needed to solve the mystery of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which never resurfaced after it became the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship, taking its eight-man crew to a watery grave.

Scientists said Monday that the Hunley apparently was less than 20 feet away from the Housatonic when the crew ignited a torpedo that sank the Union blockade ship off South Carolina in 1864. That means it may have been close enough for the crew to be knocked unconscious by the explosion, long enough that they may have died before awakening.

FILE - The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sits in a conservation tank after a steel truss that had surrounded it was removed in this Jan. 12, 2012 file photo taken at a conservation lab in North Charleston, S.C. Scientists say a pole on the front of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley designed to plant explosives on enemy ships may hold a key clue to its sinking during the Civil War. The experts are to release their findings Monday Jan. 28, 2013 at the North Charleston lab where the hand-cranked sub is being preserved and studied. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

For years, historians thought the Hunley was much farther away and had speculated the crew ran out of air before they were able to return to shore.

The discovery was based on a recent examination of the spar — the iron pole in front of the hand-cranked sub that held the torpedo.

The Hunley, built in Mobile, Ala., and deployed off Charleston in an attempt to break the Union blockade during the Civil War, was finally found in 1995. It was raised five years later and brought to a lab in North Charleston, where it is being conserved.

Conservator Paul Mardikian had to remove material crusted onto one end of the spar after 150 years at the bottom of the ocean. Beneath the muck he found evidence of a cooper sleeve. The sleeve is in keeping with a diagram of the purported design of a Hunley torpedo that a Union general acquired after the war and is in the National Archives in Washington.

"The sleeve is an indication the torpedo was attached to the end of the spar," Mardikian said. He said the rest of the 16-foot spar shows deformities in keeping with it being bent during an explosion.

Now it may be that the crew, found at their seats when the sub was raised with no evidence of an attempt to abandon ship, may have been knocked out by the concussion of an explosion so close by, said Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a member of the South Carolina Hunley Commission.

"I think the focus now goes down to the seconds and minutes around the attack on the Housatonic," he said. "Did the crew get knocked out? Did some of them get knocked out? Did it cause rivets to come loose and the water rush into the hull?"

The final answers will come when scientists begin to remove encrustations from the outer hull, a process that will begin later this year. McConnell said scientists will also arrange to have a computer simulation of the attack created based on the new information. The simulation might be able to tell what effect the explosion would have on the nearby sub.

Maria Jacobsen, the senior archaeologist on the project, said small models might also be used to recreate the attack.

Ironically, the crucial information was literally at the feet of scientists for years.

The spar has long been on display to the public in a case at Clemson University's Warren Lasch Conservation Lab where the Hunley is being conserved. With other priorities on the sub itself, it wasn't until last fall that Mardikian began the slow work of removing encrustations from the spar.

Scientists X-rayed the spar early on and found the denser material that proved to be the cooper sleeve. But Jacobsen said it had long been thought it was some sort of device to release the torpedo itself.

Finding evidence of the attached torpedo is "not only extremely unexpected, it's extremely critical," she said. "What we know now is the weapons system exploded at the end of the spar. That is very, very significant." ( Associated Press )

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105-year-old woman renews driver’s license

105-year-old woman renews driver’s license - 105-year-old Edythe Kirchmaier recently renewed her California drivers license (Facebook)There apparently isn’t much that can slow down Edythe Kirchmaier. The 105-year-old California resident made headlines on Monday when she passed her driving test – continuing 86 years without a blemish on her driving record and maintaining her status as the state's oldest living driver.

"I just couldn't imagine myself without a car," Kirchmaier told "It just didn't feel very good."

And that’s far from the only bit of notoriety to crop up recently in Kirchmaier’s life. Facebook has declared her its most senior user, she's the University of Chicago's oldest living former student, last week she appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show to celebrate her birthday and she has been a volunteer with the Direct Relief International (DRI) organization for 40 years.

To honor Kirchmaier, who says she wants to use her age milestone to help inspire volunteer efforts around the world, DRI set up a Facebook app where her fans can light a virtual candle to help celebrate her 105th birthday. The page includes a short video narrated by "Glee" actress Jane Lynch and has been making the rounds on social media circles, referenced by celebrities and other notable individuals, including Victoria Justice, Ricki Martin journalist Nick Kristof and the musical band Depeche Mode.

Kirchmaier reportedly drives herself to DRI each week, where she leads a team of volunteers.

"I think I’m a pretty good driver," Kirchmaier told Fox. "I feel safe about getting my driver's license renewed because I’ve never had an accident."

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Are You Carrying the Redhead Gene?

Are You Carrying the Redhead Gene? - Some parents worry that their children will be born with a rare disease or a hidden genetic disorder. Other parents, however, wonder if their children will possess something more obvious: red hair.

A British ancestry company, BritainsDNA, is now offering parents the chance to see if their children might inherit the so-called "ginger gene," the Telegraph reports. The test will scan each parent's DNA for signs of the so-called MC1R gene that causes redheadedness.

"Through a simple saliva test to determine deep ancestry, we can … identify whether an individual is a carrier of any of the three common redhead variants in the gene MC1R," said Dr. Jim Wilson, chief scientist at BritainsDNA, as quoted in the Huffington Post.

The gene for red hair is recessive, so a person needs two copies of that gene for it to show up or be expressed. That means even if both parents carry the gene, just one in four of their children are likely to turn out to be a redhead. As a result, families that have no redheads for decades can suddenly discover a carrottop in their midst.

"Families can carry a variant for generations, and when one carrier has children with another carrier, a redheaded baby can appear seemingly out of nowhere." Wilson said, as quoted in the Daily Mail.

Though there's no scientific evidence that redheads deserve their reputation for having fiery temperaments, some recent reports suggest having red hair is associated with a number of health issues. A study from the journal Nature found that the pigment pheomelanin, which is responsible for red hair, may also make redheads even more susceptible to melanoma than fair-skinned blondes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And a widely reported study from the Journal of the American Dentistry Association found that redheads are more sensitive to pain and require extra anesthesia during surgery, according to ABC News.

But there may be some advantages to having red hair, too, reports. The pale skin that redheads usually have is more efficient at soaking up sunlight — and sunlight is required for the body to manufacture vitamin D, an essential nutrient.

Worldwide, red hair is quite rare, and just over 0.5 percent, or one in 200 people, are redheads — this amounts to almost 40 million people, the Daily Mail reports.

In Ireland, an estimated 10 percent of the population has red hair, though about 40 percent of the Irish carry the recessive gene. In Scotland and England, 13 percent and 6 percent, respectively, are redheaded, according to the Daily Mail.

The DNA test will be offered by BritainsDNA at a genealogy and ancestry exhibition named Who Do You Think You Are, associated with the popular NBC television show and scheduled to be held in London next month. ( )

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The case for Barack Obama

The case for Barack Obama - Why voters should choose the Democratic ticket - So far, 35 of the 72 largest newspapers by circulation have endorsed President Obama's re-election. All but one also endorsed him in 2008. Here are some of the arguments they are making for why voters should choose the Democratic ticket:

President Obama's first term was hardly perfect, argues The Washington Post, but he is still by far the superior choice.

What the editorials said

"Think back," said the Chicago Tribune. As President Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was in free fall. "Employers retrenched. Jobs vanished. Home values plummeted." No leader, least of all a "rookie president," could have foreseen how far we would fall, or how difficult it would be to come back. But Barack Obama, "with quick study and sure gait," has created the conditions for a real recovery. Not just by stimulus spending, but also by cutting payroll taxes on small businesses, creating investment tax credits, and agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts. Now look at where we are: The stock market is up, consumer confidence is returning, and the unemployment rate has fallen steadily from 10 percent at the height of the recession to 7.8 percent today. Yes, Obama has "vast unfinished business" left to do. But he, and not Mitt Romney, is the best candidate to do it.

Obama's pragmatic centrism may have disappointed some liberals, said The New Yorker, but few can deny his "run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign policy successes." The $767 billion stimulus bill helped "reset the course of the economy." The Dodd-Frank bill tightened regulations on Wall Street, making another crash less likely. And his health-care reform bill did something five Democratic presidents before him failed to do — guarantee universal access to medical care. It is the "single greatest expansion of the social safety net since the advent of Medicare and Medicaid." And on foreign policy, said the Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser, Obama's "calm, analytical style" has helped redefine our relationship with an increasingly complex world. It has also delivered notable successes: the killing of Osama bin Laden, the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership, and the end of our "profoundly mistaken" war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney's campaign for president presents a troubling question, said the Salt Lake Tribune. "Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?" Romney has revealed himself to be a "shameless" chameleon who will "say anything to get elected" — including telling fellow millionaires that 47 percent of Americans are "freeloaders." Voters may not know what Romney really believes, said The New York Times, "but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda" — turning back the clock for minorities, women, and gays, while imposing "reckless budget cuts" on the government and "30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas" on the economy.

Obama's first term was hardly perfect, said The Washington Post. The president can be "both arrogant and thin-skinned," and he has failed to provide leadership on immigration reform and climate change, as he promised. But "economic headwinds" and a Republican Party committed to a "scorched-earth campaign against him" have made his many achievements even more impressive. The president is committed to reducing our crippling deficit "in a balanced way," offering a mix of spending cuts and modest tax increases. Romney, on the other hand, has presented a deceptive economic proposal relying heavily on 20 percent, across-the-board tax cuts "which deny math." Obama is "by far the superior choice." ( )

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Is Apple looking to disrupt the hybrid notebook market?

Is Apple looking to disrupt the hybrid notebook market? - A patent application from Apple published this month details a notebook computer with a detachable tablet touch screen.

Discovered by Patently Apple, application 250673, which was initially filed in September 2011 with the US Patent and Trademark Office, but was only made public on April 4 this year, describes a device very similar to the convertible notebooks and hybrid portable computers that have been launching on the market in recent months, many of which, like the HP Envy X2 and the Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook run Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. While the ASUS Transformer Prime looks like an ultrabook but runs Android like a traditional tablet.
Illustration of Apple patent Application 250673

The intriguing thing about Apple's approach is that the detachable screen and keyboard base can communicate, pass data and charge wirelessly. The application also details how the detachable screen portion of the device could wirelessly interact with other devices and work as both a remote control as well as a remote input device for the base computer.

However, nothing in the filing is revolutionary, merely innovative -- but therein lies the key to Apple's success: taking an existing idea and making it work better.

The company is reportedly hard at work integrating the best features of its mobile operating system iOS into its desktop OSX operating system. Many believe this will bring the Siri voice-operated virtual assistant to computers as well as tablets and smartphones, but the integration could also include touchscreen commands to complement the smart swipe and gesture-based track pad controls already built into Apple's computer range. AFP Relax )

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Can Obama Make History on Immigration?

Can Obama Make History on Immigration? - This is actually happening. That’s the viewpoint of Capitol Hill aides, lobbyists, advocates, and politicians who have been involved in the immigration debate for 10, 20, and in some cases 30 years. They are psyched. They are scared. They are sober.

They miss the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has been at the forefront of every immigration law since 1965. They are grateful for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has spurred a new way of thinking about immigration among conservatives.

This account is based on interviews with more than a dozen people close to the immigration talks on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

President Obama’s speech on Tuesday in Nevada will mark the public unveiling of private planning that has been in the works at the White House and in Congress for at least a year. Administration officials have mulled every possible option for easing the paradox of too many illegal immigrants and a stilted legal system. The only real solution is broad legislation.

No one knows how it will end. The public statements from Obama and a group of bipartisan senators will reflect a possible resolution to years of conflict and confusion. The contours of the deal are so simple that a Martian visiting the United States would wonder why politicians have been fighting about it for 15 years. There will be some type of earned legalization for illegal immigrants, an ironclad way for employers to verify that their employees are legal, a smooth visa system for future immigrants, and robust border security.

Everyone with a stake in the outcome fears that a misstep on the part of one political party will offend the other party and blow up the deal. Two old hands at the debate, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., were extremely careful on ABC's This Week on Sunday talking about immigration. McCain said he wanted Obama's help. Menendez said Obama would work with Republicans. Liberals fear that Obama will be too dictatorial when he spells out his immigration reform plan. If his tone isn’t deferential enough, it could alienate Republicans whose support is needed for anything to pass. Conservatives fear that Democrats don’t actually want an immigration reform bill and would rather make Republicans look bad by alienating Hispanics.

Whatever happens, it will play out in a big way. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has designated immigration legislation with the bill number S.1, a signal the bill is the top Senate priority. (He did the same thing for Obama’s health care bill.) The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin crafting it in February. It should be on the Senate floor in May or June.

Lengthy congressional debates of this sort are public and messy. Drafters of the bill will have their hands full keeping the amendment process from sinking the effort. The White House will need to keep up the pressure without scaring away skittish Republicans. It’s a delicate dance that has never been attempted without Kennedy.

Advocates expect to lose at least five Democrats in the Senate, which means they will need upwards of a dozen Republicans to vote for the legislation. That’s where Rubio and other tea party favorites like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah will come into play. Rubio and Lee are newcomers to an old discussion among Republican veterans like McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Newly elected Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona will be a key Republican player as well.

Conservative senators who want an immigration bill will be pitted against fellow conservatives who don’t, like Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and David Vitter of Louisiana. To get past their own party’s naysayers, Republicans could make demands that are unpleasant, if not unpalatable, for traditional Democrats.

Next comes the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is in no hurry to rush any broad legislation. Goodlatte’s main objective is much more modest--to familiarize his committee members with immigration policy such that they understand the difference between a work visa and a green card. There are not enough Republican votes in the House to pass anything that would earn Obama’s signature or the nod from Senate Democrats.

So how can a sweeping immigration bill actually pass? Supporters from both parties are acutely aware that missteps in a few crucial areas could derail the effort. But they also sense a new political reality pushed into sharp relief by November’s election—the stalemate on immigration has to end. Republican strategists want nothing more than to remove the issue from their plates. The only way that happens is if a bill passes.

There are three main hurdles to passing an immigration bill—citizenship, guest-workers, and House Republicans. Any one of them could scuttle the prospects of passage, but all are surmountable.


A bizarre shift occurred in the last year when Rubio emerged onto the national scene and begged fellow conservatives to speak more positively about immigration. The sparring that used to be about “amnesty,” or legalizing illegal immigrants, is now about granting them citizenship. Rubio and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the conservatives who have protested any law that gives illegal immigrants their own method of becoming citizens.

That’s fine, say White House officials and congressional Democrats. They aren’t asking for a special path to citizenship. They just want it to be possible for non-criminal undocumented immigrants to live legally in the United States and use regular methods to become citizens within a reasonable amount of time. “Reasonable” is subject to negotiation—10 years? 20 years? No one disputes that the illegal immigrants need to be “at the back of the line.” The negotiation is basically a matter of logistics unless Republicans refuse to allow any way for illegal immigrants to become citizens. Then it’s over.


Conservatives are worried that unions will sink the immigration deal by flatly opposing any bill that has a guest-worker component. Democrats and unions are wary of guest-worker programs because they fear that Americans will lose out on job opportunities and working conditions will slide. In the past, the business community and Republicans have insisted that any comprehensive immigration fix include guest-worker visas.

The weak economy has made this conversation easier. “Guest-worker” is a dirty word in business circles. It has now in vogue to talk about permanent green cards for skilled foreign workers, a topic far less inflammatory for unions. There is a dedicated consortium of influential employers who are willing to throw serious lobbying heft behind more green cards for foreign engineers and scientists. Obama and the bipartisan group of senators will probably make a big deal about the need for skilled workers at first and save the trickier question of temporary visas for low-skilled employees for a smaller stage. (Like, say, at the end of a 12-hour markup in committee.)

House Republicans. 

No one expects “regular order” in the House on immigration. Any broad bill that comes to the floor under normal proceedings would certainly be doomed. The House has killed Senate immigration legislation before (in 2006), and forces are gathering to do so again. The Judiciary Committee counts several bomb throwers as members; Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is the most well known in immigration circles. The committee also includes ruby-red conservatives like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose actions are closely scrutinized by other Republicans. Its former chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is feverishly opposed to increasing immigration, particularly for low-skilled workers.

But that doesn’t mean an immigration bill can’t get through. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has been quietly working on an immigration bill that would satisfy conservatives and liberals. The Republican participants are a closely-held secret, but whisperers say they include serious conservatives like Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Ted Poe of Texas, and Raul Labrador of Idaho. House Speaker John Boehner is among the Republicans who desperately want the GOP’s hand-wringing on immigration to end. He has already demonstrated that he is willing to flout party rabble-rousers with the House's recent votes on fiscal cliff taxes and Hurricane Sandy, which passed with more Democrats than Republicans.

Boehner has to be careful. He only has so many chances to put incendiary legislation on the floor before his caucus stages an all-out revolt. To appease them, he will probably offer one or two high-profile House votes, where Democrats will protest like crazy, on enforcement-only immigration legislation. That gets the dealmakers to the next step, a conference committee where anything can happen. As Kennedy was fond of saying, "We'll fix it in conference."

If Boehner wants the issue to go away, he might be willing to put a conference report up for a vote despite a raucous caucus. It's possible that enough Republicans could join with Democrats to support it. ( National Journal )

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Jewish and Muslim presumed consent worries

Wales could have an opt-out organ donation system by 2015

Organ donation: Jewish and Muslim presumed consent worries - Plans to introduce presumed consent organ donation in Wales face opposition from within the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Some members of both religions have concerns about Welsh government proposals to create the UK's first opt-out donor system.

It would mean everyone is deemed to be a willing organ donor when they die, unless they have stated otherwise.

The Welsh government said it was committed to working with faith groups.

Other religious leaders have already voiced their objections to the plan.

Families of the deceased will still be involved in decisions about donation under the "soft opt-out" system.
“Start Quote
That information should then be given to key figures in the Muslim community because they are like role models... when those role models are convinced then people will have no problem”
Dr Abdalla Yassin Mohamed Islamic Social Services Association 

A survey conducted as part of a consultation into the draft Human Transplantation Bill found 49% were in favour and 22% were against.

But of the 2,891 responses to the consultation, 2,395 were identical letters signed by Muslims from Swansea, Cardiff and Newport based on a template produced by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Dr Abdalla Yassin Mohamed, director of Cardiff's Islamic Social Services Association and a member of the Muslim Council of Wales, said he had no objection to presumed consent.

Opposition was based on concern about the definition of brain death in Islam and the issue of consent, he said.

He called for a debate about the bill between medical and Islamic clerical experts.

"That information should then be given to key figures in the Muslim community because they are like role models," he said.

"When those role models are convinced then people will have no problem."

Dr Sajad Ahmad, a GP from Cardiff, who was one of those who petitioned against the bill, said: "I personally feel this is being rushed in without due consideration and discussion. To presume that a person's liver is yours after they have died - that's wrong."

'Taken as a gift'

Stanley Soffa, chairman of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, said: "We believe that people should be able, or the family of the deceased should be able, to agree to organs being taken as a gift as a donation.

"I would have preferred there not have been a bill."

Welsh government officials stress that passing the bill will not change key aspects of clinical procedure.

At present, specialist nurses approach families of potential donors even if they have not signed the donor register, some 60% of whom agree to organs being taken.

The Welsh government believes that by passing the legislation, the figure will increase. It hopes to create 15 extra donors leaving around 45 more organs for transplant throughout the UK every year.

The bill has been discussed at the Welsh government's faith forum, chaired by the first minister, and a specialist firm has been contracted in an attempt to reach out to minority groups.

NHS leaflets endorsing organ donation for specific faiths are being distributed, including one which the Welsh government says sets out the "key facts regarding Islam and organ donation".

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We are fully committed, as part of the legislation, to ensure we communicate the changes to everyone in Wales.

"We are now reviewing the draft bill and the way we explain the role of the family in light of the consultation responses.

"We will continue to work with the faith communities in Wales and officials have met with Muslim and Jewish groups."

He added: "Under the current system, clinicians take a sympathetic approach with families and strive to help them make decisions in accordance with their faith, even though if the person is on the organ donor register they have the legal right to proceed with transplantation.

"There will be the same approach in principle if the new law is passed." ( )

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