Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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Obama calls for replacing sequester with balanced approach






WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with what he called "a balanced approach," which combines "smart" cuts with reforms.

The appeal came the day after the president, complying with the law, signed an order bringing arbitrary cuts worth US$85 billion into force as well as a report by his Office of Management and Budget detailing the cuts to each agency.

Obama has called the sweeping cuts, stemming from a 2011 debt ceiling agreement, "dumb".

The across-the-board cuts were triggered automatically following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

But in his weekly radio and Internet address, he argued there was still time to find a smarter solution to the nation's debt problem.

"I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach - one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone's tax rates," Obama said.

He said the budget deficit, now exceeding US$1 trillion, can be reduced without laying off workers or forcing parents and students to pay the price.

"A majority of the American people agree with me on this approach - including a majority of Republicans," the president argued. "We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country."

Under the sequester, 800,000 civilian employees of the Defence Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been cancelled.

Defence contractors may be forced to lay off workers and some federal health spending could be hit.

Cuts will also be made to special needs education and preschool for less well-off children. National parks could close and wait times could hit four hours at airport customs posts.

But the president insisted that despite public bickering, Republicans and Democrats actually had more in common than they were willing to let on.

"I know there are Republicans in Congress who would actually rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through," Obama said. "And I know there are Democrats who'd rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There's a caucus of common sense. And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."

- AFP/xq



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Chinatown landmark named for pioneering jurist









He was the first Chinese American graduate of Stanford Law School and the first Chinese American judge to be appointed to the bench in the continental United States.


On Friday, he became the first Chinese American to have a Los Angeles landmark named after him: Judge Delbert E. Wong Square, which encompasses the intersection of Hill and Ord streets at the western edge of Chinatown.


Councilman Ed Reyes hopes that someday the stretch of Hill Street that runs in front of the Chinatown public library will be named after Wong, who died in 2006 at age 85. Wong and his wife, Dolores, were instrumental in getting the library built, so the location would be fitting.





"The square is a starting point," said Reyes, who presided over the dedication.


A street in Little Tokyo bears the name of Judge John Aiso, the nation's first Japanese American judge.


Wong was born in the Central Valley town of Hanford in 1920, the son of a grocer from China's Guangdong province. The family later moved to Bakersfield, where Chinese and other minorities were restricted to the balconies of movie theaters and could only use the public swimming pool on Fridays, according to an oral history by Wong's son, Marshall Wong.


Wong graduated from UC Berkeley and enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II. As a navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress, he completed 30 bombing missions in Europe, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals.


When he returned home, Wong decided to attend law school. His parents disapproved, fearing that racial prejudice would prevent him from finding work.


After graduating from Stanford, Wong found that his job options were indeed limited. The few Chinese American attorneys in California practiced immigration law. Wong gravitated to the public sector, working as a deputy legislative counsel and then as a deputy state attorney general.


In 1959, Wong became the first Chinese American judge in the continental United States when then-Gov. Pat Brown appointed him to the Los Angeles County Municipal Court. He later joined the Superior Court, serving for more than two decades. He continued to make headlines in retirement, leading a probe into racial discrimination at the Los Angeles Airport Police Bureau and working as a special master in the O.J. Simpson case.


Wong and his wife were among the founding benefactors of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Chinatown Service Center. They were also pioneers in another arena: housing. After a real estate agent told them that Chinese could not buy in Silver Lake, they sought out the property's owner, who was happy to sell to them.


Wong's widow and three of his four children attended Friday's dedication.


California now has more than 90 Asian American trial judges. Four of seven state Supreme Court justices are Asian American, including Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. But young people passing through Judge Delbert E. Wong Square should remember those who paved the way, perhaps even drawing inspiration from them, Marshall Wong said.


"The children who grow up in this neighborhood will pass by and wonder, 'Who was Judge Wong?' Hopefully, they'll learn something about his story and his work and think, 'Maybe I should go to law school and be a judge someday.'"


cindy.chang@latimes.com





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Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


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'Good' and 'bad' skin bugs dictate who gets spots



































The secret to clear skin may lie in the cocktail of strains of a common bacterium that lives on your skin.











Propionibacterium acnes bacteria are abundant in the pores on everyone's face. They have been implicated as a cause of pimples, but why they aggravate spottiness in some people but not others has been a mystery.













The discovery that there are "good" and "bad" types of P. acnes offers a clue. It also opens up the possibility of developing treatments customised to the flora of an individual's skin.












The condition affects 85 per cent of teenagers and 11 per cent of adults, and as anyone with acne can testify, existing treatments such as antibiotics have limited effectiveness and can make skin dry out or cause redness and peeling.











Strains sequenced













A team led by Huiying Li of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analysed bacteria from the nose skin of 49 people with acne and 52 controls. "Not all P. acnes strains were created equal," says Li.











Of the thousands of P. acnes strains the researchers identified, the most common 66 were investigated in depth by completely sequencing their genomes. Of these, 63 strains were found in people with and without acne, but two appeared to be linked to acne, and one to healthy skin.













One of the "bad" strains was uniquely found on spotty skin; the other was also found in 16 per cent of samples from people without acne. The "good" strain was hardly found in people with acne but was present in a fifth of those with clear skin.











Rogue genes













Uniquely, the "bad" strains had extra groups of genes derived from viruses. These rogue genes can potentially aggravate acne and include one which binds the bugs unusually tightly to human cells. Because spots are caused by our immune system going into overdrive in response to the presence of P. acnes, resulting in inflammation, this "tightness" gene "means it can trigger a stronger immune response", says Li.












The "good" strain, meanwhile, lacked these genes. Instead, it had genetic components enabling it to recognise and destroy the rogue genes, which means it doesn't cause the skin to become inflamed and spots don't erupt.












Since not all the individuals with clear skin had the "good" strains and not all with acne had the "bad" ones, other factors – such as the tendency of the immune system to over-react or an individual's genetic make-up – might dictate whether good or bad strains grow on skin. In other words, the experiment does not demonstrate what came first – the bad strains of bacteria or the acne, a point raised by researchers not involved in the work.












"Whether the strains are cause or effect is not addressed by this study," says Martin Blaser of New York University. "Nevertheless, this is an important first step in understanding the role of P. acnes in disease."











Probiotics for acne













Li says further investigations are under way in the same people to find out how the balance of good, bad and neutral strains changes over time. She is hopeful that it might be possible to develop creams customised to each person's unique cocktail of skin bacteria to prevent or treat acne.












"Good strains might be used as probiotics to stop skin blemishes before they start, much like yogurt contains good strains of bacteria to fight off bad bugs in the gut," she says.












Another possibility might be drugs that kill only the bad strains. At present, acne is treated with antibiotics that kill all bacteria on the skin, including harmless ones that helpfully prevent nasty strains from taking hold. Exclusively killing the bad strains would be more beneficial, says Li.












Journal reference: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, doi.org/kng


















































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Italy's lefti-wing leader suggests loose alliance to end deadlock






ROME: Italian left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Friday held out the prospect of forming a minority government based on a loose alliance in parliament following inconclusive elections, as Europe puts on pressure for a quick solution.

"I am calling it a government of change, which I would take the responsibility of leading," the Democratic Party leader said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, warning that Italy's "governability (is) at risk".

"Like all governments, it will ask for the confidence of parliament," he said.

But Bersani rejected out of hand the possibility of a grand coalition arrangement with Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right forces, after a new anti-establishment party upset the traditional balance of power between Italy's right and left by winning big in the polls early this week.

Bersani said the government he is proposing would have key objectives, including easing austerity measures, creating jobs, helping the poorest and cutting government costs -- echoing at least some of the demands made by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

But since a Democratic Party-led coalition did not manage majorities in both houses of parliament, the new government would depend on the support of other parties in the upper house -- an arrangement that analysts have warned would prove "highly unstable" at a time when Italy is facing an acute economic crisis.

Stefano Folli, editorialist for Il Sole 24 Ore business daily, said it would "hand over the government" to the whims of the populist Five Star Movement.

Most analysts say there will have to be new elections within months to resolve the impasse.

It is unclear whether the Five Star Movement would support Bersani after its leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo, said his movement "is not going to give a vote of confidence to the Democratic Party or to anyone else".

Not everyone in his movement agrees with this rejection, however.

The party captured a quarter of the vote with a campaign that mixed advocacy on environmental causes and grassroots local issues with a crusade against political sleaze, drawing many austerity-weary Italians to its ranks.

The party has spooked Europe with its promise to hold a referendum on the euro and cancel Italy's debts, prompting European leaders to urge Italy to stick to its fiscal commitments and form a government as soon as possible.

A deputy from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called on Friday for Italy to leave the euro if it could not stick to EU rules after its inconclusive election.

"If one can't succeed in persuading the people of a country that they have to stick to the commitments they have themselves signed up to in terms of how the common currency works, then you can't demand new elections from outside, but the country must return to its own currency," said Klaus-Peter Willsch.

Markets were jittery in trading on Friday, with the Milan index plunging 1.58 percent -- the worst performer among major European stock markets.

The technocratic cabinet of outgoing premier Mario Monti, who won praise abroad for his budget discipline and economic reforms but became increasingly unpopular at home, will stay in place until a new government is formed.

A centrist coalition led by Monti came in fourth place, garnering far too little support to be able to cobble a majority in alliance with the left.

Bersani meanwhile ruled out another possibility -- the formation of an emergency coalition with his long-time arch-rival Berlusconi -- saying: "The hypothesis of a grand understanding does not exist and will never exist".

The scandal-tainted Berlusconi on Friday made an appearance at his appeal trial in Milan against a tax fraud conviction linked to his business empire.

A verdict in the case is expected later this month, along with a ruling in another trial in which Berlusconi is a defendant on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office while he was still prime minister.

Italy's new parliament must convene by March 15 at the latest under the rules of the constitution. After parliament meets, formal negotiations can begin with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on a new government.

Guglielmo Meardi, a professor at Warwick Business School in Britain, said Italy was "used to parliamentary instability... and should stay on the rails until the autumn, when fresh elections could be held."

- AFP/al



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Las Vegas Strip shooting suspect is arrested in L.A.









A man suspected in a deadly car-to-car shooting in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip was arrested Thursday at a Studio City apartment complex, bringing an end to a weeklong manhunt.


Los Angeles police and FBI agents surrounded the suburban apartment complex in the 4100 block of Arch Drive about noon and ordered Ammar Harris to surrender. Officers said there was a woman inside the apartment where he was holed up; she was not arrested.


Harris, 26, is being held on suspicion of murder and is expected to be extradited back to Nevada.





"This arrest is much more than just taking Ammar Harris," said Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie, speaking at police headquarters near the Strip. "The citizens of our community as well as tourists who visit and work in the Las Vegas Valley are entitled to a safe community."


Harris — described by law enforcement officials as a man with an "extensive and violent criminal history" — is accused of being the gunman in the Feb. 21 shooting that killed three people, including Kenneth Cherry Jr., an Oakland native and rapper known as Kenny Clutch.


Las Vegas police said Harris opened fire from his Ranger Rover on Cherry's Maserati on Las Vegas Boulevard after an altercation at a valet stand at the Aria hotel resort.


The Maserati then sped into the intersection at Flamingo Road, where it rammed a Yellow Cab, which erupted in flames near the mega-wattage casinos of the Bellagio, the Flamingo and Ceasars Palace. The explosion killed the taxi driver and passenger inside.


Cherry and a passenger in his Maserati were taken to a hospital, where Cherry was pronounced dead. Four other vehicles were involved in the fiery crash, which left three other people with injuries.


"What I can tell you is that Mr. Harris' behavior was unlike any other I've seen, and I've been in this community in law enforcement for 32 years," Clark County Dist. Atty. Steve Wolfson said.


"I cannot imagine anything more serious than firing a weapon from a moving vehicle into another moving vehicle on a corner such as Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo."


Even in a city accustomed to spectacle, the shooting and collision were shocking.


On the night of the shooting, Harris was accompanied by three people in his Range Rover, none considered suspects, said Lt. Ray Steiber of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. On Saturday, Las Vegas police found Harris' black Range Rover at an apartment complex in the city. The district attorney charged Harris with murder even though he could not be located, and a federal magistrate signed off on a charge of fleeing the jurisdiction.


Federal court documents show Las Vegas homicide detectives suspected that Harris may have fled to California because his phone showed he made calls in the state.


According to law enforcement sources, Harris operated as a pimp in Las Vegas. In a video released by Las Vegas police, Harris flashed a fistful of $100 bills as he bragged about the money. He boasted about money, guns, expensive cars and run-ins with the law on social media accounts, authorities said.


On one social media site, using the name Jai'duh, someone authorities believe was Harris posted pictures of stacks of $100 bills and a Carbon 15 pistol.


Harris' record includes a 2010 arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of pimping-related offenses of pandering with force and sexual assault. He has previously been arrested on suspicion of a variety of crimes in South Carolina and Georgia, authorities said.


Harris is slated to appear in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Monday for an extradition proceeding.


richard.winton@latimes.com


john.glionna@latimes.com


kate.mather@latimes.com


Glionna reported from Las Vegas. Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.





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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."

Dog-Eat-Dog

Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."


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Space miners hope to build first off-Earth economy


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SingPost sets up S$10m fund to help low-wage employees






SINGAPORE: SingPost is setting up a $10 million "Inclusivity Fund", which will benefit its low-wage workers.

Over 70 per cent of the fund will go to helping the workers cope with the rising cost of living. This will include retention awards and enhancements to their wages.

Part of the fund will also go into training to help them upgrade their skills.

Staff with school-going children can also stand to benefit from bursaries and scholarships.

The fund will be disbursed over five years and benefit some 3,400 workers.

The company will also be investing about S$30 million to enhance its delivery and improve processes.

- CNA/xq



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