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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Subhaditya News Channel Presents Science,Movie, Political,Sports And Book News This Week (79)

Science News This Week:

1) Interplanetary dust particles could deliver water and organics to jump-start life on Earth:

Researchers have discovered that interplanetary dust particles could deliver water and organics to the Earth and other terrestrial planets. "It is a thrilling possibility that this influx of dust has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life on Earth and possibly Mars," said Hope Ishii, study co-author.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii -- Manoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and University of California -- Berkeley discovered that interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) could deliver water and organics to Earth and other terrestrial planetsInterplanetary dust, dust that has come from comets, asteroids, and leftover debris from the birth of the solar system, continually rains down on Earth and other Solar System bodies. These particles are bombarded by solar wind, predominately hydrogen ions. This ion bombardment knocks the atoms out of order in the silicate mineral crystal and leaves behind oxygen that is more available to react with hydrogen, for example, to create water molecules."It is a thrilling possibility that this influx of dust has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life on Earth and possibly Mars," said Hope Ishii, new Associate Researcher in the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) at UHM SOEST and co-author of the study. This mechanism of delivering both water and organics simultaneously would also work for exoplanets, worlds that orbit other stars. These raw ingredients of dust and hydrogen ions from their parent star would allow the process to happen in almost any planetary system.Implications of this work are potentially huge: Airless bodies in space such as asteroids and the Moon, with ubiquitous silicate minerals, are constantly being exposed to solar wind irradiation that can generate water. In fact, this mechanism of water formation would help explain remotely sensed data of the Moon, which discovered OH and preliminary water, and possibly explains the source of water ice in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon.
"Perhaps more exciting," said Ishii, "interplanetary dust, especially dust from primitive asteroids and comets, has long been known to carry organic carbon species that survive entering the Earth's atmosphere, and we have now demonstrated that it also carries solar-wind-generated water. So we have shown for the first time that water and organics can be delivered together."

It has been known since the Apollo-era, when astronauts brought back rocks and soil from the Moon, that solar wind causes the chemical makeup of the dust's surface layer to change. Hence, the idea that solar wind irradiation might produce water-species has been around since then, but whether it actually does produce water has been debated. The reasons for the uncertainty are that the amount of water produced is small and it is localized in very thin rims on the surfaces of silicate minerals so that older analytical techniques were unable to confirm the presence of water.Using a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope, the scientists have now actually detected water produced by solar-wind irradiation in the space-weathered rims on silicate minerals in interplanetary dust particles. Futher, on the bases of laboratory-irradiated minerals that have similar amorphous rims, they were able to conclude that the water forms from the interaction of solar wind hydrogen ions (H+) with oxygen in the silicate mineral grains.
This recent work does not suggest how much water may have been delivered to Earth in this manner from IDPs."In no way do we suggest that it was sufficient to form oceans, for example," said Ishii. "However, the relevance of our work is not the origin of the Earth's oceans but that we have shown continuous, co-delivery of water and organics intimately intermixed."In future work, the scientists will attempt to estimate water abundances delivered to Earth by IDPs. Further, they will explore in more detail what other organic (carbon-based) and inorganic species are present in the water in the vesicles in interplanetary dust rims.

2) Material developed could speed up underwater communications by orders of magnitude:

Electrical engineering professors have taken the first steps in a project to develop fast-blinking LED systems for underwater optical communications. Scientists have shown that an artificial metamaterial can increase the light intensity and "blink speed" of a fluorescent light-emitting dye molecule.

University of California, San Diego electrical engineering professor Zhaowei Liu and colleagues have taken the first steps in a project to develop fast-blinking LED systems for underwater optical communications.

In a recent article in Nature Nanotechnology, Liu and colleagues show that an artificial metamaterial can increase the light intensity and "blink speed" of a fluorescent light-emitting dye molecule.The nanopatterned layers of silver and silicon in the new material sped up the molecule's blink rate to 76 times faster than normal, while producing an 80-fold increase in its brightness."The major purpose of this program is to develop a better light source for communication purposes," Liu said. "But this is just a first step in the whole story. We have proved that this artificial, humanmade material can be designed to enhance light emission and intensity, but the next step will be to apply this on conventional LEDs."Extreme blinking speed -- ultrafast modulation -- in blue and green LEDs is a missing link that is necessary for increasing the rate at which information can be sent via optical channels through the open water, such as between ships and submarines, submarines and divers, underwater environmental sensors and unmanned underwater vehicles, or other combinations.

If dramatically improved, optical wireless communications could eventually replace underwater acoustic communications systems for short distance applications. Acoustic communications are limited by slow speed and low data rates and may possibly cause distress to whales, dolphins and other marine life. To do this, they must develop blue and green LED systems that blink one or two orders of magnitude faster than today's blue and green gallium nitride (GaN) based LEDs.
In underwater optical wireless communications systems, data is converted from an electrical signal to optical waves that travel through the water from a light source such as a LED to an optical receiver. Blinking blue and green LEDs are already used to transfer information through the water. (Blue and green LEDs are used because their light is less apt to be absorbed by the water than other colors.)The metamaterials developed by the researchers are synthetic, with properties not found in nature, and are specially designed to accelerate the light generation process.So far, it's been difficult to directly convert an electrical signal into an optical signal in LEDs with adequate speed. At the moment, the blink rate for most of these converted signals is less than one gigahertz, a rate slower than the speed of most WiFi signals, Liu said.
The materials are designed to have extremely strong interactions with the light emitters that are specific to the wavelength--or color--of the emissions. In the new report, the researchers used a dye molecule that gives off a yellow-green hue. So the next step will be to pair the materials with the blue and green LEDs.
"The design of the materials may not be the hardest thing," said UC San Diego graduate student Dylan Lu, the lead author of the Nature Nanotechnology paper, who noted that they will work with LEDs that have been manufactured to a specific industry standard. "I think the major challenge, to apply it to LEDs, will be an integration issue."
Liu recently won a grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop the fast-blinking blue and green LED systems, which includes a little more than $500,000 over three years.Along with Electrical and Computer Engineering professors Paul Yu and Eric Fullerton, Liu aims to eventually test ultrafast blinking LED configurations in San Diego's ocean waters."We started from advances in fundamental material research, and we want to transfer the knowledge to the LED business," said Liu.

3) Old rover finds new evidence of water on Mars:

Ten-year-old Opportunity reveals chemistry that could have supported life .Ancient Mars may have been a friendlier place for life than scientists once suspected. The veteran Mars rover Opportunity has dug up evidence that groundwater flowed near a giant crater called Endeavour about 4 billion years ago.

And like the ancient lake that rookie rover Curiosity recently explored at Gale Crater (SN Online: 3/12/13), the water at Endeavour was just right for microbial life: not too acidic or salty for cells to thrive, researchers report in the Jan. 24 Science.“At two landing sites on completely different sides of the planet, we now see evidence for these very benign, water-rich environments,” says Caltech planetary geologist Bethany Ehlmann, who is part of the Curiosity team. “That says a lot about how prevalent life could have been.”Opportunity began searching for signs of microbe-friendly water a decade ago, when it landed on Mars with its twin rover, Spirit. Before the end of its planned three-month mission, Opportunity found evidence that salty, acidic water could have once pooled at Meridiani Planum, a smooth, flat Martian plain (SN: 3/6/04, p. 147).Years later, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter picked up telltale signatures of iron-rich clay minerals — which form in the presence of mild water — in Endeavour Crater, more than 20 kilometers from the site where Opportunity had been exploring. Although Opportunity had been trucking along years longer than expected, scientists sent the rover in for a closer look.In 2012, to direct the rover to the right spot, planetary geologist Raymond Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues sharpened images from the orbiter and mapped the iron-rich clay minerals to an outcrop of rocks on Endeavour’s rim. The minerals may have formed as slightly acidic water corroded basaltic rock, Arvidson says.

There, Opportunity found odd fractures cutting through the crater’s rocks. The rover ground into the fractures with its rock abrasion tool, a kind of rotating nail file, and measured their ingredients.“The deeper we went, the more it looked like aluminum clay, which requires a whole lot more water to form,” Arvidson says.  Though the environment at Endeavour Crater became more hostile over time, Ehlmann says, “there’s this record of a benign period of water flushing through these rocks.”
The new analysis comes almost exactly 10 years after Opportunity’s touchdown on the red planet on January 24, 2004. “I can’t believe this vehicle is still going,” Arvidson says. “But it’s a good American-made vehicle — it’s like a '48 Chevy.”

4) Laser builds mirror by pushing beads together:

Light manipulates particles to form a reflective surface. A focused beam of green light has transformed 150 plastic beads into a functional mirror. The feat is the first step toward an ambitious goal: deploying lasers in space to assemble a cloud of dustlike particles into a giant telescope mirror.

“I think it’s really cool,” says Michael Burns, a laser physicist at Harvard’s Rowland Institute. “It demonstrates something that had only been discussed before.”

Most of the fundamental physics behind the idea of building space mirrors with lasers is solid, Burns says. Light provides a subtle push when it bounces off matter. It can also trap particles illuminated within a laser beam, which allows scientists to isolate individual cells and even atoms. Finally, light scattering off a particle can serve as a bonding force, enabling multiple particles to self-assemble into organized structures. Exploiting these properties of light, astronomer Antoine Labeyrie proposed in 1979 that a pair of continuously firing lasers in space could steer billions of tiny particles into a tightly bound parabola and hold them in place, creating an enormous, lightweight telescope mirror.Since 2005, physicist Tomasz Grzegorczyk of BAE Systems in Burlington, Mass., and colleagues have been analyzing the physics of the laser-and-particle interactions that would form this seemingly magical mirror. To build a rudimentary mirror, they placed a few hundred micrometer-sized plastic beads into a water-filled glass tank and shined a laser beam into the tank from below.The laser pushed about 150 beads to the top of the tank against the glass and forced them together into a crystalline, reflective structure. To test their creation’s reflectivity, the researchers projected an image of the numeral 8 from a plastic ruler onto the mirror and used a camera to capture the reflected image. The mirror delivered a fuzzy but recognizable reflection, Grzegorczyk’s team reports January 13 in Physical Review Letters, despite the mirror’s relatively rough surface.Obviously there are many steps to go before NASA commissions a laser-assembled space telescope. Grzegorczyk’s mirror is only about 40 micrometers across, and it relies on the surrounding water to absorb some of the laser’s heat. Enormous technological hurdles also remain, including the need for two powerful lasers that run continuously for years in space to hold the mirror together. “With current technology, this is still closer to science fiction,” Burns says.Yet the potential performance of such a mirror in space is so extraordinary that Grzegorczyk says he can’t quit. In theory, a pair of lasers could construct and maintain a 35-meter mirror, larger than any telescope mirror in space or on Earth. It would have the same mass as a hamburger patty. For comparison, the 6.5-meter mirror on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch in 2018, has a mass of nearly 700 kilograms.Because larger mirrors collect more light, a laser-constructed mirror connected to a camera potentially could image planets orbiting distant stars as well as galaxies at the edge of the visible universe. Plus, the mirror could heal itself: If space junk shattered a section, the lasers would nudge displaced particles back into position.For now, Grzegorczyk wants to make small strides. He is looking to build a mirror that floats in water rather than nestling against the roof of the tank. “If all we have to wait for is the technology,” he says, “then this will eventually fly.”

5) The shape of infectious prions:

Prions are proteins found on the plasma membrane (the membrane that surrounds a cell and defines its physical boundary). In mammals, prions are found in the highest concentration in cells of the central nervous system. In mammals and yeast, there are several genes coding for different prions. The function of normal prions (denoted PrPC) is unknown. Aberrant or mutant prions (denoted PrPSc) are thought to be the causative agents of a set of neurological disorders, among which are BSE in cows and Creuzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD) in humans. The term prion comes from “proteinaceous infectious particles”. The term was coined during early research of the sheep disease called scrapie. During that time, all that was known about the particle that caused scrapie was that it was a protein and that it was infectious.

Prions are unique infective agents -- unlike viruses, bacteria, fungi and other parasites, prions do not contain either DNA or RNA. Despite their seemingly simple structure, they can propagate their pathological effects like wildfire, by "infecting" normal proteins. PrPSc (the pathological form of the prion protein) can induce normal prion proteins (PrPC) to acquire the wrong conformation and convert into further disease-causing agents.

Prions are unique infective agents -- unlike viruses, bacteria, fungi and other parasites, prions do not contain either DNA or RNA. Despite their seemingly simple structure, they can propagate their pathological effects like wildfire, by "infecting" normal proteins. PrPSc (the pathological form of the prion protein) can induce normal prion proteins (PrPC) to acquire the wrong conformation and convert into further disease-causing agents.

"When they are healthy, they look like tiny spheres; when they are malignant, they appear as cubes" stated Giuseppe Legname, principal investigator of the Prion Biology Laboratory at the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) in Trieste, when describing prion proteins. Prions are "misfolded" proteins that cause a group of incurable neurodegenerative diseases, including spongiform encephalopathies (for example, mad cow diseases) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Legname and coworkers have recently published a detailed analysis of the early mechanisms of misfolding. Their research has just been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the most authoritative scientific journal in the field."For the first time, our experimental study has investigated the structural elements leading to the disease-causing conversion" explains Legname. "With the help of X-rays, we observed some synthetic prion proteins engineered in our lab by applying a new approach -- we used nanobodies, i.e. small proteins that act as a scaffolding and induce prions to stabilize their structure." Legname and colleagues reported that misfolding originates in a specific part of the protein named "N-terminal." "The prion protein consists of two subunits. The C-terminal has a clearly defined and well-known structure, whereas the unstructured N-terminal is disordered, and still largely unknown. This is the very area where the early prion pathological misfolding occurs" adds Legname. "The looser conformation of the N-terminal likely determines a dynamic structure, which can thus change the protein shape."Works like ours are the first, important steps to understand the mechanisms underlying the pathogenic effect of prions" concludes Legname. "Elucidating the misfolding process is essential to the future development of drugs and therapeutic strategies against incurable neurodegenerative diseases."

6) New genes spring, spread from non-coding DNA:

Where do new genes come from?" is a long-standing question in genetics and evolutionary biology. A new study shows that new genes can spring from non-coding DNA more rapidly than expected.

"Where do new genes come from?" is a long-standing question in genetics and evolutionary biology. A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, published Jan. 23 in Science Express, shows that new genes are created from non-coding DNA more rapidly than expected.

"This shows very clearly that genes are being born from ancestral sequences all the time," said David Begun, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.Geneticists have long puzzled about how completely new genes appear. In a well-known model proposed by Nobel laureate Susumu Ohno, new functions appear when existing genes are duplicated and then diverge in function. Begun's laboratory discovered a few years ago that new genes could also appear from previously non-coding stretches of DNA, and similar effects have since been discovered in other animals and plants."This is the first example of totally new genes still spreading through a species," said Li Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and first author on the paper.Zhao looked at RNA transcripts -- corresponding to expressed genes -- in the testes of several wild-derived strains of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and compared them to transcripts expressed in the standard reference sequence strain and in two closely related species. She found 248 new genes that exist only in D. melanogaster, just over a hundred of which were "fixed," or already spread throughout the population.These genes emerged from ancestrally non-coding DNA since D. melanogaster split from its close relative, D. simulans.

The new genes showed evidence of being under selection, meaning that they were spreading through the population as flies carrying them gained an edge in reproduction. They fell into two broad classes: genes found at high frequency tended to be larger and more complex, and therefore likely had more significant functions, than those found at low frequency.The researchers studied testis because earlier work showed a relatively high rate of adaptive evolution for male reproductive function, Begun said. They plan to expand their studies to other tissues.Zhao said that it's possible that these new genes form when a random mutation in the regulatory machinery causes a piece of non-coding DNA to be transcribed to RNA."If it has a beneficial effect, then it gets selected," she said. It's difficult to say at this point how important this phenomenon is for generating new genetic material, Zhao said.

7) Timing is everything: How the brain links memories of sequential events:

Suppose you heard the sound of skidding tires, followed by a car crash. The next time you heard such a skid, you might cringe in fear, expecting a crash to follow -- suggesting that somehow, your brain had linked those two memories so that a fairly innocuous sound provokes dread. Scientists have now discovered how two neural circuits in the brain work together to control the formation of such time-linked memories.

Suppose you heard the sound of skidding tires, followed by a car crash. The next time you heard such a skid, you might cringe in fear, expecting a crash to follow -- suggesting that somehow, your brain had linked those two memories so that a fairly innocuous sound provokes dread.MIT neuroscientists have now discovered how two neural circuits in the brain work together to control the formation of such time-linked memories. This is a critical ability that helps the brain to determine when it needs to take action to defend against a potential threat, says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and senior author of a paper describing the findings in the Jan. 23 issue of Science."It's important for us to be able to associate things that happen with some temporal gap," says Tonegawa, who is a member of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. "For animals it is very useful to know what events they should associate, and what not to associate."
The interaction of these two circuits allows the brain to maintain a balance between becoming too easily paralyzed with fear and being too careless, which could result in being caught off guard by a predator or other threat.The paper's lead authors are Picower Institute postdocs Takashi Kitamura and Michele Pignatelli.

Linking memories
Memories of events, known as episodic memories, always contain three elements -- what, where, and when. Those memories are created in a brain structure called the hippocampus, which must coordinate each of these three elements.To form episodic memories, the hippocampus also communicates with the region of the cerebral cortex just outside the hippocampus, known as the entorhinal cortex. The entorhinal cortex, which has several layers, receives sensory information, such as sights and sounds, from sensory processing areas of the brain and sends the information on to the hippocampus.Previous research has revealed a great deal about how the brain links the place and object components of memory. Certain neurons in the hippocampus, known as place cells, are specialized to fire when an animal is in a specific location, and also when the animal is remembering that location. However, when it comes to associating objects and time, "our understanding has fallen behind," Tonegawa says. "Something is known, but relatively little compared to the object-place mechanism."The new Science paper builds on a 2011 study from Tonegawa's lab in which he identified a brain circuit necessary for mice to link memories of two events -- a tone and a mild electric shock -- that occur up to 20 seconds apart. This circuit connects layer 3 of the entorhinal cortex to the CA1 region of the hippocampus. When that circuit, known as the monosynaptic circuit, was disrupted, the animals did not learn to fear the tone.
In the new paper, the researchers report the discovery of a previously unknown circuit that suppresses the monosynaptic circuit. This signal originates in a type of excitatory neurons discovered in Tonegawa's lab, dubbed "island cells" because they form circular clusters within layer 2. Those cells stimulate inhibitory neurons in CA1 that suppress the set of excitatory CA1 neurons that are activated by the monosynaptic circuit.This circuit creates a counterbalance that limits the window of opportunity for two events to become linked. "This pathway might provide a mechanism for preventing constant learning of unimportant temporal associations," says Michael Hasselmo, a professor of psychology at Boston University who was not part of the research team.The findings are "an important demonstration of the functional role of different populations of neurons in entorhinal cortex that provide input to the hippocampus," Hasselmo adds.

Deciphering circuits
The researchers used optogenetics, a technology that allows specific populations of neurons to be turned on or off with light, to demonstrate the interplay of these two circuits.In normal mice, the maximum time gap between events that can be linked is about 20 seconds, but the researchers could lengthen that period by either boosting activity of layer 3 cells or suppressing layer 2 island cells. Conversely, they could shorten the window of opportunity by inhibiting layer 3 cells or stimulating input from layer 2 island cells, which both result in turning down CA1 activity.The researchers hypothesize that prolonged CA1 activity keeps the memory of the tone alive long enough so that it is still present when the shock takes place, allowing the two memories to be linked. They are now investigating whether CA1 neurons remain active throughout the entire gap between events.

Movie Release this week:

Frankenstein's creature finds himself caught in an all-out, centuries old war between two immortal clans.

Screenwriter and actor Kevin Grevioux, who co-created the "Underworld" franchise, will be reteaming with Patrick Tatopoulos, director of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, for a new project based on Grevioux's upcoming Darkstorm Comics series I, Frankenstein.

The comic book and movie is a modernization of the Frankenstein mythos with the monster encountering other famous movie monsters in presumably violent ways including Frankenstein's Monster, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Invisible Man, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde plus many more, in a re-imagined contemporary setting.

Knights of Badassdom follows three best friends (Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn and Ryan Kwanten) and dedicated LARPers (Live Action Role Players) as they take to the woods to reenact a dungeons and dragons-like scenario fresh out of the mythical Middle Ages. Trouble arises after they unwittingly conjure up some serious evil in the form of a blood-lusting Succubus, from the pits of hell.

Fantasy and reality collide on the Fields of Evermore in an all-out epic battle of make-believe wizards, demons and assorted mythical creatures. Their courage and friendship is put to the test as they attempt to vanquish the evil they have summoned. Will the group prove to simply be foam sword-wielding LARPers, or true "Knights of Badassdom?"

After a major shipment of drugs goes missing on the US-Canadian border, forest ranger and former Navy SEAL Henry is plunged into survival mode when the drug cartel forces him to help retrieve the downed package. Trapped in the wilderness with no communication to the outside world, Henry finds himself face to face with Clay, a man with a personal vendetta against Henry who has returned for retribution. Now, the two mortal enemies must make a choice: put aside their past and work together, or die alone at the hands of the drug runners, a ruthless gang who will stop at nothing to retrieve their lost cargo.

Based on a true story centering on 16-year-old Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), Gimme Shelter uncovers the struggle for survival and the hope of redemption through the harsh realities of life on the streets. As a pregnant teenager, Apple’s journey plummets her into a perilous struggle until finding salvation in a suburban shelter for homeless teens. With provisions of unprecedented comfort, a collective sisterhood connection and female empowerment, the shelter inspires Apple to break the shackles of her past and inspires her to embrace the future with clarity, maturity and hope not only for herself but her unborn child.

Jai fights a one-man war against corruption and injustice.Jai Ho has Salman playing Jai, an ex-army office and all around do-gooder. Tabu is his upright sister. Jai’s big idea is to pay it forward — that is, when someone does something good for you, you do the same for three more people who do it for three more, thereby creating a chain of good deeds. Of course, standing in Jai’s way is an army of assorted villains. There are so many actors crammed into this film that you almost start playing a game of guess who will pop up next .

Political News This Week:

1) Meet this year's Padma Award winners:

Noted scientist R A Mashelkar and yoga guru B K S Iyengar were on Saturday chosen for this year's Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour in India, while cine star Kamala Haasan, author Ruskin Bond and late former chief justice J S Verma were selected for the Padma Bhushan.

National Badminton coach P Gopichand, tennis player Leander Paes, writer Anita Desai and Tamil lyricist and writer Vairamuthu were also picked for the Padma Bhushan while cricketer Yuvraj Singh and cine stars Paresh Rawal and Vidya Balan were selected for the Padma Shri.

2) M K Alagiri: The troublemaker son in the DMK:

Suspended in the “interests of the party”, M K Alagiri, the second son of Dravida Munnetra Kazagham chief Karunanidhi, has repeatedly attracted controversy putting his party in disarray

Former Union Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi Alagiri was on Friday suspended from the party on charges of going against the party's stand and airing divergent views on the issue of stitching an alliance with Vijaykant's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam.

The former Chemicals and Fertilisers minister in the Manmohan Singh government was temporarily removed from all posts including the primary membership of the DMK.

Alagiri is the second son of Dravida Munnetra Kazagham chief Karunanidhi and his second wife Dayalu Ammal.   Alagiri graduated from the Presidency College in Chennai with a BA degree.Alagiri has repeatedly attracted controversies and put his party and family in an embarrassing position.  

3) Cold wave continues in Kashmir, Kargil coldest at -19.2 deg C:

Cold wave continued in Kashmir Valley and Ladakh region as the minimum temperature in most parts settled below the freezing point, with the frontier town of Kargil being the coldest place in the state at over minus 19 degrees Celsius.

Kargil was the coldest recorded place in Jammu and Kashmir with the mercury settling at minus 19.2 degrees Celsius last night as against the previous night's minus 18.4 degrees Celsius.The minimum temperature in summer capital Srinagar continued to settle above the freezing point for the fourth day today as the city recorded a low of 0.6 degrees Celsius as against 0.9 degrees Celsius the previous night, an official of the MeT Department here said.

Mercury in Qazigund -- the gateway town to Kashmir valley --settled at minus 0.4 degrees Celsius as against minus 1.0 degrees Celsius the previous night.

Kokernag, in south Kashmir, recorded a low of minus 1.7 degrees Celsius as compared to the previous night's minus 1.3 degrees Celsius.Mercury in the tourist resort of Pahalgam, also in south Kashmir, settled at a low of minus 5.6 degrees Celsius -- almost same as the previous night's low of minus 5.5 deg C.

The famous ski-resort of Gulmarg registered a low of minus 8.2 degrees Celsius as compared to minus 8.4 degrees Celsius the previous night.Kupwara, in north Kashmir, recorded a low of 0.6 degrees Celsius, he said.Leh, in the frontier region of Ladakh, recorded a low of minus 12.3 degrees Celsius, over eight degrees down from the minus 4 degrees C the previous night.

4) 6 killed, scores injured as deadly blasts hit police in Cairo:

Four blasts, including a suicide bombing at the police headquarters, rocked the Egyptian capital and nearby areas in Cairo, killing six persons and wounding nearly 100 on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.The first powerful blast was reportedly caused by a suicide attacker, who rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a security fence around the Cairo Security Directorate, killing four and injuring 76 others, officials at the interior and health ministry said.In a second blast hours later, at least one person was killed when a small improvised explosive device went off near a police vehicle close to a metro station in Giza. At least 11 persons were wounded in the attack.Another improvised bomb hit a police station near the Giza pyramids. The blast did not cause any fatalities, an interior ministry official told state TV.The fourth blast at the Radobis Cinema theatre in Cairo's Haram district killed one person, state TV reported. The deadly blasts raised concerns that an Islamist insurgency is gathering pace in the polarised Arab nation as Egyptian forces have intensified a crackdown on Islamists.The Islamist elements have been blamed for a series of attacks on the army and police following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by the powerful military on July 3, 2013.Hours after the bombings, angry mobs along with police clashed with Brotherhood activists, accused by the government of being behind a wave of bombings and shootings. Brotherhood has denied such allegations.

At least 10 people, including a school student, were killed while 11 others were injured in the clashes."It's a vile, desperate attempt by evil terrorist forces to disrupt the success Egypt and its people have achieved in the [transitional] roadmap and the passing of the new constitution," Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi commented, in reference to the Cairo bomb.In a statement, president Adly Mansour pledged to "severely punish" those involved in "planning, financing, inciting, participating in or executing" such attacks, saying that tampering with state security is a "red line".An al Qaeda-inspired militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem) claimed responsibility for the attack on the police headquarters, the BBC reported.The explosion at the police headquarters blew out the windows of the building and stripped off parts of its facade. The nearby Museum of Islamic Arts was severely damaged by the explosion, which could be heard six kilometres away.State television said investigators had found the remains of the suspected suicide bomber.A witness said she saw a badly mangled vehicle stained with blood parked in front of the police compound. TV footage showed dense smoke billowing from the building after the blast. The police have cordoned off the area.

The blasts came on the eve of the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ended the three-decade long autocratic regime of Mubarak. "They don't want the people to to celebrate," the January 25 anniversary, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said of the attackers.Meanwhile, supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi squared off with police and local residents in the Nile Delta's Damietta governorate. Twelve protesters were arrested during the violence, Ahram Online reported.

Clashes also erupted in Alexandria during a funeral for a student killed in violence in the city on Thursday, leading to the death of another protester.Supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood threw bricks and stones in the Al-Dekheila district. Fierce clashes also broke out in Giza between Morsi supporters and Egyptian security forces.Hundreds of Islamists gathered in the Imbaba district, west of Cairo and clashed with security forces, who responded by firing tear gas, MENA news agency reported. One person died in the Imbaba clashes.At least 111 rioters have been arrested in several governorates, the interior ministry said.In Beheira governorate in Egypt's Nile Delta, two were killed in clashes between the Brotherhood and residents of Housh Eissa city.In Upper Egypt's Beni Suef governorate, the health ministry reported that two people were killed during clashes. Protests had erupted following Friday prayers in the cities of Beni Suef and Al-Wasti which soon after developed into confrontations.In Upper Egypt's Minya governorate, a shop owner died from gunshot wounds sustained as he was passing close to the clashes. One more was injured, according to a health ministry.Three more people, including a school student, were killed in the violence, officials said. There have been calls from three different groups to take to streets on January 25.All calls target Tahrir Square as a final destination and as the anti-protest law has been activated, it is expected the three groups should request permits in advance.

5) Pune 'hacker' arrest: Just the tip of the iceberg?:

Corporates, realtors, and even IPL fixing -- the tentacles of the hacking network, whose alleged member was nabbed by a agencies of India, US, Romania and China on Friday, run broader than anticipated, reports Vicky Nanjappa.

In a rare international joint operation, the Central Bureau of Investigation along with the American Federal Bureau of Investigation and Chinese and Romanian agencies picked up hacker Amit Tiwary, son of a retired colonel, from Pune on Friday.“Amit was a member of a full fledged organised and coordinated hacking network which spreads across many countries”, CBI sources told

Stealing identities, hacking into bank accounts and snooping into emails for information are part of this major international hacking racket which involves money worth over $600 million, the sources added.The hacking hubs in Pune, Ghaziabad among other places in India hacked into accounts at the behest of some people which also included a syndicate involving in cheating customers holding credit/debit cards and bank accounts.

Interestingly this hacking hub also did private work which was related to businessmen and even matrimonial services.

According to the CBI there are around 16 such hacking hubs in India on the lines of the one allegedly being run by Tiwary.These hubs are approached by major syndicates and also individuals seeking information. A lot of information has been sought by businessmen and corporates and the hackers have helped them with the same.Corporates have sought information on the bank accounts and email details of their rivals, investigations have revealed.

In addition, there have been requests by parents looking to get their sons or daughters married. The hackers have been roped in to check into details of emails of those they were getting their children married to, CBI sources also informed.There are also indications that the hackers were roped in during the Indian Premier League last year. A syndicate allegedly comprising bookies had approached the hub in Pune for information on accounts of some persons involved in the IPL. However, preliminary investigations would show that the deal did not come through as Tiwary was not happy with the money he had been offered.

Investigations and tip offs by the FBI, which promoted this raid in the first place, also indicate that realtors too had approached these hackers. Realtors sought information of those persons they were buying property from. Right from banking details to very personal information was sought by the realtors, investigations would show.

There is a great deal of interest that the FBI has in this case since there are several instances where these hackers have collected information relating to credit/debit and account numbers of persons. The FBI believes that this information was sold to a major syndicate who in turn indulged in identity theft. The US has been most affected by this since most of the accounts hacked were from there.

Sources in the CBI said that the Indian syndicate had hacked into nearly 1,300 emails of which 151 were from India. The hackers were paid $250 to hack into emails while for bank related information they charged $1000.To hack into websites, the hackers were paid between $500 and $1000, sources also informed.This racket according to the CBI has been in place since 2011 and it has an international ramification.The FBI had dealt with a set of Russian hackers on similar lines in 2013. They believe that the two rackets have a connection.

Apart from finding out the accounts that were hacked into of individuals they also want to know if any of their government websites have been compromised. Further they also want to check if Gucifer, the famous hacker from Romania, had any connection with these hackers. During the raid on Friday even the Romanian agencies had taken part.The FBI, which has been questioning Gucifer since the past one week, is believed to have got further details on the India hub.

They have been trailing this hub since the past one year and were touch with the CBI since the past month. It was after the arrest of Gucifer did they get vital information about the India operations which led to Friday’s crackdown.The CBI sources said that so far there is nothing to show that Indian government sites were hacked into by the India hacking hub, but further investigations will tell a better picture.

6) National projection: NDA likely to get 211-231, UPA distant second with 107-127:

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is expected to stage a come back with an impressive 211-231 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is projected to lose more than 100 seats.The UPA is expected to get just 107-127 seats. Many regional parties are expected to maintain their lead in their respective states.According to CNN-IBN-Lokniti-CSDS National Election Tracker, Narendra Modi-led BJP is heading for a massive victory and the Congress is likely to be routed in most of parts of India. It is likely to be routed in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi.The survey was conducted in 18 states across India in the first two weeks of January.

National projection:
NDA (BJP + Shiv Sena + Shiromani Akali Dal) - 211-231
UPA (Congress + NCP + Kerala allies + JMM) - 107-127
Trinamool Congress (TMC) - 20-28
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - 15-23
Left Front - 15-23
YSR Congress Party - 11-19
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) - 10-16
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - 10-16
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) - 9-15
Samajwadi Party (SP) - 8-14
Janata Dal United (JDU) - 7-13
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) - 7-13
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - 6-12
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) - 6-10
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) - 4-8
Janata Dal Secular (JDS) - 4-8

According to the findings overall 27 per cent respondents have answered that they vote for the Congress while 34 per cent people want to vote for the BJP.
The UPA allies have just 1 per cent backing and BJP allies have just 2 per cent backing nationally. The BSP 3 per cent, Left Front 4 per cent, Samajwadi Party 3 per cent, AAP 4 per cent and others have 22 per cent backing respectively.

While the BJP has gained 7 per cent votes in the last six months, the Congress has lost 1 per cent.
If the elections are held in January 2014, the UPA is expected get 28 per cent, NDA is expected to get 36 per cent and others are expected to get 36 per cent votes respectively.

BJP leads in both rural and urban areas:
Survey findings show that the Congress seems to have lost its strong base in rural areas. It is very shocking news for the party, which always did well in rural India. In rural India, the BJP has got 34 per cent backing and the Congress has got 26 per cent support.While the Congress has lost 1 per cent support, the BJP has gained an impressive 9 per cent votes in rural areas. In urban areas, Congress has got 30 per cent support and the BJP has got 34 per cent support. Both Congress and BJP have gained 1 per cent each in urban areas.The BJP is now ahead of the Congress even among lower class and poor voters who are traditionally Congress backers. A total of 34 per cent lower class and 32 per cent poor class voters are backing the BJP as against 26 per cent for the Congress.
Among the Upper middle class and middle class, the BJP has got 37 per cent and 35 per cent support respectively. The Congress has got 26 per cent and 29 per cent backing respectively.

.UPA unpopular, more in North
Overall 52 per cent across India feel that the UPA at the Centre should not get another chance. Only 26 per cent support another term for the UPA.
In North India, 59 per cent are against another chance. Only 22 per cent in North back another term. In the South, 46 per cent feel that UPA should not get another chance. Only 23 per cent feel that it deserves another chance. In Central India, 53 per cent feel that UPA does not deserve another chance. Just 27 per cent back another term for the UPA.
In Western India, 52 per cent are opposed to the idea of another chance. Only 30 per cent back the idea. In Eastern India, 50 per cent oppose another term for the UPA and 30 per cent oppose it.

BJP's perception better
The BJP seems to have the best image at the moment on various issues. It leads in almost every parameter.

Most social media users prefer BJP
Among the social media users BJP is the most preferred choice. Among Facebook and Twitter users, the gap between the Congress and BJP widens. Overall 39 per cent social media users back the BJP. Only 22 per cent social media users back the Congress while 13 per cent back the AAP and 26 per cent back others.

7) The significance of Shinzo Abe's India visit:

As Japan beefs up its defences against China, both New Delhi and Tokyo seem to have decided to re-energise their relationship to ensure a strategic balance in Asia.

Japan’s Prime Minister Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is the guest of honour at this year's Republic Day, will arrive in India on Saturday. He will also be the first ever Japanese dignitary to grace the occasion. 

India, sources said, is according high importance to Abe's visit as Japan has been a long standing partner in a host of bilateral and other issues. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were recently in India on a six-day state visit.

New Delhi and Tokyo view Abe's visit to India, which comes a bit over a month and a half after the historic first ever visit to India of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, as pinnacle of India-Japan bilateral relations.They were returning to the country 53 years after their 1960 trip as the crown prince and princess of Japan. Their symbolic visit apart, the fact is that during the last five years, bilateral trade has increased 80 per cent; currently it is at $18 billion.Although this is nowhere near the India-China bilateral trade figure, which is now inching towards $100 billion, Japan and India have set a goal of $25 billion this year.

It must also be remembered that in recent decades, Japan has quietly extended financial and technical support to several infrastructure projects in India, helping to build metro railway systems and industrial corridors, dedicated freight corridors, highways, bridges and power plants.

The recent stand-off over China's decision to unilaterally enforce an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, appeared to show the limits of US intervention.In fact, Asian nations may be better off finding their own solutions to the regional disputes. Individually, they may not be able to stand up to China's bullying, but together there is a chance to keep China in check.

India and Japan, along with South Korea, may have to take the lead in this respect.India inviting Abe as chief guest for the Republic Day Parade -- an honour normally reserved for its closest allies -- is a clear signal that Asia's two biggest democracies may be ready to work together in containing if not confronting China in the years to come.

Sports news this week:

1) Li takes the extra step to win Australian Open:

China's Li Na banished the ghosts of two Australian Open final defeats by overpowering Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday to win her second major title and give the grand slam of the Asia-Pacific its first Asian singles champion.

The 31-year-old needed a tiebreak to clinch an error-strewn first set but romped away with the second for a 7-6(3) 6-0 victory to become the oldest woman to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Li was the first Asian player to win a grand slam singles title at the French Open in 2011 and ended her 31-month membership of the "one-slam wonder" club when her Slovakian opponent sent a forehand long after 97 minutes.

Losing the final to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Victoria Azarenka last year, both times after winning the first set, had only added to Li's reputation as a formidable player with a major flaw in her temperament.

"At last I made it. Not like the last two times, always feeling one more step. But this time I did it so I'm really so proud of myself," the fourth seed rejoiced.

"In the French I was feeling I would just go for it. I didn't think about winning or losing. But this one, I was really wishing I could do well. And also maybe you guys didn't know how hard I was working mentally to make this one."

Cibulkova, one of the shortest women in the game at just 5ft-3in (1.6 metres) tall, had beaten four top 20 players, including third seed Maria Sharapova, on her fairytale run to her first grand slam final.

The 24-year-old dynamo was still smiling at the end of the final and described the tournament as the "most fantastic two weeks of my life".

"It was my first grand slam final and I'm just proud with the way I handled it," she said. "It wasn't easy against her because she was playing extremely well. So I'm quite happy."

2) Nadal win may intensify 'all-time greatest' debate:

Rafa Nadal has the opportunity to add another chapter to his storied career, and intensify an already robust debate, should he beat Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday's Australian Open final.A victory would make the Spanish left-hander the third man to win all four grand slam titles twice, joining Australians Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, and also draw him level with Pete Sampras on 14 career major titles.

It would also leave him three behind Wawrinka's compatriot Roger Federer, who Nadal beat in the semi-finals, and would no doubt generate another round of debate as to who can justifiably be called the greatest player of all time.

"Is there one greatest player of all time?" Sampras replied when asked by reporters if Nadal or Federer could be labelled with that mantle.
"I believe when you look at the history of the game, each decade has their player."Certainly Roger has been the best player for the last 10 years. Rafa is up there with him. (Novak) Djokovic is pushing. So it's really hard to say."Rafa has won all the majors, he's been number one. You could argue that he's well up there. If he plays the next four or five years, he could have 17, 18 majors."Let's just appreciate what we're watching. It's hard to compare the numbers and the eras where we all did our thing."
Both sides have a strong case in the Nadal v Federer debate.Fans of the Swiss suggest Nadal's record is skewed by his claycourt dominance over the years, while the Spaniard's supporters point to his 23-10 head-to-head record over Federer.If Nadal does beat Wawrinka, however, it is inevitable the question will be asked whether he can achieve what no man has done since Laver in 1969 and win a calendar grand slam.

Few would bet against him winning his ninth French Open title in early June. He has lost just one match - to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 - at the claycourt grand slam since 2005.And the manner in which he accounted for 17-times grand slam winner Federer, who had looked back to his fluid best at Melbourne Park after a dismal 2013, suggests he will be hard to beat at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Nadal, who has played the tournament with strapping across his left hand due to a painful blister, is only focused on the challenge posed by the 28-year-old Wawrinka.
"He's playing better than ever ... he's a player that is ready to win against everybody," Nadal said.
"If I don't play my best tennis ... I don't have (a) chance to beat him."

3) Jadeja, Ashwin keep series alive with tie:

New Zealand 314 (Guptill 111, Williamson 65) tied with India 314 for 9 (Jadeja 66*, Ashwin 65, Dhoni 50, Anderson 5-63).On a surreal night when New Zealand kept swinging between the spectacular and the silly, they just couldn't conjure enough to close the deal against a resilient Indian lower middle order, which snuck a tie to keep the series alive. New Zealand had the game won when they brought together R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with India still needing 131 in less than 15 overs. After that they had opportunities to kill the game off, but dropped a catch, missed a stumping, and couldn't hit the stumps.

When it became really desperate, Martin Guptill, who had scored a century earlier and taken a blinder earlier in the match, pulled off a sensational catch at the boundary to bring New Zealand right back. And then came the wides, another drop, another missed run-out. They just couldn't put it past Jadeja, who with No. 11 for company, took 17 off the last over, bowled by Corey Anderson, who had taken five wickets. They might even have something to say to the umpires who denied them the wickets of Jadeja and Suresh Raina, and twice wided them unfairly. India faced the brunt of poor judgement of wides once themselves.

It was a difficult night to explain. New Zealand could have scored 350. They could have been bowled out for 289. They could have won by 50 runs. They could have easily lost. Hamish Bennett, with all the titanium in his reassembled back, made a superb return to international cricket with back-to-back maidens to Virat Kohli, and then the timely wickets of Kohli and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and figures of 2 for 41 in 10 overs. His last act of the night was to drop Jadeja in the 49th over, and with that a 21-run win. Ashwin dived to complete threes, Jadeja turned down singles, umpires forgot the wide law, didn't hear edges, and in the final act of disbelief, Jadeja didn't even try the second when two were required off the last ball.Tim Southee took the fumbling New Zealand past 300 with 27, went for a few, took a swerving blinder off MS Dhoni's bat in the outfield, but couldn't quite get to another offering from Jadeja when India still needed 64. Luke Ronchi played his part with 38 off 20, but missed a regulation stumping chance a ball after Southee had reprieved Jadeja.What of Bhuvneshwar Kumar then? He got the rampaging Jesse Ryder out, kept India in it with just 48 off his nine overs, but when he had a chance to catch Southee at third man, he parried it for a six. Against a team that would turn a six into a catch later. India themselves missed at least four run-out opportunities during the 155-run second-wicket stand. Raina dropped a sitter from Williamson, who scored his third fifty in three matches.

When Williamson eventually fell, in the 33rd over with the score 189, he had set New Zealand up beautifully. This is about the time when New Zealand have been going berserk this series. You can look back at the period harshly, but New Zealand looked to set a target that was India-proof and small-boundaries-proof. Except that this time many of their shots resulted in wickets, the running went awry, and seven wickets fell for 90.There was no momentum to be carried into the second innings. New Zealand were underwhelming after the 35th over, but they also had that bonus of 25 runs thanks to the drop by Bhuvneshwar. India came with all the momentum, though. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan came out attacking, and took India to 64 in nine overs. That's when Bennett and Anderson intervened. Bennett took an over to warm up, but bowled serious pace and to his field. Anderson was wily with his bouncers and changes of pace. Twenty runs and four wickets, including Kohli's, came in the next nine overs.

The game looked over then, but in a remarkable show of tenacity, for the first time in India's ODI history, their Nos 6, 7 and 8 all scored half-centuries. Dhoni kept India alive with his, Ashwin made them dream, and Jadeja was the man standing.With Dhoni and Ashwin at least, there was no slogging involved. However, the 55-ball 85-run partnership between Ashwin and Jadeja began to became a serious problem only after the 40th over when New Zealand were forced to go back to Nathan McCullum after having attacked with the quicks for long. He should have had both the batsmen in successive deliveries, but you can't take away from the stylish shots of Ashwin that made New Zealand desperate.

In Nathan McCullum's next, when Ashwin went for a second six, Guptill intercepted it, took it over his shoulder and in the air space beyond the boundary, before leaving the ball, stepping out and coolly coming back to complete the catch. India still needed 46, and Bhuvneshwar was to soon get out to a sharp bouncer from Bennett.

Now it was only Jadeja, who has so often been meek with the bat. So often a helpless part of batting collapses. Grudgingly respected for his bowling and still ridiculed for the mismatch between his three triple-centuries in Ranji Trophy and his ability with the bat. In his redemption, he played calmly, kept pinging the short straight boundary, didn't panic when he saw the asking rate climb when he refused singles. It was still New Zealand's game to lose when the last over began with 18 required.Anderson had been the hero thus far, and he was given the responsibility of closing out the game after he and Bennett had troubled Jadeja with the bouncers. In this over, though, Jadeja was a step ahead of the game, and set himself back to pull the first one for four. The other tactic had been to cramp Jadeja when he backed away, but to the second delivery Jadeja shrewdly moved back in to earn a wide. With the second and third balls, he couldn't do anything, but didn't give the strike to No. 11 Varun Aaron, who has quite the penchant for ending up in these last-over situations with the bat. It was down to fours required off each of the balls left.The next ball Jadeja flicked off the rib for four. The difference here was he was expecting the short ball. The next one was even better: a flat six pulled over midwicket. Now with two required, New Zealand needed to cut their losses. They spread the leg-side field, put every one up on the off side, and Anderson bowled outside off. Jadeja failed to beat cover, finished the single comfortably, but for some reason didn't go for the second. The second was not on, but you never know what fielders are liable to do under such pressure situations. Jadeja and Aaron had nothing to lose with the second, but they didn't go for it. It was a difficult night to explain.

4) Cricket: 'Big three' bid to re-shape world cricket:

Cricket's power-brokers meet next week amid an apparent threat from India to withdraw from major global events unless there is radical reform of the International Cricket Council.The draft proposal to be discussed at a two-day ICC board meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29 calls for more decision-making powers for a three-strong group of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board -- who between them represent the game's wealthiest nations.
On the field, there is also a suggestion of the creation of two divisions for Test cricket but with England, Australia and India all safe from relegation because of their commercial importance.The proposals need seven votes from the ICC's 10 leading nations to pass.Thursday saw the BCCI's emergent working committee declare the proposal "in the interests of cricket at large".It added it had "authorised the office bearers to enter into agreements with the ICC for participating in the ICC events and hosting ICC events, subject to the proposal being approved by the ICC board".

The BCCI working committee also gave the go ahead to its top officials to sign bilateral agreements with all other full member boards, including Pakistan.
At stake is the current ICC Future Tours Programme, a system that ensures all the 10 leading nations play each other over a set period, thereby guaranteeing the smaller countries aren't starved of Test cricket in particular.Criticism from other boards has so far largely been muted to complaints about a failure to follow procedure.
Both South Africa, currently Test cricket's top-ranked nation and Sri Lanka, losing finalists against India in the last World Cup final, have called for the proposals to be deferred and taken off the table next week.Meanwhile Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA) chairman Paul Marsh accused the 'big three' of leaving the other seven leading nations to "wither on the vine"."This proposal is designed to vest control of the game in the three boards of India, Australia and England," added Marsh, the son of Australia great Rodney Marsh."It is not in the best interests of the global game and we have real fears that it will only serve to strengthen the 'big three' countries whilst the rest are left to wither on the vine."The game deserves far better than this and all within FICA call on the other seven ICC board members to reject this proposal at next week's board meeting. The future of the game depends on them doing so."But with the BCCI, thanks to the huge popularity of cricket in India, generating 80 percent of the ICC's global revenue, there is an acceptance in some quarters it deserves a larger slice of the proceeds.And, after its ill-fated involvement with now convicted fraudster Allen Stanford over a short-lived Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean, there are those who say the ECB is better off being an ally of the BCCI than an opponent.However, the prospect of, for example, the West Indies being denied Test series against England or Australia fills many cricket-lovers with dread.Even so, New Zealand Cricket's Martin Snedden said it was wrong to see the 'big three' plan as nothing more than a naked power grab."Don't jump to the conclusion what they're doing is not good for world cricket," Snedden told the New Zealand Herald."Get this right and the FTP playing programme can be extended to 2023 and we can line it up with ICC events like the World Cup and World T20. That'd be a stable platform to work from."

5) Cricket: Imran launches cricket scheme in troubled NW Pakistan:

Former Pakistan cricketer turned politician Imran Khan launched a scheme Saturday to scout talent in the troubled northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, hoping the game could bolster anti-terrorism efforts.Khan, who led Pakistan to their only World Cup win in Australia in 1992, said he hoped finding new talent in the region could help Pakistan win the title once more."This is the start to a campaign to unearth talent in the KPK (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), who will in turn bring another World Cup to Pakistan," Khan said at the launch of the scheme.

Khan's political party -- Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) -- emerged as the third biggest force in last year's elections and formed a provincial government in the Khyber-Paktunkhwa province, plagued by frequent suicide bomb bombings by Taliban militants.
His party faces the challenge of bringing peace to the province, with Khan a vocal advocate on holding talks with the Taliban.
"I hope and pray that peace is restored in every part including FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) where a lot of cricket talent needs to be unearthed," said Khan, who played 88 Tests and 175 one-day internationals for Pakistan during an illustrious career.Khan said he was himself unearthed by a talent hunt scheme.
"Forty years ago I went to Lahore University ground and was selected as a 16-year-old boy," said Khan.

"When I launched the first scheme in Karachi 20 years ago we unearthed Shahid Afridi," he added, describing the allrounder who still plays limited overs cricket for Pakistan.
Afridi, also present at the launch, said young Pakistani talent was needed to supplement people like Khan both in cricket and politics as well as to divert young people away from extremism."It's a healthy activity and will help divert the youth to constructive activities, so I request the youth to support Khan, both in cricket and politics," said Afridi.

Under the talent hunt scheme eight teams will be selected throughout KP province and selected players will be recommended to Pakistan's national selectors.

Book Of This Week:

The Goldfinch :by Donna Tartt 

Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. 

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. 

The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

Donna Tartt 

Donna Tartt is an American writer and author of the novels The Secret History, The Little Friend, and The Goldfinch. Tartt won the WH Smith Literary Award for The Little Friend in 2003.

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