Asteroid named after Alejandro Jodorowsky

A large asteroid has been named after Alejandro Jodorowsky, the cult Franco-Chilean film-maker and science-fiction comics writer who later became a spiritual guru.

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The Minor Planets Centre, a branch of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has listed asteroid 261690 Jodorowsky at the request of a French astronomer who spotted the five-kilometre-wide object more than seven years ago.

The discoverer is Jean-Claude Merlin, who has several other “minor planets,” as large asteroids are called, on his list of sightings.

“I detected it on the evening of Christmas Eve in 2005, using an 80-centimetre (32-inch) telescope in Arizona that I direct over the internet from my home,” Merlin was quoted on Tuesday as saying in a press release by Les Humanoides Associes, Jodorowsky’s French publishing house.

Several years of observation are needed to confirm a discovery and calculate its orbit, enabling it to be enshrined in the IAU’s list.

A special panel, the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, is in charge of approving names. Approval came on July 24.

Jodorowsky, 84, leapt to prominence in 1970 with an offbeat “acid western” movie called “El Topo”, which was followed in 1973 by a surrealist film, “The Holy Mountain”.

Both became popular on the underground film circuit in the United States.

In France, he found success in the 1980s with science-fiction comic books, including a series called The Incal, illustrated by French artist Moebius.

Jodorowsky, based in Paris, also writes and talks about his own spiritual beliefs, which he calls psycho-shamanism, whose influences include tarot cards, alchemy and Zen Buddhism.

Hundreds of asteroids have been named after human beings, rather than characters in fiction or Greek and Roman mythology.

Astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, politicians, philosophers and teachers are among those who have been given this honour.

“Artistic” asteroids include 2362 Mark Twain, 2675 Tolkien, 8749 Beatles, 7934 Sinatra and 13070 Seanconnery.

261690 Jodorowsky orbits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, at an average distance of 470 million kilometres (293 million miles) from the Sun, the press release said.

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Low cash rate boosts home construction

Approvals for the construction of new homes have surged above expectations as the effects of record-low interest rates filter through the economy.

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Building approvals rose 10.8 per cent across Australia in July – and 28.3 per cent over the year to July – according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, exceeding economists’ expectations of a four per cent rise in the month.

ANZ chief economist Ivan Colhoun said while the figures were encouraging, the data was subject to volatility caused by approvals of big apartment buildings.

“Month by month you do get quite a lot of volatility but there’s a gradual trend upwards,” Mr Colhoun said.

“Looking through the volatility, there is an encouraging uplift going on, particularly led by NSW.

“Housing is typically the sector that first responds to lower interest rates so it is showing its normal response to lower interest rates, although it has been a little bit more constrained than in the past.”

The healthy approvals figures came after the closely-watched RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index showed Australian capital city home prices rose more than five per cent in the 12 months to August – further signs that the housing market is recovering, CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said.

“Low interest rates, strong population growth, healthy employment, and pent up housing demand is starting to see the housing sector shake off the shackles and begin a much needed resurgence,” Mr Sebastian said.

“Granted it is early days, but the sector looks to be on a healthy recovery path.”

JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy said the large increase in approvals for July had followed two consecutive monthly falls and would likely be followed by a hangover in the next few months.

But despite the volatility, the figures were encouraging, he said.

“While the underlying trend is a little difficult to discern, with record low interest rates and home prices rising, it is reasonable to expect some of the uptick in investor loan activity we have been seeing to flow into further residential investment through this year and next,” he said.

Master Builders Australia chief economist Peter Jones said the approvals were a positive sign that a housing recovery was taking hold but said approvals were “nowhere near where they need to be to meet the under supply of housing”.

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Ferguson still AWOL, considers boxing move

Confessed peptide user Sandor Earl may have stolen Canberra’s bad boy tag, but the NRL club still hasn’t located his troubled mate and possible budding boxer Blake Ferguson.

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The AWOL centre was last seen at Raiders HQ on Saturday, with CEO Don Furner unable to speak to Ferguson the entire week.

Ferguson had advised the Raiders to contact his second-cousin Anthony Mundine after failing to show up for a meeting on Tuesday night, however the club had no success in doing so.

While Mundine could have provided a stable influence for Ferguson, the bad news is he flew to the US on Friday to promote a proposed boxing bout against Shane Mosley in Sydney on October 23.

However it’s understood the undercard fight is open and being courted as a possible option for Ferguson, who has been talking to sports agent Khoder Nasser.

News of Ferguson’s potential boxing career comes just one day after reports emerged that he had been charged by police for allegedly driving with a suspended license whilst speeding 18km/h over the limit.

He is scheduled to appear at Moss Vale Local Court on October 21 – two days before his proposed professional boxing debut.

After standing down the missing star without pay on Thursday, the Raiders say the alleged driving offences will also be taken into account when considering Ferguson’s future at the club.

However it’s highly unlikely that meeting will ever take place.

The 23-year-old has the option for a get-out clause in his contract as of October 31 that was triggered when head coach David Furner was sacked last week.

It’s almost certain that if the Raiders don’t cut him loose before then, he’ll trigger that clause to be closer to family and friends in Sydney.

The distraction couldn’t come at a worse time for Ferguson’s teammates, who have slumped to 12th place after four straight losses.

His latest Houdini act is just one of many off-field indiscretions over the past nine months, the most serious of which being the alleged indecent assault of a woman in a Cronulla bar in June for which he’ll front a Sydney court next Tuesday over.

Other indiscretions include drinking with sacked teammate Josh Dugan instead of turning up to a recovery session in March, and being kicked out of a music festival last November after allegedly spitting on patrons.

No wonder Raiders interim coach Andrew Dunemann earlier in the week admitted the whole Ferguson saga had become a circus.

Meanwhile Canberra have re-signed under 20s stars fullback Jack Ahearn, centre Jeremy Hawkins and prop Jeff Lynch until the end of 2015.

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Pearce confident Roosters can fly again

According to Mitchell Pearce, it’s the lull the Sydney Roosters had to have, and he sees no greater motivation than arch-rivals South Sydney to snap them back into NRL premiership-winning form.

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The Roosters go into Friday night’s minor premiership-deciding derby having lost back-to-back game for the first time this season – a worrying dip in form when serious title contenders want to be building momentum.

Pearce admitted the timing was not ideal, but pointed to similar down periods for the Roosters’ title rivals as evidence that the slump was not necessarily terminal.

The Storm lost four of five games during State of Origin, Souths lost three of four when Greg Inglis went down with a knee injury while Manly won only one of six games amid a tough mid-year stretch.

“Sometimes when you have a couple of losses and get a bit of criticism, you start working a bit harder,” Pearce said.

“It’s funny how it works but we haven’t really had too many lows this year and, in saying that, Manly, Melbourne and Souths have had a couple of down periods where we’ve been pretty smooth sailing.

“It’s probably not the best time to have it at this time of the year, from the outside perspective, but inside we feel like we’re ready to go.

“It’s definitely doable (turning it around) … we don’t think there’s too much in it.

“It’s just a matter of a bit of adjustment and realising what we’re about, and no better place to try and turn that around on Friday.”

And if complacency was an issue in past weeks, that should not be a problem before a bumper crowd and with top spot on the line.

“We probably should have won the game (against Gold Coast) and there were a couple of areas that were uncharacteristic of us this year,” Pearce said.

“A fair bit of that was in defence which is something we haven’t done this year.

“That’s a little bit of a negative sign but we’re trying to take it as a positive and a bit of a wake-up call.

“And there’s no bigger test against Souths this week, especially with their backline with (Greg) Inglis out the back – we’re going to have to be on in defence.”

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Aussie businessman kidnapped in Uganda

Ugandan police have warned the business community in Australia to be wary of African con men who promise lucrative oil deals after an Australian businessman was kidnapped and held for ransom.

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Four Nigerians were later arrested for the crime.

Uganda police deputy spokesman Patrick Onyango said, “The Australian was the one who told us about his being kidnapped. The information we got from him helped us to arrest the kidnappers.”

According to police, in mid-July 2013, at Madirisa zone on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital Kampala, gangsters kidnapped an Australian and demanded a ransom of 650,000 euros ($A968,486).

They later settled for 350,000 euros, which the businessman’s relatives paid before he was freed.

Mr Onyango said the businessman reported the kidnapping to police before boarding a plane for Australia.

“He did not want to get involved in the investigations. All he wanted was to return home. He flew back to Australia and left us to hunt for the thugs,” Mr Onyango said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it recently provided consular assistance to a 61-year-old man in Uganda and to his family in Victoria.

Police said the arrested Nigerians were members of criminal cells operating in Uganda, Congo, Kenya and Liberia that lure foreigners into the country with fake deals, especially those involving oil.

When they were arrested, the suspects were found with documents carrying the forged signature of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and other fake agreements purportedly used to award contracts in the oil sector.

Mr Onyango said the Nigeria suspects were being held on charges of forgery, possession of government property, kidnap, aggravated trafficking and possession of counterfeit currencies.

He said two American businessmen were also kidnapped by the same group and were freed after a ransom was paid.

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70% of Americans have high-speed Internet

The percentage of Americans with high-speed internet connections at home has reached 70 per cent, while just three per cent still use dial-up.

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The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project report says the percentage of high-speed users represents a small but statistically significant rise from the 66 per cent of adults who said they had home broadband in April last year.

The percentage using dial-up as of May 2013 has held steady at three per cent for the past two years, Pew has found, but is down sharply from a peak of 41 per cent in 2001.

Overall, 85 per cent of Americans use the internet, the report said.

Of those who lack a high-speed connection at home, 10 per cent have smartphones that can access the web.

As previous research has found, those with the highest rates of home broadband use continue to be college graduates, adults under 50 and adults living in households earning at least $US50,000 ($A55,650) a year.

Whites and adults living in urban or suburban areas also have above-average rates.

“We’ve consistently found that age, education and household income are among the strongest factors associated with home broadband adoption,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, research associate for Pew and lead author of the report, on Monday.

“Many dial-up users cite cost and access as the main reasons they don’t have broadband but for adults who don’t use the internet at all, a lack of interest is often the main issue.”

The survey notes that more than half of all American adults own a smartphone but it did not determine whether this constitutes “broadband” speed.

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Jockey Nikolic toe-to-toe with cop

A senior police officer says he sat frozen in shock as jockey Danny Nikolic stood toe-to-toe abusing one of his colleagues in a Melbourne police station.

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Nikolic is charged with assaulting Detective Senior Constable Julio Salerno after an official interview at St Kilda police station in March 2011.

Sergeant Dave Eadie told the Melbourne Magistrates Court Nikolic had participated willingly in the interview but became agitated after having a short conversation with Det Sen Const Salerno after the recording devices were switched off.

“Nikolic said he wasn’t happy with Julio Salerno being present,” Sgt Eadie told the court.

“He told him `get the f*** out of here, I’m not speaking with you’.”

Sgt Eadie said the two men stood up and their foreheads were touching and Nikolic was red in the face.

Det Sen Const Salerno pushed Nikolic back into his chair but the jockey immediately bounced back to his feet and continued the confrontation.

The court heard they again stood with their foreheads touching with Nikolic goading the officer urging him to “have a go”.

“I sat there and froze, it was behaviour that shocked me,” Sgt Eadie said.

Nikolic had come to the police station to be questioned about other matters, including an alleged assault on fellow jockey Mark Pegus with which he was duly charged.

Both assault charges are being heard by Magistrate Angela Bolger.

Pegus claims Nikolic, who is banned from riding after making threats against Victoria’s chief racing steward, assaulted him at the Caulfield stables of trainer Byron Cozamanis in January 2011.

But he says he only reported the incident after Nikolic allegedly assaulted his girlfriend two months later.

Pegus told the court an altercation between the two began with a phone call in which Nikolic accused him of spreading rumours about his brother. It continued the next morning when the two arrived at the stable to ride trackwork.

In the belief that they were going to discuss their differences, Pegus said he followed Nikolic into the stable office where things turned violent.

“As I walked in Danny flew at me and started throwing punches,” he told the court.

Det Sen Const Salerno is due to give evidence in the contested hearing on Friday.

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AMP and China Life set up new fund

AMP Capital and China’s biggest insurer China Life will establish a new funds management company in China with the hope of handling some of the $800 billion on offer.

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AMP will hold a 15 per cent stake in the new China Life AMP Asset Management Company, with the balance to be held by China Life Asset Management Company, a subsidiary of China Life Insurance Company.

China Life is China’s largest insurance group, institutional investor and corporate pension manager.

“Total assets under management in China’s mutual fund industry is expected to reach $0.8 trillion in 2013 growing at 15 per cent per annum to reach almost $1.5 trillion in 2017,” AMP said in a statement on Monday.

The deal will be China Life’s first joint venture in mainland China with a foreign partner in funds management.

Recent regulatory changes in China mean insurance companies can establish funds management companies offering public funds to retail and institutional investors.

The joint venture is subject to regulatory approval by the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

AMP chief executive Craig Dunn said the deal would give the company direct access to the world’s second largest and fastest growing major economy.

“The funds management joint venture represents the commercialisation of our memorandum of understanding with China Life and is the ideal balance of our mutual strengths and capabilities,” Mr Dunn said.

The joint venture means AMP Capital now has an institutional and retail presence in Australia, China and Japan.

AMP shares dropped five cents, or 1.05 per cent, to $4.69.

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Melzer wins ATP Winston-Salem Open

Frenchman Gael Monfils fell victim to an abdominal muscle injury and retired from the ATP Winston-Salem final handing Austrian Jurgen Melzer the crown.

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Melzer was leading 6-3 2-1 – and was up a break in the second set – when Monfils called it quits after consulting with a trainer.

The latest of the injury hard luck that has followed flamboyant shot-maker Monfils throughout his career comes with the start of the US Open, the last Grand Slam of the season, starting on Monday in New York.

The 15th seed plainly felt the injury while serving in the third game of the second set, after dropping the first set in 33 minutes to his 32-year-old opponent.

He was broken in a game that went to deuce four times, reduced to leaning on his racquet after each point in the final game.

He was visited by the trainer on court but opted not to continue, giving Melzer his fifth career title and first on hardcourt.

“I’m a little bit sad. I’m a big fighter and I wanted to make it today,” said Monfils, who had also been bidding for a fifth title. “I felt great this week and was playing good tennis.

“It was my first time here and I had played quite well. I had some tough matches and played quite well. I’m now just hoping for a speedy recovery for the US Open.”

Monfils had also been treated for muscle pain and tightness during his semi-final win on Friday over Alexandr Dolgopolov.

The world number 43 hadn’t played for a month prior to this week after an ankle injury suffered in training forced him to miss the Montreal and Cincinnati Masters.

Monfils was playing in only his fifth event since a runner-up finish in Nice, staged the week before the French Open in May.

The injuries have slowed Monfils’ bid to rebuild his ranking. He had fallen as low as 108th in early February but has climbed back into the top 50 by reaching the quarter-finals or better seven times this season.

He now stands 29-17 for 2013 and is fighting to be fit for a first-round match at Flushing Meadows against Romanian Adrian Ungur.

Melzer, who missed a month after Wimbledon with a shoulder injury, said taking on Spain’s Gala Blanco as his coach was paying dividends.

“I’m very happy to win this title, I was not happy with first-round losses at Montreal and Cincinnati, I did not perform well,” he said.

“But I really had a great week here. I’m very sorry for Gael. He has such a big heart and is such a fighter. When he retires from a match, you know something is wrong. I wish him a speedy recovery for the Open.”

Melzer began the match with a break for a 2-0 lead. Monfils saved a set point in the eighth game to narrow the gap to 5-3, but the experienced Austrian delivered a service winner to pocket the set on his third opportunity in the next game.

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‘Terror bird’ was vegetarian

A giant “terror bird” deemed to have been one of Earth’s top predators after the demise of the dinosaurs was in fact probably a plant-loving herbivore, German scientists say.

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Palaeontologists have wrangled for years about Gastornis, a huge flightless bird that lived between 40 million and 55 million years ago.

Up to two metres high, Gastornis had a massive beak with a hooked top – a feature that looks so ferocious that many experts conclude the creature must have been a meat-eater, hence the “terror bird” monicker.

“The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force,” said University of Bonn geochemist Thomas Tuetken, who took part in a new assessment.

“It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small.

“The terror bird was thought to have been a top predator at that time on land.”

Tuetken and his colleagues, though, reassessed the bird’s diet. They began to forge a pro-veggie opinion after they measured calcium isotopes in fossilised Gastornis bones found in a former open-cast brown-coal mine in Saxony-Anhalt, eastern Germany.

The residual signal of these isotopes is a telltale of what proportion of the animal’s diet came from meat versus plants.

The indicator gets “lighter” as the isotope passes down the food chain.

In theory, the bones of a supposed apex predator like Gastornis should have sent a strong signal.

But the team found the isotope levels were weak, similar to those of herbivorous mammals and dinosaurs held in museum collections. Carnivores, including the Tyrannosaurus rex, had a far stronger signature.

The work was showcased on Thursday at an annual international meeting of geochemists called the Goldschmidt Conference taking place this year in Florence, Italy.

The vegetarian view of Gastornis has had other recent backing from evidence in the United States.

Footprints from the American cousin to the Gastornis suggest that its feet did not have sharp claws, which are characteristic of predators.

And its big size meant that it may have been quite unable to hunt for small and nimble early mammals, which for carnivores were the food du jour, say some experts.

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