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Baby steps to learn speech: Lip-reading Study finds eye gaze shifts to mouths



The demise of a very old giant

Seminole County firefighter Al Caballero applies water to the smoldering base of one of the world’s oldest cypress trees, thought to be 3,500 years old, in Longwood, Fla., on Monday. The 118-foot-tall tree, named ‘The Senator,’ collapsed after it caught fire Monday. The blaze is suspected to be arson.

WASHINGTON — Babies don’t learn to talk just from hearing sounds. New research suggests they’re lip-readers too. It happens during that magical stage when a baby’s babbling gradually changes from gibberish into syllables and eventually into that first “mama” or “dada.” Florida scientists discovered that starting around age 6 months, babies begin shifting from the intent eye gaze of early infancy to studying mouths when people talk to them. “The baby in order to imitate

you has to figure out how to shape their lips to make that particular sound they’re hearing,” explains developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University, who led the study being published Monday. “It’s an incredibly complex process.” Apparently it doesn’t take them too long to absorb the movements that match basic sounds. By their first birthdays, babies start shifting back to look you in the eye again — unless they hear the unfamiliar sounds of a foreign language. Then, they stick with lip-reading a bit longer. “It’s a pretty intriguing find-

ing,” says University of Iowa psychology professor Bob McMurray, who also studies speech development. The babies “know what they need to know about, and they’re able to deploy their attention to what’s important at that point in development.” The new research appears in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It offers more evidence that quality face-time with your tot is very important for speech development. It also begs the question of whether babies who turn out to have developmental disorders, including autism, learn to


A baby, looking at a monitor, wears a band that determines head position which, in turn, aids an eye tracker.

speak the same way, or if they might provide an early warning show differences that just sign.



Payroll tax cut still priority s Congress returns from a threeweek holiday break, members will A get back to work on how to pay for

extending an average $20-a-week Social Security payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 without adding to the government’s long-term debt. President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats insisted on taxing the wealthy to offset the deficit impact of the payroll tax cut and of providing jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed. While still useful as campaign fodder, that idea is largely gone. House and Senate negotiators are drawing on Obama’s budget and the work of the defunct congressional supercommittee on deficit reduction to come up with the $160 billion or so needed to continue the tax cut and federal jobless benefits. Both are set to expire Feb. 29.


Subsidies partially restored

Labor unions ended a crippling nationwide strike Monday in Nigeria after the country’s president partially restored subsidies that keep gasoline prices low, though it took soldiers deployed in the streets to stop demonstrations in Africa’s most populous nation. Union leaders claimed a victory for labor, saying this would allow its leaders to guide the country’s policy on fuel subsidies in the future. But the newly agreed price of about $2.27 a gallon is still more expensive than the previous price of $1.70 per gallon, putting additional economic strain on those living in a nation where most earn less than $2 a day and few see the rewards of being a major oil exporter. And to force the compromise and stop popular protests, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered soldiers to take over security in the country’s major cities, something unseen since the nation abandoned military rule for an uneasy democracy in 1999. SANAA, YEMEN

Al-Qaida forces seize town

Al-Qaida militants took full control on Monday of Radda, a town 100 miles south of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and freed at least 150 prison inmates. Militants took advantage of the weak central government and political turmoil in the nation for the past year. Authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently agreed to step down after months of resisting the protests against his 33-year rule. But he remains a powerful force within the country and a spark for ongoing unrest. Al-Qaida in Yemen had previously taken control of towns in the mostly lawless south. But its capture of Radda gives the militants a territorial foothold closer than ever before to the capital, where many sleeper cells of the terror network are thought to be located. ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Nome may soon get oil

Crews have laid a hose along a half mile stretch of Bering Sea ice and were hoping Monday to soon begin transferring 1.3 million gallons of fuel from a Russian fuel tanker to the iced-in western Alaska city of Nome. The offloading could begin before sundown Monday, said Stacey Smith of Vitus Marine, the fuel supplier that arranged to have the Russian tanker Renda and its crew deliver the fuel. Crews were working on hooking the hose to a shore-side pipeline leading to storage tanks in town, Smith said. State officials said the transfer must start during daylight, but can continue in darkness.


Italian rescue personnel are seen walking on the upturned side of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on Monday, two days after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. The captain of the liner faced accusations he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated.

Environmental disaster feared A fuel leak from the Italian cruise liner could be catastrophic. The Associated Press

ROME — Italy’s cruise liner tragedy turned into an environmental crisis Monday, as rough seas battering the stricken mega-ship raised fears that fuel might leak into pristine waters off Tuscany that are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales. The ship’s jailed captain, meanwhile, lost the support of the vessel’s Italian owner as he battled prosecutors’ claims

that he caused the deadly wreck that killed at least six and left 29 missing. Earlier, authorities had said 16 people were missing. But an Italian Coast Guard official, Marco Brusco, said late Monday that 25 passengers and four crew members were unaccounted for three days after the disaster. He didn’t explain the jump, but indicated 10 of the missing are Germans. Two Americans are also among the missing. At least three families of Italian passengers have said that despite their loved ones’ being listed among those safely evacuated, they hadn’t heard

from them. There still is “a glimmer of hope” that there could be survivors on parts of the vast Costa Concordia that not have been searched by rescuers, Brusco said. A search of the above-water portion of the ship last yielded a survivor, a crewman who had broken his leg, on Sunday. Waters that had remained calm for the first three days of the rescue turned choppy Monday. A search for bodies was suspended overnight. Italy’s environmental minister raised the alarm about a potential environmental catastrophe if any of the 500,000

gallons (2,300 tons) of fuel begins to leak into the waters off Giglio, which are popular with scuba divers and form part of the protected Tuscan archipelago. “At the moment there haven’t been any fuel leaks, but we have to intervene quickly to avoid an environmental disaster,” Corrado Clini told RAI radio. The ship’s operator, Costa Crociere SpA, has enlisted Smit of Rotterdam, Netherlands, one of the world’s biggest salvagers, to handle the removal of the 1,000-foot cruise liner. A study could come as early as today on how to extract the fuel safely.

Contempt charge for Pakistan PM Firing of Pa. conservation Move comes after leader refuses to revive corruption case against president. By ALEX RODRIGUEZ Los Angeles Times

ISLAMABAD — Dealing a heavy blow to Pakistan’s embattled government, the high court initiated contempt proceedings Monday against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani because he would not restart a long-standing corruption case against the nation’s president. Gilani, a top ally of President Asif Ali Zardari in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, must appear before the Supreme Court on Thursday, when the justices will listen to his explanation for not going ahead with the case. If the court moves forward with the contempt proceeding and Gilani is convicted, he could be disqualified from office and forced to step down. He also could be forced to

serve up to six months in jail. Zardari’s government is locked in battles with the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s powerful military, both of which have had an acrimonious relationship with the president since he took office in 2008. The crisis has stirred talk of the government’s possible ouster, though experts say it likely would happen through legal action by the high court, rather than a military coup. The military has ousted civilian leaders in coups four times in Pakistan’s 64-year history, but its current leadership has publicly stated it has no plans to mount a takeover. But the nation’s generals were angered by the emergence of an unsigned memo a Pakistani-American businessman contends was engineered by a top Zardari ally and which sought Washington’s help in preventing a military coup last spring. The memo offered several concessions, including the elimination of a wing of

panel official criticized The Associated Press


Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani will appear before Supreme Court Thursday.

the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups. The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, claims it was then-ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani who approached him with the idea. Haqqani, who was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, denies any involvement in the creation or conveyance of the memo. A Supreme Court commission is probing the case.

PITTSBURGH — The longtime head of a citizens advisory committee on Pennsylvania’s parks and forests has been fired, an action that fellow members and environmentalists say could reduce public oversight over gas drilling in state forests. Kurt Leitholf, who has been executive director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Citizens Advisory Council since 1996, was told last week by the Corbett administration that his position was being eliminated, the Pittsburgh PostGazette said. Leitholf told the paper that he was disappointed by the decision, which took effect Friday. Department spokeswoman Christina Novak said officials determined that funding a full-time executive director was “not costeffective.” She said departmental legislative liaison Joe Graci will perform Leitholf’s duties in addition to his own. Eric Martin, one of two remain-

ing original council members, accusedtheadministrationoftrying to pre-empt public oversight of the department amid Marcellus Shale gas drilling on forest land. “Aside from what we the councilfeelwasanillegalfiring,thisisa clear message from the executive suite regarding citizen involvement and transparency,” he told the paper in an e-mail. “Funny that one of our hot topics is Marcellus Shale.” Pennsylvania has leased onethird of its 2.1 million-acre forest system for oil and gas drilling, including more than 130,000 acres for Marcellus Shale deep wells. The department has warned that more oil and gas development would damage the ecology and forests. “As the Corbett administration ignores public opinion and converts more and more of our public lands to gas drilling industrial zones, we need greater oversight, not less,” said Jeff Schmidt, Pennsylvania Sierra Club chapter director.

Times Leader 01-17-2012  

The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader 01-17

Times Leader 01-17-2012  

The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader 01-17