Chatter: Hurricane Sandy shuts down US East Coast




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Need to know:
They called it the Frankenstorm. Stormageddon. The Snowicane. But don't be fooled by the silly names: President Barack Obama is warning Americans to take Hurricane Sandy "very seriously."

Forecasters say the storm is less than 400 miles from New York City. It's packing winds of 85 mph, which could get even stronger when Sandy makes landfall anywhere between Virginia and southern New England later today. There'll be gales, rain, floods and an "extremely dangerous" storm surge.

In a bid to minimize the damage, hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated, thousands of flights cancelled, schools closed and the entire NYC public transport system shut down. Man, you know it's bad when the Wall Street Journal suspends its paywall.

Sandy has already killed more than 60 people across the Caribbean. If you're one of the 50 million people now in its line of fire, please, as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says: "Don't be stupid. Get out."

Want to know:
Syria has dropped any last pretense of an Eid ceasefire, as the four-day "truce" enters its final hours.

Amid reports of warplanes bombarding Damascus and mass casualties in a car bombing, the man responsible for brokering the deal has admitted that neither side is respecting it. Speaking from Moscow, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the situation as "bad and getting worse."

Activists report that hundreds of people have died since the ceasefire nominally came into effect on Friday.

"If that is not civil war, I do not know what it is," Brahimi says. The peace plan ends today; the fighting doesn't.

Dull but important:
It looks like Ukraine's ruling party has won its latest parliamentary election.

Partial results from yesterday's vote give President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions more than 36 percent. The opposition Fatherland coalition, led from jail by former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, has just over 21 percent. Yanukovych's allies, the Communists, are currently third with around 15 percent.

The president hopes to use the election to polish his somewhat tarnished democratic credentials. His opponents have already complained of widespread irregularities; observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will give their verdict later today.

Whether they judge the voting fair or not, only about 45 percent of the electorate took part – which doesn't say much for Ukrainians' confidence in their democracy.

Just because:
Finding out whether you're HIV-positive could soon be as simple as telling the difference between red and blue.

Scientists have come up with a new test for the virus that is ten time more sensitive than existing methods, a fraction of the cost, and crucially, makes the results visible to the naked eye. It works by testing serum extracted from blood samples for the presence of an HIV biomarker: if the sample turns red, it's negative; if it turns blue, it's positive.

The developers say their invention could be of particular benefit in developing countries, where it could help make widespread testing affordable in some of the places that are seeing the disease spread fastest.

Strange but true:
You may wish to sit down for the following announcement: Yoko Ono didn't break up the Beatles.

So says Paul McCartney, who has told an interviewer that the group was ready to split even before Ono lured John Lennon off to lie in bed and make weird art.

"It was time for John to leave, he was definitely going to leave [one way or another]," Macca maintains.

Yeah, right. Next he'll be telling us that the real Paul McCartney didn't die in 1966 and he isn't his alien replacement. Who does he take us for?