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The favourite bold sexual policies are rewriting history

Olivia Colman, an Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite, tells the BBC she believes that the historical film has “reinvented the genre. It’s messy and you can almost smell the period it’s set in.”

The reputed love affair between Queen Anne and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough has become a hot favourite for awards season too – apart from the Globe win, the film has received 10 Oscar nominations and is up for 12 Baftas.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s film The Favourite has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture .

The Favourite has triumphed over an unusually large number of historical films that have been released in recent months. Period pieces can be hard to get off the ground, as costumes, castles and cavalry don’t come cheap: in recent film history, only epics such as Braveheart (1995) and Gladiator (2000) have enjoyed budgets of more than $100 million (£77.5 million). These movies brought home the Oscars, but too often the genre ends up as a noble runner-up, including Elizabeth (1998); The Lion in Winter (1968) and even 1963’s Cleopatra, at the time the most expensive film ever made. And as Ridley Scott discovered, five Oscars for Gladiator and a proven genius for shooting military battle scenes still couldn’t rescue his widely ignored Crusade epic Kingdom of Heaven in 2005.

We are finally getting non-white, non-male perspectives on history – Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

Competing with The Favourite is Josie Rourke’s drama about a better-known monarch, Mary Queen of Scots. Netflix spent $120 million (£93 million) on William Wallace’s rival Robert the Bruce in The Outlaw King, while Mike Leigh devoted over 150 minutes to Peterloo, about a political massacre that took place in Britain in 1819. In France, Pierre Schoeller made Un peuple et son roi, which spans from the storming of the Bastille in 1789 to the execution of King Louis in 1792.

Ironically, it’s recent history that enabled many of these films to be made.

“The focus in history films has typically been through a white male lens with the focus on a white ‘saviour’ figure,” explains Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, chief film critic for the Metro newspaper. “The thrilling change recently is that the lens and focus are changing and we are finally getting non-white, non-male perspectives on history.”

Mary Queen of Scots stars Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I and Saoirse Ronan as the titular queen.

The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos backs up this theory, pointing out he was trying to develop the film for nine years, until it finally chimed with the movement to fund stories starring female lead characters.

“The most important thing about it to me is that it’s a story of these three women and it was something you still rarely see on screen; a true story of women who were able to affect the lives of so many people around them,” he tells BBC Culture.

‘Kings are just human too’

The narrative of a lone female wielding power amongst her male contemporaries has found new resonance for a generation concerned about equality – another reason Mary Queen of Scots’ British director Josie Rourke thinks the film is on screens at this point in time. Both queens who feature in the film, Mary of Scotland and Elizabeth of England, played by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie respectively, suffer everyday sexism from their male contemporaries.

“They were surrounded by only male advisors and the film gives some clue about what they’d have faced on a day-to-day level,” she explains. “There are some fictional elements to the film, such as the physical meeting between the queens that didn’t take place in history, but I really hope no one thinks that we’ve portrayed a fictional misogyny.”

Although Ronan has won plaudits for her performance as Mary Queen of Scots, the film has failed to make its mark in awards season .

But though Margot Robbie has a Bafta nomination, and Ronan’s performance has been strongly praised, Mary Queen of Scots has failed to make as much of a dent on the Academy Awards, apart from in the best costume and hair and make-up categories. Ivan-Zadeh thinks The Favourite’s supremacy was inevitable.

The Favourite offers a female-driven perspective on history but it's also a piece of absurdist escapism, powered by not just one female performance, but three, which is unique for any Oscar contender I can think of

“I’m personally most excited about Mary Queen of Scots,” she says, “where a female director reframes and redefines how we see Mary and Elizabeth as powerful rulers, but also gets under their skin as women. But The Favourite is more likely to romp home in the genre as it wears its history so lightly and irreverently.

“It too offers a female-driven perspective on history but it's also a piece of absurdist escapism, powered by not just one female performance, but three, which is unique for any Oscar contender I can think of. It rides the Time's Up zeitgeist, but in a fun, less threatening way to more conservative voters.” 

There might not have been, however, a rethinking of the role of sex in royal history without the power of Game of Thrones. George RR Martin’s novels had certain elements loosely based on English medieval history; the first novel was published in 1996, around the same time Braveheart, another sexy, violent epic based on real history, appeared. Since 2011, viewing figures for the HBO TV series rose to 30 million worldwide. It followed series such as The Tudors in tone, influenced the creation of other series like The Vikings and The Last Kingdom, and Josie Rourke acknowledges it was only a matter of time before it seeped into film culture.

Loosely based on medieval history, George RR Martin’s novels and the subsequent hit TV series’ tone have seeped into film culture.

“The way Game of Thrones thinks about sex and sexuality is more truthful to the past instead of the previous sanitisation of period drama we saw,” she says.

“By going back into history in a full-blooded and more honest way, they’ve done things including the ‘de-queering’ of period drama and so now we can tell it more accurately.”

The current crop of historicals has a tone at which even Braveheart would have blushed – Mary Queen of Scots deals with menstruation and Mary’s husband’s bisexuality, whilst The Favourite is centred around Queen Anne’s sexuality and doesn’t shy away from showing it. Meanwhile, The Outlaw King provides a half-a-second shot of full-frontal nudity in the form of Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, which director David Mackenzie explained was necessary to show “kings are just human too” - but which proved to be the film’s biggest talking point on social media.

‘Story above history’

History’s sexual politics might be attractive to audiences in 2019; actual politics less so. The Outlaw King, which Netflix gave a brief cinema release to in Scotland, was developed in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, and the resurgence in support for Scottish independence, although David Mackenzie confessed he was “nervous about contemporary parallels for obvious reasons. It’s a 700-year-old story.”

Netflix’s The Outlaw King was developed following Scotland’s 2014 referendum (Credit: Netflix)


A first cut of The Outlaw King was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, traditionally a launch pad for Oscar season, but it was described by The Scotsman as "having all the characteristics of a sweeping historical epic – glorious camera work, revenge-filled plot twists, lots of speechifying, an English villain with a hipster bowl-haircut - but the film doesn’t feel emotive or romantic.” In other words, Braveheart without heart.

Peterloo, which faithfully recreates hours of real-life speeches given by English workers in search of suffrage, was critically acclaimed, but possibly suffered from being “too historical” according to Larushka Ivan-Zadeh. Un peuple et son roi also focused on the speeches made at the start of France’s modern democracy in 1789, and French audiences stayed away.

Mike Leigh’s historical drama Peterloo centred on a political massacre in Britain in 1819.

It was Irish cinema audiences who found enthusiasm for national history with Black '47, set during the 19th-Century Irish famine. Directed by Lance Daly and starring The Matrix’s Hugo Weaving, the film, partly made in the Irish language and graphic in its depictions of suffering, made more than 1 million euros (£881,000) at the Irish box office in 2018. But Black ‘47 possibly engaged Irish audiences with a plot about a soldier’s killing spree against his English landlords.

“A feature film hasn’t been made about the famine that I know about, and there’s an extraordinary feeling of repressed rage about it. It’s a revenge film yes, and it’s imbued with pain and loss and grief,” its star Hugo Weaving says of Black '47. “It’s not just something out of Hollywood.”


Set during the 19th Century Irish famine, Black 47 made more than 1 million euros at the Irish box office in 2018.

We have a relevant message - that people in power, never mind their gender, can alter the lives of thousands of other people around of them because of a decision or a mood they have one day – Yorgos Lanthimos

The ultimate appeal of any period film, including The Favourite, explains Yorgos Lanthimos, is to always put story above history.

“We made a conscious decision we would keep what was interesting to the story, but we make it obvious that it’s not an accurate historical film. You can learn history from it and if you’re intrigued about it you can read up on it. We wanted to explore these female characters in depth, rather than give information.

“We also tried to make something that feels contemporary in a period setting, we used contemporary fabrics and our language, rather than language of the period. And we do have a relevant message – that people in power, never mind their gender, can alter the lives of thousands of other people around of them because of a decision or a mood they have one day.”

Regardless of whether The Favourite triumphs in this year’s awards season or whether it too comes second to a contemporary movie, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh feels that period film-making has been finally dragged into modernity.

“Films set in history such as Lady Macbeth and now Mary Queen of Scots have ‘colour-blind’ casting, and I find it invigorating. History isn’t written in stone. It’s constantly re-written and it’s exhilarating as well as long overdue to have female, LGBTQ and non-white actors, directors and writers being the ones rewriting it now.”

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:44

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Acadamy awards 2019 ;how good are the best picture nominees


The Favourite

The latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) garnered five stars from our critic Nicholas Barber, who described it as “a filthy, violent and outrageous period comedy that drips with bad language and worse behaviour, and will appal anyone who is expecting a more conventional royal drama” – yet is also “strangely touching”. Set in the palace of Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman, who has received a best actress Oscar nomination for her role) at the dawn of the 18th Century, “this juicy tale of political and sexual intrigue… bends every rule of the carriages-and-country-houses costume drama”. Its “deft script” and “universally superb performances” ensure that none of the characters – including two schemers played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, both of whom have just been nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar – are one-dimensional. And while it could be mistaken for a bawdy pantomime, Barber argues it’s actually a kind of tragedy: “If its heroines could only work together instead of against each other, who knows what they might achieve?”



Green Book

Based on actual people and events, the story of a black pianist (Mahershala Ali, nominated for best supporting actor) who hires a nightclub bouncer (Viggo Mortensen, nominated for best actor) as protection when he tours the segregated American South in 1962 only received two stars from our critic Caryn James. She argued that “only someone who has never viewed a movie before… will fail to see where this odd-couple, buddy-comedy road movie is going.” The film’s stars make Green Book “watchable and often entertaining, despite its predictability and glaring flaws” – according to James, “Ali is so strong a presence that he can convey depth and thoughtfulness with a single glance, almost delivering a character where the screenplay doesn’t”. But that isn’t enough to save what James describes as “a warm bath of clichés”: instead, she argues, Green Book “is proof that a film can be awards-ready without actually being very good”.



Black Panther

The first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture was also the biggest film of 2018 at the US box office – and was praised by Barber for having a “radical vision in mind – more radical, indeed, than that of any previous Hollywood studio blockbuster”. Director and co-writer, Ryan Coogler (Creed), tells the Marvel story of Wakanda, an ultra-modern utopia hidden in Africa as “an Afrocentric Bond movie” that turns into a sci-fi fantasy. In doing so, Barber argues, he “has taken every genre in which black characters are traditionally sidelined, and then, with considerable flair and boldness, he’s combined those genres and put black characters right at their heart”. With a majority black cast, the blockbuster is a game changer, says Barber. “Ask yourself: when was the last time any feature film, whether or not it was made by a Hollywood studio, posited that an African country might be the happiest, most prosperous and most scientifically advanced place on Earth?”




Dedicated to writer-director Alfonso Cuarón’s real-life nanny, Roma is “beautiful in every way” argues James, who gave the film five stars. Playing the maid of a family in Mexico City during the 1970s, Yalitza Aparicio (who had never acted before and who has just received a best actress nomination) “displays the layers of emotion that the character grapples with as she finds herself pregnant, then abandoned by her boyfriend” – emerging as “both an ordinary woman and an extraordinary screen heroine, resilient and unsentimental”. Cuarón (who has just received four personal Oscar nominations as producer, director, writer and cinematographer) creates “glorious, complex images” and “moments of everyday naturalism”: he “has taken his own memories, turned them into a dazzling fiction, and handed them to viewers like a gift”. The first Netflix film to be up for best picture, Roma lives up to its hype, believes James, describing it as “simply the most exquisite and artistic film of the year”.




“Probably Spike Lee’s best film in years,” is Emma Jones’s verdict on the true-life tale of an African-American policeman and his Jewish colleague infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. “Well-structured, well-scripted, and despite its subject matter, often extremely humorous”, it’s also stylish – “a homage to that suave 1970s African-American detective Shaft”. Lee “clearly feels that the way to deal with racism is to laugh at it” – but the humour doesn’t overwhelm the subject, with moments where the tone changes, such as when Lee contrasts the Black Power and White Power movements. “It’s a blockbuster of an American film,” argues Jones.



Bohemian Rhapsody

Barber gave the Freddie Mercury biopic three stars – but singled out Rami Malek’s performance as Queen’s charismatic frontman for praise. The film “looks like a daytime soap opera and it runs through the same chord progression as every previous rock biopic”, according to Barber. And the 12A / PG13 certificate has drawn complaints when, as Barber points out, “in reality, its hero was so debauched that he could have given Casanova lessons”. Yet the crowd-pleaser does acknowledge this – “Mamma Mia, it ain’t” – and the star deserves his best actor nomination: “Malek makes the role his own: he seems to be possessed by both the pouting, preening showman Mercury was in public and the sulky lost soul he could be in private”.



A Star is Born

Another three stars for Bradley Cooper’s remake of the 1937 film of the same name – the fourth remake since the original, which won the Academy Award for best picture (or ‘outstanding production’, as it was then known). According to Barber, “A Star Is Born puts terrific care and attention into depicting the night when the lovers meet and mosey around town together, but after that it flicks cursorily through the rest of their professional and personal lives as if it were glancing at someone else’s holiday photos. It never looks closely at who they are or what they want.” Yet the film hits some high notes, among them the performance of Lady Gaga (nominated for a best actress Oscar) – who is “so appealing, open and down-to-earth in her first major role that she deserves her pick of whichever gangster movies and romantic comedies come along. If nothing else, a film star is born.”




The Dick Cheney biopic from The Big Short director Adam McKay also received three stars from Barber, who argues that there is “plenty of lampooning of male stupidity and over-confidence” as well as “postmodern gimmickry” like “fantasy sequences, fourth wall-breaking monologues, ironic voiceovers and even a burst of cod-Shakespearean dialogue”. Yet Vice is “more focused and engrossing than McKay’s last film because it concentrates on the life of one intriguing, almost legendary man”. Christian Bale (just nominated for a best actor Oscar) undertakes one of his trademark transformations as Cheney – “you soon stop noticing that Bale is buried under layers of latex and accept that he has slowly but surely turned into an enormous egg with glasses perched on the top” – while Sam Rockwell (who’s received a best supporting actor nomination) is “especially entertaining as a goofy Dubya”. It might deliver “sustained volcanic rage”, but McKay’s approach offers limited insight into its leading character, according to Barber. “Vice, for all its wit and flair, comes to reveal the limitations of McKay’s flashy and splashy brand of satirical non-fiction.”

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:37

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Leyla Guven: MP on hunger strike for 77 days in Turkey

"Mum, don't leave me!" Sabiha Temizkan tweeted, in a desperate plea to her imprisoned mother Leyla Guven, now on hunger strike for 77 days.

She also posted a photo of herself planting an affectionate kiss on her mother's cheek.

Leyla Guven, 55, has been in jail since January 2018 for critical remarks about Turkey's military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria.

Facing more than a 100 years in prison on charges of membership and leadership of an armed organisation, terror propaganda and inciting people to hatred, Ms Guven went on hunger strike.

An MP in declining health

She is both an MP for the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party HDP and the co-leader of Democratic Society Congress - an assembly of representatives from civil society organisations, political parties, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The Turkish government accuses the congress of being linked to the militant Kurdish PKK group which has waged an insurgency in Turkey for over three decades, costing more than 40,000 lives.

Two former joint leaders of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been in jail since 2016 on terrorism charges.

Since 8 November Ms Guven has consumed only on sugary and salty liquids and a complex of B vitamins.

She suffers from nausea, fever, severe headaches, insomnia and unstable blood pressure and is increasingly sensitive towards light and smell.

When asked by the BBC to comment on Ms Guven's hunger strike, Turkey's justice ministry declined to answer any questions.

'We are really worried'

"I saw her for the last time over a week ago. I was supposed to see her again today but she couldn't make it to the visiting room. Her health is in a very poor condition," Sabiha Temizkan told the BBC.

Her mother has lost 9kg and Ms Temizkan is very worried.

"The most critical thing at the moment is that she now has difficulty in drinking the liquid too."

An ambulance is reportedly on standby in the prison yard and Turkey's health ministry sends doctors to examine her twice a day. But no independent doctors are allowed inside the jail.

Ms Guven has already refused forced feeding or any other intervention in case she loses her consciousness.

"It gives me unimaginable pain to see my mother going through this," her daughter says. "But I cannot ask her to end the hunger strike because she says she is doing this for peace," she added.

Thousands of people attended a rally at the weekend in the predominantly Kurdish town of Diyarbakir in support of Leyla Guven and her cause.

More than 250 political prisoners have started their own, indefinite hunger strike in solidarity with her.

Turkey keeps quiet on hunger strikes

By BBC Monitoring

Coverage of the hunger strikes has been very limited in mainstream and pro-government newspapers which dominate the Turkish press.

There has been almost no mention of Leyla Guven.

However, the online edition of Yeni Safak newspaper has described the hunger strikes as part of an international plan to "make Turkey submit". Milliyet's website said the PKK was trying to use it to "launch a mass movement".

The strikes have received more coverage in opposition media, and a low-circulation pro-Kurdish paper runs front-page coverage almost every day.

The only paper that has been covering Ms Guven's story has reportedly not been allowed in prisons recently, amid concerns that the hunger strike could attract more people.

What Guven wants

She went on hunger strike demanding an end to the isolation of the militant PKK's leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a high security prison in Turkey since 1999.

  • Ms Guven argues that by isolating him and by refusing to allow visits from his family or lawyers, the government has placed major impediments towards maintaining peace in Turkey.

    Ocalan had been refused visits since September 2016 but in a remarkable twist that all changed last week, when his brother, Mehmet Ocalan, was permitted to see him.

    However, that one-off visit was not expected to end Ms Guven's protest, her lawyer Reyhan Yalcindag told the BBC.

    "During the hunger strikes back in 1996, a dozen people lost their lives. In 2000 when security forces intervened with the prisoners on hunger strike, dozens of people got killed," Ms Yalcindag said.

    "Again people will die, coffins will be coming out of these prisons. How can the government turn a blind eye?" she asked.


ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:29

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Emiliano Sala: Profile of 'a South American warrior' & the 'local Carlos Tevez'

At 28, Emiliano Sala had just reached football maturity, and his move to Cardiff was shaping up to be a thrilling adventure.

The transfer marked belated recognition for a player who might be imperfect technically but who is physical, courageous - and endearing.

On the pitch, he is confrontational; off it, he has led a quiet life.

He loves detective novels and would never go to an away game without taking a book. He plays guitar too but took that up quite late, and usually prefers to leave it at home.

A common morning sight in Nantes was Sala, seated at a table outside a cafe with his labrador Naja curled up at his feet.

Destiny is cruel.

Fans of Nantes football club spent the whole of January hoping - rumour had it that Sala didn't really want to leave for Cardiff. His coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, had rekindled his career last October following a long period of struggle under former manager Miguel Cardoso and refused to discuss the possibility of his striker leaving.

Halilhodzic - himself a former centre-forward at Nantes - had decided his mission was to relaunch the Argentine player, whose role model since childhood had been the legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta.

"He's a sensitive young man; he needs to feel confident, so the priority was to help him believe in himself. Only after that could we talk, striker-to-striker," said Halilhodzic.

Sala confirmed: "The club was ready to sell me to Galatasaray, but I held on tight. I have no regrets, because Vahid and I talk a lot, and I'm steadily improving."

Emiliano Sala's Instagram page includes pictures of him cycling with friends

Between July and September, during the Cardoso era at Nantes, Sala scored four times; between October and December, he scored eight times.

'If he were an English player, he would be Jamie Vardy'

Sala is first and foremost an instinctive striker.

If he were an English player, he would be Jamie Vardy: a player who likes wide spaces and being part of a team that has a strong counter-attacking style; a lively, light player but one who is also resilient and reliable - a real South American warrior.

During his time with French club Niort he was often referred to as "the local Carlos Tevez".

Sala was also a skilled 'fox in the box', thanks particularly to his exceptional finishing ability with his head. He had perfect timing, and he was clinical on set pieces with his great headers. There is no doubt his technique still lacked something, but the Premier League looked like his turf to conquer.

He was initially unsure about joining a club struggling in their own league, but Kita, the president of Nantes, didn't want to miss out on the 17m euro transfer fee.

The player Cardiff wanted was the Sala that Halilhodzic had so successfully polished and relaunched.

In Argentina, Sala trained in San Francisco, Cordoba, at an academy allied to Bordeaux, moving to France to join Bordeaux when he was 20.

Everyone who knew him there agrees - Emiliano was a good guy and a good team-mate.

On Tuesday, Felipe Saad, who played with Sala at Caen, told L'Equipe: "He was a lovable, generous fellow. He always believed that football was a team sport. I am so shaken.

"His move to Cardiff was going to bring him the recognition he deserved, albeit belatedly. He so deserved his talent to be recognised."

It is true that Sala's progress was rather slow: people still referred to him as a "promising talent" when he was 23 and at Bordeaux.

His team-mates even poked fun at him for his unpolished style on the field - so much so that, after a season spent in the Bordeaux reserves in 2011-12, Sala was loaned to Orleans, then a Niveau 3 team. He went on to score 19 goals in 37 matches.

Next came another loan, this time to Niort, in D2. Initially, Sala's then-coach Pascal Gastieu had no real interest in him.

"I considered his technique to only be adequate, though everything else was there," said Gastieu. "He was a generous guy and when he was on the field he never gave up.

"He knew he had room for improvement, especially on a technical level. He'll reach full maturity later than the average player, you'll see."

At the time, Sala agreed: "My headers aren't good enough, even though I'm tall. It's something I'll have to work on."

Sala's next loan move took him to Caen. It wasn't always easy for him, a joint Italian-Argentine national, to be constantly on the move. But he eventually found his feet at Nantes, where he won an initial five-year contract.

It didn't take Sala long to establish himself and soon Wolves, then in the Championship, got in touch with Nantes about him. President Kita, who had signed Sala a year earlier for 1m euros, rejected the 4m euro offer.

Sala had been tempted - "this might be the second division, but that's the English league" - but he knew that, even at 26, he wasn't yet mature enough to go up against the solid defence of English teams.

"I haven't left my mark on Nantes yet. If I was to leave, I would want it to be after I've made it, and I'd want to leave a good memory of me."

Sala could be spotted outside a cafe in Nantes, having breakfast with Naja, as recently as a few days ago.

Afterwards, he went to say goodbye to his Nantes team-mates. Then he boarded a plane to Cardiff.

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:19

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Andy Murray: Why a hip injury can end a career and what are the Briton's options?


Murray's dilemma: Have another hip operation or retire after Wimbledon?

Is Andy Murray's tennis career over?

If the outpouring of emotion over the past week is anything to go by, many will hope not.

The Briton is deciding whether to have life-changing surgery in the hope of playing on beyond this year's Wimbledon.

But that's the fairytale ending. There is, of course, an alternative - and Murray has said he can't continue to play as things stand.

How did we get to this point?

Murray says he has had pain in his hip for "a number of years" - and after losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2017, he took the rest of the season off.

Last January he had surgery, after which he said: "I'm not finished playing tennis yet. I'm going to be competing at the highest level again."

Twelve months - and only seven tournaments - later, he gave an emotional news conference before the Australian Open, saying it could be his final tournament.

Despite a trademark fightback in his first-round match with Roberto Bautista Agut, he lost in five sets.

Speaking after the match, he said he would decide in a "week or two" what he would do next.

Murray posted this picture of himself in hospital after his hip surgery in January 2018, with coach Jamie Delgado at his bedside

What is wrong with Murray's hip and what surgery is he considering?

The three-time Grand Slam champion says he is in pain every day, even struggling to put on his socks and walk the dogs. It sounds bleak, but his team have been pretty cagey about what the injury actually is.

Professor Max Fehily, consultant orthopaedic surgeon and clinical director at the Manchester Hip Clinic, believes Murray may have hip impingement - essentially a problem with the ball and socket joint.

"Repetitive and heavy hip flexion can damage the cartilage of the socket and can lead to deformity of the ball," he says.

"This is a common injury in high-impact sports such as martial arts, rugby and gymnastics. It's not as common in tennis, but Murray is such an impact player."

So what does the operation entail?

"Smoothing down the ball, then covering it with a metal cap," says Fehily. "Then a layer of metal is placed within the pelvic socket in which it sits."

American doubles legend Bob Bryan had a similar operation in 2018 - under New York-based surgeon Dr Edwin Su.

"He's the only guy that's got professional athletes back to their profession," says Bryan.

"He's done a baseball guy, an NBA guy, and a hockey player. No tennis player until me has come back."

Bryan, 40, was on court within five months of his operation and is competing with twin brother Mike at the Australian Open.

This X-ray shows Bob Bryan's hips after surgery - the femoral head in one has been resurfaced with a metal cap

So would everything be fine if Murray had the surgery?

Sadly, the procedure is not a magic remedy.

Even if the initial surgery corrects the issue, the metal components can wear out after 10 to 15 years - earlier if the patient is very active - and revision surgery, which can be more challenging and produce poor outcomes, is often required.

Prof Fehily says: "90-95% of patients who have this surgery are delighted and live a pain-free life - they can ski, swim, cycle and play golf at the weekend.

"But none of them try and play professional tennis."

The vast majority of people who have the surgery - in the UK, at least - are over the age of 55. Murray is 31.

What's the long-term outlook?

"If Murray has this surgery and is able to return to tennis, he puts himself at risk of further injury at best, and at the other end of the scale may develop severe osteoarthritis," says Prof Fehily.

But there are anomalies.

Bryan says Murray has been "watching me like a hawk, asking me how I'm feeling after matches, after practices, where I'm at".

The doubles specialist, though, refers to singles as a "a different monster".

"Those guys are sliding around, killing themselves for four hours," he says. "Who knows if this joint would hold up?

"Will you have the explosiveness to be quick on the singles court? If you don't have that, you'll be exposed.

"But I would love to see him do it just for quality of life. You can sleep, walk, be with your kids, play."

What's the other option?

Murray has said he is considering resting until Wimbledon to play at his home Grand Slam one more time before retiring.

"He could have steroid and painkilling injections to calm down the swelling and get him through to Wimbledon," says Prof Fehily.

"He could also go through hydro and physiotherapy to keep the supporting muscles around the hip joint strong."

Would it be worth it for one last hurrah? Or should he have the operation now? That is an answer only Murray can give.

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:11

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Serena Williams knocked out of Australian Open by Karolina Pliskova after holding match points

Serena Williams says she "did not choke" after missing four match points as Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova won the final six games to win a dramatic Australian Open quarter-final.

The 37-year-old American, going for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, led 5-1 in the decider but lost 6-4 4-6 7-5 in Melbourne.

"I think she just played lights out on match points," Williams said.

"I took my chances," said Pliskova who won on her third match point.

Former world number one Pliskova will meet Japan's fourth seed Naomi Osaka in the last four on Thursday with eighth seed Petra Kvitova taking on unseeded American Danielle Collins in the other semi-final.

Williams, seeded 16th, played down an ankle injury which she suffered during the rally on her first match point when serving at 5-1, 40-30.

The seven-time Australian Open champion did not win another point on serve after the incident.

"She was hitting lines and went crazy. She played unbelievable on match points," Williams said.

"It was nothing to do with my ankle. Obviously I made some mistakes but she played really well."

Williams' inability to seal victory means a highly anticipated rematch of her controversial US Open final defeat by 21-year-old Osaka must wait.

Like Osaka, Pliskova will be playing in the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time and is one victory from appearing in her second Grand Slam final, following defeat by Germany's Angelique Kerber in the 2016 US Open.

Pliskova had led by a set and a break at 3-2 before the momentum swung to Williams and victory appeared a formality after she won nine games out of 10 and set up a match point.

But the momentum then swung back again to Pliskova in a chaotic encounter.

"I was almost in the locker room but now stand here as the winner," she said.

"My mind was in the locker room at 5-1 down but I was still here. I was too passive and mentally down but she got a little bit shaky.

"Naomi Osaka is dangerous but there is nobody more dangerous than Serena."

Pliskova keeps nerve in thrilling finale

Karolina Pliskova lost to Angelique Kerber in the 2016 US Open final

Former world number one Williams was considered the favourite to win the women's singles, and a first major title since giving birth to her daughter in September 2017, despite not playing competitively since losing to Osaka in New York.

An eighth triumph in Melbourne would have seen her move level with the 44-year-old major wins record set by Margaret Court - but she lost in remarkable circumstances next door to the stadium named after the Australian.

After fighting back from an error-strewn first set to level, Williams manoeuvred herself into a winning position as Pliskova looked beaten in the decider.

Then came a gripping finale which left Williams - and those watching on Laver - stunned.

Holding match point at 5-1, Williams was called for a foot fault and then lost a rally with a forehand into the net.

That was compounded by her appearing to turn her ankle in the process, with a double fault and unforced backhand error giving Pliskova the break - and a glimpse of hope.

Pliskova seized that opportunity and the momentum which came with it, breaking to love for 5-4 and then holding serve, after saving three more match points, to level.

Williams' serve disintegrated as Pliskova, with the help of a double fault and then a rasping forehand winner for 0-40, broke to love again which left her serving for the match.

Despite a minor blip as Williams saved two match points, Pliskova held her nerve to claim victory in two hours and 10 minutes.Analysis

BBC Sport tennis correspondent Russell Fuller at Melbourne Park

The first chapter of this match evoked admiration for the way Pliskova was playing.

The second was very familiar, but no less remarkable, as Williams absorbed some serious pressure early in the second set before storming into overdrive.

The final chapter, however, I had not read before.

After Williams' rolled her ankle and the first match point slipped by, she did not win another point on serve. She offered up three double faults and made the sort of errors you do not associate with her when the match is on the line.

Pliskova took her opportunity magnificently, and could yet end the week as the Australian Open champion and world number one.

For Williams, all roads now lead to Roland Garros where she will be hoping for a more favourable draw. There is a good chance she would have had to beat four top-10 players in a row to win the title here, and has only two top-10 wins to her name since returning to the tour last March.

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:05

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Football in India: The Mumbai girls defying tradition to follow World Cup dreams

In the cramped and colourful streets of Colaba's Ambedkar Nagar, a slum community in the south of India's biggest city, the Women's World Cup seems a long way away.

This summer's tournament in France is likely to be watched by a global television audience of around 750 million but here - in the heart of the Mumbai's military and business districts - even being able to kick a ball around has been far from guaranteed. Especially if you're a girl.

Social conventions and tradition - "football's not for girls, you have to do housework" - are limiting. As are the practicalities, with drinking water and sanitation unreliable.

But despite this unlikely backdrop in a country which has yet to feature at a World Cup, there are signs of a footballing future.

'Don't play, don't go outside and don't wear shorts'

Mamta Prajapati, a 15-year-old defender, and Atisha Saini, an 18-year-old attacker, are two young women who are defying tradition to follow their football dreams.

Having grown up as neighbours, they now play side by side with other girls from their neighbourhood. Next season they will compete in the national and professional Women's I-League. It will be a landmark step for both, having faced years of opposition to the very idea of playing - from their families, classmates, teachers and communities.

"They used to tell me 'you're a girl - don't play, don't go outside and don't wear shorts,'" Saini says.

"And then they would say to my family 'don't allow your girl to go outside. We also have a girl, but she's at home doing housework, so don't go giving her ideas.'"

In a tight-knit community passionate about its traditions and family values, and in a city as competitive and cut-throat as Mumbai, a young girl pursuing a career as any professional athlete is rare, let alone training to become a footballer.

"When I started to play, my parents supported me for a year or two, but then after that they stopped," says Prajapati.

"They told me that because I'm a girl, and because I'm now growing, I couldn't continue to play football, and that I had to help with the housework.

"I would come home from school and then help my mother in the family shop for seven or eight hours most days, as well as finding time to study after. It was hard to find time to play."

'People park their bikes where we used to play football'

Space comes at a premium in Ambedkar Nagar, with 24,000 people living in a handful of tangled and intertwining streets. Thousands of tiny rooms and shelters house six or seven people each in a vibrant maze, with shared washrooms a fair walk away, and only a sporadic, unsanitary water supply in the communal taps.

Initially built as housing for the workers of a skyscraper construction site, and now home to the famous open-air Dhobi Ghat laundrette, the community has grown over the years to bursting point, presenting obvious problems for young footballers in search of a pitch.

Even finding space for your clothes is difficult in Colaba's Ambedkar Nagar, let alone room to play football

"We don't have much space for playing outside," Saini says. "We used to play against the wall, in a spot around the corner from our house, but now people park their bikes there instead, so we have to go elsewhere.

"Often I juggle the ball in the house, and watch YouTube to try to learn new skills. But sometimes I break glasses or other things, so my mum is often shouting at me to stop."

It is not uncommon to hear a story of football being bumped down the priority list in India. Despite recent signs of a resurgence, for decades it has lived in the shadow of other sports (most notably cricket), not to mention a whole host of educational, familial and career priorities.

'Your girl is very good at football'

For young women here, opportunities for education, leisure and leadership are few and far between.

But Prajapati and Saini's footballing dreams live on thanks to the Oscar Foundation, an organisation founded in the same Ambedkar Nagar neighbourhood where the girls live.

Football is used to provide "education with a kick", and from humble beginnings 10 years ago (a makeshift pitch, outdoor classroom and not even a football), it has supported nearly 4,000 children across India.

One of Oscar's biggest successes is achieving (almost) a 50-50 split of boys and girls engaged in its initiatives. They have a "no school, no football" policy, giving the children extra incentive to engage with their studying.

"When I was told I couldn't play any more, I was crying," Prajapati recalls. "But all of my team-mates and Oscar family supported me, and they came and spoke with my parents.

"They were saying 'your girl is very good at football'; they talked about the coaching and education, and about how it's different now for girls in our community."

Saini's experiences were similar, with Oscar's work helping to change not just her family's view, but the perspective of the whole community.

"Oscar came and spoke to my mother and father, and helped them to realise what I could achieve and where football could take me," she says.

India's women's team reached their highest world ranking of 49 in 2013

"Before Oscar I was not allowed out in my community, and they would demotivate us. But now we go outside and play matches, and go on tour, and the community is thinking, 'girls can do anything'."

On a recent tour to the UK (aptly named 'Kick Like a Girl'), the visitors won all but one of their games against school teams from across Britain.

Prajapati spoke of the inspirational effect the tour had on both the girls and their communities at home, with a stadium trip having a particularly inspirational impact on her.

"In London we got to visit the Queens Park Rangers ground, to see the pitch, the tunnel and the changing rooms," she says. "It made me feel like a professional player, and made me imagine what it could be like to play for a club or my country one day."

A bright future for India's next generation

Despite their successful defiance of social conventions so far, the promised land for young Indian footballers remains a long way off.

Having never qualified for a Women's World Cup, and with their world ranking slipping back to 62, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can claim their place as one of the 24 nations to make it to the biggest stage.

However, with the infrastructure and promotion of the women's game at an all-time high in India, and with the sport's profile rising around the country, things are looking up for the next generation.

As two women pursuing football careers despite coming from such a challenging background, Prajapati and Saini recognise their own place as role models within their community.

Their message is clear. "Sometimes it's OK not to listen to your communities or your families when they criticise," says Prajapati.

"If you want to achieve your dreams you have to learn to ignore it, and to do it for yourself."

Saini feels the same. "Girls also want to play, and also want to study, so support them. Don't torture and tease them - they want to do what they want to do, so trust in them - they can achieve anything."

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:32

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Sahiwal shooting: How a Pakistani boy exposed police for killing his family

Hours after he lost his parents and a sibling in a bloody shooting on Saturday, a nine-year-old Pakistani boy exposed a blatant cover-up by police.

Highly-trained counter terror forces had claimed to have killed four "terrorists" linked to the Islamic State group in an "intelligence-based operation" south-west of Lahore, after they opened fire at officers.

Three other "terrorists", the police said, had escaped from the scene, on the outskirts of Sahiwal city, on a motorbike.

But then Umair Khalil began talking to reporters in hospital - and the story he told was very different.

He said his family had been travelling from Lahore to a family member's wedding in a car driven by his father's friend when they were stopped by police at a toll booth.

"My father told them to take our money and not to shoot their guns. But they started firing," Umair said in the video.

His parents - who ran a grocery shop - were killed, alongside his 12-year-old sister, and the family friend who was driving.

Umair and two younger sisters who also survived were later found abandoned at a petrol station some distance away.

A video of Umair's testimony, which tore holes in the police's version of events, began to spread among Pakistani social media users. Then footage from the shooting emerged that bolstered the young boy's story.

Filmed by bystanders, it showed police firing at the car, finding the three children alive and then, before driving away with them, unloading a few more rounds into the vehicle.

Pictures after the policemen left showed four dead passengers inside the car. The driver is still belted up and with a hand on the driving wheel. Another man can be seen in the front seat, and a woman and a girl are in the back.

Outrage quickly began to spread. Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was shocked "at seeing the traumatized children who saw their parents shot before their eyes".

By the end of Saturday, several officers had been arrested and the incident was placed under investigation. On Tuesday, the Punjab state law minister said as a result of the investigation, several senior counter-terrorism department officers were being removed from their positions, and the five officers involved in the shooting would be sent to court.

Pakistan's police - like many other public institutions - has become increasingly politicised over the years. The force now functions as a handmaiden of the military's powerful intelligence services, with officers believing they will be protected if things go awry.

Extra-judicial killings - euphemistically referred to in many parts of South Asia as "encounters" - are common.

A top police officer in the southern commercial capital of Karachi, Rao Anwar, is believed by many to have made a living out of staging extra-judicial killings of men fingered by the security establishment.

In early 2018 he killed Naqeebullah Mahsud, an aspiring model wrongly accused of being a militant, triggering the rise of human rights campaign called the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM).

Pashtuns are an ethnic group who mainly live in north-west Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan and the movement to publicise rights abuses against them, as part of security crackdowns, enraged the military, which has enforced a media ban on PTM coverage.

A police inquiry found Rao Anwar guilty of murdering Naqeebullah and others, but he has not been tried in court.

Many ordinary Pakistanis are fed up with ham-fisted police operations and downright brutal tactics. And in the age of social media, such incidents are becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.

Saturday's tragedy has unleashed a furious reaction, which Mr Khan's government has had to move quickly to contain.

Initially the police had described Umair Khalil's father Mohammad Khalil, his mother Nabeela, sister Areeba and his father's friend Zeeshan as terrorists who had been involved in the kidnapping of an American citizen and the son of an ex-PM.

It said they were travelling in a car and on a motorbike, carrying weapons and explosives, and that they fired at police first, who only returned fire "in self-defence".

"When the firing stopped, four terrorists including two women were found killed by their comrades' bullets, while three of their friends were able to get away," the initial statement said.

But this story has been ripped to shreds in recent days.

Firstly none of the eyewitness video showed any men riding alongside the car on a motorbike, and no evidence has emerged to show that those killed had weapons or attacked police.

In fact, it appears that the officers first fired shots at the car from behind, causing it to ram into the pavement and come to stop. They were then seen pulling some children out of the car before shooting at the vehicle again, before driving away.

A little while later, another police truck pulled up beside the car. A few officers got out and transferred some luggage from the car into their truck before again leaving the scene.

On both occasions they simply abandoned the car and the dead inside, in glaring violation of procedures that require the police to secure the crime scene, arrange first-aid for any injured, send the dead bodies for autopsy and call in forensic teams.

Despite the outcry, the Punjab information minister has insisted that one of the occupants of the car, the driver Zeeshan, was a "wanted terrorist". He explained the other deaths away as "collateral damage".

Even in announcing the repercussions on Tuesday, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat insisted the operation had been "100% correct".

Many neighbours and friends of Zeeshan have told the BBC that he did have an active affiliation with the youth wing of Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, a fundamentalist group.

The group is known to have spawned militant networks, such as the one founded by the UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who lives as a free citizen in Pakistan.

But the authorities are yet to produce conclusive evidence of Zeeshan's alleged links to the Islamic State group.

Shaukat Javed, a former chief of Punjab police, told BBC Urdu that the policemen who carried out the attack had "acted irresponsibly and beyond their powers."

Although the intelligence tip-off may have been based on concrete information "there were flaws in the execution plan", he said.

"I think in their CCTV footage they just saw the two men sitting in front and didn't see the women and children in the backseat," he said. "When they confronted the real situation, they acted without a clue. They shouldn't have done that."

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:27

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Benfleet deaths: Man set fire to mother-in-law

A knife-wielding man set fire to himself and his mother-in-law in her back garden after his wife began divorce proceedings, an inquest heard.

Kieren Lynch, 50, attacked Jennifer Cronin, 72, at her home in Benfleet, Essex, on 13 March 2018.

Her daughter, Susan Lynch, had separated from Mr Lynch over his cocaine use, she told the jury at Essex County Hall Chambers in Chelmsford.

The inquest is examining how Mr Lynch and Mrs Cronin died.

Mrs Lynch said she had been in the house when she saw her husband of 25 years running with a knife and a petrol can towards Mrs Cronin, who was in the garden with the family dog.

She said: "I thought he was going to run past her towards the house. I ran out of the front door and called 999."

After alerting neighbours, Mrs Lynch returned to the garden where both Mr Lynch and Mrs Cronin had suffered severe burns.

She said: "I couldn't see any reason why he wanted to harm my mum."

Mr Lynch died later that day and Mrs Cronin died from complications related to her burns on 30 March.

The Lynches had separated in November 2016 but Mrs Lynch said she had only recently asked to formalise a divorce, which she believed had angered her husband.

Claw hammer

Assistant coroner Tina Harrington told the jury they would be examining whether the state committed any errors that led to the deaths of Mr Lynch or Mrs Cronin.

Mrs Lynch told the court she had called the police multiple times on 12 March as her estranged husband had been repeatedly calling her and her mother's house in breach of bail conditions after he was arrested for previously smashing plant pots at their home in Labworth Road, Canvey Island, with a claw hammer.

She said: "I kept reporting him but he did not get arrested."

She added both Mr Lynch and herself had told Essex Police he had been having suicidal thoughts.

The inquest, which is expected to last five days, continues.

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:22

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'My abusive relationship with R Kelly'

For two years, Asante McGee was a girlfriend of the now-disgraced R&B superstar, R Kelly, but in the summer of 2016 she went to live in his house in Georgia. There were other women there, she discovered - and very strict rules.

Whenever I was in my room alone, that was when I would call home to speak to my children, as when I was with Robert, he didn't want us to have our phones and have contact with the outside world.

When I met Robert, or rather R Kelly, it wasn't like meeting Prince Charming who swept me off my feet. He didn't wine and dine me, he was just a warm and funny guy. We did normal stuff; he took me shopping and we enjoyed having dinners together.

But there was a moment during a text exchange in 2014 when I think I should have known things weren't what they seemed. It was really early on in our relationship and I texted him, addressing him as Rob and he said: "No, can you just call me Daddy." There was no discussion - he just told me his demand. When I look back at that moment, reading the text message in my car, I should have questioned it. I should have seen his behaviour in that moment as a red flag.

I was first introduced to R Kelly in September 2013 by a member of his entourage, when he was performing in a club in Atlanta to promote his next tour. However, we had a proper introduction in January 2014.

A member of his entourage invited me to hang out with R Kelly and some of his friends. We went to the mall and we laughed and talked. We just hung out like two old friends. Before I left, he gave me his number and we immediately started texting each other.

We texted for weeks and one day he invited me to his concert in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which was being held on February 13. After watching him perform on stage, he invited me back to his hotel room and we had our first sexual encounter.

After Valentine's Day, we kept in contact through text messages and he began inviting me to different concerts across America, and when he visited Atlanta, where I lived, I would stay with him from time to time.

While we were in a relationship together, he made it clear that I wasn't the only woman he was seeing. The fact that he told me he was dating and sleeping with other women, it made me feel like he was doing his best to be honest with me, so I accepted that and decided to stay in the relationship.

For the first two years of our relationship, everything was great. I would fly out and see him perform, and we would spend time together - and it worked for both of us.

On the Easter weekend of March 2016, he flew me out to Chicago, but I didn't hear from him for two days and then when I finally heard from him, he had someone come and pick me up to take me to the studio where he was recording.

However, I ended up being locked in a van from 11 o'clock in the morning to eight o'clock at night. When I was let out of the van, by members of his entourage and nephew, I found R Kelly partying in the studio as if nothing had happened. He acted completely normal, but months later, I found out that locking me in a van was a test. He was testing my boundaries and playing mind games.

Then in May 2016, I flew to watch him perform in Dallas. After the concert, one of his assistants said you need to hurry up and get your clothes from the hotel.

I got my clothes and got into the van which was supposed to take me to Oklahoma, so I could catch a flight home to Atlanta, but the bus never stopped. We ended up in a huge house in John's Creek, Georgia. When I got off the bus and walked into the house, Robert said: "Welcome home, baby."

He gave me a tour of the house, showed me my room. So I thought I'd stay for the summer because my kids were staying with family for the holidays, which happens every year. So with my kids not going back to school until the end of August, I thought, "OK, I can stay and spend some time with him for a few extra weeks." It was never a permanent arrangement in my mind.

As soon as I moved in, he started inflicting both emotional and sexual abuse. No, he didn't force me to have sex with him, but he intimidated me to commit sexual acts and have threesomes with other women when I made it clear that I wasn't comfortable.

If I said I didn't want to do something he would shout at me and call me "stupid". He would tell me that the other girls who were also visiting or living in the house at the time with us had no problem with his sexual requests, so what was my problem? I felt degraded by his actions and his desires.

What caused even more tension between us was his trainer. Her role? Her role was to train me and the other girls how to sexually please and satisfy Robert. According to both Robert and her, they had been sexually involved together for 16 years, since she was 14 years old.

As she had been with him for so long, it was like she was the head girl in school and she used her position to verbally abuse me. I remember one day she and I got into an argument and Robert said I had "black woman syndrome". He said that I didn't like being told what to do by a younger black woman and that he wasn't going to let me, a black woman, tell him what to do.

There is a misconception that R Kelly just preys on younger girls. That isn't true. Yes, he targets young girls more so, because they are more vulnerable, easier to manipulate and more likely to be star struck. I was 35 when I met R Kelly and he knew I had experienced abuse in a previous relationship. He had me exactly where he wanted me, because he made me trust him. He made me believe he would never hurt me by getting me to open up about my history of abuse.

The hurt and pain didn't stop with sexual intimidation and emotional abuse. He was controlling.

Once, he grabbed my arm for wearing the wrong shirt. He had rules that I and the other girls who lived with him or had a sexual relationship with him had to follow.

One day, we were supposed to be going out and I was wearing a top with spaghetti straps and shorts. As soon as he saw me, he grabbed me and told me to change. I went upstairs and changed and instead of going out with the other girls, he made me come to the studio with him. When we got to the studio, he told me that my outfit intimidated the other girls in the house. He said that I needed to dress like the other girls, who were wearing tracksuits - but it was over 100F (38C) outside. When I said this, he didn't care.

He controlled every aspect of my life, while I lived with him. Myself and two other girls who were living with him while I was there could only eat when he said we could eat. Sometimes you could go a whole day without eating because he would simply forget to feed you or he didn't want to eat. I remember buying a bag of snacks when we went out and hiding them in my room, so I always had food. He even controlled when we could use the toilet or come out of our rooms. We would have to text or call and ask for permission to use the bathroom and if he didn't respond, you were allowed to come out of your room and stomp on the floor until he heard you.

The abuse and control was pushing me to my edge, but it wasn't just that. I would have to watch young girls, some as young as 18 years old, perform lewd sex acts on him and I just couldn't take it any more.

I started plotting my escape.

I called a friend who worked in the area and asked if she would pick me up. Later that day, my friend called me but because of the security and gates she wasn't able to drive up to the house. I knew I had to take my chance, so I packed my suitcase and decided to just walk out. Robert was outside talking to his staff and he looked shocked, he even chuckled: "So you are leaving?"

I just said: "Yes, I'm leaving." I carried on walking towards my friend's car and didn't look back.

I stayed with R Kelly for three weeks in total. The week after I left he called me and said that I needed to apologise for walking out and that I had to come back home. I didn't.

A lot of the other women who have suffered abuse from R Kelly have come together and keep each other lifted. I don't have any regrets telling my story and coming forward, not just because of whom my abuser was, but because saying out loud what I went through will help other women in similar situations tell their stories and for others to believe them.

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:19

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Peppa Pig: China falls for an unlikely UK brand ambassador

She's unlikely to feature on many lists of the all-time top British cultural icons.

But Peppa Pig - the UK-made children's cartoon character - is right up there with the best of them, at least in China.

With the series racking up 18 billion online views since its launch here seven years ago, the story of Peppa and her unfeasibly English middle class family is, arguably, doing more for Brand Britain than the Beatles, Manchester United and any of the culinary delights - for which the UK is rightly so renowned - put together.

Pork scratching anyone?

It is then no surprise that, when a Peppa-shaped opportunity came knocking, the British powers that be seized the moment.

  • After watching an episode in which the precocious piglet and her friends visit the Queen in Buckingham Palace - and encourage her to join them jumping in muddy puddles - two Chinese twins posted a video message online, addressed to none other than Her Royal Majesty.

They too, like Peppa, wanted to visit her in her palace, they said.

And it worked.

Well, sort of.

The British ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward, posted her own video message in reply.

"Hello Mi Ni and Mi Ai," she said. "I'm the British ambassador, so I'm the Queen's representative in China.

"I'd like you to come and visit me in my house in Beijing," she went on, "and we can perhaps have tea and scones in a British style."

The post has been viewed more than nine million times in China - a multiple of 10 times more views than anything else Dame Barbara has posted in her entire four years as ambassador.

And so it was that two slightly bewildered five-year-olds found their way to her residence and munched on scones and chocolate cake, and sat colouring in pictures of Peppa Pig, in front of the assembled media.

"Do you think that the Queen really has muddy puddles in her garden?" I asked them.

They nodded. It is a big garden after all.

The whole experience may not have been quite the same as the real deal, but they have also been promised a trip to the UK where they will, at least, get to see Buckingham Palace.

And the British embassy has launched a competition along with Youku - the online channel with the Chinese rights to Peppa Pig - the young winners of which will also join the twins for the trip.

The whole Peppa phenomenon, it must be said, has a bit of a dark side in China.

A couple of years ago, pictures began to appear online of people sporting Peppa Pig tattoos.

She appeared to have become the chosen symbol for a counter-culture known as "shehuiren" - literally "society people".

Early last year, one popular Chinese streaming site, Douyin, began removing Peppa videos en masse.

The nationalist, Communist Party-controlled tabloid Global Times described Shehuiren as people who are "poorly educated with no stable job" and "unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the party tries to cultivate".

Soft power

But Peppa has survived this brush with subversion.

A new Peppa Pig movie - made especially for the Chinese market - is due to be launched this coming Chinese New Year.

It is a collaboration between China's Alibaba Pictures and Canada's Entertainment One; although still made in the UK, Peppa Pig is now owned by the Canadian company.

The viral trailer for the film - which artfully grafts the story of Peppa onto seasonal themes of Chinese family and belonging - has received more than 300 million hits to date.

With the need for stronger ties with major economies in a post-Brexit world, I asked the UK ambassador whether she thought that a certain pink pig was proving rather more adept at it than British politicians.

"I wouldn't put it quite as zero sum as that, to be honest," Dame Barbara laughs in reply.

There are three components to good UK-China ties, she tells me - a strong government-to-government relationship, a strong business-to-business relationship and a strong people-to-people relationship.

"Peppa Pig is as much a part of the latter as the Royal Family, Wimbledon, the Premier League and all the other things we think of when we think of soft power."

With cute twins, a great British-made product, and massive Chinese media exposure, she must be wishing all UK-China diplomacy could end so happily.

And pigs, as they say, might fly.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 17:22

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The battle on the frontline of climate change in Mali

Everything about Mami exudes exhaustion. Her round brown eyes are pools of sadness, and her bulbous body throbs with pain.

"First, armed groups attacked nearby," she explains in a tired voice as we sit on plastic matting, five young children nestled close to their mother in Mali's fabled city in the sand Timbuktu.

"Then the rains came, and did the rest."

The worst rains in 50 years in northern Mali washed away their entire crop.

Those rains poured through the cracks in her mud home caused by an explosion an armed group set off.

The cracks are showing everywhere in a fragile land now doubly cursed by the extremes of conflict and climate change.

The increase in temperatures in the Sahel are projected to be 1.5 times higher than the global average, says the UN.

"It hasn't been on our radar screens," says Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"We often look at arms and armed actors, and maybe at underdevelopment, but now we see that climate change is leading to conflicts among communities and this is a different kind of violence."

A gathering storm

Mali has a major UN peacekeeping mission as well as a multinational counterterrorism force to combat the rising threat of extremist groups across the Sahel linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters.

Last year also reportedly saw the highest death toll from violence against civilians since the crisis of 2012 when Islamist groups occupied major cities in northern Mali including Timbuktu.

But behind this danger, there is another gathering storm.

The Sahel region - which includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania - comprises some of the world's poorest and most fragile states, and is regarded as the most vulnerable to climate change.

On a visit to northern Mali with the ICRC, it was startling to see how the consequences of climate change are woven through the fabric of lives in what has always been a harsh existence on the edge of the encroaching Sahara desert.

"The fragility of Mali stares you in the face," remarks Mr Maurer as we stand, surrounded by a vast crowd, in a cramped camp for families fleeing insecurity and hunger in communities across northern Mali.

"The whole attention of the international community is on high visibility conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but the fragility here has lasted for decades."

Mali is now lurching between droughts and floods. They are both lasting longer and inflicting a huge cost on crops and livestock.

And that means farmers and nomadic herders, from different ethnic groups, are facing off over shrinking resources.

"There've always been small clashes between cattle herders and cultivators but water levels are decreasing and that's creating a lot of tension," explains Hammadoun Cisse, a herder who heads a reconciliation committee trying to mediate between communities.

And Islamist groups are also fuelling these fires by meddling in this combustible mix.

"They come in as protectors of communities and then try to impose their way of living on us," explains Mr Cisse.

"We don't accept this kind of Islamic culture with jihadi ideas so this creates another conflict."

Every story we heard in northern Mali was a tale of multiple threats, all terribly tangled.

"We lost all our livestock in the drought in the 1970s and had to move to the city," Rabiatou Aguissa says as she crouches on a plastic stool in a dusty walled compound in Timbuktu.

A mother of eight children, she's also lost her husband.

"His little brother joined an armed group and he was so upset, he died of his trauma," she recounts as she readjusts the striking indigo cloth folded around her head.

Next to her, there's another reminder of a life in little pieces.

Thumb-sized packets of salt, onions, dried fish and tomatoes are assembled on a small metal tray, ready for sale on the roadside.

Two knitting needles poke out from the pile - another tool to try to make ends meet.

Animals died one after another

And in her narrow walled compound - and everywhere else we went - the gaggles of giggling children are another signal of what lies ahead.

Populations in the Sahel region are doubling every 20 years, every generation more fragile than the last.

The World Bank says this region is falling behind every other in the global battle against poverty. 

We meet 17-year-old Younoussa at the Centre for Transit and Reorientation in Gao, a rehabilitation home for young boys who had been forcibly recruited into armed groups.

Nearly 50 young men, aged 13 to 17, are tucking into breakfast when we arrive.

Younoussa tells us he became a shepherd at the age of 13 but many young boys start tending the herds as early as nine or 10. Like all too many young Malians, he's never been to school, only Koranic classes.

He tells us insecurity forced his family to flee their home but he stayed behind to watch over their livestock.

"But there was no rain, and nothing for the animals to eat. They died, one after the other.

"To survive, I had no other choice but to join a group with guns," he tells us.

He details how he earned the equivalent of $3(£2.33) a month, working in the kitchen and manning checkpoints.

Most boys don't like to admit whether or not they fought.

"I don't want to be with an armed group," Younoussa says, his face visibly saddening. "I want to be with my family again and get a job."

Mali's dangerous mix can seem overpowering, but there are glimmers of hope.

With almost all Malians living off the land, that's where the fight back has to start.

"Farmers are not alone," says Sossou Geraud Houndonougho, who works on water and sanitation for the ICRC in the city of Mopti.

"We have to teach them not to just plant their own garden for their own family, but to work together to plant a forest for their community, for their future," he explains.

And from the mediator Mr Cisse, a plea for dialogue: "We should sit down and talk and see what we can do, not with arms but discussion, to narrow the gaps between us."

We see promising examples, at a local level, which show us peace is possible and there's a lot of energy to respond to climate change," assesses the ICRC's Mr Maurer. "But it's clear to me they won't cope unless there is solid support from the international community which isn't just through a security lens."

And the clear message from Mali is time is running out.


ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:42

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Lorry driver who dumped 100 tonnes of waste at school jailed

A lorry driver who dumped 100 tonnes of stinking waste on a special school's car park, landing it with a £22,000 bill, has been jailed for 12 months.

Francis Heaton, 61, admitted leaving the pile at Oldham's Kingfisher Special School, in April 2018.

The school's principal said the smell from "the rotting tip was unbearable".

Judge Paul Lawton told Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court that Heaton, of Gorton, had committed a "deliberate, selfish and unlawful act".

The pile meant windows at the primary school, which accommodates 192 children with complex and severe learning needs, could not be opened, leading to staff concerns about the health of children.

It also disturbed the routine of a number of pupils with autism, which the school said had caused them distress.

Heaton was caught by police while dumping waste and he later told officers he had made five trips to the site.

The Environment Agency, which investigated Heaton and brought the case against him, said the lock on the school's gates had been cut to allow him access to dump Trommel fines, highly processed household waste which is usually taken to landfill as it cannot be recycled.

'Extremely upset'

In court, Heaton's defence counsel said he was a man of "very limited income", who was the "fall guy" for others who had organised the dumping.

"There's a much greater degree of culpability further up the line," his counsel said, adding that another man seen in the lorry with Heaton had never been traced.

Sentencing Heaton, Judge Lawton said it was "inconceivable" anyone could have thought the site was suitable for tipping.

He added that dumping the waste had been "a deliberate, selfish and unlawful act for short-term financial reward".

In a statement, the school's executive principal Anne Redmond said not only was the smell "unbearable" but "flying beetles" had hatched from the pile and infested the area.

She added her thanks to police for catching Heaton "so swiftly", as if they had not arrested him, "who knows how many more lorry loads of waste would have been tipped on our site?"

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:23

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Anorexic girl 'may not have intended to die', coroner says

A girl who suffered from anorexia and was found hanged may not have intended to take her own life, a coroner found.

Ellie Long, from Wymondham, Norfolk, once said she would rather kill herself than eat and had previously written a suicide note, a Norwich inquest heard.

But the coroner was not satisfied 15-year-old Ellie, who was found hanged in her room in 2017, "intended to die".

Ellie's mother Nicki Long said: "To explain our feelings of loss is to explain the unthinkable."

Ellie died in hospital on 12 December, two days after being found in her bedroom.

Recording a narrative verdict, coroner Jacqueline Lake said: "Ellie Long took action which took her own life. The evidence does not show whether she intended to die."


Mrs Lake said there had been a "clear deterioration in [Ellie's] mental health" but she had denied suicidal thoughts.

She said she could not be "satisfied" Ellie intended to die from her actions and no letter had been found, although Ellie had written one previously.

Speaking after the hearing through solicitor Elizabeth Andresen, Ellie's family said there were "issues which impacted on the care Ellie received, including a lack of available staff, failures in crisis planning and the need for better record-keeping".

"We feel she was not given the support and treatment she needed by the eating disorders service," they added.

Paying tribute, Mrs Long said Ellie was a "beautiful, intelligent and wonderful young lady", who put "others' needs and feelings before her own".

During the inquest, her family said they had been "failed by everyone".

They said they feared for her during a hospital stay when Ellie said she would rather kill herself than eat.

They also told how three days before Ellie's death, Mrs Long had called for an ambulance but was advised to take her daughter to a walk-in centre.

Bohdan Solomka, Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust's medical director, said there had been a review following Ellie's death and improvements - including those to record-keeping - had been made, while "staffing levels in the team are now at full strength".

"The coroner's independent psychiatric expert gave evidence that Ellie reported no plan or previous attempts which would have alerted professionals," he said.

"The trust acknowledges all of Ellie's mum's efforts to do the best for her daughter."

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:15

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Dambusters couple's funeral: Hundreds pay respects

Hundreds attended the funeral of a Dambusters engineer and his wife, who died within 10 days of each other.

Victor and Edna Barnett, from Telford, met in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and were married for 68 years.

They had no children and have no living relatives, and the RAF appealed for people to attend their service at Telford Crematorium on Tuesday.

Serving personnel carried in their coffins and also arranged a helicopter fly-past.

Rev Lee Plummer, who conducted the service, said: "It was absolutely fabulous to see so many people travelling from so far who didn't know them, wanting to pay their respects to a couple who did so much for one another and for our country."

Mr Barnett, known as VJ, was 101 and died on 21 December, while 91-year-old Mrs Barnett died on New Year's Eve.

Mr Barnett joined the air force in 1937 as a radar engineer, before being seconded to 617 squadron as part of an engineering team preparing Lancaster bombers for the mission.

Mrs Barnett served between 1944 and 1950, working in air traffic control in the Women's Auxillary Air Force.

  • They first met in 1944, before the war separated them, and met again in 1949 before they married a year later.

A friend of the couple, Steve Payne, from Hadley, informed the RAF when they died.

He said: "I just thought we have got many, many old war veterans sitting in nursing homes, and on their own, who never get to tell their story and never get honoured in the way they should do for the sacrifices they made for their country.

"I thought, no, in this case, it needs something special."

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:07

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Migrant caravan teenager: 'I left without telling my mum'

"I didn't want to say goodbye to her," says Nahín of why she kept her mother Marta in the dark about her decision to leave Honduras for the United States.

Sitting in the one-room shack made out of breeze blocks that is her home, the 17-year-old recalls the day last October she left her hometown of San Pedro Sula.

For Nahín, it was a spur-of-the moment decision. "I was at the home of a friend whom I know from church when my cousin sent me a message," she says.

"Look, a caravan is leaving, why don't you join it? I'll give you the bus fare," her cousin Sofía wrote, encouraging her to join the group of more than a thousand migrants which was preparing to set off from Honduras towards the US.

At first, Nahín was not at all sure about her cousin's plan for her but she had been struggling to pay for her school fees during the last two years. Primary education is free in Honduras, but the vocational secondary course in IT Nahín was taking, while not overly costly, was beyond her means.

'Your chance'

"To be able to afford to go to the course on Saturdays and Sundays, I had to work all week at my aunt's food stall," she said. "I ended up dropping out, it was too hard to do both."

"This is your chance to help your mum," Sofía insisted, adding that she had heard that people along the way were helping those in the caravan by giving them lifts and food.

Nahín was keen to help her mother, who barely makes ends meet, by looking after children whose parents work long shifts at a local assembly plant.

With Sofía offering to pay Nahín the fare to the bus terminal from which the caravan of about 1,200 migrants was leaving, Nahín made her choice. Not even stopping at home, she left in the clothes she was wearing at the time.

'I cried all the way to the terminal'

"I didn't want my mum to talk me out of going. She would have said: 'Don't go, it's too dangerous.' So I decided not to tell her at all."

"I cried all the way to the bus terminal," Nahín recalls. She did not travel on her own but went with two of Sofia's brothers, aged 14 and 23, and her 23-year-old half-brother.

For the first three days of her absence, her mother Marta, who does not have a phone, thought Nahín was staying at her aunt's house. It was only when Marta's sister told her of the group's departure that she became aware of the journey her daughter had embarked on.

"I watched the news every night trying to see if I could spot her," the 46-year-old says. "And it was not just her, my son also left."

She says she prayed for their safety, knowing the dangers migrants face on their way north.

"It should be the other way round, I should be the one providing for them but I can't," she says, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears.

Even though Nahín was with her relatives she says she was not prepared for what awaited her on the way.

"To sleep on the streets and to eat food I'd never eaten before, I was scared." Nahín suffers from low blood pressure and the heat and lack of food made her faint a number of times during the journey north.

"My cousins had to take me to hospital and then we'd fall behind and struggle to catch up with the caravan," she remembers.

No place like home

"That's when I started thinking that there was no place where I'd feel better than at home with my mum," she says.

Things got worse when she and her cousins reached Mexico City. Her brother, who she says had never been very close to her, had pressed ahead without her.

For a while the group of three had been doing well. Nahín says she did not like to beg but one day she did and with the little money she got she bought a packet of cigarettes.

She and her cousins resold the cigarettes individually to fellow migrants. With the profits, they bought a carton and then another until by the time they reached Mexico City they had a "tower of cartons of all kind of brands".

"With the money we made I could buy basics like fresh underwear and sanitary towels," she says. "And we could buy some more food as well," she recalls.

But while resting in the sports centre in Mexico City which was used to house the now 5,000-strong migrant caravan on its way north, something happened which shocked her.

"A fight broke out between some migrants just next to us on the bleachers. They came to blows and there was blood. I fainted," Nahín says.

She dropped the mobile phone her cousin had managed to buy her just two days previously.

Turning back

Losing the phone, which had allowed her to speak to her cousin and aunt back home for the first time in more than three weeks, was a huge blow for Nahín.

Desperate to leave the sports centre in Mexico City and with her cousins urging her to carry on, she pressed on, travelling another 550km to the city of Guadalajara.

This leg of the journey she did mostly by clinging on to the top of a lorry loaded with cargo. "You had to suppress your urge to go to the loo and the heat and the wind really got to me," she says of this leg of the journey, which took days.

By the time she reached Guadalajara, she says, she had made up her mind to turn back. She approached officials working for Mexico's National System for Integral Family Development (DIF), which looks after the welfare of minors.

DIF officials were deployed to key points on the migrant caravan's route to offer those underage help returning to their countries.

But the return was not as swift as Nahín had hoped. It took a month for the officials to send her back to her home town, a month she says felt "like a prison sentence" as she was housed in a centre where she was not offered the chance to call home.

"The woman running the centre told me that they couldn't possibly pay for calls to Honduras and that the [Mexican] migration department would have to send them funds so I could call home," she recalls. "I cried every day, I felt so alone."

Finally after a month, DIF officials came to pick her up and put her on a flight home.

Job hunt

The reunion with her mother after more than two months of separation was an emotional one.

Nahín says the journey has put her off trying to leave again. "I think God gave me the chance to get back home safely, so I wouldn't go back into the lion's mouth," she says.

Her two cousins turned back a few days after she did and are also safely back in San Pedro Sula. Her half-brother is working in Mexico but according to Marta, he is "not doing well".

Nahín knows of only one boy from the caravan who has made it into the US, but she does not know how he crossed the border or how he is faring.

Now she wants to find a job locally which pays enough for her to retake her IT studies but so far she has had no luck. "I'm getting up at 04:30 every morning to go round shops to see if someone will hire me," she says.

While looking for work, Nahín has been approached repeatedly by men offering her money "in exchange for doing stuff with them", she says, but she is determined to look for what she calls "decent work".

"I know what those men are proposing would harm me and ruin my future," she says.

The names of the people in this story have been changed at the request of the family.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:01

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Gleneagles chef Andrew Fairlie dies

Renowned Scottish chef Andrew Fairlie has died aged 55 following a long illness.

Mr Fairlie, whose Gleneagles restaurant is the only one in Scotland to have two Michelin stars, revealed last November that he had a terminal brain tumour.

His father Jim Fairlie wrote on Twitter that his son's "many achievements and memory will live on".

He said: "It is with enormous sadness and grief that Kay and I announce the death of our beloved son Andrew."

Mr Fairlie said his son had "slipped away quietly this morning" and that the chef's wife, Kate, and his family had kept vigil for him "for some weeks".

Kate Fairlie and his daughters, Ilona and Leah, on behalf of the family, said: "We are utterly heartbroken that Andrew has gone but are so thankful we had this extraordinary man in our lives.

"He was a beautifully kind, generous, loving son, father, husband, brother and friend, and enriched the lives of anybody lucky enough to meet him."

Michelin star chef Tom Kitchin told BBC Radio Scotland's John Beattie Programme that Mr Fairlie had "a real presence about him."

He said: "He was the most humble, humble man, but he was a real thinker.

"What he has done for the Scottish culinary side of things is just unbelievable.

"He's taken this country to levels we never even knew existed. It's just a really, really sad day."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Fairlie's legacy "will inspire the next generation of world class chefs."

Chef of the Year

Mr Fairlie, who was first diagnosed in 2005, stepped down from his restaurant in November.

He made the decision after doctors told him in June that no further treatment was available.

Mr Fairlie was the first winner of the Roux Scholarship in 1984, aged 20, and went on to judge the competition.

He opened his own restaurant within the Gleneagles Hotel in 2001. It received its first Michelin star eight months later.

The restaurant was awarded a fourth AA rosette in 2004, followed by its second Michelin star in 2006.

The same year Mr Fairlie was named AA Chef's Chef of the Year.

Mr Fairlie was named a Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef, one of only seven in the UK, in November 2011.


ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:54

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Emiliano Sala: Cardiff City FC player on missing plane

Premier League footballer Emiliano Sala was on a light aircraft which went missing over the Channel Islands.

The £15m Argentine striker, 28, was one of two people on board the Piper Malibu which lost contact off Alderney in the Channel Islands on Monday night.

Cardiff City, which signed Sala from French club Nantes in a record deal on Saturday, said it was "very shocked".

Guernsey Police said there was "no trace" of the Cardiff-bound flight and his family said they felt "desperate".

Sala's father, Horacio, told Argentine TV channel C5N, he heard the news from a friend.

"I didn't know anything. I couldn't believe it," he said. "I'm desperate. I hope everything goes well."

Meanwhile, John Fitzgerald, chief officer of the Channel Islands Air Search, said the probability of finding anyone alive from the missing aircraft was "reducing very rapidly".

"I think with the sea temperatures and the sea conditions the chances of finding anybody alive are reducing all the time," he said.

"The sea temperatures are very, very cold and just sap the core temperature of anybody in the water very, very quickly."

The plane left Nantes in north west France at 19:15 and had been flying at 5,000ft when it contacted Jersey air traffic control requesting descent, Guernsey Police said.

The plane lost contact while at 2,300ft and disappeared off radar near the Casquets lighthouse, infamous among mariners as the site of many shipwrecks, eight miles (13km) north-west of Alderney.

The force added UK authorities have been calling airfields on the south coast to see if it landed there but there had been no confirmations and a decision about an overnight search would be made at sunset.

Media captionCardiff City signed the 28-year-old from French club Nantes

A spokesman for the French Civil Aviation Authority said the Piper PA 46 Malibu aircraft was French but had not been registered in France.

"We can confirm Emiliano Sala was on board," he said.

"This morning, the French research started with one French national navy ship and one aircraft. The investigation will determined which authority will take the lead on the research."

Sightings of red flares were reported during a lifeboat and helicopter search, but "nothing of significance was found", a Channel Islands Air Search spokeswoman said.

Police said on Tuesday more than 100sq miles had been searched by five aircraft and two lifeboats. The search had resumed after being called off overnight "due to strengthening winds, worsening sea conditions and reducing visibility".

Cardiff Airport confirmed the aircraft was due to arrive from Nantes but a spokeswoman said there were no further details.

Guernsey harbour master Captain David Barker said no distress call had been received and if the search continues into the night it is unlikely to have a good outcome.

"It's far easier to see something on the surface in daylight," he said. "We are looking for any traces of an aircraft, a life raft, persons in the water, life jackets."

The Met Office said conditions were not "too intense" at the time the aircraft went missing but had become wetter and windier later in the evening.

John Fernandez, a reporter for BBC Guernsey, said it was a difficult area to search.

"A number of search vessels are out searching the area. It's known for its strong currents - there are a number of shipwrecks," he added.

Media captionEmiliano Sala told Cardiff City he wanted to "start training and get down to work"

"The search area is absolutely massive at the moment. They're searching a number of different spots at the moment - they're not sure whereabouts this plane might have gone down."

'Last goodbye'

Cardiff signed Sala for a club record fee after protracted negotiations with Nantes and he was due to join his new teammates for training on Tuesday. Training was cancelled.

In a statement, the club's chief executive Ken Choo said they were praying for "positive news" for the player and pilot.

He added: "We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.

"Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation."

He has been among the top scorers in France in recent years and had scored 13 league and cup goals this season, third behind Kylian Mbappe and Nicolas Pepe.

When his move to Cardiff was announced, he said: "It gives me great pleasure and I can't wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work."

The most recent tweet from Sala's account was a picture of him and his former team-mates, captioned "La ultima ciao", or "the last goodbye".

Sala began his playing career at Argentine side Club Proyecto Crecer, before moving to French club Girondins Bordeaux in 2012.

His previous side, Nantes, has postponed its games against Entente on Wednesday and St Etienne on Saturday, according to its match schedule.

Local journalist Arnaud Wajdzik said the atmosphere in Nantes is "very emotional", and people planned to gather in the town square this evening for a vigil.

Reacting to the news at Cardiff City Stadium, Keith Morgan, chairman of the Cardiff City Supporters Trust, said he was shocked by the news.

"We're obviously still hoping it's not confirmed but when or if it is, we will contact Nantes offering all our help," he said.

"I think fans realise what's important and things like this put everything into perspective. Football is important in all our lives but not more than a person's life."

Supporter Christopher Jenkins, 45, of Caerphilly, said: "I was nearly crying with my wife - it's a massive shock to everybody."

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:49

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Jason Gardner killing: Father and son jailed

A father and son have been jailed for a "grotesque" revenge attack which killed another man.

Charlie Ward, 36, was sentenced for 22 years for murdering Jason "Jay" Gardner with a Stanley knife at the Earl of Cornwall pub in Slough on 9 May 2018.

Mr Gardner suffered "31 slash and stab wounds" to his face and head after Ward launched what police described as a "ferocious assault" on the 43-year-old.

Ward's father, John, 58, was jailed for nine years for manslaughter.

The pair, both from Slough, were sentenced at Reading Crown Court after being convicted by a jury on Monday.

Mr Gardner entered the Earl of Cornwall to "assault" Charlie Ward, jurors were told, after the pair had argued at the Long Barn pub in Slough earlier in the evening.

Judge Angela Morris said Charlie Ward, a father-of-seven, became the "aggressor very quickly" and "propelled" Mr Gardner over a table before attacking him with a Stanley knife.

He then inflicted "31 slash and stab wounds" to Mr Gardner's face and head within a period of two and a half minutes, she added.

Judge Morris said CCTV footage showed Ward was a "man intent on revenge" and that the attack was one of "retribution".

She added: "Whilst you were attacking him with the knife, you had easily gained the upper hand and having done so, all you needed to do was stop.

"Both your mother and your wife can be seen on CCTV footage trying to stop you inflicting these serious injuries. You had no intention of doing so."

The court heard John Ward held the victim in "some form of head lock" while his son knifed him.

Judge Morris said Charlie Ward would serve a sentence of 22 years before he is considered for parole and will be on licence for the rest of his life.

In a statement, Mr Gardner's family said the sentences given to both men were some consolation, but "do not, and never will, compensate Jason's two lovely daughters for the taking of their father".

"He was a son, brother, husband, father, uncle and friend and we will always be proud to have known him," they said.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:22

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How your voice hides cluces about your lovelife

Let’s say your relationship is on the rocks. You’ve been trying to work things out together in couples’ counselling, but ultimately, you want to know if it is worth the effort. Will things get better, or are they doomed to fall apart?

It might be worth just pausing for a second to listen to your partner. Really listen. When you speak to each other, your voices hold all sorts of information that could reveal the answer. Subtle inflections in tone, the pauses between phrases, the volume at which you speak – it all conveys hidden signals about how you really feel.

A lot of this we pick up on intuitively. We use it to fine-tune the meaning of our words. Think of the difference between these questions:

Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?”

That shift in emphasis is one of the more obvious ways we layer our speech with meaning. But there are many more layers that we add without realising it.

But there is a way to extract this hidden information from our speech. Researchers have even developed artificial intelligence that can then use this information to predict the future of couples’ relationships. The AI is already more accurate at this than professionally trained therapists.

Some features of human speech cannot be picked up by our ears, but they can reveal how we really feel about someone .

In one study, researchers monitored 134 married couples who had been having difficulties in their relationships. Over two years, the couples each recorded two 10-minute problem-solving sessions. Each partner chose a topic about their relationship that was important to them and discussed them together. The researchers also had data on whether or not the couples’ relationships improved or deteriorated and if they were still together two years later.  

Trained therapists watched videos of the recordings. By assessing the way the couples spoke to each other, what they said and how they looked while they were talking, the therapists made a psychological assessment about the likely outcome of their relationship.

The researchers also trained an algorithm to analyse the couples’ speech. Previous research had given the team some clues that certain features were likely to be involved in human communication, such as intonation, speech duration and how the individuals took turns to speak. The algorithm’s job was to calculate exactly how these features were linked to relationship strength.

The algorithm also picked up on features of speech beyond human perception

The algorithm was purely based on the sound recordings, without considering visual information from the videos. It also ignored the content of their conversations – the words themselves. Instead, the algorithm picked up on features like cadence, pitch and how long each participant talked for.

Amazingly, the algorithm also picked up on features of speech beyond human perception. These features are almost impossible to describe because we’re not typically aware of them – such as spectral tilt, a complex mathematical function of speech.

“Using lots of data, we can find patterns that may be elusive to human eyes and ears,” says Shri Narayanan, an engineer at the University of Southern California, who led the study.

After being trained on the couples’ recordings, the algorithm became marginally better than the therapists at predicting whether or not couples would stay together. The algorithm was 79.3% accurate.

Our voices reveal more about our thoughts and emotions than we are able to pick up with our human ears.

The therapists – who had the advantage of also being able to understand the content of the couples’ speech and watching their body language – came in at 75.6% accurate.

“Humans are good at decoding many pieces of information,” says Narayanan. “But we can’t process all aspects of information available.”

The idea is that we are ‘leaking’ more information about our thoughts and emotions than we, as humans, can pick up on. But algorithms are not just restricted to decoding the voice features that people tend to use to convey information. In other words, there are other ‘hidden’ dimensions to our speech that can be accessed by AI.

“One the advantages of computers is their ability to find patterns and trends in large amounts of data,” says Fjola Helgadottir, a clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford. “Human behaviour can give insight into underlying mental processes,” she says.

“However, machine learning algorithms can do the hard work of sorting through, finding pertinent information, and making a prediction about the future.”

An algorithm that predicts whether or not your relationship is doomed may not be the most appealing idea. Especially as it is only three-quarters accurate, at present. Such a prediction could conceivably change the course of your relationship and how you feel about your partner.

Cracking the information hidden in the way we talk – and in how our bodies function – could be used to make our relationships better

But cracking the information hidden in the way we talk – and in how our bodies function – could be used to make our relationships better.

Theodora Chaspari, a computer engineer at Texas A&M University, has been developing an AI program that can predict when conflict is likely to flare up in a relationship. Chaspari and her colleagues used data from unobtrusive sensors – like a wrist-worn fitness tracker – that 34 couples wore for a day.

Machine learning is able to pick up information from the way we speak rather than the words we use to make predictions about how a relationship might last.

The sensors measure sweat, heartrate and voice data including tone of voice, but also analysed the content of what the couples said – whether they used positive or negative words. A total of 19 of the couples experienced some level of conflict during the day that they wore the sensors.

Chaspari and her colleagues used machine learning to train an algorithm to learn the patterns associated with arguments that the couples reported having. After being trained on this data, the algorithm was able to detect conflict in other couples using just the data from the sensors, with an accuracy of 79.3%.

Now the team is developing predictive algorithms that they hope to use to give couples a heads-up before an argument is likely to take place by detecting the warning signs that lead up to one.

By monitoring your perspiration levels, heart rates and the way you’ve been speaking, the algorithm would make a calculation of how likely it is that you’ll face friction with your partner

The way the authors foresee it working is like this: you’ve had a busy day at work, perhaps had a stressful meeting, and you’re on your way home. Your partner has also had a tough day. By monitoring both of your perspiration levels, heart rates and the way you’ve been speaking in the past hours, the algorithm would make a calculation of how likely it is that you’ll face friction with an equally exasperated partner when you get home.

“At this point, we can intervene in order to resolve the conflict in a more positive way,” says Chaspari.

This could be done by simply sending a message to couples before the moment heats up, says Adela Timmons, a psychologist on the project based at the Clinical and Quantitative Psychology Center for Children and Families at Florida International University.

“We think that we can be more effective in our treatments if we’re able to administer them in people’s real lives at the points that they need them most,” she says.

The traditional model of therapy isn’t capable of fulfilling that goal. Typically, a session might take place for an hour a week, when the patients recall what happened since the last session, and talk through problems that arose.

“The therapist isn’t able to be there in the moment when someone actually needs the support,” says Timmons. “There are a lot of steps in the traditional process where the intervention can break down and be less effective.”

Monitoring for factors that might increase the risk of a couple having an argument would allow an AI to head off rows before they happen.

But an automated prompt based on consistently monitoring people’s physiology and speech could fulfil the real-time dream of therapy intervention. It could also allow for a more standardised form of treatment, says Helgadottir.

“Nobody really knows what goes on in a closed therapy room,” says Helgadottir, who has developed an evidence-based platform using AI to treat social anxiety. “Sometimes the most effective techniques aren’t being used since they require more effort on the part of the therapist. On the other hand, the clinical components of AI therapy systems can be completely open and transparent.

“They can be designed and reviewed by the leading researchers and practitioners in the field. Furthermore, computers don’t have off days, and there is no difference if 1, 100 or 1,000 users are benefitting at the same time.”

There are potential pitfalls though. There’s no guarantee that a ping from your phone warning of an impending argument won’t backfire and wind you up even more. The timing of the intervention is crucial.

If we can catch people in the period where it's starting to escalate but they haven't lost their capacity to regulate their behaviour, that's the sweet spot of intervention - Adela Timmons

“We probably don’t want to actually intervene during a conflict, says Timmons. “If people are already upset, they aren’t going to be terribly receptive to prompts on their phone that they should calm down. But if we can catch people in the period where it’s starting to escalate but they haven’t lost their capacity to regulate their behaviour – that’s the sweet spot of intervention.”

There are plenty of technological hurdles left to overcome before an app like this can be rolled out. The team needs to refine its algorithms and test their efficacy on a wider range of people. There are also big questions around privacy.

Couple's who want to work on their relationship could benefit from the power of prediction that AI brings.

A data breach of a device storing data on your relationship with your partner would put a lot of sensitive information at risk. One could also question what would happen to the data if there was an alleged crime, such as domestic violence.

“We have to think about how we would handle those situations and ways to keep people safe while protecting their privacy,” says Timmons. “Those are wider social issues that we will continue to discuss.”

If this model of therapy is indeed successful, it could also open doors to similar ways to improve other kinds of relationships – such as within the family, at work, or the doctor-patient dynamic. The more that our different bodily systems are monitored – from our eye movements to our muscle tension – the more could be revealed about what is in store for our relationships. There may prove to be many more layers of meaning, beyond our speech and basic physiological reactions, that can best be decoded by machines.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:14

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Why your new heart could be made in space one day

Imagine a laboratory growing human hearts - and imagine that laboratory floating in space hundreds of miles above the surface of the Earth.

That may sound like science fiction, but bizarre as it seems, it could bring new hope for transplant patients within the next decade.

While about 7,600 heart transplants were carried out around the world in 2017, there's a desperate shortage of organs, with thousands of people on waiting lists dying every year.

Efforts to grow human hearts in the lab are showing promise, but are hampered by the need for the organs to grow around a "scaffolding" to make sure they don't collapse during the process. Reliably removing the scaffolding once the heart is complete is proving to be a challenge.

Space tech company Techshot believes zero gravity could be the answer.

The International Space Station (ISS) is in constant freefall around the planet, meaning that anything inside experiences effective weightlessness, known technically as microgravity.

This means organs could be grown without the need for any scaffolding, believes Rich Boling, the firm's vice-president of corporate advancement. One day hearts could be grown commercially for transplant, Techshot believes.

"Our ultimate goal is to provide a solution to an organ shortage that causes an average of 20 people per day in the US alone to die waiting for an organ transplant," he tells the BBC.

"Getting to that point is a journey of a thousand miles, and launching our BioFabrication Facility to the ISS is that first step."

Developed in partnership with Nasa, Techshot's BioFabrication Facility (BFF) is a microwave oven-sized device that uses 3D printing techniques to create patches for heart repairs using a patient's own stem cells.

It's due to launch to the ISS on SpaceX mission CRS-18, scheduled for May this year.

Ultimately, the aim is to grow complete human hearts in space.

The first year will be spent putting the BFF through its paces to check that it is functioning as designed, before test printing starts in earnest.

"Our initial tests will focus on printing cardiac tissue," says Mr Boling. "After our test protocols have been completed, we'll open the program up to outside researchers who want to use our device.

"Then we'll bring BFF back to earth and make whatever modifications may be needed to optimise it based on what we've learned during the test phase; then we'll send it back up with the goal of manufacturing increasingly complex tissues."

All this will take time, of course, with manufacturing of whole organs not expected to start before 2025. Achieving regulatory acceptance of the manufactured organs could take a further 10 years, the company believes.

Leaving aside the practical challenges, how could it ever make commercial sense to grow human organs in space?

Elon Musk's disruptor company SpaceX is markedly reducing the costs of space travel, but even its cheapest rocket still costs nearly $60m (£47m) per mission. And it is only just getting to grips with the difficult task of bringing rockets safely back to earth.

But Mr Boling maintains that "an organ manufactured in space from the patient's own stem cells will not require anti-rejection drugs. Therefore, the overall lifetime cost for a single transplant is expected to be lower for the patient receiving an organ manufactured in space than the alternative."

But manufacturing usually demands high volumes of goods made to reduce costs. How can you achieve such scale in space? The ISS isn't exactly huge.

US start-up Space Tango is rising to this challenge with the launch of a series of autonomous manufacturing facilities, known as ST-42, that will orbit the earth from the mid-2020s onwards.

Each unit will be a couple of metres across, and will remain in orbit for 10 to 30 days before returning to Earth with the products it has made.

"We are focusing on materials such as fibre optics, silicon carbide and carbon nanotubing," says Space Tango chief executive Twyman Clements. "We are also focusing on pharmaceutical applications."

Removing the stress of gravity means fewer imperfections in the manufacturing process.

For example, Californian start-up Made In Space is working with Nasa to produce a type of optical fibre called ZBLAN.

First discovered back in the 1970s, ZBLAN is a fluoride-based glass that can be produced with almost no impurities, performing 10 to 100 times more efficiently than traditional silica optical fibre.

But when it's produced on Earth, gravity-driven forces such as convection cause crystals to form in the fibres, damaging signal quality and making it impractical for long-distance use.

In microgravity, a much purer, more efficient fibre can be produced. The team has already had test runs producing more than 100m (328ft) of cable.

"We're continuing to develop the hardware to get to commercially usable and saleable quantities of fibre," says chief executive Andrew Rush.

This could be done on the ISS itself, he believes.

"Or we could make it on a commercial space station, a module that's attached to a space station, or on a free-flying module. For each one of these options the economics is different, but there are a lot of options."

In the long term, says Mr Rush, there are many different products which, even with current launch costs, look to be economically viable to produce in space - carbon nanotubes, specialist metals and human tissues, to name but a few.

This raises the possibility of a series of factories free-wheeling about the Earth producing entirely new classes of hi-tech materials.

"There's a long road between here and there," he says, "but these technologies could ultimately help industrialise space - and give people a reason to go and live there."

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 14:57

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Davos 2019: 'I’m the boss, he’s the spouse'

When Ann Cairns' husband was introduced to Joe Biden at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the former US vice president assumed that he was the executive he was meant to be meeting.

But Mrs Cairns is the vice chairman at financial services giant Mastercard, not her husband.

She laughs as she recalls the event and gestures frantically at herself saying: "[I was thinking,] 'It's me, I'm the one you're here to see.'"

It was an easy mistake to make, she admits. Her husband, a retired geography teacher, is tall and imposing - the stereotypical image of a leader. At 5ft 4in (163cm), Ann is relatively short and, of course, a woman.

It may be 2019, but over a year after #MeToo turned rapidly from a campaign against sexual harassment and sexual assault into a broader movement highlighting gender inequality, little seems to have changed.

Senior women at the top of global companies like Ann are still rare.

This year at the annual gathering of the political and business world elite, just 22% of attendees are women, up from 20% two years ago.

Progress is painfully slow, despite a quota system for large firms that forces them to bring one woman for every four male attendees.

Practical steps

It's an imbalance that reflects the situation in the broader corporate and political world.

At the current rate of progress, it will take 108 years to close the gender gap and 202 years to achieve parity in the workforce, according to the World Economic Forum's latest global report.

At Mastercard, one practical way the company has tried to shift perceptions is by standardising paternity and maternity leave globally. Introduced two years ago, men are entitled to two months on full pay under the scheme, and women, four months.

Statistics from its first year in 2017 showed 70% of the leave available to men was taken up.

Questions over whether someone due to be appointed may take time off for children now apply to both men and women.

"Everybody is in the same boat," says Mrs Cairns.

She started out in business as the first female engineer to work on offshore oil and gas rigs in the UK. Despite the slow progress, she says firms are addressing inequality more effectively than in the past.

Crucially, instead of women "preaching to the choir" at female-only networking events, men are being involved in the discussion more often. It's a shift she believes will really help drive change.

Gender pay gap 'everywhere'

Five years ago, at cloud computing giant Salesforce, chief executive Marc Benioff questioned why there were so few women at senior management meetings.

He subsequently insisted that a third of the staff attending must be female. The shift enabled Cindy Robbins, who worked in the HR department, to meet Mr Benioff and suggest an equal pay audit, something which is not mandatory in the US.

When Mr Benioff asked her if they had a problem, she said she didn't know.

Yet its first audit three years ago revealed that a gender pay gap was "just everywhere", he admitted in a CBS Interview. "It was through the whole company, every department, every division, every geography."

It's been an expensive reckoning. So far the firm has paid about $9m (£7m) to even out the gap across its 33,000-strong workforce.

Salesforce has now done the audit three times, last year also looking at race and ethnicity.

"We're trying to get better at it every year. Unless you can say your processes are perfect, it will never be completely solved," says Ms Robbins, who is now the firm's chief people officer.

While most people assume they are not biased and make fair decisions, she says providing hard data has been a powerful motivator for change.

As well as the annual pay audit, the firm now collects figures on the gender split of promotions and new hires.

Nonetheless, Salesforce, like most tech companies, remains male-dominated. At the end of last year, less than a third of its staff were female, despite hiring 4,000 women.

Barri Rafferty, the chief executive of global public relations firm Ketchum, says she's surprised that the battles she thought would have ended with her mother's generation, are continuing.

Like Mrs Cairns, she too was mistaken - several times - at Davos for an accompanying spouse, rather than a participant, but believes growing awareness means such mistakes are becoming less likely.

She says finding out the truth about your organisation, rather than what you think is the truth, is important.

"Every organisation needs to stop and take a look at their culture and not downplay any concerns," she says.

Ketchum itself has created an external advisory board to bring in fresh advice and insight into its culture. It also conducts regular short surveys of staff about how they feel about promotion opportunities, pay, and the firm generally.

'Over-mentored, under-sponsored'

Diversity isn't just about doing the right thing, it makes commercial sense. A report from management consultancy McKinsey, covering 366 public companies in a variety of countries and industries, found those that were more ethnically and gender diverse performed significantly better than others.

"We all know this intuitively," says Sheila Penrose, chairman of property firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) and a contributor to WEF's agenda. "But when you can measure it and articulate it within the organisation it becomes a more compelling argument."

Media captionIt's that time of the year again when the great and the good gather in a Swiss resort

At Davos, she says gender equality has been embedded into broader themes around education and the future of work, a shift from the outpouring of anger after #MeToo which she believes will prove more constructive.

Now she says men at firms have to be willing to put their reputation on the line to improve the situation.

"Women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored," she says. In other words, women tend to be given advice rather than opportunities.

Despite all the depressing statistics, there is one that suggests the future may not be quite so gloomy.

This year at Davos, over half of the so-called "young global leaders" - 100 people under the age of 40 invited to WEF each year - are women.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 14:37

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CID to 'interrogate' widow of late Major Mahama

The widow of slain Major Maxwell Adam Mahama is to be interrogated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service, Spokesperson for the CID has said.

 ASP Olivia Turkson said this forms part of on-going investigations into the dastardly manner in which the army officer was killed at Denkyira-Obuasi in the Central Region on May 29.

In an interview with KABA on Asempa FM’s Ekosii Sen’s programme Tuesday, she said they are still pursuing leads which will enable them to prosecute those arrested. 

The late Major Mahama was buried last Friday at the Military Cemetery  in Osu after a state funeral at the forecourt of the Banquet Hall. He was murdered while on national assignment at Denkyira-Obuasi.

The residents said they mistook him for an armed robber after he was spotted with a weapon and killed him.

The action by the residents has been condemned with a renewed preparedness by the country to end all forms of mob justice.

The list of persons who allegedly played a role in the horrid murder of the fallen hero has risen to 52. There are currently 44 males and eight females in police custody 

Between last Thursday and Friday, at least 16 out of the 52 suspects have been put before an Accra High Court. They include a nursing mother whose child has been given to a police officer to take care of.

Although police are still investigating what led to the brutal killing, there has been discrepancies regarding the turn of events.

The official report by the police said the officer who loves to keep fit had gone for his usual morning jogging around 8:30 am when he was attacked by the mob. However, the tribute by his wife, Barbara Mahama is said to infer something else. 

“Yo, what was for breakfast” was the last message I sent you on Monday at 9:12 am after we spoke at 6 am and you said you were going to have your bath.

"For the first time in my life, I experienced a ripping heart on Monday night, I woke up to throw up, I had tummy issues too, I just felt sick,”' was the opening sentences of Mrs Mahama's tribute. 

To this ASP Turkson told KABA that the account by Mrs Mahama presents an important component which will assist the CID in their investigation.

She added that they are not in a hurry to interrogate her as she needs time to deal with the traumatic incident, although some seniors officers have spoken to her.

“What is important is that we know the situation she was in, what she was going through and we shall invite her,” she said.

She stated that the widow's tribute provided them with useful information but their priority is arresting all those connected to the murder and putting them before the law.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 16:39

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The horsemen making a living on Lagos beach Nigeria

Residents of Nigeria's commercial hub, Lagos, take to the beach to get away from the stress of the city.

They paddle, picnic, play football and party. The more daring might pay to take a ride on a horse - with the help of the beach horsemen.

Quadri Raji, 19, is a phone repairer during the week, but works with the horses on Atican beach at the weekend.

He had to stop secondary school when his mother had her leg amputated after an accident.

Now he takes care of her and hopes to earn enough money to write his final school exams.

"I would like to continue my schooling but for now this is all I have to do to survive," he said.

On the beach, Quadri can earn about $28 (£22) a day, but he has to give some of that to the horse's owner.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

His horse, Jack, used to perform as a dancing horse at traditional festivals, but Quadri has been training him to work on the beach.

Nevertheless Jack can still do tricks.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Tunde Sanni (left), 28, has been riding on the beach for more than 13 years and is now the chairman of the Atican Horse Rider Association.

Both his parents died in 2008 and he also works as an iron welder.

"Horse riding has stopped me from stealing," he said.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Tunde has a scar on his forehead from when he was knocked off his horse by a car while riding it to the stables in 2010.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Stone is one of his three horses. He also owns Prince and Pale.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Lanre, 30, has been working with the horses on the beach for three years.

He also works as a livestock farmer selling goats and turkeys at the local market. At the weekend he takes his horse, Spaghetti, to the beach to make some extra money.

"I have a wife and two kids to feed so I just come to make any extra for the family."

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Adebowale Dada's horse, Jerry, used to work as a racehorse. He bought him from the northern city of Kano last year for $700 (£535).

"This is my only work and I have to take care of my wife and save for my children's school fees," he said.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

Rides cost between $1.40 and $2.80 and customers are always accompanied by one of the horsemen.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

This was Favour Eric's first time on a horse. "The experience was scary, but it was worth it," she said.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

The horsemen here typify many in their generation who have to find creative ways to make money or supplement their income as well-paid jobs are in short supply.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 10:18

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Body of drowned South African recovered in Mozambique

A birthday celebration in Mozambique ended in tragedy after four South Africans were washed out to sea. One body has been recovered. 
Image: Thinkstock

The body of one of the four South Africans who were washed out to sea in Mozambique earlier this week has been recovered, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said on Friday.

While his name is known to TimesLIVE, the department has requested that none of the missing people be named until their next of kin have all been informed.

“The body was recovered on Thursday afternoon by search and rescue teams at around 1 or 2pm,” said department spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya.

He could not immediately confirm whether any other bodies, one man and two women, had been recovered.

The group of eight South Africans arrived in a Mozambique on January 12 2019 to celebrate a birthday.

Tragedy struck on Monday.

“During a swimming adventure at the Portuguese islands, four of them were overpowered by a sea wave and unfortunately went missing,” Kenny Mathivha, of the office of the Limpopo premier, said in a statement.

Speaking on behalf of Premier Stanley Mathabatha, Mathivha said the two missing women were from Groblersdal in Limpopo, while the two men were from Secunda in Mpumalanga and Bloemfontein in the Free State.

The other four, from Tafelkop and Groblersdal in Limpopo, were safe, Mathivha said.

Mathabatha has sent the Elias Motsoaledi mayor and her municipal manager to Mozambique to support the families who have arrived there.

Dirco is also providing support.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 10:12

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Bagels are a breakfast staple for many, sometimes with savoury spreads, sometimes with sweet spreads, and sometimes even on their own. And these honey beauties are just that good. The honey does give them sweetness, but they are simply great with cream cheese. If you would like a more balanced flavour, you can increase the salt amount ever so slightly, so they are of a more neutral flavour, which would, in turn, be fantastic with smoked salmon and freshly cracked black pepper.

For the bagels
400 grams strong bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 ½ teaspoons salt
300 ml warm water
For the baking soda solution
500 ml boiling water
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons raw honey
For the glaze
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon raw honey


Take a large bowl, and sift in the bread flour. Add the yeast, and mix really well. Add in the warm water, honey, and salt, then mix with a wooden spoon until a ball of dough forms. Once the dough ball forms, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead it with your hands for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft, smooth, and elastic. Depending on your flour, you might need to add another tablespoon or two of flour. Place the dough into a large, greased bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rest and rise, in a warm spot, for about 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, press to deflate it in the bowl, then transfer it to a floured surface, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a sphere, and let them rest for 30 minutes, covered. When they have rested slightly, working quickly, shape each piece into a bagel by pinching a hole through the centre of it. Keep the rest of the dough pieces covered whilst working and shaping them. Let the formed bagels rest and rise for another 30 minutes.

While they are resting, prepare the baking soda solution – let the water come to a boil in a deep pot or a saucepan, then reduce the heat and let the water just simmer. Add in the baking soda and honey (it will bubble up, so be careful, and use a deep pot), and prepare for dipping the bagels.

Dip each bagel completely into the baking soda solution, and let it bathe for 10 seconds, then remove it, and place it onto a silicone mat on a large baking sheet. Continue doing the same with the rest of the bagels, then immediately place the baking sheet into a preheated oven, at 200°C (400°F), and bake the bagels for 15-20 minutes. While they are baking, mix together the softened butter and honey, and keep it ready for the bagels. Once you take them out of the oven, use a silicone pastry brush to generously coat them with the honey butter. Serve warm. Yields 12 small bagels.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:47

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What’ll Happen to You If You Start Eating 3 Eggs a Day?

Eggs have gotten some bad press over the years for really no good reason at all. Many tout about the fat content. Others scream horror about the cholesterol contained in the yolk. And then there’s the hormones contained inside eggs simply because they come from the the unfertilized cycle of a female chicken.

The truth of the matter is, eggs are incredible, and have earned that title just by being themselves. What’s better? You can eat several of eggs a day and reap a whole carton-load of benefits — and that’s no eggs-ageration.

In fact, one large hard-boiled egg contains:

  • Vitamin A: 6% of the RDA
  • Folate: 5% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B5: 7% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 9% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B2: 15% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 9% of the RDA
  • Selenium: 22% of the RDA
  • Eggs also contain decent amounts of vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, calcium and zinc

You will also earn yourself This 77 calories, 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats.

And just to sweeten the deal, we’ve put together a list of some pretty cool things that will happen to you if you start eating not one, but THREE eggs a day.

1. Your HDL “good” cholesterol will go up

So much has been said about high cholesterol, and eggs being a negative factor in that occurrence. However, there is such a thing as good cholesterol, and eggs have plenty of it. In fact, several studies have found that a regular consumption of eggs will cause your HDL (High-density lipoprotein) to go up. This type of cholesterol is needed in your body to carry cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver so it can  remove the bad cholesterol from your body.

2. You’ll reduce your risk of heart disease

Having high levels of HDL will help rid your body of LDL, aka, High-density lipoprotein, aka “bad cholesterol.” And as many years of research has found, having high levels of LDL is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

3. You will have stronger, healthier muscles

An average large egg contains only 72 calories — most of which are in protein form. Your body needs protein to build and repair muscle cells.  It’s simple, really. Eggs are the perfect fuel for your muscles, so get crackin’.

4. You’ll have healthier bones

The old school of thought was that consuming animal protein had a negative effect on bone health. However, recent findings have debunked that thought, concluding that there is a significant positive relationship between protein intake and bone mass or density. This was due to the animal protein actually helping to retain and absorb calcium — thus improving bone density and strength.

5. You will improve your eye health

Eggs contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are antioxidants that have  been proven to benefit eye health. These powerful antioxidants accumulate in the retina of the eye helping to counteract some of the degenerative processes that can affect our eyes.

6. You will eat less

OK, sometimes food is really good, and you just can’t stop eating it – except when you are too full to do so. The protein in eggs helps to make you feel full, reducing the constant feeling that you need to eat all day long.

. You’ll have more time and energy

Have you ever taken the time to prepare eggs? If so, you probably know that it takes like no time at all. Crack a few in a pan, stir them around with a little salt, pepper and a tiny bit of putter, and within 2-3 minutes or less, you will have yourself a plate full of eggs. Set a few eggs in a pot, pour water over them, set the stovetop to medium-high, and let your eggs boil for a quick breakfast on the go. Crack an egg on a frying pan and watch it sizzle.

8. You’ll have tasty food

Eggs are rich and creamy on their own. But the great thing about them is you can add things to them that will only make them taste better. Chop up some zucchini, tomatoes and mushrooms, and  add some cheese for a one-of a kind omelet. Take that same concoction and scramble the eggs for an English muffin topper.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:43

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Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, puts people at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The number of sufferers is staggering, especially in the United States, where around 75 million adults have been diagnosed with the disease. And despite it being largely manageable with diet and lifestyle changes, almost half of those do not have the condition under control. You’re different, though. You’re here to make a positive change. We’ll let you know exactly what foods to avoid in order to conquer hypertension and defend against heart attack and stroke.

Sugar and Salt

These two tastiest ingredients are also the main drivers of hypertension and must be limited. That doesn’t mean you have to eat entirely unseasoned food, as the body truly needs some of both of these things. However, in a world of fast and packaged foods, it is extremely easy to exceed the daily recommended allowance by a lot. A focus on eating whole foods that are prepared fresh at home can go a long way in your quest to limit dangerous sugar and salt.

Depending on other factors you will want to discuss with your doctor, the amount of sodium a healthy person can consume per day should not exceed 2,300 milligrams. If you’re reading labels, stick with foods in the 5% DV range for sodium. Anything that tips the scale at 20% DV or more is best avoided, unless you want it to be the only thing you eat that day.

According to the American Heart Association, you shouldn’t be eating more than 37.5 grams(or 9 teaspoons) for men and 25 grams (6 teaspoons) for women per day of sugar. That sounds like plenty, but keep in mind that one caffeinated soda contains 33 grams all by itself; that goes up to 39 grams in the decaffeinated colas.

1. Canned Beans

Canned beans, and in fact many canned vegetables, are loaded with salt to aid in preservation. Beans in general are a great food choice because they are high in protein and other vital nutrients that reduce inflammation and keep blood sugar steady.

If you really prefer to eat your beans canned, rinse them thoroughly in a colander before eating to wash away up to 41% of the sodium.

2. Premade Soups

A lot of premade soups on the grocery aisles are packed with salt to bring out the flavors of cooked veggies and noodles. When cooked, the salt content in soup also concentrates a bit more as water boils off. And of course, there’s no way to rinse soup before you eat it.

A better bet is to make soup from scratch or look for labels that advertise “low sodium” or “reduced salt” – but make sure you still read the nutrition facts on the back, because while the sodium is reduced from that product’s regular version, it may still be too salty for people with hypertension.

3. Cooked Tomato Products

The humble tomato features in a great many sauces and condiments. Fresh from the garden they are tender and delicious. Grown on a large scale, however, tomatoes are selected to be firmer so that they can withstand shipping, and can be a bit on the bland side.

Major food manufacturers ramp up the salt content in tomato sauce, ketchup, and tomato paste in order to bring out the natural flavor of the fruit that we crave. You can get all the delicious flavor with a fraction of the salt by making your own sauces with fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and herbs at home – it’s not even that hard.


Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure


4. Packaged and Processed Meats

Most all packaged foods are going to contain too much sodium, and this especially applies to meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and lunchmeat. You already know to limit the amount of red meat in your diet for overall health, but beware of sneaky sodium sources such as packaged turkey or chicken.

Lean white meat is generally a good meal, but buy straight from a butcher to avoid the buckets of salt that go into grocery store versions.

5. Frozen Meals

These so-called “TV dinners” revolutionized dinnertime in the 1950s, but it’s time for the pendulum to swing back toward freshly prepared meals, even though it takes more effort. Highly convenient, especially for lunch breaks that seem to get shorter and shorter, frozen meals are also packed with sodium, and the quality of the ingredients in most brands is not top notch.

Check the labels to locate a few brands that keep the sodium in check – they are out there, but you will probably need to pay a bit more.

6. Candy

First, the obvious. There is no redeeming value to candy. It is comprised of sugar and empty calories that blast your blood sugar through the roof and then send you crashing back to earth in short order. That ride sure feels good, though, and we get how powerful the cravings can be. But rather than nutritionally void candy, opt for fruit instead, which delivers a reasonable amount of sugar along with essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Fruit that’s high in potassium, like bananas, is especially good for people with hypertension because the nutrient seems to play a preventative role in reducing blood pressure levels.

7. Soft Drinks

Sodas are just as high as candy in sugar and calories, but are even worse in one particular way. Studies show that calories you drink don’t make you feel as full as calories you eat. So you can take in more than your daily recommended amount of sugar in one soda but still feel like you want to reach for a piece of cake.

Sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or a sprig of mint won’t hit you like a freight train the same way soda does, but in the end provides a steadier, smoother day.

8. Pastries

Commercially-made cakes, cookies, donuts, and other baked treats are brimming with both sugar and fat. Eating just one traditional serving size could bust your entire days’ sugar allowance and lead to weight gain. To reduce the amount of sugar you get from baked goods while still, you know, enjoying life, share one dessert with everyone at the table when dining out. You can also make surprisingly tasty baked goods at home using sugar substitutesincluding applesauce, dates, or Stevia.

Products like raw honey, pure maple syrup, and coconut sugar are also good substitutes because they are lower on the glycemic scale than white sugar and come along with essential nutrients, electrolytes, and antioxidants.

9. Sauces

We are expanding our previous warning about the sodium in tomato sauces to warn that most sauces and condiments are high in sugar, too. Jarred or canned sauces and condiments from all over the world – American, Mexican, Asian, Indian, and Italian alike – can all pack a double whammy, so be sure to read your labels carefully.

You may notice that products specifically made with lower sugar have more salt to compensate, and vice versa. If all else fails, we encourage you to get creative at home. You will likely find that fresh herbs do a better job than salt and sugar to flavor sauces anyway.

10. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol is on the no-go list for people with people with all sorts of conditions, because processing it puts a strain on your body. Many types are also high in sugar or are frequently mixed with sugary beverages. Too much alcohol leads to dehydration (the hangover) and also to weight gain, both of which are risk factors for hypertension. Having more than three drinks in a sitting will also raise your blood pressure on the spot. If you don’t want to teetotal, one serving per day for women and two for men is generally considered safe.

The upshot is that the most straightforward way to eliminate the excess sugar and salt in your diet is to cook at home. However, many food manufacturers and even restaurants are getting hip to the movement toward healthier eating and can provide reasonable choices that you don’t have to sweat over in the kitchen. With some extra research and preparation, along with the willingness to retrain your palette, you will likely experience new appreciation of the natural flavors in your food. Before long, you won’t miss the blast of sugar and sodium at all.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:34

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If You Eat 3 Dates Everyday For 1 Week This Is What Happens To Your Body

If you like sweetness on a Friday night, something new and exciting, or something that will give you energy and perhaps a little skip in your step, then you are likely someone who likes a good date or even several. And whether we’re talking about a romantic outing with another person or an edible sweet fruit, it mattereth not. Dates out to dessert, or dates for dessert are both as awesome as they are healthy for the body and mind. Yet, for this article, we are talking about the the fruit of the date palm grown in many tropical regions of the world.


If You Eat 3 Dates Everyday For 1 Week This Is What Happens To Your Body


If you like sweetness on a Friday night, something new and exciting, or something that will give you energy and perhaps a little skip in your step, then you are likely someone who likes a good date or even several. And whether we’re talking about a romantic outing with another person or an edible sweet fruit, it mattereth not. Dates out to dessert, or dates for dessert are both as awesome as they are healthy for the body and mind. Yet, for this article, we are talking about the the fruit of the date palm grown in many tropical regions of the world.


Moreover, if you eat three of these soft, squishy fruit everyday for one week, you may consider makin dates a more regular occurrence because the following things will likely happen to your body:

1. Reduced risk of colon cancer

Along with insuring that food moves through the digestive system at a healthy rate, dates also make sure that the gut itself is healthy and free from harmful bacteria. And when the digestive system and gut are working well, then so is the colon, resulting in a reduced risk of colon cancer.

study conducted by the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences found that those who consumed dates had enhanced colon health because dates increased the growth of good bacteria, inhibiting the growth of colon cancer cells.

2. You’ll have quick, long lasting energy

Dates contain the natural sugars, glucose, fructose and sucrose that will give you a quick burst of energywhen you need it. And unlike energy bars or drinks, dates contain other healthy components like fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamins and antioxidants that will keep those levels up, and not send you quickly crashing down.


If You Eat 3 Dates Everyday For 1 Week This Is What Happens To Your Body


2. You’ll have quick, long lasting energy

Dates contain the natural sugars, glucose, fructose and sucrose that will give you a quick burst of energywhen you need it. And unlike energy bars or drinks, dates contain other healthy components like fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamins and antioxidants that will keep those levels up, and not send you quickly crashing down.


3. Your digestive health will improve 

If you want to keep things in your digestive system moving along nice and regularly, dates are just the thing to do that. In just a one cup serving or dates, you will get 12 grams of fiber. That’s 48 percent of your recommended daily intake!

The right amounts and right kinds of fiber can benefit your digestive health by preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. And dates are most definitely the right kind of fiber to do the job. In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition  found that people who consumed 7 dates per day for 21 days showed improvements in stool frequency and increase in bowel movements compared to when they did not eat dates.

4. You could be smarter

Dates contain Vitamin B6 that has been shown to improve performance of brain by helping the body make serotonin and norepinephrine. Serotonin in turn regulates mood and norepinephrine helps your body cope with stress. Conversely, research has shown that low levels of Vitamin B6 is linked to depression.

So, when your brain is clear from stress, and in a good mood, then it is sharp and ready to learn and retain information.

5. Treatment for hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are veins in your anus and rectumthat have become inflamed and swollen. This is often caused by constipation that leads to strain in that area at the far end of the digestive tract. This is a terrible and often very painful condition that fortunately can be treated and even reversed through a change in diet to reduce constipation.

Many doctors recommend a diet high in fiber, and that includes dates to help things move along so that your hemorrhoids can heal.

6. Cure a broken heart, aka, improve your cardiovascular system 

Sometimes all it takes is several dates in a row over a long period of time to cure a broken heart.

It’s true. The potassium contained in this seemingly magical little fruit has been found lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) that causes blockages in the arteries that lead to stroke and even heart attack. A study of older women found that high potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke and ischemic stroke and mortality.

So, invest in a date — even several over a long period of time — and you will find long lasting health that could very well lead to your happily ever after.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:23

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Michael Cohen offered Liberty University CIO $50,000 to rig two online polls for Trump, report says

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen paid a technology expert to rig online polls in Trump's favor, according to The Wall Street Journal

John Gauger, the owner of Red Finch Solutions and chief information officer at Liberty University, said Cohen offered him $50,000 to manipulate two news sites' polls, the Journal reported Thursday, citing a government document and a person familiar with the matter. 

Gauger said Cohen handed him a Walmart bag loaded with about $12,000 in cash during a 2015 meeting at Cohen's Trump Organization office. Cohen also threw in a boxing glove he said was once worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter.But he never paid Gauger the remainder of the promised $50,000, the Journal said. 

Cohen did not deny the report in a tweet Thursday morning, saying, "What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of" Trump.

"I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it," wrote the man who once said he would "take a bullet" for the president.  

But Cohen did deny giving Gauger cash. "All monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check," he said, according to the Journal.

Gauger did not appear to have much success at moving the needle in the polls he was paid to manipulate. In January 2014, Cohen asked Gauger to sway a CNBC online poll on the top American business leaders with a program that could vote for Trump repeatedly, the Journal report said. But Trump did not break into the top 100

In February 2015, Cohen asked Gauger to boost Trump in a Drudge Report poll on potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates, according to Gauger. Trump ended up coming in fifth with 5 percent of the vote. 

Cohen also asked Gauger to create a Twitter account with the handle @WomenForCohen that would be run by a female friend of Gauger's to portray Cohen as a "sex symbol" and hype his statements in favor of Trump's presidential campaign, the Journal reported.

Michael Cohen departs after sentencing at the Moynahan Federal Courthouse in New York City on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

"Women who love and support Michael Cohen. Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference!" reads the account profile. The profile was created in May 2016 and remains active with just 527 followers as of Thursday morning.

"We can't wait!!! You will do a fantastic job! You are amazing leader &speaker #ThanksDonald #AmericaFirst," reads a Dec. 28, 2016 tweet, the last one posted to the account. That tweet was in response to one from Cohen's announcing he would be an honoree at one of the pre-inaugural balls after Trump's election victory. 

Gauger said the last time he spoke to Cohen was in April 2018, after the lawyer's office, home and hotel room were raided by the FBI, the Journal reported. "It’s not a big deal," Gauger said Cohen told him about the investigation. 

Last month, Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to crimes related to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. 

Although Gauger said Cohen never paid him the full promised amount, Cohen did ask the Trump Organization in January 2017 to reimburse him $50,000 for "tech services," prosecutors for the Southern District of New York said when Cohen was charged in August.

The request was made in a handwritten note, along with his bill for the $130,000 in hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels. That payment comprised one of the campaign finance violations to which Cohen pleaded guilty. He claims payment, which constituted an illegal campaign contribution, was made at Trump's direction. 

The Journal reported that Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said if Cohen requested a $50,000 reimbursement but only paid Gauger $12,000 to $13,000, it shows Cohen is a "thief."

"If one thing has been established, it’s that Michael Cohen is completely untrustworthy," Giuliani told the Journal. Since calling Cohen "an honest, honorable lawyer" in May 2018, Giuliani has sharply questioned Cohen's credibility, calling him "pathetic" and a "serial liar." 

At his sentencing, Cohen said he committed his crimes out of "blind loyalty" to Trump and that he felt it was his "duty to cover up his dirty deeds." Cohen is expected to be grilled about those "dirty deeds" when he testifies Feb. 7 before the now Democratically controlled House Oversight Committee.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:17

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Put Garlic Under Your Pillow And See What Happens

Everyone is familiar with the pungent flavor of garlic. It adds zest to innumerable savory dishes. It’s also quite healthy, with complex carbohydrates and proteins, plus vital minerals and vitamins like vitamin B, sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Eating garlic on a regular basis can help to ward off heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases as well as metabolic disorders like diabetes.

The instantly recognizable smell of garlic comes from the allicin, a sulfur compound. It makes garlic excellent for treating infections because it can kill some types of virus more efficiently than antibiotics, and without the nasty side effects. Garlic also contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that support optimal function of all of the body’s systems.

But we’re not done yet! Garlic improves blood flow, lowers cholesterol, and even helps prevent premature aging by reducing oxidative damage. With all the benefits of eating garlic, why on earth would you put it under your pillow? As it turns out, there are several reasons.

Read on to find out what happens when you stash a clove or two under your pillow at night.

1. You Will Breathe Better

One of the ways that garlic helps you overnight is that is can clear blocked nasal passages. The allicin, when breathed, thins mucus so that it drains. Your breathing will improve, which in turn makes it a lot easier to fall and stay asleep.

If simply placing a clove or two of garlic under your pillow isn’t enough, you can make a garlic steam to breathe before bed. Simply place 3-5 crushed cloves into a pot of boiling water, turn off the heat, and then inhale the steam. Be careful not to get so close to the pot that you burn your face.

2. You Will Get Sick Less Often

Garlic is also a potent antibacterial and can knock out common germs before they make you sick. They can also help shorten the duration of a cold or flu. Researchers think this is because allicin is able to block two groups of enzymes that allow infectious microbes to survive in a host body.

Sleeping with garlic under your pillow regularly can help ward off passing germs, but you might want to add more to your diet if you actually catch that cold.

3. You’ll Get A Better Night’s Sleep

Sleeping with garlic under your pillow is a holistic remedy for insomnia that has been used for ages. It’s counterintuitive to think that a smell as powerful as garlic could be calming, but it works. Smelling the allicin in garlic can help you fall asleep and stay asleep so that your rest is truly restorative.

Beyond sleeping with garlic under your pillow, eating more of it can increase your intake of magnesium and potassium. These two minerals play a vital role in sleep by working synergistically to relax your muscles and produce a chemical called GABA. GABA is the body’s signal that it’s time to calm down, and it chills out your brain cells so that they can begin the restorative work that happens overnight.

4. You’ll Naturally Repel Bugs

If you’ve ever worried about a spider crawling into your mouth while you sleep, or woken up with a bunch of mosquito bites, you’ll appreciate having some extra protection under your pillow. Garlic is toxic to bugs and they know it, so having some under your pillow naturally discourages them from joining you in bed.

In fact, some people use a garlic and water spray to repel bugs in the garden. But for the purpose of repelling insects, eating garlic doesn’t seem to be as effective. Mosquitos especially are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and of course that occurs no matter what we’ve eaten.

A Couple Words Of Caution

One thing to remember if you have dogs or cats is that garlic is toxic to them. If your pets get on your bed and are prone to swiping food, it’s best not to leave garlic under your pillow when you’re not there. A small amount of garlic in a meal will probably not sicken a pet, but an entire clove certainly will.

In any case, it’s better for the effectiveness of garlic as a sleep aid to use a fresh clove each night. We also recommend wrapping your clove in a washcloth, or alternately, keeping the skin on while you sleep. Garlic contains oil that can stain your sheets if it gets crushed.

Garlic is a fantastic boon to health, whether you sleep with it, eat it, or breathe it. There’s no reason not to do all three! But hundreds of years of use as a sleep aid certainly speaks to its unique ability to settle both body and brain and improve the quality of your slumber.

You should definitely try garlic under your pillow before resorting to dangerous chemical sleep aids, which have been shown to trap you into dependence on them. And even though you get “knocked out,” the quality of your sleep is not good under the influence of these drugs. Garlic is cheap, easy, and it works with zero side effects. Sweet dreams!

sarah Posted on January 17, 2019 18:47

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'Blockbuster' storm heads east, could drop 40 inches of snow. Then an Arctic blast will freeze 200 million

After hammering California with rain and snow, a 'blockbuster' winter storm is taking aim on the East, where as much as 40 inches of snow could fall over the weekend. Road travel may become "impossible" due to the heavy snow; flight delays and cancellations are also likely.

After the storm heads offshore on Sunday, the intense cold will be the main weather story as bitterly cold air straight from the Arctic will roar in, bringing below-freezing temperatures to 200 million Americans.

As for the storm, "freezing rain, heavy snow and heavy rain are expected through the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days," the National Weather Service warned.

On Friday, the heaviest snow will hit South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, AccuWeather said.

Then, the storm will wind up and roar into the Northeast and New England on Saturday and Sunday, where the heaviest snow will fall.

AccuWeather said 40 inches is possible in parts of northern New England, while close to 30 inches of snow may fall on parts of central and northern New York state and the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Snowfall rates could reach 2-3 inches per hour.

The storm "will be a blockbuster in terms of impact and dangerous conditions," said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Anibal Maceira, of Hagerstown, Md., cleans snow off the roof of his car Monday morning, Jan. 14, 2019, after a winter storm brought about six inches of snow to the Tri-State area over the weekend. (Photo: Colleen McGrath, AP)

Snowfall of 12-24 inches is likely to be more common in the heaviest band from the storm, AccuWeather forecasts. But blowing and drifting at the height and conclusion of the storm could cause the snow depth to vary by several feet.

"Plows are not likely to be able to keep up," Sosnowski warned. "As the storm strengthens, winds will cause major blowing and drifting of snow."

"Those who are on the road through the heart of the snow and ice area will be at risk for becoming stranded for many hours," Sosnowski said, adding that they "may have to face temperatures plummeting to dangerously low levels."

The combination of winds and heavy snow could lead to numerous power outages, particularly in the heaviest snow swath in the interior Northeast, according to the Weather Channel.

Boston should finally see its first inch of snow of the winter season. 

More: More snow! Airlines waive change fees as new storms approach

More: Series of storms to pummel California with rain, snow, wind

More: California mudslides shut down Pacific Coast Highway

The Weather Channel warned that a thin band of sleet and freezing rain is also possible in parts of the Ohio Valley eastward into the mid-Atlantic states. 

The Weather Channel has named the storm Winter Storm Harper. No other private weather company, nor the National Weather Service, is using that name

Following the storm, the coldest air of the season will roar across nearly the entire eastern half of the country by Monday: Some 200 million people will wake up to below-freezing temperatures on Monday morning, as far south as Florida, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue. Maue added that some 85 percent of the Lower 48 states will see temperatures at or below freezing.

A "flash freeze" could develop late Sunday, causing any standing water to quickly freeze, creating dangerous and slippery conditions. 

Lows will be below zero in the upper Midwest and northern Plains with wind chills approaching 40 degrees below zero. Although the cold blast is expected to only last a day or two in most spots, it will likely mark the beginning of what is expected to be a cold end to January east of the Rockies, the Weather Channel said.

In fact, forecasters say the brutal, punishing stretch of intense cold should last well into February. The cold is partly due to the fracturing of the polar vortex earlier this month, which has slowly pushed unspeakably frigid air from the Arctic into the United States. 

Truck drivers watch damaged semitrailers get removed from the scene of a multi-car collision in the Cajon Pass near Hesperia, Calif., on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019. ( (Photo: James Quigg, AP)

Western woes

On Thursday, California dealt with heavy rainfall, mountain snow and flooding that threatened to trigger mudslides in areas previously scarred by devastating wildfires.

In Northern California, trees and power lines toppled in some areas deluged by up to five inches of rain in recent days. The scenic Pacific Coast Highway was closed overnight near Big Sur due to mudslides and flooding.

Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox

In Southern California, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said 19 vehicles crashed and 35 people suffered "minor to modest injuries" in a crash in fog near mountainous Cajon Pass.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” the weather service said of the storm's rampage.

Areas under evacuation orders included parts of fire-scarred Malibu, where all public schools were closed Thursday. Several vital canyon roads in the area were closed due to rock fall danger.

Three feet of snow or more were forecast high in the Sierra Nevada, where blizzard warnings were in effect deep into Thursday, the weather service said.

At least five deaths have been reported during the week of stormy weather.

Precipitation in California will begin to wind down by Thursday night and into Friday morning as the storm heads east.

sarah Posted on January 17, 2019 18:33

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Sunderland police dog van crash: Man charged

A man has been charged with causing serious injury by dangerous driving after a crash involving a car and a police dog van.

It happened at 10:50 GMT on Sunday on Mowbray Road, Sunderland, while police were searching for a car reported to have been driven dangerously.

The 30-year-old from the city has also been charged with careless driving and failing to stop after an accident.

He has been remanded in custody and is due to appear in court on 29 January.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 15:02

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Dudley car crash disorder left five people injured

Five people were injured as a car was set on fire and a vehicle crashed into a house during a disturbance on New Year's Eve, emergency services say.

Up to 10 men were involved in the disorder in Dudley, West Midlands, which left a woman in the damaged house needing hospital treatment.

Police received multiple 999 calls at about 23:00 GMT reporting trouble in Eagle Close, Russells Hall.

Edward Nock, 20, from Telford, and a 16-year-old boy were arrested.

Mr Nock, from Higford Lane, near Shifnal, has been charged with drinking and driving and causing serious injury through dangerous driving.

He is due to appear at Dudley Magistrates' Court on 29 January.

The 16-year-old, from Dudley, was arrested on suspicion of three counts of assault, including one on the arresting officer.

He has been released under investigation while inquiries continue.

West Midlands Police said a woman was seen being punched in the face and dragged along on the ground, a Ford Fiesta was set on fire and a Nissan Micra reversed into a house on nearby Kestrel Road causing significant structural damage.

West Midlands Ambulance Service said it treated two patients at the house, an elderly woman who was taken to Russells Hall Hospital and a man who was treated at the scene.

It said it also treated a teenager for injuries as a result of an assault nearby before he was also taken to hospital for further treatment.

Another man and a woman were assessed at the scene for minor injuries.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 14:46

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Kirton house fire: Murder investigation under way

Two more bodies have been found inside a house that was gutted in a fire in the early hours of New Year's Day.

A murder investigation is under way following the blaze in Pear Tree Road, Kirton, near Boston in Lincolnshire.

Police initially said one person had died but have now revealed that three people were found dead in the house.

The murder inquiry is being treated as "domestic-related" and police are not looking for anyone in connection with the deaths.

Two other people were taken to hospital after the blaze, but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

The first floor and roof of the house were gutted in the fire.

Police said on Tuesday that because of the ferocity of the fire it might take "a number of days" to establish how it started.

Details about those who died have not been released.

The murder investigation is being conducted by officers from the East Midlands Specialist Operations Unit, which has appealed for witnesses to come forward.

Supt Di Coulson said: "This is a tragic crime and our thoughts are with the family and friends of those involved.

"We are in contact with the families and will ensure that this is a thorough investigation as we try to understand what happened."

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 14:39

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Forced marriage victims asked to pay rescue costs

British victims of forced marriages overseas are being asked by the Foreign Office to pay costs associated with their own rescue, it has been revealed.

An investigation by the Times found those unable to cover flights, food and shelter were made to take out a loan.

MPs have condemned the practice as "astonishing" and "immoral".

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted the matter looked into and all British officials abroad should act with "compassion and humanity".

According to the report in the Times, British victims of forced marriage who ask for help abroad are informed about the costs.

UK officials will help them access their own funds, and contact friends, family or organisations that can assist them. But if they cannot find the money, they are asked to sign emergency loan agreements before returning home.

The Foreign Office says it will find funding options for those under the age of 18.

It has confirmed that between 2016 and 2017, 82 people were repatriated with the support of the government's Forced Marriage Unit and up to 12 loans were granted.

The Times says a Freedom of Information request showed the Foreign Office loaned £7,765 to at least eight victims in the past two years.

About £3,000 has been repaid, but debts of more than £4,500 are outstanding.

The victims helped last year are reported to include seven women found imprisoned in a "correctional school" in Somalia.

Four of the group, who were each charged £740, told the Times the demand had pushed them to the financial brink.

Under Foreign Office terms and conditions, a surcharge of 10% is added if the loan is not repaid within six months.

However, the department said its loans, which can be repaid at £5 a week, were more generous than commercial options.

Charging 'immoral'

Pragna Patel, the founder of Southall Black Sisters - which campaigns on the issue of forced marriage - described the policy as "unprincipled and immoral".

She said the costs would act as "a major deterrent" to people seeking protection from forced marriage.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said MPs "will ask questions about this decision".

Writing on Twitter, he said the Foreign Office is "rightly proud" of the forced marriage unit "but we shouldn't be charging the most vulnerable for their own protection or dissuading them from asking for it".

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, tweeted: "Completely appalled by this. Forced marriage is slavery. For Govt to make victims pay for their freedom is immoral. Ministers need to put this right fast."

A leading expert on forced marriage said the policy was "morally wrong". "Protection should not have a price tag," tweeted Aisha Gill, Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton.

As home secretary, Theresa May introduced new laws targeting forced marriage in 2014, and the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid vowed in Augustto "do more to combat it and support victims".

The Foreign Office said emergency loans were used to remove vulnerable people from high-risk situations when there were no other options available to them but "as they are from public funds, we have an obligation to recover the money in due course".

It added that, in most cases, the person would have to give up their passport to the government in order to get a loan.

The passport is not returned until the owner has repaid their loan in full. If the loan is not repaid after six months a 10% surcharge is added to total.

Unless there are "exceptional circumstances", the Foreign Office will not help British nationals return home.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the Foreign Office and the Home Office were doing "an incredible amount to combat forced marriage".

"With this news it's something again for us to focus on and make sure we're doing everything we can," he added.

Mr Hunt, who is on a visit to Singapore, said he had asked officials to give him "proper advice on the whole issue".

"I have always stressed to embassies and posts abroad that they need to use discretion," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

"Of course, we should behave with compassion and humanity in every situation but I want to get to the bottom of this particular issue."

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 14:31

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The Cape Town schools learning from transgender students

As an increasing number of young South Africans reveal that their gender identities differ from their sex at birth, schools are learning about the challenges these students face, writes the BBC's Mohammed Allie from Cape Town.

Three years ago, Alex* transitioned from a boy to a girl. Now eight years old, she wears her blonde hair long and feels at ease among her classmates at a primary school in a leafy Cape Town suburb.

"My friends are really nice," she says, even if some children in another class "don't really understand and act a bit mean".

Alex's mother Jennifer* says the family was initially advised by a psychologist against allowing Alex to explore her female identity, and was urged instead to reinforce the male gender.

"So we cut her hair and forced her to be a boy, but that turned out to be awful," Jennifer says. "She was affected badly - there was a noticeable decline in her sense of self."

Matters only improved after the family - acting on the advice of another mental-health professional - allowed Alex to dress as she wished.

"Legally we haven't changed the gender marker," Jennifer says, "but she started wearing dresses to school and they were OK with that."

South Africa has been getting better at understanding the needs of transgender students, backed by a constitution that is widely recognised as one of the most liberal in the world.

The country remains the only one in Africa that legally prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, guaranteeing equality for all.

The risks of 'coming out'

Despite the legal framework, homophobia and discrimination still persist in South African society, more so in the majority black communities than among their white and mixed-race compatriots.

According to the Centre for Risk Analysis at the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), only half of black LGBT people are completely open about their sexuality.

The report says black LGBT people may be more reluctant to reveal their sexuality because they are "more likely to be victims of physical violence than those in other race groups".

The risks of "coming out" are particularly high for black people in rural areas.

According to the IRR, only 35% of LGBT people in Limpopo province are open about their sexuality - the lowest rate in the country.

At the other end of the scale is Western Cape province, where an estimated 70% of LGBT people are completely open about their sexuality - way above the national average of 57%.

The provincial capital, Cape Town, has developed a global reputation as a gay-friendly city, boosted by its annual Gay Pride festival.

According to Ron Addinall, a sexologist and social psychologist based at the University of Cape Town, schools in the area have led the way in understanding the needs of transgender students.

The number of transgender students who have gone public has also been rising dramatically, he says, thanks to growing awareness of what it means to be transgender.

Mr Addinall, who has been advising schools as well as parents and their transgender children on dealing with transitions, says many teachers told him they were initially unaware they had transgender students in their classes.

Single-gender toilets

Some 20 schools in Cape Town have made provisions to accommodate the needs of transgender students, and more are following suit.

The measures include introducing single-gender toilets, as well as allowing students to use their new names and gender-neutral school uniforms.

At Westerford High, a school with a reputation for free thinking, principal Rob le Roux says the needs of a transgender student were accommodated by allowing a change in uniform, and in the pronouns used to address the student.

"The biggest change was in attitude," he says. "We had meetings with staff, parents and children to discuss how to deal with these types of requests."

Township 'inequality'

While well-resourced suburban schools may have adjusted to the unique challenges faced by transgender students, Mr Addinall says the situation is not quite the same at township schools.

"I'm anxious about what is happening in the pre-urban and rural school environments.

"The concern is that there are many transgender children in those schools [that are] not getting the appropriate support and have to hide who they are."

Iranti, a media advocacy organisation that defends the rights of lesbians, transgender and intersex people, has highlighted the case of a seventh-grade transgender pupil at a Western Cape school who was mocked after the school refused to recognise him as a boy because he had been registered as a girl at birth.

And last year, a judge at an Equality Court in Limpopo ordered the provincial education department to pay 60,000 South African rand ($4,100; £3,300) in compensation to a transgender pupil who said her principal instructed other pupils to provoke her in the school toilets.

Mr Addinall says his work with schools depends on the co-operation of individual educators and principals.

"Things would be much better if we had a national policy that clearly stipulates how transgender learners should be supported and cared for," he says.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 14:27

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Mother of the Hubble: Tributes paid to Nasa scientist

Tributes are being paid to Dr Nancy Grace Roman, the first woman to hold an executive position at the US space agency Nasa.

Dr Roman was known as "Mother of the Hubble" for her work on the early stages of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Nasa said her most important legacy was the advancement of women in the sciences and the generations of young scientists she inspired.

She died in Maryland on Wednesday at the age of 93.

Dr Roman was fascinated by the clear night skies of her childhood home in Nevada from a very early age.

She joined an astronomy club when she was just 11 and her passion for stargazing continued throughout her life.

But the young Dr Roman had to fight prejudice to be allowed to study maths and science at school and university.

"I still remember asking my high school guidance teacher for permission to take a second year of algebra instead of a fifth year of Latin," she once told the Voice of America.

"She looked down her nose at me and sneered, 'What lady would take mathematics instead of Latin?' That was the sort of reception that I got most of the way".

Despite the obstacles, she obtained a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 1949.

A position in the United States Naval Research Laboratory followed. She was later recruited by Nasa to be its first chief of astronomy in 1959, where she would work for two decades.

In a video released by Nasa in February, Dr Roman said she never had problems with her male Nasa colleagues.

"I was accepted very readily as a scientist in my job," she said.

"The men were very co-operative, and I felt that the men treated me as one of the team without a problem."

Her best-known contribution to the sciences is the planning of the Hubble Space Telescope, famous for its stunning images of the stars she had loved so much as a child.

Launched in 1990, it has been described as one of the most important scientific instruments ever created.

Throughout her career, Dr Roman was a passionate advocate of women in the sciences, teaching astronomy to elementary school children in the 1990s.

Her work has been recognised by a Women in Aerospace Lifetime Achievement Award and Nasa's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award.

In 2017, when Lego created a 231-piece Women of Nasa set, a figurine of Dr. Roman was included among four women identified as space pioneers.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 13:37

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New Horizons: Nasa probe survives flyby of Ultima Thule

The US space agency's New Horizons probe has made contact with Earth to confirm its successful flyby of the icy world known as Ultima Thule.

The encounter occurred some 6.5bn km (4bn miles) away, making it the most distant ever exploration of an object in our Solar System.

New Horizons acquired gigabytes of photos and other observations during the pass.

It will now send these home over the coming months.

The radio message from the robotic craft was picked up by one of Nasa's big antennas, in Madrid, Spain.

It had taken fully six hours and eight minutes to traverse the great expanse of space between Ultima and Earth.

Controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland greeted the reception of the signal with cheers and applause.

"We have a healthy spacecraft," announced Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman. "We've just accomplished the most distant flyby."

This first radio message contained only engineering information on the status of the spacecraft, but it included confirmation that New Horizons executed its autonomous flyby observations as instructed and that the probe's onboard memory was full.

A later downlink on Tuesday will see some choice images returned to give scientists and the public a taster of what New Horizons saw through its cameras.

If there is one note of caution it is that the timing and orientation of the spacecraft had to be spot on if the probe was not to shoot pictures of empty space! As a result, there'll continue to be some anxiety until the data can be examined.

"The highest resolution images taken at closest approach required perfect pointing, almost," said Project Scientist Hal Weaver. "We think, based on everything we've seen so far, that was achieved."

Ultima is in what's termed the Kuiper belt - the band of frozen material that orbits the Sun more than 2 billion km further out than the eighth of the classical planets, Neptune; and 1.5 billion km beyond even the dwarf planet Pluto which New Horizons visited in 2015.

It's estimated there are hundreds of thousands of Kuiper members like Ultima, and their frigid state almost certainly holds clues to the formation conditions of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.

The vast separation between New Horizons and Earth, coupled with the probe's small, 15-watt transmitter, mean data rates are glacial, however.

They top out at 1 kilobit per second. To retrieve all of the imagery stored on the probe is therefore expected to take until September 2020.

The first of the very highest resolution pictures are not expected on Earth until February. But this wouldn't delay the science, said Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

"The [lower resolution] images that come down this week will already reveal the basic geology and structure of Ultima for us, and we're going to start writing our first scientific paper next week," he told reporters.

Even just the final picture released from the approach phase to the flyby contained tantalising information. Ultima appears in it as just a blob, but immediately it has allowed researchers to refine their estimate of the object's size - about 35km by 15km.

What's so special about the Kuiper belt?

Several factors make Ultima Thule, and the domain in which it moves, so interesting to scientists.

One is that the Sun is so dim in this region that temperatures are down near 30-40 degrees above absolute zero. As a result, chemical reactions have essentially stalled. This means Ultima is in such a deep freeze that it is probably perfectly preserved in the state in which it formed.

Another factor is that Ultima is small (about 30km across), and this means it doesn't have the type of "geological engine" that in larger objects will rework their composition.

And a third factor is just the nature of the environment. It's very sedate in the Kuiper belt.

Unlike in the inner Solar System, there are probably very few collisions between objects. The Kuiper belt hasn't been stirred up.

Alan Stern said: "Everything that we're going to learn about Ultima - from its composition to its geology, to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere, and that kind of thing - is going to teach us about the original formation conditions in the Solar System that all the other objects we've gone out and orbited, flown by and landed on can't tell us because they're either large and evolve, or they are warm. Ultima is unique."

Media captionWhere is Ultima Thule? BBC Science Editor David Shukman explains

What does New Horizons do next?

First, the scientists must work on the Ultima data, but they will also ask Nasa to fund a further extension to the mission.

The hope is that the course of the spacecraft can be altered slightly to visit at least one more Kuiper belt object sometime in the next decade.

New Horizons should have just enough fuel reserves to be able to do this. Critically, it should also have sufficient electrical reserves to keep operating its instruments into the 2030s.

The longevity of New Horizon's plutonium battery may even allow it to record its exit from the Solar System.

The two 1970s Voyager missions have both now left the heliosphere - the bubble of gas blown off our Sun (one definition of the Solar System's domain). Voyager 2 only recently did it, in November.

And in case you were wondering, New Horizons will never match the Voyagers in terms of distance travelled from Earth. Although New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever launched in 2006, it continues to lose ground to the older missions. The reason: the Voyagers got a gravitational speed boost when they passed the outer planets. Voyager-1 is now moving at almost 17km/s; New Horizons is moving at 14km/s.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 13:28

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Loony Dookers chill out for New Year

New Year revellers have braved the cold of the Firth of Forth to take part in the annual Loony Dook in South Queensferry.

Some hardy souls dived into the chilly waters in their swimwear while others donned fancy dress.

Organisers said more than 1,000 people from 23 counties took part in the event, part of Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

Similar new year swims took place across Scotland, including at Dundee, Loch Ness, Kinghorn and Coldingham Bay.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 13:17

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UK couple die within hours of each other in Australia

Thousands of pounds has been raised to help the families of a British couple who died within hours of each other in Australia.

Former Market Drayton Town footballer Jason Francis, 29, was hit by a car near the home he shared with partner Alice Robinson in Scarborough, Perth.

Ms Robinson, who was said to have been "heartbroken", was later found dead.

More than 32,000 Australian dollars (£17,938) has been donated since Christmas Eve.

A Go Fund Me Page said this would help their relatives with any costs that might be incurred in sending the couple's bodies home.

Mr Francis had been on a day out with friends from Cottesloe Rugby Club, before getting a taxi home on Saturday evening.

Western Australia Police said a white VW Jetta, driven by an 18-year-old man, hit a male pedestrian on Stanley Street in Scarborough.

The force confirmed it was also investigating the death of a woman, and was preparing a report for the coroner.

Sam Diamond, president of the rugby club, which Mr Francis joined at the beginning of the year after moving to the area, said of the couple: "They were two of the finest people you could meet.

"They well and truly ingrained themselves in our club."

He said he understood Ms Robinson had gone outside the couple's home to investigate when she saw the flashing emergency lights.

"She was told by first responders that it was Jason they were working on," he said.

"We don't know what happened to her after this. I know the police have launched an inquiry into it.

"She has gone missing after notifying some of our friends of what's happened (to Mr Francis) and hasn't been found until the next morning."

He described Ms Robinson, who worked for a digital marketing company but was also a talented artist, as having "an infectious laugh" and being "very bubbly".

'Fantastic people'

Mr Diamond added: "Jason was the sort of person that's always got the time of day for everyone. Loved talking, loved working out, loved staying fit and healthy.

"They were just genuine, down-to-earth, fantastic people."

He said the mothers of both Mr Francis, who was in the process of becoming a firefighter, and Ms Robinson had expressed their appreciation for the funds raised.

A number of Shropshire sports clubs paid tribute to Mr Francis, including the captain of Market Drayton Town FC.

Paul McMullen said: "You young man were such a fine piece of our puzzle at MDTFC during our success and it was a pleasure to be part of it playing alongside of you."

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 12:44

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Rail fares rise 'kick in the wallet' after delays

Rail fares have increased by an average of 3.1% in England and Wales - and almost 3% in Scotland - despite a raft of issues on the network in 2018.

The rail industry says 98p of every pound spent on a ticket is invested back into the network.

But Wednesday's price hike was called "yet another kick in the wallet" by campaign group Railfuture.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the government had made a "record investment" in rail.

He also announced that a new railcard extending child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time education or training will be available by September.

A discount railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds will go on sale from 12:00 GMT. Like the existing card for 16 to 25-year-olds, it costs £30 and reduces fares by a third.

Fares in London will stay the same after a decision by Mayor Sadiq Khan to freeze Transport for London prices.

Protests against rises elsewhere are expected outside stations across the country from rail unions, politicians and campaigners.

The rise in England and Wales - the highest since January 2013 - will see the price of some annual season tickets go up by more than £100.

ScotRail defended its average increase of 2.8%, despite breaching performance targets with cancellations throughout November and December.

The company said its fare rises were lower than in England and Wales, adding that it was investing "millions of pounds to build the best railway Scotland has ever had".

Analysis from the Labour Party of more than 180 UK routes claimed that since the Conservatives came into power in 2010, the average commuter is paying £786 more for their annual season ticket.

The increases come despite one in seven trains being delayed by at least five minutes in the past 12 months - the network's worst performance since September 2005, according to the Press Association.

Chaos caused by new timetables from Northern and Govia Thameslink added to problems of extreme weather, strikes and signal failures hitting routes across the country.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the latest increases were "an affront to everyone who has had to endure years of chaos on Britain's railways".

Around 45% of fares are regulated by government, and capped at July's retail price index inflation figure - 3.2%.

Other increases are decided by the train companies.

The government has said that fares could rise in line with a lower index of inflation if unions agree that rail workers' wages also increase at a lower rate.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC: "I don't think it's right and proper that you see pay rises at 3.5% or more on parts of the rail network that are the biggest factor behind the fare increases."

He apologised for "tough moments" on the rail network in 2018 but said new trains being introduced in London, Birmingham and the north of England showed the impact of "massive investment" by the government and private sector.

'Value for money?'

Robert Nisbet, regional director of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said investment was at its highest level since the Victorian era and "that money has to come from somewhere".

The UK's railways are predominantly funded by customers' fares: last year's figures from the Office of Rail and Road show they yield £9.7bn, while the government provides £6.4bn - excluding loans from Network Rail.

However, almost a third of the government funding was given specifically to the HS2 high-speed rail project.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said fare payers are being "battered by the toxic combination of gross mismanagement and profiteering".

And campaign group Transport Focus said only 45% of passengers were satisfied with the value for money of their tickets.

Chief executive Anthony Smith told the BBC: "The industry should be becoming more efficient and that efficiency should be passed back to passengers to reflect a poor year."

The Department for Transport has commissioned former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams to carry out a review of Britain's railway network - including fares.

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ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 12:37

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Potholes: 'People don't realise the threat they pose'

Martyn Uzzell was on the latest leg of a charity bike ride when he hit a pothole and was thrown into the path of a car.

He died instantly.

He was cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats with his brother-in-law and a friend - all three of them experienced cyclists.

Since his death in 2011, his widow Kate has been campaigning for better road inspections.

However, the RAC claims "shocking" new figures prove road conditions are worsening.

New research has revealed more than half a million potholes were reported by members of the public to local authorities for repair last year.

The data was obtained from Freedom of Information requests to the 212 councils responsible for roads in Great Britain, of which 161 authorities provided comparable figures.

Kate, from North Somerset, said the pothole that killed her husband had been reported to the local council twice by a police officer and by their own inspection team.

"The local authority didn't take any action," she said.

"And the consequences of their inaction was the death of Martyn, devastation for his family and friends, and our future was stolen."

The A-road that they were cycling on was generally in good condition and was far better than others they had faced.

After spotting a pothole around a drain, Martyn's brother-in-law called back to warn the others.

But for Martyn it was too late.

"The first I knew was two police officers turned up at my work," Kate recalled.

"They turned up and they obviously said that Martyn had been killed.

"They couldn't tell me what had happened to my brother. He couldn't speak when he got home. He was so traumatised by it."

Kate had been planning a surprise trip to Scotland to watch the three of them cross the finish line.

She said that people don't realise the threat that potholes can pose and said the latest figures were "upsetting".

"What is dangerous to a cyclist can be perfectly safe for a motor vehicle."

The government said it was spending £6.5bn on road repairs from 2015-2021.


More than 512,000 potholes were reported to the 161 local authorities, up 44% on the 2015 figure of 356,000 potholes from 152 councils, the RAC said.

Extrapolating the numbers to take account of councils unable to provide data, the RAC believes the increase in reports over two years is 33%.

As well as being a danger to road users, potholes also caused problems to vehicles.

Among the most common were damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels.

Earlier this year, drivers breaking down after hitting potholes reached a three-year high, according to the RAC.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: "Perhaps motorists are more inclined to report pothole defects than they were a few years ago, but we believe the sheer size of the increase is further proof the condition of our roads is worsening."

He added the figures were "just the tip of the iceberg" as thousands of potholes go unreported every year.

One in five local roads in England and Wales is in a poor condition and the frequency of road resurfacing has declined, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

Media captionWhy do we have so many potholes?

In October's budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an extra £420m of funding for councils to tackle potholes, on top of an existing fund of almost £300m.

Martin Tett, the Local Government Association's (LGA) transport spokesman said councils were fixing a pothole every 21 seconds but needed more funding to "embark on the widespread improvement of our roads that is desperately needed".

He said the LGA was calling on the government to reinvest a portion of existing fuel duty into local road maintenance to fund a "£9.3bn road repair backlog".

Kate said the danger of potholes hadn't ever occurred to her before Martyn was killed, and that she was driven to speak out after hearing a segment on potholes on the local radio.

"People were ringing up and saying my alloy wheels were damaged and it made me really angry," she said.

"They're far more dangerous than that."


ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 12:27

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Sabarimala temple: Indian women form '620km human chain' for equality

Women in the southern Indian state of Kerala have formed a 620km (385-mile) human chain "in support of gender equality", amid a row over access to a prominent Hindu temple.

The Sabarimala shrine was historically closed to women of "menstruating age" - defined as between 10 and 50.

India's top court overturned the ban in September, but protesters have since attacked female visitors.

The "women's wall" was organised by the state's left-wing coalition government.

Officials told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi that around five million women from various parts of Kerala had gathered across all national highways to form the chain, which stretched from the northern tip of Kasaragod to the southern end in Thiruvanthapuram.

Organisers had predicted a turnout of around three million.

Officials said the short demonstration was to combat inequality and counter the efforts of right-wing groups that support the ban on women.

One young demonstrator, Kavita Das, told BBC Hindi: "This is a great way of saying how powerful women are, and how we can empower ourselves and help each other. Of course, I support the move to allow women of all ages into the temple. I don't think tradition or any kind of backwardness should stop women. Those who want to pray must have the right to pray."

Another woman, Tanuja Bhattadri, observed: "Sabarimala is not the main issue here today. I believe men and women are equal."

Why is the ban so political?

The Supreme Court decision to let women worship at the Sabarimala shrine came after a petition argued that the custom banning them violated gender equality.

But India's ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has argued that the ruling is an attack on Hindu values.

The issue has become increasingly contentious in the run-up to India's general election, scheduled for April and May. Critics have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of pursuing a religiously divisive agenda to court the BJP's mostly-Hindu support base.

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals - but most temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, rather than banning women in a broad age group from entering at all.

'The temple god is a bachelor'

Protesters have also argued that the court ruling goes against the wishes of the temple's deity, Lord Ayappa.

They say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone - it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity, who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.

According to the temple's mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy - and hence the ban.

Very few women have tried to enter the temple amid massive protests in the state, and many who tried have been forced to turn back.

Two women managed to reach the main temple premises in October, with more than 100 police protecting them from stone-throwing protesters as they walked the last 5km stretch to the shrine. They were ultimately forced to turn round after a stand-off with devotees, just metres from Sabarimala's sanctum.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 12:19

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Sabarimala: Indian women make history by entering temple

Two Indian women have made history by entering a prominent Hindu shrine in the southern state of Kerala, following months of protests against their entry.

The Sabarimala temple was historically closed to women of "menstruating age" - defined as between 10 and 50.

The Supreme Court overturned that ban but protesters then attacked women and stopped them from going in.

Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanaka Durga, 39, devotees of the temple deity, Lord Ayyappa, entered around dawn.

"We arrived early in the morning and we had a darshan [saw the idol] for a few minutes," Ms Ammini told the BBC.

Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose government supports the Supreme Court ruling, told reporters that the women's entry into the temple was a historic moment.

On 1 January, his left-wing coalition government organised a "women's wall" - in which women from across Kerala formed a 620km (385-mile) human chain to protest against the ban.

Temple officials say the women have "defiled" the temple. It was closed for an hour in order to perform "purification rituals" but has now re-opened.

Protests across the state have since erupted and police have fired tear gas to disperse crowds. Violent clashes have been reported outside the state parliament, according to local media.

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also called for a two-day protest after news of the women entering the shrine broke.

How did these women get into the temple?

Ms Ammini told the BBC that they began trekking up the hill on Wednesday morning around 1.30 local time (20:00 GMT Tuesday) and reached the shrine in two hours.

"We had no trouble trekking to the shrine and the officials were co-operative," she added. "We left before the protesters spotted us."

She said that plain-clothed police officers accompanied them. Given the early hour, it's likely there were no protesters and only a few devotees. The presence of the police also helped as temple officials would be breaking the law by refusing to let them enter the temple.

The shrine sits atop a steep hill and every year, millions of male devotees make the trek, often barefoot, to visit it.

One of the ways to enter the temple is to climb 18 holy steps - a sacred activity requiring a rigorous 41-day fast.

Ms Ammini said they did not climb the steps because they did not want to attract the attention of too many devotees and feared they might be attacked.

An activist opposed to women entering the temple, Rahul Easwar, told the BBC that "the police cheated other devotees by claiming the two women are transgender". Families of the two women have since denied this.

Four transgender women, accompanied by police, were allowed to pray inside the Sabarimala shrine in December. Their presence was not met with protests or resistance, police told the BBC.

The women, who are now under police protection, can be seen leaving the shrine in videos that have been circulating on WhatsApp.

Why are women of a certain age not allowed to enter Sabarimala?

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.

While most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.

According to the temple's mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy. Devotees say the ban on women of "menstruating age" was in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.

Women who had tried to enter following the court ruling had to turn back because of protesters. Police arrested more than 2,000 people in October for rioting and unlawful assembly.

Why has the issue become so political?

The Kerala state government supports the court verdict and Mr Vijayan has repeatedly said his government will provide the security to enforce it.

But India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has argued that the court ruling is an attack on Hindu values.

The issue has become increasingly contentious in the run-up to India's general election, scheduled for April and May. Critics have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of pursuing a religiously divisive agenda to court the BJP's mostly-Hindu support base.

ruby Posted on January 02, 2019 12:01

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'Unprecedented' mass releases of migrants strain churches to limit

Alone Christmas tree strung with lights stands near a pile of donated toys in the main hall of El Calvario United Methodist church in Las Cruces, southern New Mexico, a touch of festive cheer for the migrants who find sanctuary there after a long trek to the United States.

It has brought some comfort to a father from Catacamas in the Olancho department of Honduras, who arrived at the church shortly before Christmas with his 17-year-old daughter, escaping destitution and violence in Central America.

“It has been a very difficult journey. What I’ve gone through is something I will never be able to forget,” said the father, who requested anonymity while talking to the Guardian, for his and his daughter’s security. “I’m looking for something better for my children. I’m only asking for an opportunity to survive.”

The pair are far from the home where they began their journey and still many miles from their goal – meeting up with family members who live in Tennessee.

But the church feels like a brief haven. Surprisingly, perhaps, they were dropped directly at the doorstep by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agency, in a bus with 25 other migrants, after a week of being held in detention by the US authorities.

Sometimes, churches and shelters get word from Ice that they are bringing people released from detention into the care of family or sponsors in the US. But not always. Chaos broke out over Christmas in the nearby border city of El Paso, Texas, after Ice dumped more than 200 people at the Greyhound bus station there, and planned to bring more. They were told to sleep rough, not bother anyone and figure out for themselves, with no warning or provisions, how to reach relatives, according to local reports.

Local volunteers hurriedly brought food, water and cellphones to help those stranded and bewildered, while area shelters, full to capacity, tried to find places for them to stay.

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Ice has been unceremoniously offloading migrants from overstretched detention facilities, in increasing numbers in recent months. Authorities allow them to stay with US relatives or sponsors while their applications to remain in the US crawl through the system.



“It’s a challenge,” George Miller, the lead pastor at El Calvario, said.

Ice is releasing an average of 2,000 migrants a week just in the area around Las Cruces and the nearby border city of El Paso, Texas.

Numbers began increasing sharply in the summer after the Trump administration started detaining more people caught crossing the border unlawfully, Miller said.

“We’ve been operating at full capacity ever since,” Miller said. “It looks like this trend will continue for a while.”

The church offers cots, a bit of peace and quiet and hot meals, which Miller said those arriving often haven’t had for weeks and sometimes months.

Coordination between local shelters, including El Calvario, and Ice is led by Annunciation House in El Paso, the mission for refugees, migrants and the homeless that was thrust into the headlines recently after giving voice to the father of Jakelin Caal Maquin, the seven-year-old girl from Guatemala who died in US custody days before Christmas, prompting outrage from the United Nations.

The government hastily announced a new policy of medical checks on every migrant child in its custody after a second death, of a Guatemalan boy, eight, over Christmas.

“We run out of space all the time,” said the executive director, Ruben Garcia. “We’re always trying to find more churches … doing all this with the help of volunteers. It’s a lot of work.” They offer beds, food, showers, access to phones – and encouragement amid the chaos. Annunciation House was on the frontline again on Christmas Eve amid the chaos at the Greyhound station.

“The only reason Ice releases these migrants is because they don’t have enough detention facilities for all of the families – if not they would be releasing a lot fewer migrants,” he added.



 Asylum seekers board a bus after they were dropped off by Ice officials at the Greyhound bus station in El Paso late on 23 December. Photograph: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

The churches and non-profits the Guardian spoke with asserted that they were not paid by the government; they began coordinating with Ice principally to prevent people ending up on the streets after the government began releasing large numbers, citing a lack of capacity and legal limits on detention.

“I’ve never seen anything like this … the mass releases are unprecedented,” said Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, who has been helping asylum seekers in Tucson.

A shelter in Tucson called The Inn, run by pastor Dottie Escobedo-Frank, is named for the biblical story of Mary and Joseph resorting to a stable to bring Jesus into the world after there was no room for them at the inn in Bethlehem.

She said the local bus station called the shelter recently about a group of 20 people who were dropped off there by an Ice bus.

“We are grateful that these folks are getting out and are coming to our place instead of being at the bus depot,” Escobedo-Frank said.

While the Trump administration has been focusing on mass migration “caravans” traveling from Central America, with thousands now stuck in limbo in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, crossings by small groups and individuals have been surging elsewhere, further from the public eye.

US officials in the Rio Grande valley in eastern Texas are apprehending about 680 people a day, compared with fewer than 150 in San Diego daily, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said.

Raul Ortiz, local CBP acting chief in eastern Texas said few detained there were part of caravans.

When the authorities ask La Posada Providencia, a shelter in San Benito, eastern Texas, to take in migrants they are never turned down, Magda Bolland, the executive director said. However, its 29 beds are not enough.

“Sometimes I come into work and there’s someone sleeping in my office,” she said.

Church leaders in Arizona say Ice has released about 5,000 migrants in the Phoenix area in the last two months and they have had to scramble to find diapers, clothing and food at the last minute.

Magdalena Schwartz, a local pastor, coordinates with Ice several times a day. She tells them which of a dozen local churches have space after Ice shares how many asylum seekers will be released. Some local pastors have recently asked to take a break, citing strained resources.

“It’s overwhelming. We don’t have enough churches,” she said.

Trump's invisible wall: how his 2018 immigration policies built a barrier


Read more



Central Christian church in Mesa, Arizona, has recruited local host families to take in migrants. AndIsrael Camacho, a pastor at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza, in Mesa, sets up air mattresses.

“Compared to what the people have been experiencing, to be in a warm place with an air mattress and some hot food is like, ‘wow’,” Camacho said.

After a tumultuous year in US immigration policy, many shelters were full over Christmas.

In Tucson, Escobedo-Frank at The Inn summed up: “In most of the main faiths, there are stories of us welcoming the stranger. At this time, we’re trying to live out the Christmas story in real time, here in the desert,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

As 2018 draws to a close….

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Sustained support from our readers enables us to continue pursuing difficult stories in challenging times of political upheaval, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Readers’ support means we can continue bringing The Guardian’s independent journalism to the world.

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Archimedeskay Posted on December 27, 2018 07:59

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The best science long reads of 2018 (part one)

In the summer of 1974, a large and highly unusual ship set sail from Long Beach in California.

It was heading for the middle of the Pacific where its owners boasted it would herald a revolutionary new industry beneath the waves.

It was billed as the boldest step so far in a longstanding dream of extracting valuable metals from rocks on the seabed.

But amid all the excited public relations, there was one small hitch - the whole expedition was a lie.

Read the feature

'We can build a real time machine' By BBC Horizon

Image copyrightBBC / THOMAS SCHEIDL

Physicist Ron Mallett, from the University of Connecticut, has been dreaming of time travel for most of his adult life.

His research suggests that, given enough power, lasers could be used to warp space-time - allowing us to journey into the past.

Prof Mallett says that if he could build a time machine, he would try to prevent his father's death.

BBC Horizon looked at some of the most promising ideas for turning this staple of science fiction into reality.

Read the feature

A tale of two heatwaves: 1967 and 2018 By David Shukman

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

During the heatwave that hit northern Europe this summer, comparisons were being made to 1976.

But how did the two really compare?

There were some striking similarities but also some key differences, wrote David Shukman.

Read the feature

The life of a shark scientist By Mary Halton

Image copyrightMELISSA MARQUEZ

What does a marine biologist do all day?

Sydney-based shark researcher Melissa Marquez gave the BBC an insight into her work, which involves diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

She explains why sharks are the most misunderstood of predators.

Read the feature

The 'monster' berg: What happened next? By Jonathan Amos

Image copyrightNASA/JOHN SONNTAG

Image captionA-68 should pick up the pace as the currents grab hold of it

It was a wow! moment. The world's biggest berg, a block of ice a quarter the size of Wales, fell off the Antarctic in mid-2017.

But what happened after that? Jonathan Amos found out.

Read the feature

Does Jurassic Park make scientific sense? By Mary Halton


In 1993, Steven Spielberg's film Jurassic Park defined dinosaurs for an entire generation.

It has been credited with inspiring a new era of palaeontology research.

But how much science was built into Jurassic Park, and do we now know more about its dinosaurs?

As its 25th anniversary approached, Mary Halton looked at the research behind the landmark movie.

Read the feature

How ancient DNA is transforming our view of the past By Paul Rincon

Image copyrightMPI EVO ANTHRO

Prof David Reich of Harvard Medical School is one of the leading lights in the field of ancient DNA.

His team's work has cast a new perspective on human history, reconstructing the epic migrations and genetic exchanges that shaped the people of different regions worldwide.

Here he explains how this revolution in our understanding unfolded.

Archimedeskay Posted on December 27, 2018 06:35

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Shaw appears to poke fun at Mourinho-Pogba rift with cheeky Twitter post

The England defender posted a photograph to social media with a teasing caption aimed toward the midfielder

Manchester United defender Luke Shaw has taken to Twitter to make a cheeky jibe hinting at the rift between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho.

The full-back featured in United’s 3-1 victory over Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon - a result that ensured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recorded a win in his first home match as Reds manager.

Pogba was instrumental in the victory, having scored what proved to be a vital brace.

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After the match Shaw uploaded a photograph of the Frenchman celebrating with his teammates on Twitter with the caption: "When you post something by accident on insta", referencing a controversial post from Pogba in the aftermath of Mourinho’s dismissal.

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The World Cup winner posted a photo of himself smirking shortly after news of the Portuguese manager’s departure broke, with the caption "Caption this".

The photograph was deleted shortly afterwards and the 25-year-old claimed that it had been a scheduled post, and not a jibe at his ex-manager.

Mourinho and Pogba endured a tumultuous and well-documented relationship during their time together at Old Trafford.

Earlier in the season the midfielder was told that he would not captain United again while Mourinho was in charge and the two were filmed in a tense and frosty exchange at Carrington during a training session.


Pogba failed to start any of the 55-year-old’s final three matches at the helm, and did not feature at all in the win over Fulham or the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool that heralded the end of Mourinho’s tenure.

Shaw had also endured a torrid time under the ex-Chelsea boss. After suffering a broken leg in a Europa League match under Louis van Gaal, the England international struggled to impress his new boss upon his return to fitness, and failed to make an impression in the earlier days of Mourinho’s tenure.

After a long battle to turn his United career around, the 23-year-old became a regular under the Portuguese manager and was offered a five-year contract extension in October of this year, but was still often criticised openly by Mourinho.

Archimedeskay Posted on December 27, 2018 06:26

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Child poverty in Britain is already a problem — and Brexit will likely make it worse

"For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster."

The town of Oldham, about 7 miles northeast of Manchester, has been hit hard by the U.K. government's austerity measures.Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

Dec. 21, 2018 / 10:16 AM GMT / Updated Dec. 21, 2018 / 2:12 PM GMT

By Saphora Smith

OLDHAM, England — When things got really bad, Lara Butterworth would work six days a week and skip meals to ensure that her son had enough to eat.

But even that wasn't enough. Butterworth, 29, was forced to rely on handouts from the food bank before moving back to her mother’s house where she now shares a bunk bed with her teenage sister.

Her inability to succeed was not for lack of trying. “I was doing the best I could,” said Butterworth, whose son, Tyler, is 6.

"Even if I can’t give Tyler everything he wants, I make sure he knows he’s got everything he needs,” she added. “He’s loved and cared for.”

Lara Butterworth has only just paid off her credit card bill from last Christmas as this year's holiday approaches. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

The U.K. boasts the world's fifth-largest economy, but almost one in three of the country's children are growing up in poverty, according to the independent Social Metrics Commission.

And things are getting worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that child poverty could reach almost 37 percent by 2022.

Such warnings come as Britain's prepares to leave the European Union on March 29, which the Bank of England has said could shrink the economy by as much as 8 percent in about a year.

Brexit means the U.K. will also lose billions in E.U. funding, which has greatly benefited the country's most deprived areas.



World news

Five ways the messy Brexit divorce might pan out

The U.N. last month criticized the British government for continuing austerity measures imposed in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

"Various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40 percent," Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, wrote in a 24-page report on the effect such policies have had in the U.K. "For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”

Alston also dismissed the government’s theory that work is the solution to poverty, highlighting that 60 percent of those below the breadline come from families with at least one member being employed.

The government has admitted that the country would be poorer under any form of Brexit, and many fear that people like Butterworth who are struggling to make ends meet now will be disproportionately affected.

The statistics are staggering.

  • Food bank use in the U.K. has increased fourfold since 2012. There are now around 2,000 food banks across the country, compared to just 29 at the height of the financial crisis.
  • The fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 had already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by around £400 ($506) per year, the U.N. report said.
  • An average of 36 people have become homeless every day in the past year in Britain, according to the charity Shelter.
  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a research and development charity, warns that if the government does not sufficiently increase benefit payments to account for post-Brexit inflation, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty.
  • The U.N. report also notes that the U.K. government does not have an official method for measuring poverty.

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach” by the government toward those at the lowest levels of society, Alston added.

Discount stores and derelict buildings

Just outside the city of Manchester, the old cotton-mill town of Oldham has been hit hard by industrial decline and then years of austerity.

With a population of 225,000, it is peppered with discount stores and derelict buildings.

Oldham’s municipal government has vowed to fight back and the town center's first new movie theater in three decades opened its doors in 2016 as part of a $46.1 million regeneration project.

More than 40 percent of children living here grow up in poverty, according to the End Child Poverty coalition of charities. It classifies such households as those with incomes of less than 60 percent of the national median after housing costs — or $321 per week.

In the Oldham neighborhood of Coldhurst, 62 percent of children live below the breadline — the highest rate of child poverty in the U.K.

The Oldham food bank offers everything from tinned and fresh food to toiletries and toys for children. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

Many in Oldham said high levels of deprivation were key to why 60 percent of people living here voted to leave the E.U. in the 2016 Brexit referendum — well above the 52 percent national figure.

But few of those who spoke to NBC News said they expected the looming divorce to make life easier.

“A lot of people didn’t see things getting better for them anytime soon and they saw an opportunity to protest against that, to kick the people who they felt were responsible,” said Sean Fielding, who is leader of the town council.

The council itself has felt the sting of spending cuts. Since 2010, its budget has shrunk by $262 million — the equivalent of 42 percent of its funding — due to cuts in grants from the U.K. government. That makes it the sixth hardest-hit place in the country due to austerity, according to a recent study by the University of Cambridge.

And over the past 20 years, the Oldham Council has received more than $126 million in funding from the European Union, which helped projects including a tram system linking the town to nearby Manchester. It is not yet clear how much of the money Oldham can count on being replaced by the U.K. government after Brexit.

With public services debilitated by cuts, residents here increasingly rely on charities to plug the gaps in support. Oldham’s patchwork of food banks, social enterprises and not-for-profits is testament to the strong community spirit that flows through the hilly town.

Community social enterprise ifOldham leaves free bread for passersby outside their offices.Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

Inside the old pubs, chapels and community halls that have been transformed into food banks and support centers, many people point to relationship breakdowns, personal accidents and sickness as the beginning of their downward spiral.

But they said it was also a series of changes to the welfare system over the past eight years that had left them without a safety net.

Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government introduced a two-child limit for benefits saying it would no longer pay additional welfare payments for a third or subsequent child born after April 5, 2017.

“I think politicians really need to spend a week at a food bank and see what comes in or to live a week in the lives of some of the families we have, to see how poor they are.”

But many also blame the design and roll out of a divisive new welfare program known as Universal Credit for pushing them into debt, leaving them with little or no financial support and driving them through the doors of food banks.

The government claims its redesign of social security “makes work pay” and “guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits.”

But the Child Poverty Action Group, a charity that works to abolish child poverty in the U.K., said those policies have driven 1.5 million more children below the poverty line.

The poverty trap

Butterworth, the single mother, blames her most recent difficulties on her transition to Universal Credit, which she said caused her benefits to be cut off twice in the past year because of administrative errors.

To save on funds last winter, she stopped taking the bus and started walking Tyler the 45-minute journey to school through rain or snow.

Many Oldham residents said the food bank offered them a safe space and a support network as well as place to get food. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

It was only when she was pulled aside to talk about his poor school attendance record that she was directed to the Oldham food bank.

After losing her job because of stress, and moving back in with her mother, Butterworth last month found a new role supporting young people with learning difficulties. Her income was $1,510 in November, but she says she will make less this month and is afraid that as a contractor her work will run dry by late spring.

Because of her new salary, she was only entitled to $99 in top-up welfare payments for December.

With no secure job prospects and not enough money for first and last months' rent on an apartment, Butterworth has little chance of leaving her mother's home — and the bunk bed — without help anytime soon.

With Christmas looming, she accepted a hamper of gifts for Tyler from the food bank.

Butterworth’s story mirrors a national pattern, with changes to the benefit system hitting single-parent households particularly hard.

Single mother Danielle Ingham, 28, does spelling tests with her 5-year-old daughter Amelia at their home in Oldham. While she no longer uses the food bank, she has started attending a service called Bread and Butter which offers three bags of food for $8.85. “I’d rather do that because I feel like I’m paying my way,” said Ingham, who earns $10.12 an hour as a cleaner. She works up to 20 hours per week to support Amelia and son Alfie, 3. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

This year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission predicted that benefit and tax reforms since 2010 would see poverty rates for children in single-parent households jump from 37 percent to 62 percent by 2021-22 in England, Wales and Scotland.

While the government points to record employment rates — with only 4.1 percent of the population out of work — the U.N.'s Alston said low wages, insecure work and casual contracts with no guaranteed hours meant millions of Britons were stuck in poverty.


With family to fall back on, Butterworth is better off than many who come to Oldham’s food bank.

Lisa Leunig, who manages the bank's day-to-day running, said she saw many people come in desperate and alone.

“I think politicians really need to spend a week at a food bank and see what comes in or to live a week in the lives of some of the families we have, to see how poor they are,” she said.




This is what Brexit's worst-case scenario might look like

Leunig, 52, said she voted for Brexit to have a better standard of living and to stop what she described as high levels of immigration to a country that was already struggling to cope with the numbers of those in need.

Founded in 2011, Oldham’s food bank helped 35 people that first year, she said. By early December, the center had helped more than 7,000 people.

“I just want a better country to live in,” she said, adding that it was “disgusting” that people have nowhere else to go.

Lisa Leunig says each year more and more people are turning up to the Oldham food bank, which is located in what was once the Three Crowns pub. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

But despite her vote she's not convinced leaving the European Union will change much, and if it does she expects it to take a “very long time.”

Like many in Oldham, austerity has left Leunig disillusioned. Many of those who spoke to NBC News said they had fallen through the gaps too many times to believe there was a safety net.

The Rev. Bob Pounder, who co-runs a food aid hub at the Oldham Unitarian Chapel, said cuts by successive governments had created a situation where it feels like "it’s everyone for themselves" and where "the rich get rich and the poor get poorer."

The U.N.'s Alston said the government had made "no secret" of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility.

The ruling Conservative Party has traditionally been a strong proponent of a small state with former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher famously declaring that "there is no such thing as society," as she advocated that citizens should do more to look after themselves before turning to the government.

More than two decades later, then-Prime Minister David Cameron introduced the idea of the "Big Society" which envisioned that people would not always turn to officials and local government when they faced problems but would instead feel "powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities."



World news

David Cameron unleashed Brexit. Then he resigned. So where is he now?

Responding to last month's U.N. report, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd — who is responsible for welfare reform — said the "extraordinary political nature" of Alston's language "discredited a lot of what he was saying."

But Fielding, the leader of Oldham Council, said it should not be necessary for community groups and charities to do the government’s job.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that people are being driven into poverty as a result of decisions being made by the government,” he said.

Sean Fielding is the leader of Oldham Council and a member of the opposition Labour Party.Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

Fielding said he was concerned Brexit would only make things more difficult. Uncertainty over what Britain's future relationship with Europe will look like has also affected Fielding’s ability to plan.

When NBC News visited Oldham in early December, the U.K. government had still not finalized the town’s budget beyond 2020.

“We know that we have to take £17 million ($21.5 million) out next year and another £15 million ($18.9 million) the following year, and beyond that who knows,” Fielding said.

'The kids are freezing at night'

Sharon, an out-of-work single mom, admits she didn’t even vote in the Brexit referendum.

“I didn’t see the point — they do nothing for you, do they?” she said, having returned home with bags from the food bank.

Since having an emergency cesarean section last month, the mother of five has been unable to work and has relied entirely on welfare benefits. (Her two oldest children live with their father.)

Sharon, 42, says she does not have the money to even heat her house, though she allows her two daughters to switch on an electric heater for 10 minutes at a time to keep warm.

Sharon says it saddens her that she cannot afford to buy the toys that her daughter, Crystal, sees on television for Christmas. Susannah Ireland / for NBC News

The water heater and washing machine at her small terraced house on the outskirts of Oldham were both broken.

“It’s a joke, to be honest,” said Sharon, who did not want to give her last name for fear of being identified by an abusive former partner. “The kids are freezing at night, it’s horrible.”

Sharon’s youngest son Levi was born four weeks premature and was in intensive care when NBC News visited in early December.

“Look how tiny he is,” she said gesturing toward a picture of Levi, only a few weeks old, hooked up to numerous wires. "He is not going to be able to cope in my house without heating."

After paying bills and $503 in rent, she said she currently lives off $88 a week in benefits, which she uses to feed herself and her two daughters, as well as paying for school trips and Christmas presents.

To make ends meet she uses food banks to get essentials like milk, rice and pasta but says she feels ashamed to not be able to stand on her own two feet.

“It feels like scrounging," Sharon said. "You want to provide for your own kids."

Saphora Smith

Saphora Smith is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital. 

Luke Posted on December 25, 2018 07:37

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Beijing eyes two-child policy U-turn, but 'lonely generation' has moved on

After decades of draconian restrictions around family planning, China is now encouraging couples to have more kids as a matter of patriotic urgency.

In 2015, facing an aging population and a male-dominated population, China ended its one-child policy and started to allow people to have two children. Bloomberg / Getty Images file

Dec. 24, 2018 / 7:38 AM GMT

By Dawn Liu and Petra Cahill

BEIJING — For nearly 40 years, the Chinese government harshly restricted childbearing through the one-child rule in order to control population growth. That may soon change.

Beijing appears to be on the cusp of abolishing all of its family planning rules — and is even encouraging young couples to have more children as a matter of patriotic urgency.

But attitudes toward parenthood have changed. Even though there is a two-child policy in place now, many Chinese still don’t want to have more than one child — or any at all.

“I think having one child is enough,” said Chen Yiwen, a 25-year-old accountant and newlywed. “I won’t be tempted to have more — even if the family planning policy is abolished.”

After decades of harsh restrictions, China is encouraging couples to have two children, if not more. Yu ping / Imaginechina/AP file

Chen is not the only woman in the country who shares that sentiment — and that has China’s ruling Communist Party worried.

She said that she and her husband, a 27-year-old midlevel bank manager, are settling into married life in Xining, a city with 2.2 million people on the Tibetan plateau in central China. For now, they are focusing on “enhancing our self-value” and their careers.

“Besides, we already have two little babies — a poodle and a corgi,” she said.

'A distorted sex ratio'

Chen is part of what has been dubbed the “lonely generation,” those born under the one-child rule.

As China’s population ballooned to close to one billion in the 1970s, the government became concerned about the impact that would have on its plans for rapid economic growth.

So Beijing introduced the one-child policy in 1979. People who defied it faced hefty financial penalties and some civil servants lost their jobs. But much worse, many women faced the horror of sterilization and forced abortions.

“The production brigade went to my home and took all valuable things from us including the iron pot and removed the door of our house.”

Beijing claims that 400 million births were prevented as a result of the policy from 1980 to 2005.

But the the rule's strict enforcement was seen as a violation of human and reproductive rights by critics.

As a result of China’s traditional preference for male offspring, especially in rural areas, many woman who were carrying female babies were forced to get abortions.

Chinese doctors performed more than 330 million abortions and 196 million sterilizations since 1971, according to official data from the Chinese Health Ministry released in March 2013 and reported by the Financial Times and other international news organizations.

If the mothers did give birth, girls were often abandoned, placed in orphanages or given up for adoption abroad.

By the end of 2014, China had 33.76 million more males then females. For every 100 girls, there were 116 boys.

“The policy clearly skewed the population structure in many ways,” said Cai Yong, a professor who focuses on Chinese demographics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The Chinese population is aging very fast, and China has a distorted sex ratio.”


FROM 2015: The numbers behind China's one-child policy

Oct. 29, 201501:09

Data shows that in 1980, people 65 and older accounted for just 4.7 percent of the Chinese population. That percentage grew to 10 percent in 2015, and is projected to surge to 33 percent by 2050, according to United Nations figures.

China’s average birth rate fell to a record low of 1.04 in 2015, among the lowest in the world. In contrast, the U.S. birth rate in the U.S. was 1.80 last year, according to the World Bank.

Beijing fears that the aging population will have an adverse effect on the economy as the number of young workers shrinks and the government has to shoulder pension costs for the elderly.

'Too little, too late'

In 2015, China finally terminated the one-child policy and started to allow people to have two children.

However, the new policy hasn’t achieved its goal. In 2017, the number of newborn babies actually fell by 3.5 percent, according to the country's statistics bureau. As many as 630,000 fewer babies were born that year, despite the loosening of restrictions.

According to Cai, the two-child policy was “too little, too late.”


FROM 2015: China to end one-child policy as population ages

Oct. 30, 201502:02

The government seems to agree and has indicated that it may soon do away with family-planning policies altogether.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission, the body that oversaw population control for almost 40 years, was unceremoniously closed down this year.

Then in August, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, published an op-ed, “Childbearing is a family matter as well as a national matter.”

It called on citizens to have more children and warned that “the impact of low birth rates on the economy and society has begun to show."

The Year of the Pig postage stamp seemed like a sign of the Chinese government's approval for three-child families when it was revealed in August.China Stringer Network / Reuters file

Beijing also revealed a new postage stamp ahead of the Year of the Pig showcasing a happy family consisting of two pig parents and three piglets.

The stamp was interpreted as a nod by the government to the potential further relaxation of the two-child policy.

Financial strain

However, the decades of restrictions have changed how many Chinese people feel about having children.

“The one-child policy for the past few decades completely changed people’s birth concept. From kindergarten, they think one child is very normal," said Yi Fuxian, a population expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Now it’s hard to restore the family value and respect for life."

Many of the young couples and women NBC News spoke to cited the expense of education, health care and housing among the reasons for not having more than two children, even if restrictions are loosened.

And for many, the scars from living through the one-child policy are a still a bit raw.

Wu Shuai, 27, said he and his wife had discussed having kids, but agreed not to for at least three years.

“The cost of raising children now is so high. Medical treatment, education and children in China are taking numerous extracurricular tutoring classes,” Wu said. “Parents bear huge burden and pressure.”

He marveled at how much things had changed since his family broke the one-child policy when his younger sister was born. “The production brigade went to my home and took all valuable things from us, including the iron pot, and removed the door of our house,” he said.

He also recalled how when a classmate’s family had too many children, they had to move to another village to hide. “They couldn’t go back home. That was 15 or 16 years ago,” Wu said.




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His wife, Tang Tang, 24, said she hoped to have two children — a boy and a girl. “I feel that it is a responsibility, because the state’s policy is beneficial for the society, and it is necessary to respond to national policies,” she said.

For Zhang Haijian, a 42-year-old Russian language guide in Beijing, even one child feels like a strain. He said that he and his wife were already overwhelmed by the cost of education, health care, housing and caring for their elderly parents.

“To be honest, raising one child is too much burden for us,” he said.

His wife, Sun Yumin, 41, agreed.

“Why don’t I want two children?” she said. “Because I don’t think it’s necessary. It will erode my own life.”

“Only children are definitely lonely,” Zhang chimed in. “But if my child is not lonely, I will be screwed,” he laughed. “I would be worked to death.”

To others, the shifting policies appear like an insult.

“Women were told not to have children, now we are told to have children,” said Doro Zhang, 24, a single women from Guangzhou, a sprawling city of 14 million near Hong Kong. “It made me feel our country never really respected women.”

Dawn Liu reported from Beijing, and Petra Cahill from London.

Dawn Liu

Dawn Liu is a researcher for NBC News based in Beijing.

Petra Cahill

Petra Cahill is a freelance writer based in London. She previously worked as a senior news editor for, covering international and domestic news out of New York for more than a decade.

Luke Posted on December 25, 2018 07:32

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