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George HW Bush funeral: Four presidents sat (awkwardly) on one pew

They shared a total of 22 years spent living in the White House - and a wooden pew in the National Cathedral for the memorial service of George HW Bush.

It's not often that so many commanders-in-chief, present and past, are gathered in one place.

In recent years it has tended to happen at the funerals of presidents or the opening of presidential libraries.

At the state funeral of the 41st president of the United States in Washington on Wednesday, there were four together in the front row.

When George W Bush arrived and took his place on the other side of the nave, he brought that total to five, and their total years of service running the country to 30.

The significance of the moment was not lost on some.

1) The president Trump said was illegitimate (Obama)
2) The president he said assaulted women (Clinton)
3) The first lady/SoS he said should be in jail (Hillary)
4) The president he said was the second-worst, behind Obama (Carter)

So what exactly happened?

The handshakes and non-handshakes

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania were the last to arrive. As they took their places at the front pew, they shook hands with the Obamas next to them.

Oh, to know what was going through Michelle Obama's mind as she politely but stiffly greeted Mr Trump.

She recently said in an interview that the birther conspiracy theory pushed by him - falsely claiming Barack Obama was not born in the US - was something she would never forgive him for.

There was no public handshake between Hillary Clinton, who was sitting on the other side of the Obamas, and Donald Trump.

She looked straight ahead and there appeared to be no eye contact between her and her former opponent, in their first meeting since his inauguration.

The 2016 election campaign was marked by acrimony between the two candidates, with the Republican calling for her imprisonment over her use of a private email server.

"Lock her up" became a chant at Trump rallies during the campaign and his presidency.

But First Lady Melania Trump shook Bill Clinton's hand and gave a wave to Mrs Clinton, who nodded her appreciation.

Then along comes another president

George W Bush arrived and shook hands with each of the occupants in the front row.

He seemed to slip something to Michelle Obama - perhaps another sweet, as he did at the memorial service of John McCain.

All thought of bad blood between the Trumps and Bushes was forgotten for this occasion, which amounted to a celebration of a president, father and war hero.

Donald Trump has in the past mocked "low energy" Jeb Bush and derided the presidency of George W Bush.

But this week he has been fulsome in his praise for Bush the elder, and sent one of his iconic presidential jets to deliver the casket from Texas.

George HW Bush himself reportedly wanted the the current occupant of the White House - excluded from the memorial service of Senator John McCain - to be present.

The New York Times has looked at other moments in recent times when leaders of the US were together:

  • Dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California in 1991 - President Bush plus Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan
  • Funeral of Richard Nixon, also in California, in 1994 - President Clinton plus Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush
  • Ronald Reagan memorial in Washington in 2004 - President W Bush plus Carter, HW Bush and Clinton
  • Dedication of George W Bush Library in Texas in 2013 - President Obama plus two Bushes, Carter and Clinton
  • Hurricane recovery efforts in 2017 in Texas - former presidents Obama, W Bush, Clinton, HW Bush and Carter

And some VP history

Let's not forget the vice-presidents who also made the Bush memorial service on Wednesday an occasion of historical note.

Media captionHighlights from an emotional state funeral remembering former President George HW Bush


ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 12:49

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The Christmas present that could tear your family apart

This Christmas it's likely that more people than ever before will spit into a tube, or swab some cheek cells and send the result off for DNA analysis. Millions in the US have already done it, and the craze is spreading. But what happens when you find out a lot more than you were expecting?

Three years ago, Jenny decided to take a DNA test "just for fun". The youngest of five children, she had always been intrigued by stories about her ancestors. As a teenager she loved looking at old photographs with her grandfather and over the decades she had painstakingly pieced together her family tree.

Once her children were grown and she had more time on her hands, Jenny, a freelance writer from Connecticut, began going to genealogical conferences and workshops to improve on her methodology. "Everyone was talking about doing these DNA tests but I wasn't keen - it all sounded very scientific and I have no head for that."

Yet Jenny was curious to see what the test might reveal about her ethnic background, so she sent off for a kit and gave it a go.

There were no surprises when the results revealed her heritage as largely British, including Scottish, with a smattering of genes from Scandinavia. "Nothing exotic," she laughs.

But a year later she did a test with another genetic testing company and persuaded her brother to do one too. This time there was a surprise. The email with the results included a chart that she struggled to understand - but something written underneath immediately caught her eye: "Estimated relationship: half-sibling."

Jenny assumed her brother had done something wrong when he took the test. She decided that he must have left the kit lying in the sun or forgotten that you are not supposed to eat or drink an hour before providing the saliva sample.

"I was mad at him," says Jenny. "I thought - how typical! I asked him to do one little thing and he still couldn't get it right. I tried to rationalise it but at the same time there was this pit in my stomach."

Jenny searched for answers online and learned about the centimorgan - a unit of genetic linkage. Siblings typically have 2,500 centimorgans or more in common but Jenny only shared 1,700 with her brother.

Tormented by doubt, she asked her father's cousin, a woman in her 90s, to take the test too. "She had helped me a lot with genealogy, we had traded photographs and she was a very sweet person," says Jenny. "I feel terrible that I didn't tell her the real reason. I said it would be a fun thing to do and promised I'd send her the report."

Six weeks later Jenny was sitting in bed with her iPad when the results popped into her inbox. Unlike her brother, she shared no DNA with her father's first cousin.

"I could just feel my heart breaking," says Jenny, her eyes filling with tears. "I thought, 'Oh, my god it's true!' My poor husband sleeping next to me had no idea what was going on. I have never felt so alone."

  • Family history has been described as the second biggest hobby in the US after gardening, and as the second biggest activity on the internet after pornography
  • The price of DNA testing kits has plummeted - in the US they're available for less than $100, while one UK high street chain sells them for £80

Jenny told nobody about her findings for several months. Instead she sent DNA kits to her remaining brother and two sisters and coaxed them into giving saliva samples. She had always thought she looked different from them - less tall and less dark - and the results confirmed that she was the odd one out.

Jenny also talked her 86-year-old mother into taking the test. "She was my mom of course, but I wanted irrefutable proof because finding out that the man who had raised me wasn't my dad shook me to my core," Jenny says. "I just felt like everything I'd known for 50 years wasn't true any more."

A year later she summoned the courage to bring the subject up with her mother, who was frail and suffering from cancer. As they sat drinking tea, Jenny explained that the DNA test had thrown up some weird results.

"My mom was holding a teacup, she had it up to her mouth and was about to drink but she just stopped and looked at me and her hands started to shake," recalls Jenny.

"She was a Boston woman, a strong proud Yankee. I don't think I ever saw her cry - so to watch her shaking like that was so hard," adds Jenny. "I really agonised about asking her - I didn't want to upset her, but I also thought that I couldn't let her die and not have some questions answered because I knew I'd always regret it."

There was a business owner who lived in the same town as Jenny's family and she remembers that he had always been very friendly with her mother. She asked if this man was her dad. "I said his name," says Jenny. "Her eyes got huge and she asked me how on Earth I'd worked that out."

Jenny's mother admitted she had hoped to take the secret with her to her grave. She had never told her husband about the affair, so the man who raised Jenny was unaware he was not her biological father - something which Jenny now finds "incredibly reassuring". She describes her father, an engineer who died nearly a decade ago, as "an introverted, innocent man" and she feels that he would have been devastated to learn the truth.

"It was like a new bereavement. I went through all these stages of grief," she says. "It was something out of my control, there was no going back and no way to fix it."

Jenny found some solace in a book, The Stranger in My Genes, written by Bill Griffeth, a financial journalist who had a similar experience.

Listen to Lucy Ash's report, DNA, me and the family tree for Crossing Continents, on BBC Radio 4, at 11:00 on Thursday 20 December 2018.

"He hates it when I say it, but he really saved me," Jenny says.

"Without his book, I think I would have gone nuts or done something destructive in my life. I contacted him, and he encouraged me to write a diary about my feelings and he even read the stuff I sent him which was very kind."

Bill, the co-anchor of CNBC's Nightly Business Report, says his life was turned upside in 2012 after a DNA test. He learned that his Y chromosome didn't match his own brother's and that his biological father had died 13 years earlier.

"I never met my father," he tells me over lunch at his home in New Jersey. "I never shook his hand, never hugged him never heard the sound of his voice. Never saw him walk never heard him laugh."

Like Jenny, Bill was fascinated by his family tree and had discovered that one of his ancestors was executed during the Salem witch trials of 1692. Researching his roots was "something of an obsession" and for years he had visited graveyards, cathedrals, libraries and courthouses all over the country to gather more information.

When Bill learned that he was not related to the man he'd known as his father - that he was not in fact part of the Griffeth clan - he felt an overwhelming sense of loss.

"It was all a big lie, and I was so angry. And I was so sad all at the same time," says Bill. "How ironic that I'm the unofficial historian of our family. I've spent years learning about all of these people. And it was taken away from me just like that."

Like Jenny, Bill also faced the unenviable task of confronting an elderly mother about her infidelity decades earlier. "The last thing we would believe about my sainted mother was that she had strayed," he says. "She was a devout Christian. She was a teetotaller. She was the classic church lady."

Bill's mother was 95 when they had this awkward conversation and she reluctantly admitted she "made a mistake" by having a brief fling with a former boss.

"I didn't want this to define our relationship in her final years. Unfortunately, I think it did, though," he says. "There was sort of a coolness between us after that. I think she was mightily hoping that she could slip out the back door at the end of her life without this ever being exposed."

Stories like Bill's and Jenny's are far from unique - across the country, do-it-yourself genetic testing kits are dragging skeletons out of the closet in their hundreds, if not thousands.

Catherine St Clair, a county official from Conroe, Texas, was given a DNA test for her 55th birthday by her older siblings. She too found out her biological father was a man she had never met but - unlike Bill and Jenny - her mother was no longer alive, so there was no way of getting answers to her questions.

She was distraught, and was struggling to accept the test results until she spoke to another woman in the same situation and decided to set up a self-help group. A year-and-a-half later Catherine's group has almost 4,100 members.

It is called DNA NPE Friends - the last bit stands for Not Parent Expected. Some members were the product of secret affairs, in some cases their mothers were raped, others were never told that they had been adopted as babies or small children.

I am invited to one of the group's meetings in a Mexican restaurant in Waco, Texas. A dozen people sit around a table at the back of the room eating tacos and having intense conversations. Most have driven hours to get here in pouring rain from all across the state. Catherine encourages the shyer members to speak, makes the odd joke, hands out tissues and tells tearful women not to think of themselves as anybody's "dirty little secret".

I meet Betty Jo Minardi, an online sales director with long dark hair who is accompanied by her husband, Angelo. Two-and-a-half years ago she took a DNA test which showed that her brother was only a half-brother. Like Jenny, she then got her father's first cousin tested and found that she shared no DNA with him.

So she phoned her mother in Minnesota and gently told her the results. Betty Jo's mother immediately said the testing company, Family Tree DNA, must have made a mistake. The next time the subject was raised, her mother, flanked by Betty Jo's half brother and sister, angrily accused her of lying. Her half-brother said Betty Jo "needed to spend some time on a couch" because she was mentally unbalanced, while her sister wrote a Facebook post saying the DNA tests were untrustworthy and that only the FBI could provide accurate genetic data.

Betty Jo wanted to be absolutely sure that her dad could not be the man who raised her, so she went one step further. Although he had died three years earlier, she had some of his hair and she sent it to a lab to do a paternity test. The analysis came back saying they shared 0% DNA.

At this point her half-sister said what she was doing was "evil" and in a family group text message Betty Jo was told, "You no longer exist to us." Since then Betty Jo has not spoken to her half siblings or her mother.

"It's sad, because my mom and I had a close relationship when I was growing up," she says. "She used to call me every week and now - never. I cried every day for months, I was depressed, had a sort of breakdown. Christmas is an especially difficult time of year, but my kids and my husband have been really supportive and I'm much better now."

Betty Jo believes her mother's pride, her Christian faith and the image of herself as "a perfect wife and mother" prevent her from admitting she had child out of wedlock. "I said if she didn't want to talk about it, she could give a statement to her attorney for me to read after her death," says Betty Jo. "But she didn't even bother to reply."

Some of the DNA sites have linked Betty Jo to third and fourth cousins of Mexican descent. With her dark hair and eyes and olive skin, she believes that her biological father may well have come from south of the Texas border. Her mum and the father who raised her are of northern European descent.

But Betty Jo is not motivated by curiosity alone. She says it would be helpful to know her ancestry for medical reasons. She says she suffers from a thyroid problem and that she and her daughter share another condition that doesn't exist on her mother's side of the family.

People like Jenny, Bill, Catherine and Betty Jo - mostly in their late 40s or 50s - are all pretty much in the same boat. Their mothers got pregnant by someone who wasn't their husband - whether willingly or not. It's hard to come to terms with, but the practical consequences tend to be limited by the fact that most of the parties involved are either very elderly or dead. So what happens when a DNA kit reveals the secrets of those who are younger?

Lawrence (not his real name) also contacted Catherine St Clair and she put him in a special category - not for children, like most of those in her Not Parent Expected group, but for fathers.

His daughter, who had long been keen on family history, had been pleading with him to buy a DNA test and he had resisted, put off partly by the $99 price tag. Then one day he gave in.

When Lawrence's wife heard this she "looked like she'd got hit by a truck", Lawrence says.

She turned pale, he remembers, and "had this horrible expression on her face, like when somebody is caught stealing something".

That night she closed their bedroom door and confessed to a long affair with a man she had met at work. A paternity test, two months after their daughter was born, had confirmed her hunch - the little girl was not her husband's child. She had kept that secret for 15 years.

Numb with shock, Lawrence phoned his mother and said he was going to walk out on both his wife and daughter. But his mother stopped him.

"My mom said, 'Your daughter is innocent in this. She had nothing to do with it. You love her. And biology doesn't change that.' So luckily, she talked some sense into me," says Lawrence. He still left his wife, who he felt was unrepentant, but remained a father to his daughter.

Lawrence says that for a long while he felt utterly alone, because men - in his experience - are reluctant to talk about marital problems. Just one friend admitted that his wife had had affairs, but a paternity test had revealed that he was the biological father of his children.

"Nobody could understand that actually finding out your daughter wasn't yours is worse than finding out your wife had an affair. A hundred times worse," he says. "I was on an infidelity support group on Facebook when one of the women in Catherine's group reached out to me to join this NPE group and they set up a father's section of it."

Lawrence told his daughter he wouldn't prevent her from contacting her biological father - after all he knew the man's name, address and phone number. But to his relief, she wasn't interested - she refers to him as "the sperm donor".

But Lawrence's son, the younger child who is biologically his, blamed his sister when their parents split up. Lawrence felt this was unfair and said so.

"I told him it's your mother and what she did that caused the divorce not what your sister did by being born," he says.

Despite what has happened, Lawrence says he is glad he took the test.

"I don't have any regrets taking the DNA tests. I'm glad I found out the truth. But I tell everybody who wants to take the DNA test, 'Be prepared for unexpected results. There could be skeletons in your closet.'"

Some, unlike Lawrence, wish the skeletons had been left undisturbed. One woman I met at the Not Parent Expected meet-up in Waco told me she would be happier if she could go back in time and un-know what she had discovered.

I asked her why, and there was a long pause.

"It's OK," she said eventually. "I just didn't know I was going to cry today. I didn't plan on it. I just feel like I lost so much and I can't replace it with something good."

But there can be positives to DNA tests, too.

Bill Griffeth has visited his biological father's grave, found pictures of him, and has reached out to a niece who knew his father when she was a college student. She was happy to hear from Bill and is helping him to fill in some of the gaps in their family tree.

In Texas, Catherine St Clair is also in touch with relatives she never knew she had. Last summer, she and her half-sisters, Rayetta and Mona, met in California for a long weekend and got on like a house on fire.

Betty Jo will have her fingers crossed this Christmas when lots of people get testing kits as gifts. She hopes that a closer relative on her father's side will take a DNA test and that in time she will learn who her real father is.

It took Jenny a long time to tell her husband and children about her DNA test. In the run up to Thanksgiving this year she informed all of her siblings and admits she was "scared silly" about it. They took the news better than she expected, although one sister is still "a bit in denial" and keeps questioning the results.

Jenny's daughter, Katie, who is in her mid 20s, understands her mother's grief. "I think I would call her a daddy's girl," she says. "I remember whenever it was my grandpa's birthday, she would change her profile picture on Facebook to one of her and him together."

She adds: "Her dad is dead, the person she thought was her dad was dead. Her mom is dead - she died last Christmas - so now she's left to deal with this huge burden on her own."

Jenny knows that she has bio-siblings. She has no plans to contact them at the moment but is aware that one day the phone may ring. "If they work it out, OK - we'll have to deal with it!"

Media captionRobin's DNA surprise: 'I found out my parents were swingers'

Discover more family secrets on the BBC show Cut Through The Noise on Facebook - watch at 22:00 GMT.

In the summer of 1937 a nine-month-old girl was hidden, with her hands tied, in a blackberry bush in southern England. She was found by sheer chance by a family of holidaymakers. Now 80, Anthea Ring has spent most of her life looking for answers.

ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 09:30

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Yemeni mum arrives in US to visit dying son in California

The Yemeni mother of a toddler dying in the US has arrived in California to visit him after the Trump administration relaxed its travel ban.

Shaima Swileh, who currently lives in Egypt, was initially prevented from entering America.

Her son, two-year-old Abdullah Hassan, was born with a brain disease that doctors say he will not survive.

Abdullah's father, Ali Hassan, 22, has said the visit will allow the couple to "mourn with dignity".

Mrs Swileh landed at San Francisco International Airport late on Wednesday and was greeted by crowds of well-wishers.

She is now expected to travel to the children's hospital in the city where her son is currently on life support.

The Department of State granted Mrs Swileh permission to enter the US on Tuesday morning, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit advocacy group representing the family.

Thousands of emails were sent to officials along with tweets and letters from members of Congress in support of the family, according to CAIR.

"We are so relieved that this mother will get to hold and kiss her son one last time," CAIR-Sacramento attorney Saad Sweilem said earlier.

"The public outpouring of support for this family was incredible."

The organisation also rebuked the government for enforcing the travel ban to begin with, saying the toddler "could have been receiving comfort from his mother" for weeks.

What is the US travel ban?

Soon after he took office, US President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions on mainly majority-Muslim countries.

The executive order went through several versions before being upheld by the US Supreme Court this summer.

It bans nationals of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the US.

State department spokesperson Robert Palladino suggested his officers' hands were tied by the law but that they tried to do the right thing in all circumstances.

"It is a very sad case and our thoughts go out to this family and this time, but I would also add, that we are governed by the immigration and nationality act," he said.

What is the family's situation?

Abdullah and his father are US citizens but Mrs Swileh is a citizen of Yemen.

The family had moved to Cairo, Egypt, in order to escape civil war in Yemen when Abdullah was eight months old.

Abdullah was diagnosed with hypomyelination - a brain disease affecting his ability to breathe.

About three months ago, Mr Hassan brought his son to California for treatment. When doctors in Oakland informed him Abdullah's condition was terminal, Mrs Swileh applied for a visa to join her husband and son.

The family says they received a rejection letter from the state department, citing the US president's travel ban, and had been fighting for a waiver ever since.

ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 09:01

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Tanzania's Diamond Platnumz banned from performing

Top African pop star Diamond Platnumz has been barred from performing in Tanzania after he played a song which the authorities had banned for being sexually suggestive.

The song Mwanza contains the Swahili word for "horny", and dancers are seen in a video simulating sex.

Diamond Platnumz had treated the ban with "disdain" by singing the lyrics at a concert, the arts regulator said.

The popular Tanzanian singer has been dogged by controversy in recent years.

In April he was questioned by police after posting on Instagram a video clip of himself playfully kissing a woman.

The authorities accused him of behaving indecently.

Tanzania's arts regulator, Basata, said Diamond Platnumz would also be banned from performing abroad, but it is unclear how it would enforce this.

The ban also applied to Rayvanny, another local musician who features in Mwanza.

"We have reached the decision because the two musicians have treated our directive with disdain," Basata said in a statement.

Will Diamond Platnumz emigrate?

On Sunday, Diamond Platnumz, who popularised "bongo flava", Tanzanian hip hop, performed Mwanza to big crowds during a festival in the port city of the same name.

The song has been popular on YouTube where it has had more than five million views.

In a recent video shared online, Diamond Platnumz raised the possibility of settling abroad if Tanzanian officials continued banning his music.

"If they don't want me to perform my songs I can live in another country and play there. If Tanzanian law says I can't perform here, I can go to Kenya where I am not banned," he said.

The musician, whose real name is Nasib Abdul, is billed to headline an end of the year concert in neighbouring Kenya.

Five things about Diamond Platnumz

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 16:12

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Why football stars have DR Congo on their mind

Amid the big games over the festive period, Congolese football stars may well have their minds focussed on events back home.

People in the vast country of the Democratic Republic of Congo are voting in crucial polls to replace 47-year-old President Joseph Kabila two days before Christmas.

In the six decades since independence it has not had a peaceful transfer of power and 20 years ago what became known as Africa's World War was fought on Congolese soil. Insecurity and rebel groups still plague areas of the country.

"I feel sad not only because of the war, but the general situation in Congo. It's so sad to have a rich country and the people there being so poor. It's not normal," says Christian Kabasele, a defender with English Premier League side Watford.

The footballer was born in Lubumbashi, the main city in a region rich in minerals that are used to produce many of the world's mobile phones and electric car batteries.

"Money is not well distributed - only the politicians on top of the state, or those kinds of people, get the money. What is most painful for me is that it seems that not a lot of people in the world talk about this," he laments.

"It's like there is some problem in this country but we just don't care."

The 27-year-old says he has not been back home since he was young.

"I was a few months old and I don't have many memories. My parents thought the best way to have a better chance for my brother and I was to move to Belgium."

He is among a large Congolese diaspora, including other high-profile football players, who left the country for Europe over the last four decades fleeing political and economic instability.

They are hoping that the elections on Sunday will usher in a new era of peace and development.

'Complex subject'

Some of the football stars who were born in Europe still see themselves as Congolese, including Benik Afobe, who plays for Stoke City in England.

"Since I was born my parents taught me Lingala, the Congolese language. I eat Congolese food. I have always felt Congolese in my heart and in my blood," says Afobe, who also plays as a DR Congo international.

Belgium international and Manchester City captain, Vincent Kompany, who was also born in the diaspora, agrees his connection to DR Congo is strong.

"I have been to Congo many times, Kinshasa and Bukavu. It's my country. It feels close to my heart and everything I do.

"Everything I represent is always a little bit for Congo and for Belgium.

"I want the country to move forward like every Congolese guy," said Kompany.

When asked about the political situation in the country, where more than 20,000 UN peacekeepers have been deployed for the last two decades, he says, "It's such a broad and complex subject."

For DR Congo to progress, he urges everyone - voters and politicians include - to think of future generations.

"All I can say is that the future is always the children.

"However much we support them is however much the country is going to get back and perhaps that's the key for Africa to look after our children."

'We want peace'

For Lomana LuaLua, who played for Portsmouth and Newcastle in the English Premier League at the height of his career, the solution is more fundamental.

"For Congolese people first of all we really owe it to our hearts to love one another," said LuaLua.

Premier League defender, Arthur Masuaku, agrees the situation back home is sobering.

"It's sad because I know for a fact that we are the richest country in the world, but when you go there, you see poverty everywhere," the French-born West Ham player says.

With the campaign to elect a successor to Mr Kabila already marred by deadly clashes, his only wish is "no war, just peace, that's it."

For Kabasele, it time for voters to take the future into their hands.

"They don't have to be afraid of what could be the consequences if they don't vote for this guy or that guy.

"They need to have the courage.

"They need to respect the final decision and not, like so many times [in the past], go on the streets and create some chaos. But first of all they need to vote with courage."

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 16:04

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Mary Poppins Returns cast defend 'forgettable' songs

There's only one rule laid down to journalists at the press launch of Mary Poppins Returns.

"Don't ask any of the cast to spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

This point is made by the film's publicists twice over as we arrive and it's clear they aren't joking. Fortunately we think we can live with it.

Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer and director Rob Marshall are here to talk about the follow-up to the 1964 classic, which is released in the UK this weekend.

Hollywood may be awash with remakes of films like A Star is Born, Tomb Raider and Ghostbusters, but Miranda insists this is a different beast. It is a sequel, not a reboot.

"That's an important distinction because it's not us trying to improve on Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," he tells BBC News.

"You can't improve on that, and we know that. The goal is there are eight books by [author] PL Travers, there are some amazing Mary Poppins stories that haven't made it to the screen."


Mary Poppins Returns is set in 1930s London, two decades after the original, with the famous nanny returning to help look after a new generation of Banks children.

Arriving in cinemas 54 years after its predecessor, the reviews for the film have been mainly positive.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin called it "practically perfect in every way" in his five-star rave, while Empire's Olly Richards said Blunt was "impeccably cast as Poppins".

But some critics have focused on the soundtrack, suggesting it doesn't live up to the original.

"The songs of Mary Poppins Returns are almost shockingly forgettable," wrote Alissa Wilkinson in Vox. "I defy you to hum any of the tunes on your way out of the theatre."

The Hollywood Reporter acknowledged: "There's no song as memorably poignant as Feed the Birds," although it praised The Place Where Lost Things Go for "conveying the film's underlying sorrow with a comforting message of hope".

The new score has been written by lyricist Scott Wittman and composer Marc Shaiman, who are best known for Hairspray.

Taking on songwriting duties is no small feat, considering that the original Sherman brothers' score is widely regarded as one of the best ever for a screen musical.

"I think it's a fantastic score, I really do," says Marshall, who also directed big-screen musicals Chicago, Nine and Into the Woods. "We didn't set out to make them stand-alone songs, because that doesn't work for a musical.

"What works for a musical is when they're integrated into the story. But I will say they're so tuneful, so clever, so smart. And they're beautiful, so I think the more people hear the songs, the more they'll be part of their lives."

They may well be tuneful and cleverly written, but could they realistically have the same longevity as those in the 1964 film?

"I think so," says Mortimer, who plays the children's aunt Jane. "I remember hearing the [new] soundtrack for the first time, and I was just blown away.

"They were beautiful songs and they're songs that really do stay in your head - and, like the first movie, each song is incredibly wry and funny and sophisticated, with the use of words and storytelling through the songs, and yet they've all got a message that's quite deep about life and how to approach things."

She adds: "I do feel confident that the soundtrack is going to be a big part of people's lives for years to come."

It seems the Academy Awards music branch agrees. When the Oscars longlist was revealed on Tuesday, Mary Poppins Returns was the only film to have two tunes in the running for best original song.

Miranda similarly thinks the songs will last, but adds: "Of course, only time will tell.

"I think it was an incredibly smart decision to hire [Wittman and Shaiman]... it's just such a love note to the songs in the first one, I'm really proud to sing them."

Music aside, most of the attention with the new film has focused on Blunt herself, who takes over the role made famous by Dame Julie Andrews.

She has received mostly positive reviews - but the BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz said her performance "misses the mark," while others argued the lead role is actually rather limiting for her.

'Stern but generous'

"For someone with her extraordinary range, the part is like a straitjacket," wrote David Edelstein in Vulture.

"Ordering the children about, her Mary puts on a stern face and freezes her scowl in place, then gives a tiny smile when their backs are turned - a shtick she repeats with diminishing returns."

But Blunt tells BBC News in response: "I don't see her as just stern and all of that. She's a woman with a coat of many colours, really. What I love about her is that duality that she has.

"She is stern, she is buttoned-up, poised, holds everything at arm's length. But yet, how generous she must be to come into people's lives and inject it with fantasia and magic and a sense of wonder."

Mary Poppins Returns is part of a musical resurgence on the big screen - something Marshall welcomes.

"I remember when I did Chicago years ago, I was told the genre is dead because audiences weren't accepting people singing on screen," he recalls.

"But I think it's never the genre that's the problem, it's how it's handled. You've got to be very careful when you do a musical because a bad one doesn't work. But when it does, it feels seamlessly created - where you have dialogue move very seamlessly into song and back into dialogue.

"It should feel like one way of telling a story. It shouldn't feel like a piece has been applied and pushed, it should feel like a natural, organic experience."

For Miranda - best known for creating Hamilton, one of the most popular shows in the West End - the more musicals that make it onto the big screen the better.

"I think I'm really proud that we're part of this resurgence. As someone who works really hard to make musicals, it's a win for me," he says.

"And also I think it continues to resurge as long as we continue to innovate in our musicals.

"The Greatest Showman is different from A Star is Born, is different from La La Land, is different from Mary Poppins Returns, and I think as long as we keep pushing the boundaries of the kinds of stories we're supposed to tell, we can continue to enjoy this renaissance."

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 15:07

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Penny Marshall: US TV star and director dies aged 75

Penny Marshall, star of US TV series Laverne & Shirley and director of hit films Big and A League of Their Own, has died at the age of 75, her publicist has said.

Big's success made Marshall the first woman to direct a film that made more than $100m (£79m) at the US box office.

In 2004, she was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with her Laverne & Shirley co-star.

She's been described as a pioneer in the film-making industry.

Marshall and co-star Cindy Williams starred in the 1970s Happy Days TV spin-off about two single, working women in late 1950s Milwaukee, which was a huge success.

After Laverne & Shirley, Marshall went on to become a producer and director whose films included box successes such as Big, starring Tom Hanks, and women's baseball comedy A League of Their Own.

Her first film was the 1986 Whoopi Goldberg comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash.

She also directed Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in Awakenings, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including best picture.


"She did commercial movies at a time when women weren't doing studio films. And so, she was a pioneer in the studio-movie world," Melissa Silverstein, founder of the advocacy group Women and Hollywood, told the BBC.

"She laid the groundwork for women to make commercial movies with her success.

"Her legacy is going to be Laverne & Shirley; it was a groundbreaking sitcom and was just revolutionary. And she transitioned from acting into directing and became a director - a full-time director; the sad thing is she didn't have a longer career because of her success.

"I think that's a testament to how hard it was for women to get opportunities…you can count them on one hand.

"I just think that all the women who have come after have built their careers and their success on the pioneers of Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron, Penelope Spheeris - those are the women who blaze the trail."


That success is recognised in some of her fellow celebrities and fans' comments.

Actor James Wood said he was devastated by her passing.

Marshall died of complications from diabetes on Monday at her home in Hollywood Hills, California, her publicist told Reuters news agency in a phone interview.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:58

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Elon Musk unveils prototype high-speed LA transport tunnel

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has unveiled a prototype underground tunnel in Los Angeles which is designed to transport cars at high speed around the city.

The tunnel is only a mile (1.6km) long at the moment but the goal is a network to ease chronic traffic congestion.

Modified electric cars would be lowered into the tunnel and travel at speeds up to 150mph (240km/h), Mr Musk says.

The tunnel has been built by Mr Musk's Boring Company, which boasts state-of-the-art engineering techniques.

Mr Musk, best known as the head of Tesla electric cars and the commercial SpaceX programme, arrived at the launch on Tuesday in a Tesla car modified to work on the "loop" system.

He was cheered by a small crowd as he emerged from the car at one end of the tunnel bathed in green and blue interior lights.

How will it work?

The plan envisages modified cars being lowered into the tunnel network by lifts and then slotted into tracks on the "loop".

"The profound breakthrough is very simple: it's the ability to turn a normal car into a passively stable vehicle by adding the deployable tracking wheels, stabilising wheels, so that it can travel at high speed through a small tunnel," Mr Musk said.

"The way the loop will work is you will have main arteries that are travelling at 150mph and when you want to go to an exit, you will have an off ramp," he added.

"So you can travel the vast majority of your journey without stopping at 150mph and only slow down when you get to your exit, and then automatically transfer from one tunnel to another. It's like a 3D highway system underground basically."

Feeling the bumps

The BBC's Peter Bowes takes a test ride on Elon Musk's LA tunnel

It was almost a white knuckle ride. A bumpy two-minute journey in a modified Model X through a concrete tunnel with a blue neon light in the ceiling. We reached a speed of 49mph, although cars will eventually travel at up to 150mph.

Elon Musk later explained that the bumpiness was due to problems with a paving machine and that it would be "as smooth as glass" eventually. The vehicle was modified by adding two alignment wheels to keep it stable at high speeds and prevent it from hitting the side of the tunnel.

Mr Musk said the $200-$300 attachments could eventually be fixed to any fully autonomous electric vehicle, for use in the tunnel. They would not interfere with the vehicle's normal operation.

"We used Tesla vehicles because I run Tesla. What I am going to do? Use someone else's car?" he asked, smiling.

Traffic solution?

Alana Semuels, of The Atlantic, told the BBC World Service that Mr Musk had yet to unveil the technology that would allow vehicles to travel at such high speeds through the system.

"At first he said we're going have these tunnels and transport people in pods, now he's saying we're going to transport them in cars, so I'm not sure even he knows how it works," she said.

Mr Musk first unveiled the tunnel plan earlier this year, saying he wanted to alleviate Los Angeles's "soul-destroying" traffic congestion.

On Tuesday he said his Boring Company had built the tunnel segment for $10m (£8m), adding that traditional tunnel-building technology would have cost up to $1bn.

The tunnel runs beneath the municipality of Hawthorne, where the Boring Company and SpaceX are both based.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:50

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US bans 'bump stock' gun device used in mass shootings

The Trump administration has banned the use of bump stocks, devices that let rifles fire like machine guns, after promising to do so earlier this year.

The final date to destroy or turn in the devices is 21 March, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

The push to ban bump stocks followed the deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas in October 2017 and Parkland, Florida in February.

Pro-gun advocates have said they are prepared to fight the rule in court.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker signed the new regulation on Tuesday, and it is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Friday.

Bump stocks, or slide fire adapters, allow semi-automatic rifles to fire at a high rate, similar to a machine gun, but can be obtained without the extensive background checks required of purchasing automatic weapons.

Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock used a bump stock to fire rapidly into the crowd, killing 58 last year.

Following the Las Vegas shooting, lawmakers began discussing a ban on the devices.

In February, 17 people were shot and killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida, reigniting the gun control debate, though bump stocks were not used in that attack.

Media captionA guide to the weapons available in the US and the rate at which they fire

Shortly after, President Donald Trump directed the Department of Justice to look into changing regulations so that bump stocks would be classified as machine guns, which are illegal to possess in most cases.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had previously ruled that bump stocks did not qualify as machine guns and thus would not be regulated.

What do gun advocate groups say?

The Gun Owners of America lobby issued a statement on Tuesday saying they have prepared a lawsuit against the ATF and the justice department on behalf of the "half a million bump stock owners" forced to part with their "valuable property".

"Agencies are not free to rewrite laws under the guise of 'interpretation' of a statute, especially where the law's meaning is clear," said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), which had called for a review of bump stock devices after the Las Vegas shooting, said they were "disappointed" with the new ban, according to the Associated Press.

An NRA spokeswoman said the government should offer amnesty to current owners.

The Trump administration is ready for any lawsuits, officials told reporters on a call earlier on Tuesday, according to US media.

Media captionThe American teachers armed against gun crime

What are bumpstocks?

Since 1986, it has been relatively difficult for civilians to buy new, fully automatic weapons, which reload automatically and fire continuously as long as the trigger is depressed.

It is also illegal to modify the internal components of semi-automatic rifles - which typically manage about 60 aimed shots per minute - to make them fully automatic.

Gun owners can instead legally buy accessories to increase the rate of fire, like the bump stock.

Bump stocks harness a rifle's recoil, They replace the weapon's stock, which is held against the shoulder, and allow the rest of the rifle to slide back and forward with every shot despite having no mechanical parts or springs.

The motion makes the trigger collide with, or bump, the shooter's finger as long as they apply forward pressure with the non-shooting hand and rearward pressure with the shooting hand.

Administration officials said that the devices are not extremely common, but there are probably tens of thousands nationwide, US media reported.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:06

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US Senate passes sweeping criminal justice reform bill

The US Senate has passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill seeking to address concerns that the US locks up too many of its citizens.

The First Step Act, which has been championed by US President Donald Trump, passed by a vote of 87-12.

The bipartisan measure found unlikely support from hardline conservatives and progressive liberals alike.

The US leads the world in number of jailed citizens. Around 2.2m Americans were in jail in 2016, figures show.

The bill, which is expected to be debated in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, only affected federal prisoners which make up approximately 10% of the total US prison population.

Moments after the vote passed, President Trump tweeted: "America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes."

What does the law actually do?

The bill would overhaul the US justice system by giving more discretion to judges during sentencing, and by strengthening prisoner rehabilitation efforts.

Among the sentencing guidelines being revises is one reducing the "three strikes" penalty for drug felons from life in prison to 25 years.

It also retroactively changes guidelines that differentiate between powder and crack cocaine - a change which could affect up to 2,600 prisoners according to the Marshall Project.

It allows for more criminals to serve their sentences in halfway houses or under home confinement, and requires offenders to be jailed within 500 miles (800km) from their families.

It bans shackling pregnant prisoners and mandates that tampons and sanitary napkins be available to women.

It reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes, and authorises $375m (£297m) in federal spending for job training and educational programmes for prisoners.

New Jersey Democratic Cory Booker hailed the legislation as "one small step [which] will affect thousands and thousands of lives".

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:58

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Democrat Chris Coons: Trump sounds 'like a mob boss'

US President Donald Trump has been accused of sounding like a mafia kingpin after he called his convicted former lawyer a "rat".

Democratic Senator Chris Coons told CNN on Monday that Mr Trump sounded "more like a mob boss than president of the United States".

Mr Trump had said a day earlier that Michael Cohen "became a 'Rat'", and he accused the FBI of illegal actions.

Cohen was jailed for campaign finance violations during the 2016 election.

He also admitted lying to Congress and tax evasion.

Former FBI Director James Comey was quick to defend the agency.

Mr Trump on Sunday tweeted that his former right-hand man Cohen only turned on him after "unthinkable" actions by the FBI.

"They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE!" Mr Trump tweeted, questioning why the agency did not also "break into" the Democratic National Committee or Hillary Clinton's offices.

Speaking on CNN on Monday, Mr Coons said the notion that agents broke into the Trump attorney's office "runs right up against the foundation of our law".

"They were executing a warrant issued with the approval of a judge," he said.

"His use of the term 'rat' for Michael Cohen and mischaracterising this as a break-in to his attorney's office frankly makes him sound more like a mob boss than president of the United States."

The president has not responded to the Delaware senator's remarks.

The FBI had raided Cohen's office in April for confidential documents on a "referral" from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen was sentenced last week to three years in prison for campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and tax evasion - and blamed some of his actions on Mr Trump's bad influence.

Mr Trump has accused the FBI of partisanship before, and has been in a vocal feud with its former director, Mr Comey, since he sacked him last year.

Following Mr Trump's online rebuke of the law enforcement agency, Mr Comey took to Twitter on Sunday to dispute the president's characterisation of FBI actions.

"This is from the President of our country, lying about the lawful execution of a search warrant issued by a federal judge," he said on Twitter. "Shame on Republicans who don't speak up at this moment."

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, Mr Comey once again defended the FBI, saying Mr Trump's attacks on the agency and "rule of law" were "a tragedy".

"The president of the United States is undermining the rule of law calling someone who has co-operated 'a rat'," Mr Comey said.

Media captionEx-FBI director James Comey said Trump's rat insult "undermines the rule of law"

"This is not about Republicans and Democrats, this is about what does it mean to be an American," he emphasised. "Somebody has to stand up and speak for the FBI, the rule of law."

Former chief assistant US attorney Andrew McCarthy, a Fox News contributor, suggested on Twitter to Mr Trump that he should avoid using the term "rat".

It is not the first time Mr Trump has been accused of sounding like a "mob boss".

Earlier this summer, opponents lashed out at the president when he praised his now convicted ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort for refusing "to break" and "make up stories in order to get a deal".

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:54

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Vanuatu uses drones to deliver vaccines to remote island

A baby on a small Pacific island has become the first person given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone.

Unicef arranged for the drone to be flown some 40km (25 miles) across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross.

About 20% of children in Vanuatu don't receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult.

The UN children's organisation hopes that drone delivery will in future be of vital importance in remote areas.

"Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health," Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said.

"With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While drones have been used before to deliver medicine, Unicef says this was the first time globally that a country had contracted a commercial drone company to get vaccines to remote areas.

Two companies competed for the project on Vanuatu, and it was Australia's Swoop Aero that won the bid after successful trials earlier this month.

Its drone carried the vaccines in a styrofoam box with ice packs and a temperature logger to a remote village on the island of Erromango, from Dillon's Bay on the west of the island to Cook's Bay on the east.

The medicine was then used by local nurse Miriam Nampil to vaccinate 13 children and five pregnant women.

Without the drone, Cook's Bay is only accessible on foot or by boat - both those options take hours compared to the 25 minutes it took for the drone to reach the village.

Medical supplies also have to be kept at a cold temperature.

"It's extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges," Ms Nampil said.

"As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island."

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:49

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Wooden clothes on the recycled Christmas list?

If you're struggling for an original Christmas present - how about a wooden dress?

At a recent state gala, Finland's first lady wore a dress made from the country's birch trees.

But there was nothing frivolous about why she chose the dress - she wore it to support a new technology which could reduce the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry.

The dress worn by Jenni Haukio, a poet and wife of the president, was created by academics at Finland's Aalto University using a new sustainable technology called Ioncell.

The academics say the process is more environmentally-friendly than cotton and synthetic fibres and makes use of wood that would otherwise be wasted.

In eastern Finland's forests, there is a thinning process of removing some trees to make room for others to grow - and these smaller birch trees are now becoming the source for clothing.

Off the peg

This process creates textile fibres from materials like wood, recycled newspaper, cardboard and old cotton textiles, which can be turned into dresses, scarves, jackets and even iPad cases.

Prof Pirjo Kaariainen of Aalto University is pleased with the feedback on the dress.

"It was designed by a young fashion and design student here at Aalto who wanted to give respect to Finnish nature and to the country's tradition of strong women."

Prof Kaariainen says the fibre works well for clothing because it is "soft to touch, it has a lovely sheen and falls beautifully".

There are growing calls for the fashion industry to urgently reduce its damaging effects on the environment.

Sustainable fashion

The industry causes 10% of global carbon emissions and uses nearly 70 million barrels of oil each year to make polyester fibres, which can take more than 200 years to decompose.

Plastic microfibres from synthetic clothing are part of the problem of human-made materials that wash up along ocean shores.

Campaigners are calling for consumers to buy new clothes less often, but changing consumer behaviour is difficult when fashion companies promote new lines every season.

Making clothes from sustainable materials could be a more realistic alternative.

Although Ioncell was developed by chemists and engineers at Aalto and Helsinki universities, Prof Kaariainen says it was important that the dress was made by designers so that people would want to wear it.

"People want garments that look good and make them feel good, so there is no choice but for the design to be good," she says.

"We need to make a systemic change where sustainable materials are embedded in the system and people can easily buy beautiful and comfortable garments which don't cause environmental problems."

Re-thinking fashion

Finland's first lady is not the first famous wearer of Ioncell - France's President Macron wore a scarf made from recycled blue jeans when he visited Aalto in August.

Ana Portela, a fashion designer who promotes sustainable fabrics says consumers will be persuaded to try sustainable fashion if it is worn by influential people.

"This dress is not a high street design but it definitely fulfilled its purpose and it is important that people like the first lady advocate for more sustainable options and push new innovations," she says.

She says consumers must "lead the revolution" by using their purchasing power to incentivise companies to produce sustainable clothing lines.

"We need to take a different approach to our understanding of what is fashion," she says.

"This could be buying second hand-products, products with a certified origin, using more efficient natural fibres like hemp, buying a filter bag for your washing machine to stop microfibres entering the water system or pressuring companies to do better."

The Aalto team aim to have a pilot production line for the new fibre by 2020 and hope that such clothing, made from recycled birch trees, will be available to buy for Christmas shopping lists in 2025.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 10:48

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European Union diplomatic communications 'targeted by hackers'

Hackers successfully targeted the European Union's diplomatic communications over a period of several years, The New York Times reports.

Thousands of messages were intercepted in which diplomats referenced a range of subjects from US President Donald Trump to global trade.

The breach was reportedly discovered by the cyber-security company Area 1.

European officials say that information marked as confidential and secret was not affected by the three-year hack.

"After over a decade of experience countering Chinese cyber-operations... there is no doubt this campaign is connected to the Chinese government," he said.

The intercepted messages, known as diplomatic cables, reveal one exchange in which diplomats describe July's meeting between Mr Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as "successful (at least for Putin)".

Another message gives details of a private meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and European officials that took place earlier this year.

It quotes Mr Xi as saying China "would not submit to bullying" from Washington "even if a trade war hurt everybody".

These comments echo a speech he gave on Tuesday in which he said "no-one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done".

A number of other institutions, including the United Nations, were also reportedly affected by the breach and have since been alerted.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 09:18

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The uniquely spanish part of the meal

Spain is a country in love with food, renowned for everything from tapas to trailblazing chefs to simple, elegant recipes that have endured for generations. So it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps even heretical, to say that the most important thing about a Spanish lunch is not the food. But it’s true.

Before you spill your gazpacho, let me say that Spanish people don’t take the food part of lunch lightly; far from it. As a Spaniard in love with food in general, and lunch in particular, I for one approach the subject of where to eat with the same level of thought and research that some people put into buying a new car. Of course, I want to know whether the food is good – but I also want to know whether it’s going to be a comfortable place to spend a few hours. Steady yourselves foodies; but in Spain the purpose of going out for lunch isn’t just eating, it’s catching up with friends or family, telling stories and laughing away the stress caused by things that, with a little perspective, you come to realise don’t matter anyway. If all you want is food, you might as well stay at home and order in.

In Spain, the purpose of going out for lunch is catching up with friends or family.

Food matters a lot in Spain, but the social aspect of it matters even more. Lunch, for example, doesn’t end when people can’t eat another bite. That’s when the sobremesa starts. There is no equivalent word in English, though the concept is simple: sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating. Usually, there’s laughter involved, and almost always the kind of easy, convivial conversation that only the pleasures of a big meal can inspire.

The sobremesa can be magical

“On a personal level, the sobremesa is fundamental,” said Dani Carnero, chef at La Cosmopolita in Málaga, where Spain’s best chefs, including Ferran Adrià, Joan Roca, José Andrés and Andoni Luis Aduriz, go to eat when they’re in town.

“As a chef, when I see people spending time at the table after lunch, I feel that it’s a sign that everything has gone well, but oftentimes people enjoy themselves even more than during the meal itself. The sobremesa can be magical.”

Sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating (Credit: Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images)

When I moved to Madrid from Zaragoza, I got in touch with Ben Curtis, a British blogger who has lived in Spain for 20 years and has probably taught more people about Spanish customs than anyone else. We’d been emailing about things related to Spanish culture for some time, but we’d never met, so I suggested we go out for a beer. He wisely suggested we go out for lunch instead. It went so well that we’ve been having lunch more or less once a week for the past six years. And by lunch I don’t mean a sandwich at a food court or a fast-food burger, but a proper sit-down, three-course Spanish lunch. With wine, naturally. If there’s a better way to form a friendship than having long lunches on a regular basis, I’d like to know about it.

In my experience, avant-garde food doesn’t lend itself to a good sobremesa because too much attention gets devoted to the food itself. That’s why I prefer classic, unpretentious casas de comida, or family restaurants, where the food is home-style, made from well-cooked, simple ingredients. I know Ben feels the same way because we have often explored this important subject in leisurely chats after robust meals, the white tablecloth sprinkled with breadcrumbs and splotched with red-wine stains. My informal research suggests that the better the food, the better the sobremesa; but tellingly, you can eat mediocre food and still have a great lunch if you’re with the right company.

Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time you don’t want it to end.

There are only a few guidelines to sobremesa. Most important is that nobody gets up from the table ­– urgent necessities excluded, of course. You have to stay at the table where you ate, amid the post-lunch wreckage of crumpled napkins, stray packets of sugar and the last pieces of dessert that may or may not get eaten. Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time that you don’t want it to end; if you leave the table, the spell is broken.

If you leave the table, the spell is broken

The warm atmosphere of the sobremesa can often lead to conversations that you might not have otherwise, the ones that start like, “You’ve inspired me to…” or “I’ve been wanting to say how much it means to me that you…”. But it’s also the natural habitat of the comedian. Jokes never land better than when the listener is well fed and, ideally, a little bit tipsy. All you have to do is say something remotely funny, and even if you mess it up you’ll likely still get a laugh. Actually, especially if you mess it up. My mother has a habit of telling jokes and erupting into infectious, uncontainable laughter long before she gets to the punchline. The jokes aren’t always that funny, but her delivery absolutely kills every time.

The sobremesa often lasts as long as the meal itself – sometimes, if it’s going well, even longer. I was born in the south of Spain, where the blazing hot summers encourage particularly epic sobremesas. Going outside would be madness, so it’s best to stay put. In my family’s luncheon lore, my favourite story is about a lunch my father once had with a good friend where the sobremesa lasted so long they eventually got hungry again and stayed for dinner. I have yet to achieve the lunch-dinner double, a feat that I like to call the Legendary Enchainment, but one day, one day.

Dani Carnero: “Oftentimes people enjoy themselves even more than during the meal itself”.

Of course, the all-day lunch is not an everyday occurrence. The long sobremesa is a fixture on occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries and Sundays with the family. But even during the week, many people still take the time to have a big lunch, and when it’s finished nobody is in too much of a hurry to leave. While it’s not unheard of to have a sobremesa after dinner, it’s more of an afternoon event. They say that having a big lunch instead of a big dinner is healthier, but that’s probably just a happy coincidence. Lunch is just more fun.

I like a big lunch so much that, even when I don’t have the time for it, I like seeing people having a big lunch. I’ll be on some mundane errand and turn the corner and glance through the window of a neighbourhood restaurant, and there’s a table of four older ladies, laughing and gossiping as a waiter in a bow tie serves them their decaf coffees. Sometimes, especially on a holiday, you’ll see a table of 15 or 20 men, raucous and into their second round of sobremesa gin and tonics, singing songs and generally being too loud, but having such a good time you can’t help but smile. Children have pretty much free reign during the sobremesa since the parents are enjoying themselves too much to do any effective policing. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

You could look at lunch in Spain as just an excuse for a sobremesa. As excuses go, it’s a pretty good one. The food is almost always superb, which is, when you think about it, a nice bonus.


ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 19:00

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Tasty Tradition of Taiwan's midnight meal

It was dark and sopping wet at the Ningxia Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan. Yet even as the rain continued to seep into my socks, the narrow alleys were still jam-packed with people, elbow to elbow.

All we do is eat

They were jostling to place their order at Li Zhang Bo, a small stinky tofu stall run by Yiwen Wang and Qirong Li, Taiwan’s self-described queen and king of stink. Their signature dish – deep-fried fermented tofu on a bed of pickled vegetables – would make even the most pungent locker room smell like roses. But still, the line of loyal customers threaded around the block, stretching as far as the nose-wrinkling odour wafted into the world beyond. The secret to their success? Here, in Taiwan, it is “socially acceptable” to go hunting for stinky tofu in the middle of the night, said Wang.

Welcome to a foodie’s final resting place.

Stinky tofu is a popular option for ‘xiaoye’, or the midnight snack, in Taiwan.

While most countries only have three meals a day, Taiwan worships food so much that there's a fourth and final meal: the midnight snack, or xiaoye in ChineseThat means while most of the world is winding down after dinner and getting ready for bed, the wakeful people of Taiwan are gearing up for their late-night ritual – which is, bluntly put, to hit the open streets and nosh until their jeans are ripping at the seams. “All we do is eat,” Wang said.

Taiwan treats ‘snack time’ seriously. No need to hit the clubs; rather, Taiwan’s loud, messy nightlife heaves and breathes inside overflowing night markets; beer houses sizzling with stir-fried foods; and all-you-can-eat karaoke lounges. Taiwan’s family-run midnight snack stands don’t feature endless menus, though. Instead, they focus on mastering one signature item and serve that dish over and over again – ensuring ‘perfection’ every time, according to Li.

The flavours of good food come from the cook's heartfelt persistence

“Behind every night market snack is also the diligence of the cook and the preservation of continued traditions passed on from each generation. It can be said that the flavours of good food come from the cook's heartfelt persistence,” Li said, himself a third-generation midnight snack-stand owner.

Imagine freshly pressed sugarcane nectar, sizzling oyster pancakes, blow-torched steak, honey-sweet pearl milk tea and comically fat pork sausages – all cooked in the open and right in front of drooling customers for their viewing pleasure. With the nation’s historical and colonial Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese culinary influences, the sheer variety of late-night grub one can find in Taiwan is enough to hopscotch across continents. Not to mention, millions of post-Chinese civil war immigrants brought regional dishes from nearly every province in China in 1949.

Taiwan is perennially full of middle-of-the-night snacks to munch on, long after the sun has slipped beneath the horizon and well into the ungodly hours of the morning. So, if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Taiwan must be the island that never gets full.

Nightlife in Taiwan centres around night markets, where locals gather until the early morning hours to eat.

There are a few factors that compel the country’s hungry night owls to prowl the streets for food, said National Taiwan Normal University associate professor Yu-Jen Chen, who has the enviable job of researching the culture and history of cuisine in Taiwan. She explained that the word ‘xiaoye’ first appeared during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th Century to poetically describe the act of drinking wine to ‘kill’ the night, But the expression has taken on a whole new life and meaning since then. As the 1950s rolled in, Taiwan’s xiaoye scene evolved into a booming underground economy where merchants would informally get together and sell their wares and late-night food. “People took advantage of this thriving night-time economy to make more money and improve their lot in life,” Chen said.

Nowadays, the business of midnight snacking has turned into a more formal affair and an ingrained part of Taiwan’s mainstream culture. From the mass of 24-hour convenience stores to the constant clamour of scooters at all hours of the night, Taiwan is a sleepless society that’s been gradually shifting towards later hours over the years. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor, people work long hours that rival Japan’s and Korea’s record-long working days, averaging just under 170 hours per month in Taiwan, and young students often study well past 20:00 in cram schools (after-school tutoring centres).

For outsiders though, the restless and breathless culture of xiaoye is an off-script introduction to Taiwan's culinary scene, according to Chen. “If I were to describe Taiwan’s night markets, I would say renao,” she said. 

Taiwan’s historical and colonial Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese culinary influences have led to a wide variety of late-night meal options.

Renao, the untranslatable ‘hot and noisy’ aspect of life in Taiwan that is cherished by many, is a strongly rooted social phenomenon that resonates deep within Taiwan’s tight-knit community, according to a 2008 study from the Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics. The idea behind renao, which is used to describe a lively place that’s fizzling with excitement, is a holy grail of strong smells, bright lights and an endorphin-fuelled sense of social belonging that surges with big crowds. The idea is not unlike the feeling of lining up for the latest iPhone on Black Friday in the US. That same heightened collective sense of renao is what people feel when they take part in Taiwan’s traditional communal values, such as family or religion, according to the study.

That’s why most, if not all, night markets and late-night eats in Taiwan are centred around temples, Chen explained. After worship, people will often gather and eat their hearts out as a community. It's why even the smallest villages of Taiwan have bustling night markets. Plus, renao has long been expressed in ancient Chinese history to positively convey full-of-life activities like parties, festivals and large gatherings, where the crowd is so thick that there isn’t even a breeze to feel.

“People go out not just because of the food, but because the food also creates a lively, one-of-a-kind atmosphere,” said Leslie Liu, a popular Taipei food blogger.

Locals are also drawn to Taiwan’s night markets for their buzzing atmosphere, which is often described as ‘renao’, or ‘hot and noisy’.

Back at Li Zhang Bo, stinky tofu stall owner Li was like a walking exclamation mark. It was 23:00 but he showed no sign of slowing down. Neither did the line of people streaming out the door. Li was chatting the ears off waiting customers who have graced his tables over the decades. “It’s amazing,” said first-time customer Bu-Luo Hsin as she nibbled on the crispy, craggy, deep-fried tofu skin, describing it as melt-in-your-mouth “tender” on the inside and “crunchy and savoury” on the outside.

In Taiwan, there is no such thing as a full belly

The Li Zhang Bo stall is one of storied stinky tofu fame, with the restaurant owned and managed by the same family for three generations. It’s also what Hsin affectionately described to me as a ‘fly restaurant’ – the outside is bare bones, but what the eatery lacks in décor it makes up for in flavour that’s so irresistible that patrons buzz in like flies every evening.

Nightfall is no limiting factor here. After all, in Taiwan, there is no such thing as a full belly.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 15:46

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Mum finds missing son after spotting him in Bugzy Malone video

The neighbourhood, the crew, the expensive car - arguably all key ingredients in a grime video - however Bugzy Malone has revealed his visuals helped reunite a family.

In an interview with BBC 1Xtra's DJ Target, the grime rapper confirmed that the homeless characters in his Run video were not actors.

Bugzy Malone said: "We went out and got proper homeless people. We had a chance to chat to them and give them a little something.

"We got proper people off the streets of Manchester in there."

The video for the song which also features vocals from Rag'n'Bone Man was released in August.

The 27-year-old whose real name is Aaron Davis said that shortly after the video was released his management team received a message from a woman who recognised one of the men in it.

"We got an email off a mum of one of the guys, the guy had been missing for six months, to a year.

"He was on the missing list. And when she's seen him in my music video, it made her go out and find him."

Bugzy Malone told DJ Target that reuniting the man and his family was of the proudest moments of his career.

He said during a conversation he learned that the man had previously tried to take his own life.

"Long story short, he tried to commit suicide and that kind of thing, now he's back with his family," said Bugzy Malone.

The grime rapper also seemed to suggest he'd spoken to the man since shooting the video.

"He said when he was in his hospital bed after trying to commit suicide she [his mum] showed him my Instagram.

"A caption said, 'My guy was special regardless of his circumstances, you never know what people have been through.'

"When he's seen that I'd written nice things about him, it inspired him to get his life back on track.

"He's back home with his family and he's got a girlfriend," said the rapper.

Bugzy Malone was talking to DJ Target after the Manchester born rapper's B. Inspired album was selected as one of the albums of year.

Newsbeat are trying to speak to the family of the man in the video.



ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 12:15

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Are too many women being jailed in Wales?


Media captionMother "lost everything" to mental health

A woman jailed for two years for neglecting her children believes it could have been avoided had she got the mental health support she needed.

Her home was found to be knee-deep in rubbish, with cat and rodent droppings and no hot water or heating.

The Corston Report in 2007 said only high-risk women should be jailed.

But a majority of Welsh women in prison are there for non-violent offences, while ministers have accepted short sentences are not generally beneficial.

There are growing calls for assurances that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will fund at least one new women's centre in Wales, to give the courts more sentencing options.

The MoJ said it wants to see fewer women serving short custodial sentences "as evidence clearly shows that putting them into prison can do more harm than good for society".

'I've lost everything'

The mother, from south Wales, had suffered with depression for years but after an abusive relationship ended she was left isolated, struggling to cope alone and her mental health deteriorated.

"I hold my hands up, I did live like that and it was disgusting, but I also cleaned my act up, for the sake of making somewhere safe, happy and clean for [my children]," said Louise, whose name has been changed to protect her children's identities.

"I kept thinking to myself I know they can't live like this, but I physically could not pull myself out of it, to be able to sort everything else out. It still hurts now that I couldn't do it, it's something I'm very ashamed of."

In March 2018, she was given a two-year custodial sentence, which was later suspended by the Court of Appeal. By then she had already served 11 weeks in jail and had lost her council house.

"I've lost everything, I lost my house, all my possessions, I've self-harmed, I've cut myself to try and make myself feel nothing, just to go completely numb," she said.

"The help I'm getting now, if I'd got that four years ago I'd never have ended up in that situation."

In 2017, 87.4% of women given custodial sentences in Wales had committed non-violent offences - so offences other than violence, sexual offences, robbery, criminal damage, arson or possession of weapons; this figure compared to a rate of 74.7% for men. A breakdown for 2016, shown above, shows a similar pattern.

  • Between 2011 and 2016, the number of females given immediate custodial sentences in Wales increased by 18%.
  • Around three quarters of all women in Wales sentenced to immediate custody were handed sentences of less than six months.

Rhondda AM Leanne Wood, a former probation officer, said there needed to be as wide a number of sentencing options available as possible.

"I think we have to send fewer women to prison, generally, because when you look at the prison population you see people with chronic problems that need help and support," said the former Plaid Cymru leader.

"I accept some people need to be in a residential setting for their own safety - and perhaps for the safety of others - but we're talking about a tiny number among the female offending population."

Prof Kate Williams, from the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales, said judges need to be made more aware of the needs of women caught up in the criminal justice system.

"The punishment we typically give women is too harsh", she said. "Many of the problems that turn out to be criminal offending actually start because of issues they have to face and can't deal with, and we criminalise them for it, instead of trying to be a bit more understanding."

A MoJ spokesperson said: "We want to see fewer women serving short custodial sentences as evidence clearly shows that putting them into prison can do more harm than good for society, failing to cut the cycle of reoffending and often exacerbating already difficult family circumstances.

"Instead, we are shifting the focus to managing women in the community where they can access a wider range of support, for example helping them with substance misuse and mental health problems."

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 11:16

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Carly Ann Harris 'drowned child and tried to burn body'

A mother deliberately drowned her four-year-old daughter in the bath before setting fire to her body on a coffee table in the garden, a court has heard.

Carly Ann Harris believed she had to "sacrifice" Amelia on 8 June to prove her own faith to God.

The facts are not disputed and jurors were told to consider the defendant's "profound" mental health issues.

Ms Harris, 38, from Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taff, denies murder and manslaughter at Newport Crown Court.

Jurors were told they must decide if she is not guilty of murder by reason of insanity or guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The court heard Ms Harris described herself in police interviews as "a fallen angel and had to prove her strength", adding that Amelia would have to be "cold-washed and burned".

Jurors heard she told Amelia: "You're going to see the angels. See you in heaven."

Prosecutor Michael Jones QC said: "On that day, Carly Ann Harris placed Amelia in a bath full of water and deliberately drowned her."

He said the defendant then took the body out of the bath and outside wrapped in toilet paper and covered in a sheet.

He added: "She placed her body on a coffee table situated in the garden and then set fire to Amelia's body."

Mr Jones told the jury they would hear evidence about the injuries, the cause of death and the mental health issues, as the defendant was suffering from anxiety and believed people were stalking her.

"There is no dispute as to what Harris did that day. The evidence that you hear is not in dispute," he said.

"You will hear psychiatric evidence to the profound and overwhelming mental health issues that affect and continue to affect Harris."

Neighbours described hearing screaming coming from Harris' house in Trealaw and then going out into the street and seeing her children visibly upset.

The court heard at about 10:00, Ms Harris appeared outside the house and said: "Amelia has gone to heaven. Don't go out the back, she's gone to heaven."

Neighbour Darren Griffiths said in a statement: "Carly was saying, 'I would never harm my daughter but she was born for Jesus and she is with the angels now'."

'Jesus told me to do it'

The police were called and jurors heard she told police: "The angels told me to do it. Just arrest me, it's OK."

When she was cautioned, she said: "Jesus told me to do it. She will be OK. Trust me. I'm not crazy, I promise you.

"I promise you I wouldn't do that to my only girl if she wasn't returning."

But later at the police station, the court heard she also said: "I'm a monster."

The defendant told police she had been having "visions of angels" and was required to "sacrifice her daughter in order to prove my faith".

Mr Jones said Ms Harris had been taking "small amounts" of amphetamines leading up to the incident, but experts agreed she had not been suffering from drug-induced psychosis.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 11:12

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China's pre-Christmas church crackdown raises alarm

A recent surge of police action against churches in China has raised concerns the government is getting even tougher on unsanctioned Christian activity.

Among those arrested are a prominent pastor and his wife, of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan. Both have been charged with state subversion.

And on Saturday morning, dozens of police raided a children's Bible class at Rongguili Church in Guangzhou.

One Christian in Chengdu told the BBC: "I'm lucky they haven't found me yet."

China is officially atheist, though says it allows religious freedom.

But it has over the years repeatedly taken action against religious leaders it considers to be threatening to its authority or to the stability of the state, which, according to Human Rights Watch, "makes a mockery of the government's claim that it respects religious beliefs".

The government pressures Christians to join one of the Three-Self Patriotic churches, state-sanctioned bodies which toe the Communist Party line and are led by approved priests.

Silencing of a critic

Despite this, the Christian population has grown steadily in recent years. There are now an estimated 100 million Christians in China, many of them worshipping in so-called underground churches.

Wang Yi is the leader of one such church, the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of south-western Sichuan province.

The church is unusual in that it worships openly and regularly posts evangelical material online. The church says it has about 800 followers spread across the city. It also runs a small school.

Pastor Wang is also known for being outspoken - he has been fiercely critical of the state's control of religion and had organised a widely shared petition against new legislation brought in this year which allowed for tighter surveillance of churches and tougher sanctions on those deemed to have crossed the line.

On 9 December, police raided the church and arrested Pastor Wang and his wife Jiang Rong. Over the following two days, at least 100 church members, including Wang's assistant, were taken away.

One member of the church, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told the BBC that the lock on the church school had been broken, churchgoers' homes had been ransacked and some were "under house arrest or are followed all the time".

She said police and other officials had been going to congregants' homes to pressure them to sign documents pledging to leave the church and to take their children out of its school.

"On Sunday, some members tried to gather at other places for worship, but got taken away as well. The Church building has been manned with police and plain-clothes officers, not allowing anyone to enter to do worship service."

The church alleges that some of those detained and then released were mistreated in custody.

Forty-eight hours after he was arrested, Early Rain Covenant Church released a letter from Pastor Wang, which he had pre-written for release in case something like this ever happened to him.

In it, he said he respected the Chinese authorities and was "not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China".

But he said he was "filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime".

"As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God," he said.

Pastor Wang and his wife - who have an 11-year-old son - have been charged with inciting subversion of state power, one of the most serious crimes against the state and a charge which is often used to silence dissidents. It carries a potential jail term of 15 years. Several senior members of the church face similar charges.

Across the country in Guangzhou, the doors have also been sealed on the Rongguili Church, another un-sanctioned community.

On Saturday, a children's Bible class was interrupted by the arrival of dozens of police officers.

Witnesses said they declared the church an illegal gathering, confiscated Bibles and other materials and shut the doors.

Officers took names and addresses and ordered everyone present to hand over their phones.

In September, the Zion church, one of the largest unofficial churches in Beijing was abruptly shut down. It had recently refused a request from the government to install security cameras to monitor its activities.

"I fear that there is no way for us to resolve this issue with the authorities," Pastor Jin Mingri told Reuters news agency at the time.

There have also been a string of church demolitions, forced removal of crosses or other arrests over the year.

Human Rights Watch said the raids at Early Rain and at Rongguili Church were a further sign that under President Xi Jinping, China is seeking to tighten control over all aspects of society.

"As major holidays in many parts of the world - Christmas and New Year - are approaching, we call on the international community to continue to pay attention to the situation of China's independent churches and speak against the Chinese government's repression," said the group's Hong Kong-based researcher Yaqiu Wang.

The Early Rain member who did not want to be identified said the idea of the Three-Self Patriotic churches was "hilarious", saying they "don't spread genuine gospel, but spread the thoughts of loving the Party, loving the country".

Another Christian in Chengdu told the BBC such churches were "against Jesus, against gospel".

He described the scale of the operations against Early Rain as "unprecedented" but said more could be expected, adding: "I'm very lucky they haven't found me yet."

The Early Rain community would survive, he said, but would now go further underground.

"We will continue the gathering. The church is shut down so it's impossible to have a big gathering, but there will be small gatherings on Sunday and on Christmas Day."

Ultimately, he said, repression might even increase the profile of the faith in China.

"Without repression, people may doubt about our religion. But when repression occurs, pastors and members' reactions will make people who don't believe in Jesus realise the charm of Christianity."

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 10:57

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Xi Jinping says China 'will not seek to dominate'

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that his country will not develop at the expense of other nations, in a speech marking 40 years since China introduced major economic reforms.

However, he also said that the global superpower would not be told what to do by anyone.

Late leader Deng Xiaoping's campaign of "reform and opening up" began four decades ago.

The resulting growth has made China the second-largest economy in the world.

Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty but in recent years China has struggled with mounting debt and slowing economic growth.

Mr Xi said despite his country's economic achievements, China would "never seek global hegemony" and also highlighted its contributions towards a "shared future for mankind".

He did not mention the current trade dispute with the United States.

China continues to crack down on political dissent and is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in the western region of Xinjiang.

Its militarisation of islands in the South China Sea - home to vital shipping lanes - has sparked concerns among Asian neighbours that it seeks to dominate the region.

Critics also say that while China is helping to build much-needed infrastructure across Asia and Africa, it is saddling countries with billions in debt in a bid to gain strategic influen.

Mr Xi spent much of his lengthy speech listing examples of China's progress over the past decades, praising them as "epic achievements that moved heaven and Earth".

He said that given its success, "no-one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done".

At the same time, he stressed what he described as Chinese efforts to work towards the greater global good, saying Beijing was a "promoter of world peace", a "defender of international order" and holding "a leading role in dealing with climate change".

China's economic reform was initiated by then leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and the programme was ratified on 18 December that year.

The reform path turned the country away from the old-style communism of Mao Zedong when collectivisation had led to an impoverished and inefficient economy.

The transformation focussed on agricultural reform, private sector liberalisation, industry modernisation and opening to international trade.

Xi Jinping described the reforms as a "break from the shackles" of previous mistakes.

He said the last 40 years had been a "quantum leap for socialism with Chinese characteristics," driving China's "great rejuvenation in modern times".

The Chinese president made no direct mention of the current trade dispute with the US but stressed his country's contribution to economic globalisation and international order.

The row with the US has led to a spiral of tit-for-tat tariffs with potentially serious economic consequences for both China and the US should they fail to resolve the dispute.

In October US Vice-President Mike Pence accused China of a raft of illiberal economic policies, saying that "while Beijing still pays lip service to 'reform and opening', Deng Xiaoping's famous policy now rings hollow".

No political changes

Despite the economic reforms, the past decades have not brought change to China's rigid one-party system of communist rule.

China's president gave his speech on Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where calls for political reforms were brutally crushed by the military in 1989.

Media captionJohn Sudworth reports from Xinjiang, where all filming and reporting by foreign media is tightly controlled

Xi Jinping is widely seen as China's most influential leader since Mao Zedong. In 2017, he cemented his power, enshrining his political views in the constitution.

In his address, Mr Xi reiterated his belief in strengthening the party leadership and praised Beijing's crackdown on corruption.

Critics say the rule of Xi Jinping has been marked by an ever-intensifying crackdown on political dissent and any groups that the Communist Party sees as a threat to its authority, such as unofficial Christian churches and labour activists.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 10:49

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'Lost' new mother dies in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

Investigations are taking place into the death of a new mother who is thought to have collapsed after getting lost inside Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Amanda Cox, who was 34 and from Peebles in the Borders, was reported missing on Monday after failing to return to the maternity ward following a visit to see her son at the neonatal unit.

She was found collapsed at about 22:00 after a five-hour search.

Police said her death was being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious.

NHS Lothian said it was helping police with their inquiry into the death.

Wrong turn

Ms Cox's family were not available for comment about her death.

A family friend said Ms Cox had been suffering headaches since before the birth of her son, Murray, last Thursday.

"Apparently she was going back to her room for medication but took a wrong turning and came out of the neonatal ward into a disused ward," said the friend.

The friend added that Murray, who weighed just 3lb 7oz, had been transferred to Edinburgh following his birth in Borders General Hospital.

In a statement Police Scotland said: "We can confirm that missing woman Amanda Cox was discovered collapsed within the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary around 10pm on Monday December 10.

"She sadly passed away a short time later."

The statement added: "Our thoughts and sympathies are with Amanda's family and friends at this time."

Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive of NHS Lothian, said the health authority was assisting police with their inquiries.

He added: "My thoughts and sympathies are with the family of Amanda Cox at this sad time."

Local MSP Christine Grahame has sent her condolences to the Cox family and is seeking answers about why it took so long to find Amanda.

She said "This is appalling news. It's a tragedy for the family"

"How over many hours, not just minutes, many hours this mother went missing in a hospital.

"How there was a search outside the grounds but nobody located her within the hospital. It should never have happened. It's dreadful and it must never happen again."

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 16:37

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Pete Davidson checked on by police after suicide concerns

Police have checked in on Pete Davidson after the comedian posted a worrying message on Instagram.

Fans raised concerns about the 25-year-old following a now-deleted post in which he's widely reported as saying he didn't "want to be on this earth anymore".

New York City police told Radio 1 Newsbeat that Pete, who has borderline personality disorder, is safe.

Pete split from ex-fiance Ariana Grande earlier this year.

It's reported that he wrote: "I really don't want to be on this earth anymore.

"I'm doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don't know how much longer I can last.

"All I've ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so."

The Saturday Night Live star appears to have since deleted his entire Instagram account.

Hours after the post, Pete appeared in a sketch on the comedy show and introduced guest Miley Cyrus.

Fans and celebrities posted their support for him on social media.

Pete spoke about his borderline personality disorder, which affects mood and how you interact with others, earlier this month.

He wrote on Instagram: "I've spoken about BPD and being suicidal publicly only in the hopes that it will help bring awareness and help to kids like myself who don't want to be on this earth.

"No matter how hard the internet or anyone tries to make me kill myself. I won't. I'm upset I even have to say this."

Symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four areas, according to the NHS: emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour, and intense but unstable relationships.

Pete's ex-fiance Ariana Grande appears to have sent a message of support to the comedian in now-deleted tweets.

It appears she went to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, where Saturday Night Live is filmed, to support him.

"I'm downstairs and I'm not going anywhere if you need anyone or anything. I know you have everyone you need and that's not me, but I'm here too," she wrote.

Ariana's ex-boyfriend, the rapper Mac Miller, was found dead at his home in September after an accidental overdose involving cocaine, alcohol and an opioid drug called fentanyl.

Pete and Ariana started dating in May and got engaged in June, but split up in October.

Following their break-up, the native New Yorker said he'd been getting "online bullied and in public by people for nine months".

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 16:06

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'My sleepless nights over Sandra Bullock's blindfold'

Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier suffered "sleepless nights" after Sandra Bullock refused to cut holes in the blindfold she wore for their horror thriller film, Bird Box.

Bullock plays a lone mother with two young children, battling an unseen force which compels you to kill yourself if you see it.

Hence the need to constantly wear a blindfold.

The post-apocalyptic film sees Bullock, who plays Malorie, guiding the children down a treacherous river and through a dense forest, all without being able to see a thing. All of this can be seen in the film's trailer, so don't worry, there aren't any spoilers to follow.

But the chances of Bullock disappearing over the side of a boat or into a boggy ditch were definitely higher than Bier would have liked.

She says: "I had a completely dedicated, crazily diligent actor - I said 'can we just make holes in the blindfold?' and she said 'no way, no way'.

"I kept hoping she wouldn't bump into the camera."

Bullock was assisted by an expert who "helps blind people navigate spaces", leaving Bier relieved that the actress "acquired quite sophisticated techniques" for moving around.

Not surprisingly, the Oscar-winning star did still "fall over a number of times", and Bier smiles: "I'm relieved she's still looking good."

Bullock joked as she told Deadline: "It made her very happy when I was blindfolded running into the camera."

But the actress said the blindfold didn't just make moving around difficult.

"What's the easiest way as an actor to show how you're feeling on camera? It's your eyes. And you realise when that's taken away you don't know how to act."

Speaking to Reuters, she added: "But I think in the end... it helped give a really jagged feeling to those scenes rather than if I had holes cut in my blindfold and I could see and I was pretending to stumble and be blind."

This film, which depicts Malorie's transformation from reluctant parent into a machete-wielding mother bear, is an unusual take on motherhood.

"It's a portrayal of a very contemporary female heroine," says Bier, who also directed BBC One's hugely successful drama The Night Manager.

"It's a female narrative - defined by women and not men - and is very unconventional in a thrilling, scary movie.

"It's a depiction of motherhood which doesn't fall into the conventions and cliches we've seen in hundreds of films."

Bier relished "describing motherhood within the context of something mainstream".

Sarah Connor from the Terminator films is another action-packed mainstream maternal film heroine, who's often described as going from "timid" to a "hardened warrior".

But the majority of action heroines are childless, or if they do have children you don't see very much of them. This film focuses on Malorie's journey through motherhood, with the children sharing centre stage.

Having been reluctantly pregnant at the start of the film, the story is as much about her transformation as a parent as it is about the external terror she's battling.

She has to frighten the children by shouting "if you look, you will die" at them, in order to keep them safe.

Bier says it was "hard on Sandra being harsh to them".

'Psychological horror'

"All her character wanted to do was have those kids survive. And she does that by whatever means possible, and because of that you accept her harshness.

"Never at any point do you not understand her or dislike her - I'm hoping it's fascinating to watch."

Bird Box is based on Josh Malerman's best-selling novel of the same name, which is billed as a "Hitchcockesque psychological horror".

Given you don't actually see the monster ravaging the planet's population, much of the tension comes from people's gruesome response when they encounter it.

But it seems that some critics love to see a monster in the flesh, with one saying they felt short-changed on thrills.

Variety wrote: "In the endless debate of how much creature to feature in a horror movie, Susanne Bier's supernatural thriller unwisely withholds the monster altogether."

Bier, who won an Oscar for 2010 thriller In A Better World and an Emmy for The Night Manager, responds robustly to this, saying "for me it's a huge strength" not to see the monster.

"I find it more scary before the monster appears, there aren't any films where I didn't get slightly disappointed once I'd seen it," she adds.

"I wanted to make a movie which had that tension the entire time. I think whatever those beings are, they tap into your mind and it messes with it never to see them."

Bier wants to 'engage emotionally'

The Guardian said "the what, why and how of the crisis never gets answered"but IndieWire described the film as "so intense you'll want to cover your eyes"and Entertainment Weekly said Bier "keeps the mood taut and defiantly in the moment".

Bier's main aim with a film is to "engage emotionally", and she says while she often takes on board reviewers' comments, she's fairly detached if she really doesn't agree with a particular reviewer.

"Sometimes I read reviews and I go, 'I have nothing in common with this person'," she says.

She was able to attract a stellar cast of survivors alongside Bullock, including John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, Trevante Rhodes and Parminder Nagra.

Some of them play the people trapped with Bullock and Moonlight star Rhodes, in a house owned by Malkovich.

It becomes a battle of wills as they work out how to eat and travel to safety.

Bier said she had to juggle a lot of big personalities.

"It was insanely vital to a point where, as a director, you are going 'okay, let's just get some order into this wonderful chaos'. You had to kind of steer it."

Beyond Bird Box, she will be directing HBO series The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and written by Big Little Lies' David Kelly.

And as the winner of an Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy, work opportunities should be pretty fast-flowing for Bier.

"I can certainly choose more than I could some years ago," she says.

'Still a men's club'

But she adds: "I've never been a careerist - I will choose something intriguing - it might be successful or not successful but that's how I work."

She thinks there are now "more opportunities" for women behind the camera, but that things are still biased towards men.

"I still feel it is very much the men's club because whoever assigns projects are mainly men," she says.

"There is a language and a way of talking - I feel that young women are, at times, passed over for projects because they don't necessarily have the same vocabulary, the same way of talking, which doesn't mean they aren't equally qualified.

"I've never been pro-quotas for women, but I think they may be necessary for a time period. It's hard to change it fast enough without making a formalised radical decision."

Bird Box is released in select cinemas from 13 December and on Netflix on 21 December.

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 15:06

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1MDB: Malaysia charges Goldman Sachs and two bankers

Malaysia has filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs and two former employees in connection with a corruption and money laundering probe at the country's investment fund, 1MDB.

The US bank has been under scrutiny for its role in helping to raise funds for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

It is being investigated in at least six countries.

Goldman Sachs called the charges "misdirected" and said it would "vigorously defend them".

"The firm continues to co-operate with all authorities investigating these matters," the bank added.

Malaysia filed the charges against Goldman Sachs and its former bankers Tim Leissner and Roger Ng.

Mr Leissner served as Goldman's South East Asia chairman, and left the bank in 2016. Mr Ng was a managing director at Goldman until his departure in May 2014.

Last month, Mr Leissner, Mr Ng and Mr Low were served with criminal charges in the US in relation to 1MDB.

Mr Leissner pleaded guilty in the US to conspiring to launder money and violating anti-bribery laws.

In that case, prosecutors said former Goldman bankers Tim Leissner and Roger Ng worked with Mr Low to bribe government officials to win 1MDB business for Goldman Sachs.

Authorities in the US said billions of dollars were embezzled from the state fund - which was set up by the Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 - and were used to buy a list of expensive properties, and even finance the Wolf of Wall Street movie.

They allege that among the things bought by the money were:

L'Ermitage hotel property and business

Park Lane Hotel assets in New York

Four California properties

Four New York properties

One London property

A private jet

EMI assets, including royalties

Van Gogh painting

Two Monet paintings

This latest development sees Malaysia also bring charges against former 1MDB employee Jasmine Loo and financier Jho Low.

Malaysia's attorney general Tommy Thomas said in a statement: "The charges arise from from the proceeds of three bonds issued by the subsidiaries of 1MDB, which were arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs."

The scandal has prompted investigations around the world and played a role in the election defeat earlier this year of Malaysia's former prime minister, Najib Razak, who is accused of pocketing $700m (£517m) from the fund he set up.

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 14:38

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What would the suffrage campaigners make of the world today?

Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, stands next to a statue of Emmeline in Manchester. Credit: PA

As a statue marking the legacy of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst is unveiled in Manchester, her great-granddaughter Helen Pankhurst writes for ITV News on the new issues that women face - a century after they were granted the right to vote.

On the 14th December one hundred years ago, millions of women went out to vote for the first time.

Also for the first time, they could vote for women.

On this centenary, we celebrate and we give thanks to those who fought for our rights to be citizens, to be representatives, to be counted and to count. This moment falls at the end of a year of legal firsts; the Act signed on 6th February, 1918 that enfranchised some women - those over 30, with a university education or a property qualification - and then the Act of 21st November, 1918 that allowed women to stand for Parliament

Emmeline Pankhurst was famed for her work as a suffragette. Credit: AP

As we celebrate and give thanks, there is one question amongst many that I am often asked, namely what would the leaders of the suffragette campaign - Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, including my grandmother Sylvia - think of the progress we’ve made since then?

With this question in mind, I have listened, researched and recently published a book which looks at progress in terms of five different areas: politics, economics, identity, violence and culture.

Assessing the components of progress in this way is revealing.

  • How far have we got in politics?


Labour MPs gathered to celebrate 100 years of women suffrage earlier this year. Credit: PA

Clearly there has been progress. However, only 32% of MPs are women and they only make up 26% of Peers in the Lords.

Female politicians comment that political culture and policies are still for the most part ‘man-made’.

Although we have women at the very top, the structures of political power haven’t yet been transformed – nor do we have sufficient diversity of women representing differences of class, ethnicity, sexuality and so on.

  • How far have we got in the economic sphere?
  • A similar statue of Emmeline Pankhurst stands near to the Palace of Westminster in London. Credit: PA

    The median hourly pay for all employees is estimated to be 18% less for women than for men.

    We undervalue employment that is traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’.

    At the same time, parenting and caring is not equally shared, which affects attitudes of employers at work.

    Maternity-related discrimination is rife.

    The precariousness of work among the very poorest in society is disproportionately experienced by women while glass ceilings diminish women’s career progression.

    All of these factors, as well as traditions around inheritance, means that there continues to be a massive gender wealth gap.

    In economic terms, we are clearly not there yet.

  • What about women’s sense of self?
  • Thousands turned British cities into rivers of green, white and violet in June to mark 100 years since women won the right to vote. Credit: AP

    No doubt they have far more voice and agency - far more control over their own lives and their sexual and reproductive rights than the women of 1918.

    However, two aspects are still particularly worrying.

    First, women, at their core, are seen and often see themselves as relational, whereas men are generally seen and see themselves as autonomous.

    An elderly couple without children told me that the woman is always quizzed, the man never asked to explain why they are childless – the world relates to their status differently.

    More generally, women are expected to put their family first, men their work first – binary expectations that damage us all.

    Second, men are judged on their actions and statements; women are judged on their looks.

    We, as individuals, perpetuate this distinction, as do the products we buy; the films, music, plays and adverts we listen to and watch; the books and magazines we read.

    This results in a very narrow, idealised version of what women should aspire to look like.

    From speaking in schools I’ve come to realise that even very young girls now internalise this message, and social media magnifies the problem.

  • What about violence?
  • Demonstrators protested at the opening night of the film Suffragette in 2015 to draw attention to cuts to domestic abuse services. Credit: PA

    Do fewer women experience gender based violence these days? Do fewer women fear it?

    Again, we see progress in some areas, particularly around legislation and to some extent the availability of services, though austerity measures have undermined these.

    Domestic violence, though less normalised, is still a very real threat and abuse has morphed, re-emerging in the world of social media, where it is directed disproportionately at women – particularly women outside the dominant norm who dare to have a public voice.

    The MeToo campaign cast the spotlight on the universality of work place violence and sexual abuse - but also marked the turning of a tide, encouraging women to speak out and demand change.

    In the area of culture, the progress is much clearer.

    There are few public spaces that women can no longer enter and be involved in – including pubs and clubs and sports grounds, the traditional male bastions away from home.

    Women can be found directing films, plays, events.

    They are gaining influence in cultural institutions, in arts centres and in museums.


    Leading suffragettes in the dock at Bow Street court Credit: PA

    Almost across the board, cultural establishments have been resistant to change since 1918, yet in all spaces there have also been those with vision.

    For example, Lewes Football Club is the only football club in the world to pay its male and female players the same salary and allow them to use the same pitch.

    In the visual arts, this centenary year has also seen an attempt to counter the dominance of white men, including through the installation of statues of the suffrage campaigners.

The maquette sculpted by Hazel Reeves. Credit: Sue Anders Photography

Which brings me back to this date, the 14th December, 2018, when a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst sculpted by Hazel Reeves - and with credit to councillor Andrew Simcock who has driven the whole Our Emmeline initiative - has been unveiled in Manchester, her birthplace and the birthplace of the suffragette movement.

Thousands of people marched to St Peter’s Square for the unveiling; marching as did the suffragettes of old.

One hundred years ago, some women got the vote, but they had to wait another ten years for equal franchise. Since then, although the individual arc of women lives varies tremendously, it is clear that we are not there yet.

Armed with the lessons of history, and the commitment of the present, maybe, just maybe,we can radically improve the score across the board by 2028.

Here’s hoping and, together, working to that end.

Helen Pankhurst, right, accompanied by her daughter Laura, left, participating in a women's rights protest. Credit: AP

Helen Pankhurst is the author of Deeds Not Words, the Story of Women’s Rights,Then and Now. She is a women's rights activist and senior advisor to CARE International, and convenor of the Centenary Action GroupHer views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

sarah Posted on December 15, 2018 11:02

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Unseen photos provide a sensitive look at America's early 'working girls'

Published 29th November 2018

Credit: Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

Unseen photos provide a sensitive look at America's early 'working girls'


Written byDita Von Teese

Dita Von Teese is a burlesque performer, model and author. This is an edited extract from her foreword to "Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892" by Robert Flynn Johnson. An accompanying exhibition is on at Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco until Dec. 9, 2018.

Women in sexual professions have always distinguished themselves from other women, from the mores of the time, by pushing the boundaries of style. The most celebrated concubines and courtesans in history set the trends in their respective courts. The great dames of burlesque -- Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee -- boasted a signature style on- and offstage, reflecting broader-than-life personalities.

Dita von Teese on the eternal allure of a well-dressed gentleman

Given that photography was still an emerging technology, an emerging creative medium, when these "working girls" posed for William Goldman in the 1890s at a Reading, Pennsylvania brothel, the entire exercise transcends their initial business liaison. The instantaneous concept of click-and-shoot was still decades away. To be photographed required sitting very still. The women featured in Goldman's collection obviously caught his eye. Not just anyone is asked to be the subject of artistic documentation.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

The local photographer and his anonymous muses appear to straddle an artful titillation, at times striving toward Degas nudes and at another, more in the spirit of a strip and tease. There is a beauty in even the most mundane moments.

Among Goldman's models, my own gaze zeroed in on the striped stockings and darker shades of their risqué brassieres. These ladies of Reading, Pennsylvania, might not have had the wealth of Madame du Barry, celebrated mistress of Louis XV of France, or the fame and freedom of a silver-screen sex goddess such as Mae West. But they sought to elevate their circumstances, to feel lovelier and more fashionable, with a daring pair of knickers.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

To feel special is fundamental to the human condition. Few opportunities outshine a sense of specialness than when an artist asks to record your looks, your beauty. Under the right circumstances, to be the object of admiration -- of desire -- to be what is essentially objectified is not only flattering. It can also provide a shot of confidence and a sense of strength and power and even liberation, however lasting or fleeting.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

For these working girls who were already going against the drudgery of toiling in a factory or as a domestic, who were surviving in a patriarchal world by their wits and sexuality, the opportunity to sit for Goldman was very likely not only thrilling. It was also empowering.

One can only imagine the mutual giddiness prevailing among them all, too, at the possible outcome from all these lost afternoon shoots. In a singular image from this collection appears Goldman striking a pose as proud as a peacock. It's one of stock masculinity in the canons of classic portraiture (though usually in military uniform), and like his muses, presented in all his naked glory. By sharing in the objectivity of the process, Goldman basks in the specialness his models must have felt. By stepping around the lens, he becomes a true confidante.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

It suggests a balance of power between artist and muse, man and woman -- at least behind closed doors. Their collective decision to strip and strut for the camera reveals a shared lack of shame for the body beautiful and, in that, a shared, albeit secret, defiance of cultural mores.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

By all accounts from curator Robert Flynn Johnson's devoted research on this once-lost collection, Goldman seems to have kept his treasured collection as a personal trove. As a successful photographer of weddings and social events, it was most certainly not in his interest for the public to know about his private creative pursuits.

Courtesy Serge Sorokko Gallery/Glitterati Editions

The brothel was a necessary evil in town, where men with certain desires visited women who would oblige. In this case, it was the desire of a man to capture the beauty and sensuality of the women he befriended. There is much to learn and (most of all!) take pleasure in with this discovery.

As these lost photographs illustrate more than a century later, one period's "social problem" is another's cultural revelation.

"Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892" by Robert Flynn Johnson, with a foreword by Dita Von Teese, is out now.

Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 01:26

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British Museum to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria

By Kieron Monks, CNN


Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT) December 14, 2018


LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Plaques that form part of the Benin Bronzes are displayed at The British Museum on November 22, 2018 in London, England. The British Museum has agreed to loan the plaques back to a new museum in Benin City in Nigeria.

London (CNN)More than a century after British soldiers looted a collection of priceless artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, some of the Benin bronzes are heading back to Nigeria - with strings attached.

A deal was struck last month by the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG) that would see "some of the most iconic pieces" in the historic collection returned on a temporary basis to form an exhibition at the new Benin Royal Museum in Edo State within three years.

More than 1,000 of the bronzes are held at museums across Europe, with the most valuable collection at the British Museum in London.


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Nigerian governments have sought their return since the country gained independence in 1960.

Temporary solution

The agreement represents a breakthrough for the BDG, which was formed in 2007 to address restitution claims.

The group comprises of representatives of several European museums, the Royal Court of Benin, Edo State Government, and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Benin bronzes: Will Britain return Nigeria's stolen treasures?

The returns are contingent on the timely completion of a new Royal Museum, adjacent to the Royal Palace that once housed many of the bronzes. Nigerian officials presented plans for the Museum at a BDG meeting in October. A spokesman for the Governor of Edo said that designs are being finalized in collaboration with the Royal Court of Benin.

A spokesman for the British Museum said European museums would play an active role in developing an elite institution suitable for housing exhibits that are considered to be among the greatest ever African artworks.

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"The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums," the spokesman said.

"The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artifacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum."

Benin bronzes on display at the British Museum in London. The museum holds one of the world's largest collection of bronzes with around 700 pieces

Details about which pieces will be returned and how many are yet to be established. Dialogue is ongoing between the parties of the BDG, and the group is scheduled to meet again in Benin City next year. The present agreement notes that Nigerian partners have not ceded claims for permanent restitution, and officials remain determined to secure the bronzes on a permanent basis.

"We are grateful these steps are being taken but we hope they are only the first steps," Crusoe Osagie, spokesman for the Governor of Edo, told CNN. "If you have stolen property, you have to give it back."

Osagie called for greater pressure on European governments to return the bronzes.

Breaking the deadlock

Nigerian claims received a boost with the release of a new report commissioned by the French government that calls for wholesale restitution of artifacts seized during the colonial era.

The report from academics Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy, prompted by President Emmanuel Macron's 2017 commitment to return African heritage, recommended that items taken without consent should be liable to restitution claims.

Many of the estimated 90,000 artifacts of sub-Saharan African origin held at French institutions could be contested under the report's criteria.

France urged to return looted art and amend heritage laws

Sarr and Savoy further recommended that key, symbolic pieces long sought by claimant nations should be immediately returned - including several French-held Benin bronzes.

The report also proposed a series of bilateral agreements between the French government and African states to bypass French laws barring museums from releasing their collections, which have proved a longstanding barrier to restitution. Such agreements would allow for permanent restitution rather than loans.

The French government has responded to the report by announcing an initial 26 artworks will be returned to the state of Benin, with further restitution to follow.

Pressure building

France's example will increase the pressure on museums across Europe, which has been building on several fronts.

Grassroots campaign groups within European countries are demanding restitution, such as in Germany, where 40 organizations recently signed an open

letter calling for the return of historical artifacts.

The letter prompted German institutions to conduct inventories of their collections to determine which items were acquired illicitly.

There is also growing recognition of the validity of restitution claims from a new generation of political leaders. Leader of the UK Labour party Jeremy Corbyn has said that if elected, his government would be willing to discuss the return of "anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession."

Inside Ghana's Elmina Castle is a haunting reminder of its grim past

Several influential private collectors have also taken the side of African claimants, such as British citizen Mark Walker, who voluntarily returned a set of Benin bronzes captured by his grandfather.

Museums are also facing a raft of increasingly determined claims from the governments of dispossessed nations across the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Greece's claims for the Elgin Marbles, to Chile's appeal for Easter Island statues.

Few longstanding observers of a saga that has been taking place since the end of the colonial era expect these matters to be resolved quickly. President Macron's initial commitment to return just 26 pieces suggests a long term process.

Museums and national governments are likely to resist wholesale restitution, and national laws preventing museums from disbursing their collections will continue to present a formidable barrier.

But if the wheels are turning slowly, they do at least appear to be shifting.

Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 01:11

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Israeli forces use live fire on Palestinian protesters as manhunt continues for gunman who killed 2 Israeli soldiers

Now PlayingSeven wounded in West...


Seven wounded in West Bank shooting 00:22

Jerusalem (CNN)Israeli troops used live fire to disperse protesters in the West Bank on Friday amid rising tensions following a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in recent days.

An 18-year-old Palestinian named Mahmoud Rabah Nakhleh died after he was shot in the abdomen during clashes north of Ramallah, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

A 13-year-old Palestinian was shot in the lower leg while using a slingshot in a stand-off with Israeli settlers near the Beit El settlement outside Ramallah, CNN eyewitnesses reported.

The Israeli army confirmed to CNN that it had used what it called riot dispersal means at the site, which included live fire.

A protester jumps over smoke from burning tires during clashes with Israeli soldiers near the Hawara checkpoint, south of Nablus, on Friday.

Earlier, less than a kilometer away, an Israeli soldier was injured after he was struck by a rock and stabbed, the Israeli army said. His condition was described as moderately to severely wounded. The assailant was also injured in the ensuing struggle.

Officials had been braced for widespread protests after Israel's army carried out raids overnight Friday in Ramallah. But overall levels of violence remained relatively low, and calls by Palestinian political factions to escalate confrontations with Israeli forces appear to have gone unheeded.

Forty people were arrested overnight in Ramallah on suspicion of "involvement in terror activities, popular terror and violent riots targeting civilians and security forces," Israel's army said. The army added that 37 of the detainees belonged to the Hamas militant group, which has threatened further attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Two Israeli soldiers were shot dead Thursday at a bus stop on a main road in the Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank, the Israeli military said. A third soldier and a fourth person were wounded in the incident.

Thursday's shooting took place less than two kilometers away from the site of an attack in Ofra settlement on Sunday which wounded seven, including a pregnant woman whose baby was delivered prematurely but died three days later.

Hamas had praised Thursday's fatal attack on Israeli soldiers and claimed responsibility for Sunday's Ofra settlement shooting.

Israeli soldiers stand at the scene of an attack near the settlement of Givat Assaf in the West Bank on Thursday.

Scattered clashes on Friday

At one checkpoint east of Ramallah, the site of serious clashes in recent days, a CNN team saw around two dozen Palestinian protesters throwing rocks and setting tires alight on Friday, and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas canisters.

Elsewhere CNN saw evidence of an increased Israeli military presence in the West Bank, with more checkpoints in operation and road closures. CNN also saw an increased security presence at bus stops, which have been the site of two shooting attacks in recent months.

Palestinian security forces clash with Hamas supporters in Hebron on Friday.

A video being widely shared by Palestinians on social media appears to show Hamas supporters, many of them women, being violently confronted by Palestinian Authority security officers during a Friday demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron. In the West Bank, Hamas's influence is checked by the Palestinian Authority, as well as Israeli forces.

The video shows at least one man being dragged from a car and beaten by PA security officers in riot gear. It's unclear what led to the incident. The Palestinian Authority has not responded to CNN's calls for comment.

Netanyahu retaliates by legalizing settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the deaths of the Israeli soldiers Thursday by announcing plans to legalize thousands of homes built illegally by settlers in the West Bank, in an attempt to placate right-wing groups angered by the attacks.

He said the West Bank homes had been "built in good faith," and that legalization would enable "thousands of residents to have public, educational and religious structures, the construction of which has not been possible for decades."

Israelis protest outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Around 1,000 Israelis joined a protest outside Netanyahu's residence on Thursday, according to Israeli media, hours after the shooting of the Israeli soldiers. Demonstrators called on the Prime Minister to resign for failing to clamp down on the violence. Some held placards showing the face of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the crosshairs of a gun.

Netanyahu is also advancing the construction of two new industrial zones in the West Bank, and has asked the attorney general to make legal arrangements for the building of 80 new residential units in Ofra settlement.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, which classifies the area as occupied territory. Israel disputes the assessment, arguing that the status of the territories is more ambiguous than international law allows. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967.

CNN's Andrew Carey reported from Jerusalem. Abeer Salman reported from Ramallah.


Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 01:08

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Most Nazis escaped justice. Now Germany is racing to convict those who got away

By Atika Shubert and Nadine Schmidt, CNN

Updated 0016 GMT (0816 HKT) December 15, 2018


Berlin, Germany (CNN)Johann Rehbogen still remembers the lentil stew he ate with other military recruits as they traveled crammed into cattle cars to join the German Wehrmacht in 1942. He recalls the movie screened at the SS training camp: "Quax the Crash Pilot," a comedy. He also remembers seeing prisoners for the first time.

"They had on prison uniforms and they looked truly miserable. This was a big shock for me," recalled the 94-year-old, who is currently on trial for his role as an SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp in what was then German-occupied Poland.

"The Wehrmacht officers were eloquent," said Rehbogen in a rare testimony read out in court by his lawyer last month. "They seemed downright heroic to us. But when I saw the prisoners, it was clear that this picture the Wehrmacht was trying to convey, was wrong."

Former SS guard Johann Rehbogen, pictured in 1945 when he was a prisoner of war in the US.

Rehbogen is accused of being an accessory to the murder of hundreds, and is one of five defendants now in court, with another 20 still under investigation, according to Germany's Federal Authority for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. He is being tried as a juvenile because he was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes.

Rehbogen has denied knowledge of a deliberate killing campaign.

The country is now racing against time to bring the last surviving perpetrators of Nazi war crimes -- now well into old age -- to justice.


But for many survivors it is too little, too late.

'Tiny percentage' of Nazis brought to justice

The number of suspects that have been brought to trial is a tiny percentage of the more than 200,000 perpetrators of Nazi-era crimes, said Mary Fulbrook, a professor of Germany History at University College London.

"It's way too late," she told CNN of the latest trials. "The vast majority of perpetrators got away with it."

In her new book, "Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice," Fulbrook says that of the 140,000 individuals brought to court between 1946 and 2005, only 6,656 ended in convictions.

"Immediately after the war, there were the Nuremberg trials. But these Allied trials were seen as victor's justice. This was, in a way, vilified and not taken seriously," she explained. "The first five to 10 years after the war, there were a lot of trials. Then they dwindled down massively," said Fulbrook.

"Then, in the interest of the Cold War and fighting communism, there was a move to rehabilitate former Nazis and a general climate of amnesty. Some perpetrators who were given severe sentences in the 1940s were released with much lighter sentences in the 1950s," Fullbrook said.

'It's easy to say you could have done things differently'

In the 1960s and 1970s a new generation of Germans pressed their parents and grandparents to answer: What did you do in the war?

But it was not until the trial of SS guard John Demjanjuk, that prosecutors were able to convict Nazi suspects who may have not been directly responsible for specific killings.


In 2011, Demjanjuk was found guilty by a Munich court of being an accessory to the murder of more than 28,000 people based on evidence that he had served as an SS guard at the Sobibor Nazi death camp, a landmark decision that allowed prosecutors to go after lower-ranking suspected Nazi war criminals.

"From today's perspective, it's easy to say you could have done things differently in the 1950s," said Jens Rommel, lead prosecutor at Germany's Federal Authority for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. "It may not have been possible to carry out the prosecution of tens of thousands of suspects as accessories to war crimes."

"There are also other reasons," said Rommel. "Many of the obvious leaders did not survive the war -- or died before they could be prosecuted. Some escaped prosecution by emigrating."

Why World War I is Germany's forgotten conflict

He added that "because of the combination of police officers, prosecutors and judges in Germany's post-war society -- people who may have had roles in the Third Reich -- the will to persecute was weakened."

Instead, Germany developed a "Culture of Remembrance" to address its wartime history. Memorials abound across the country and school children routinely visit memorial sites like Auschwitz to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.

"Germany is one of the most moral countries in addressing its history," said Fulbrook. "To some extent, it is an outpouring, an inherited sense of shame, but without being able to rectify that failure of bringing the guilty to justice."

"It's just an awful shame that while former Nazis were still in a position of influence, Germany didn't have the political will to bring Nazis to trial when they could have," she said.

The 'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz'

The recent trials have, however, facilitated a kind of belated dialogue between perpetrators and Holocaust survivors.


Oskar Groening, known as the "The Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" for his role as an SS accountant at the Nazi death camp, was tried and convicted in the northern German city of Lueneburg in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people.

He made several statements in court, at times harrowing in their vivid detail but also repellent in his candid recollection of Nazi ideology.

Oskar Groening, 96, in court in 2015.

On his first day in court, the 96-year-old recounted how he witnessed the murder of a small child. "A Jewish mother had hidden her little girl in a small suitcase on arrival. She was found out in the sorting. An SS commander took the baby and smashed the baby against the truck until her screaming stopped. My heart stopped," said Groening.

"I went to the man and said, 'You cannot do this.' But I was not allowed to question this. The next morning, I requested a transfer," he added.

Groening's testimony also showed that, at the time, he had been a fully indoctrinated member of the Nazi SS and though he had objected to the method of the killing, he had not opposed the murder itself.

"The baby broke the world for me. The horror of this action broke me," he said, adding, "It would have been different had he simply taken the gun and shot the baby dead."

Ironically, Groening's Nazi past was only discovered when he began speaking out against Holocaust deniers, by recounting his personal experiences in Auschwitz. Groening maintained that although he was never directly responsible for the killings he acknowledged his "moral complicity."

The court sentenced Groening to four years in prison. One of the Holocaust survivors who testified against him, Eva Kor, made a public statement forgiving Groening and demanding that his prison sentence be changed to community service.

Far right: Eva Kor in 2015 points at an image of herself as a child taken during the liberation of Auschwitz, along with other survivors.

"Groening said in his statement that he was wrong, it never should have happened, and it should never happen again. That is exactly what I want him to tell the young people in Germany who want to bring back a Nazi regime," Kor's statement said. "I told Oskar Groening that I have forgiven him, but that does not absolve or condone what he has done."

Groening died in the midst of appealing his sentence, but Fulbrook said his case highlighted the importance of recording the testimonies of alleged perpetrators.

"You certainly don't want to taint the memory of victims with their tormentors," she said. "But you do need more education about the Nazi system, what made it possible. Not just the nasty SS thugs but the wider group that made it possible."

A glimpse into the mindset of a SS soldier

Like Groening's testimony, Rehbogen's personal statement is rare. It reads like a diary, a glimpse into the mindset of an SS soldier.

His defense hinges on two claims -- that as an ethnic-German living in Hungary he was involuntarily drafted into the SS, and that he had no knowledge of the camp's systematic killings.

Rehbogen claims he was unaware of the existence of a gas chamber, though he remembered the stench that came from the crematorium. "Nothing could disguise that," his statement read.

Stutthof concentration camp, pictured in 2016.

"Even if it sounds like a flimsy justification, I did not perceive Stutthof as a camp designed to kill prisoners," he added. "I was aware that the conditions were terrible and that many died of disease and hunger. But that it was a systemic killing only dawned on me much later."

In court, a historian testifying as an expert witness disputed both of Rehbogan's claims, pointing out that more than 10,000 people were killed in Stutthof, despite the camp's small size.

Johannes Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, backed up the historian's testimony.

"The Waffen SS did not have the ability to conscript people," Tuchel told CNN. "Germany and Hungary had a military alliance and Germany did not have the power to conscript in Hungary at the time. All ethnic Germans in Hungary in 1942 came voluntarily to the Waffen SS. I have not seen any documents that would prove otherwise."

Too little, too late for victims

One Holocaust survivor who remembers Rehbogan from Stutthof is Judy Meisel, who was 14 when she was ordered to line up naked outside the camp's gas chamber with her mother. The teenager survived after a guard suddenly pulled her out of the line.

"She was essentially ripped from her mother's arms at the steps of the gas chamber," Meisel's grandson, 34-year-old Benjamin Cohen, told CNN.

"Her mother told her, 'Run, Judy, run!' And she did. She ran all the way back and found her sister in the barracks and the two remained together and survived," Cohen said.

Holocaust survivor Judy Meisel pictured just after the war and recently.

When German investigators contacted Judy Meisel, now 89, she immediately recognized Rehbogen as one of the guards -- though not the one that pulled her out that day.

"He must face responsibility for what he did when he was in Stutthof," Meisel wrote in a statement to the court. "Responsibility that he helped with the unimaginable crimes against humanity -- that he helped murder my beloved mother whom I have missed all my life."

Cohen told CNN that if the trial had happened 10 years earlier, Meisel would have been able to attend herself. Instead, because of her frail health, he sat in her place, watching as Rehbogen was brought to court in a wheelchair.




A Holocaust survivor bears witness at trials in Germany 03:33

"It's never easy to see an old man wheeled into a courtroom, but I mostly thought about how disappointing it is that these trials have taken so long to happen," Cohen told CNN.

"My hope is that he would at least tell us what happened, even if he refuses to admit to anything he did. Instead, he wants us to believe he could stand guard in the camp for two years and not know anything."

In court, Rehbogen concluded his statement by saying, "I would like to say once again that I am not a Nazi. I never was one. And in the little time I have left, I will never be one."

Now, he waits for Germany's courts to decide.

Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 01:05

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Reindeer in Sweden usually migrate in November. But there's still no snow.

“I can't ask my father what to do now because he hasn’t seen this; it hasn’t happened during his lifetime.”

Reindeer are gathered in a corral near the village of Dikanaess, Sweden, in 2016.Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images file

Dec. 5, 2018 / 10:46 AM GMT / Updated Dec. 5, 2018 / 11:07 AM GMT

By Linda Givetash

It may be December but almost 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle there’s still not enough snow for reindeer to begin their annual migration.

Sweden’s indigenous Sami people have herded the animals for generations, with the corral usually happening over a two-week period in November.

But this year the tradition has been postponed because temperatures keep fluctuating above and below the freezing mark.

“Something is really wrong with nature,” said Niila Inga, 37, who lives in Sweden’s northernmost town of Kiruna. “I can't ask my father what to do now because he hasn’t seen this; it hasn’t happened during his lifetime.”


The past four years have been the warmest on record globally, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

Reindeer husbandry is carried out in countries throughout the Arctic including Norway, Russia and China. A 2009 report on the future of the practice says that there are 3,000 reindeer herders in Sweden alone, and a total of nearly 100,000 globally.

It's a family business. Inga said he took the lead from his father when he turned 18 and works alongside 17 other full-time herders in the community that includes his cousins and nephew.

Every September, reindeer are gathered and killed for meat. It’s the main source of income for the herders.

A Sami man labels a reindeer calf near the village of Dikanaess, Sweden, in 2016.Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images file

After the slaughter, the remaining reindeer are left to graze in the wild until it’s time for the winter migration eastward to better grazing territory. For Inga, that's a trek of more than 62 miles.

Herders follow the animals on snowmobile, spending nights in cabins along the route. Children get the time off school to take part in the process.

“Everything is connected to the reindeer and the reindeer herding,” Inga said. “It’s something you’re born and raised in.”

But Inga, who is also the chairman of the Swedish Sami Association, believes "something is shifting."


The snow is vital to every aspect of reindeer husbandry so this winter's erratic freeze-thaw cycle is a problem.

Research suggests the effects of global warming are amplified at the poles, with average air temperatures rising faster than elsewhere on the planet. This results in the rapid loss of ice, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. This year's winter freeze is being forecast to come late for the Scandanavian region and ice formation will be below-average.

The herders need the snow for their own travels through the wild terrain. Snow also makes it easier for the Sami to track reindeer and predators.

Most importantly, the snow impacts vegetation. A delayed winter could be viewed as a good thing, allowing the reindeer more time to graze by the mountains, Inga said. But it could also lead to the reindeer trampling the plants and prompt overgrazing.

Research is backing up the changes the Sami are witnessing. Gunhild Rosqvist, a geography professor at Stockholm University, is part of a team studying the changing Arctic landscape, including the accelerating loss of glacier ice in the Scandinavian mountains.


Rosqvist is currently working with the herders to study how weather variability is impacting the animals.

It's becoming clear the animals are migrating into new areas — despite roads and other development blocking their path — which in turn is forcing herders to change their practices, she said.

The expansion of mining, wind-energy farms and tourism across northern Sweden is cutting back on the available land.

The entire town of Kiruna is being forced to move because of the neighboring iron ore mine.

“The combined pressure of all this and climate change is really pushing some of these communities over the tipping point,” Rosqvist said.

A Sami man catches a reindeer near the village of Dikanaess, Sweden.Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images file

Reindeer migration is just one of the many symptoms of the warming climate.

This summer saw Sweden’s highest peak lose that status due to glacial melt while wildfires spanned an unprecedented 61,775 acres across the country amid record hot and dry conditions.

A huge section of a glacier near Rosqvist's northern research station unexpectedly broke loose in an ice avalanche, she said, shocking scientists.

“It’s an emergency,” Rosqvist added. “The whole ecosystem is so delicate.”

Despite the rapid changes to the landscape, the Sami are trying to adapt. Inga said herders are discussing what to do if the land fails to provide enough food for the reindeer.

“We don’t want to feed them because it isn’t natural and it’s part of our culture,” Inga said. The reindeer are semi-domesticated and bringing in food could change their behavior dramatically, he said. It could also affect the quality of the meat.




Six ways climate change is hitting the U.S.

Sanna Vannar, president of the Sami youth association Sáminuorra, said members hope that they’ll be able to continue the traditions of their forefathers.

The association joined 10 families across Europe and Africa to lodge a lawsuit against the European Union in May for failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

The lawsuit specifically cites the challenges reindeer are having in finding food due to the warming climate and the repercussions it, in turn, has on Sami culture and livelihoods.

"It's really bad for young reindeer herders because they every day have to think about the weather," Vannar said. "I can't see my life without reindeer."

Linda Givetash

Linda Givetash is a reporter based in London. She previously worked for The Canadian Press in Vancouver and Nation Media in Uganda. 


Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 00:48

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Ukraine's martial law brings unease after Russian attack

Russian ships last month rammed, opened fire on and then seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea, triggering fears of an potential invasion.

Zaporizhzhia's main street after martial law was introduced.Renee Hickman / for NBC News

Dec. 7, 2018 / 9:20 AM GMT / Updated Dec. 7, 2018 / 9:45 AM GMT

By Renee Hickman

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Larysa Spitsyna was shocked and confused when she learned her city would be placed under martial law.

"As a psychologist, I know that the main thing that is disturbing to us is uncertainty," said Spitsyna, 54, who teaches at a local university.

It was precisely such a feeling that swept thorough Zaporizhzhia last week.

The city is in one of the regions where martial law was imposed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — a response to Russian ships ramming, shooting and then seizing three naval vessels in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President: 'Russia will pay a huge price if they attack us'

NOV. 27, 201801:16

In Ukraine, that allows the military to requisition private property, mobilize civilians, ban mass gatherings and stop the sale of alcohol. Poroshenko said it was necessary in response to "an act of aggression" and claimed Russia was amassing tanks at his border. Days after the sea clash, Moscow also announced it was deploying an additional S-400 surface-to-air missile system to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

But a week later, there have been few signs of anything unusual in Zaporizhzhia, an industrial city in the country's southeast known for its steel production.

While initially concerned, Spitsyna said she was reassured when university officials said operations would continue as normal. She voted for Poroshenko during the last election in 2014 and backs the president's decision now.

Larysa Spitsyna.Renee Hickman / for NBC News

"I think this measure is a way we can gain more safety at the moment," she said. "I think it will improve Poroshenko's ratings."

Not everyone here agrees with the move — or feels so reassured.

In 2014, Russian-backed separatists began fighting Ukrainian government troops in a conflict that has rumbled on for more than four years and claimed more than 10,000 lives. The rebel-controlled area is just 100 miles from Zaporizhzhia.


The same year, some 120 miles to the south of the city, Russian forces annexed Crimea, a move deemed illegal by the United States and most other Western countries.

Back then, in the height of Ukraine's crisis, the newly elected Poroshenko did not declare martial law. So why do it now, asks Evgenia Ivanova?

"Every day we had the fear that [Russian tanks] can move to Zaporizhzhia and drive on our main avenue," said Ivanova, who works at a travel agency. "Why was martial law not imposed in those times?"

Some critics have made the same point, alleging that Poroshenko did not impose martial law in 2014 because it did not suit him politically. Last week, he initially announced the move would be deployed country-wide for 60 days.


Seemingly fearing a power-grab, Ukraine's Parliament limited it to 30 days and only in the regions bordering Russia or Trans-Dniester, a Moldovan breakaway republic where Russian forces are based.

Now that it's here, martial law is affecting Ivanova's business. Customers are calling to ask if their flights out of the country could be canceled. But many other people here are unfazed, desensitized by years living so close to the conflict, according to Ivanova.

"It isn't so scary for us now," she said. "A lot of people believed there would be some escalation in the situation with Russia, but we just didn’t know what form it would take."

Evgenia Ivanova.Renee Hickman / for NBC News

When Bogdan Kalugin, 19, first heard about martial law from his brother, he says he immediately started scouring social media.

"I saw that there would be house-to-house searches and the military can come to your apartment and confiscate your property," he said.

Kalugin says he hasn't heard any reports of property being seized, or in fact any changes on the ground at all. But with elections nearing, he says he is still concerned about the parts of the law that could limit political rallies and mass gatherings.

"I think the situation happened and now Poroshenko is trying to get as much benefit from it as possible," he said. "It seems to me that escalation of the conflict isn't advantageous for either side. It’s more beneficial for [Russia and Ukraine] to keep it frozen."

Families enjoy a snowy day near the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. A statue of Lenin once looked out over the river and hydroelectric plant, but it has since been replaced by a representation of a Cossack, which many Ukrainians see as a patriotic symbol.Renee Hickman / for NBC News

Another resident of the city, Evgeniy Dzyga, is also thinking about his future.

Dzyga, 45, an actor at the city's theater prepping for a role as Santa Claus in a Christmas-themed show for children. He is also an army reservist and veteran of the war in eastern Ukraine.

He says he has been preparing to be called for active duty. "I have my go-bag ready," he said.

Dzyga is supportive of both martial law and of Poroshenko, says that if anything martial law should have been imposed sooner.

"I think that there won’t be a bigger invasion," he said, "because martial law was introduced to let our enemies know that we are ready."

Renee Hickman

Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 00:45

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Aquarius migrant rescue ship stops Mediterranean Sea patrols

"The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed."

For the past two months, the Aquarius has remained at port in Marseille, France.Boris Horvat / AFP - Getty Images file

Dec. 7, 2018 / 3:51 PM GMT / Updated Dec. 7, 2018 / 4:24 PM GMT

By Alexander Smith

LONDON — The Aquarius was the last search-and-rescue ship operating in the world's most deadly migration route, saving almost 30,000 people from the Mediterranean Sea since 2016.

On Friday, the charity that runs the vessel said it was being forced to end its work, blaming "smear campaigns and maneuvers to undermine international law" by governments in Europe.

"This is a dark day," Nelke Manders, said general director of Médecins Sans Frontiers, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders. "The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed."

As migration levels soar around the globe, nowhere has been more dangerous than the Mediterranean for those fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa or seeking better lives in Europe.

More than 2,100 people have died this year alone, the overwhelming majority leaving from Libya.


The Aquarius, which was jointly operated by MSF and SOS Méditerranée, was the last humanitarian vessel attempting to rescue people making the journey.

Other ships have been detained by Italian and Maltese authorities on charges ranging from illegally aiding migrants to not being properly registered.

A lone holdout, the Aquarius was recently accused of illegally dumping potentially dangerous medical waste and was twice stripped of its registration, which MSF likened to "tactics used in some of the world's most repressive states."

Migrants await rescue in a rubber dinghy during a rescue involving the Aquarius off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2016.SOS Mediterranee / Reuters file

The group said several governments were to blame, but singled out Italy, whose hard-line nationalist interior minister, Matteo Salvini, says other countries should accept a greater share of migrants.

Salvini alleges rescue ships like the Aquarius encourage more migrants to take to the sea. He has repeatedly closed Italian ports to the Aquarius, forcing it to sail for days while carrying migrants to find ports in other countries.

In addition, the European Union has increased cooperation with the Libyan coast guard to intercept people attempting to leave, a policy criticized by the United Nations as "inhuman." Returning them to Libya, MSF said, exposes people to "arbitrary detention, violence, and unsafe conditions."

Italy's ISPI think tank warned in October that closing ports had actually increased the number of deaths at sea. For the past two months, the Aquarius has remained at port in Marseille.


"This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimize, slander, and obstruct aid organizations providing assistance to vulnerable people," MSF said.

Maders added: "Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others' attempts to save lives."

Alexander Smith

Alexander Smith is a London-based senior reporter for NBC News.

Reuters contributed.


Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 00:41

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In Chile, this man has an epic train set in his backyard. They're real trains.

“In my childhood, the trains were still running in Chile," says José Zagal. “I’ve tried to save as many as I can and put them in my garden.”

Train collector Jose Zagal in his garden in Santiago, Chile.Richard Ulloa /

Dec. 9, 2018 / 3:40 PM GMT

By Liam Miller

SANTIAGO, Chile — Railway fanatic José Zagal never quite shook his fascination for trains as a child, so he started building a train set right in his own back garden.

These are real trains.

The Chilean’s gigantic haul includes two locomotives and 12 passenger carriages, cabooses, and even freight cars.

Lovingly restoring the trains he has "saved," his private fleet is now worth an estimated at $1 million U.S. dollars, even though Zagal paid scrap metal prices due to the derailment of Chile’s train network.

The 68-year-old scientist even has 300 meters of railroad in his garden, along with rail signals and a working railroad switch — to change the tracks.

A train inside the garden of train collector Jose Zagal in Santiago, Chile.Richard Ulloa /


Chile’s railroad network was broken up in the 1980s by former military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Only a few lines still operate.

During his 17 years in power, thousands of his political opponents and civilians — now know as ‘The Disappeared’ — vanished without any record. Tens of thousands more people, fearing the same, fled the country in exile.

The Chilean general was eventually arrested in London in 1998 in connection with human rights violations, before dying in 2006. But during his rule, Pinochet favored roads as the country’s primary option for land travel and transport.

The trains and the rail network that once ran across the entire country disappeared too.

“I love everything to do with trains, the sounds, the machinery, the smell," Zagal says. “In my childhood, the trains were still running in Chile and I was always fascinated, watching them on holiday at the beach and places like that.”

Most Chileans today travel long distance on buses, with first-class options that include fully-reclining chairs, table-service and broadband internet.

“It’s not the same,” says Zagal. “On a train you have lots of space and you can walk around, or have a proper dinner served to you in a luxury dining car illuminated with dim lights, all with that special a-chuck-a-chuck sound like you are in an old movie. It’s a different world.”

Following the derailment of the trains, the former engines and carriages lay rotting around the country, or were destroyed.

“A lot of people just broke them up for the metal, or for firewood,” says Zagal. “Some piece of Chilean history is gone forever.

“I’ve tried to save as many as I can," he says, "and put them in my garden.”

A portrait of Jose Zagal driving his mining locomotive in his garden. Santiago, chile.Richard Ulloa /


It all makes for the perfect illusion of a real railway station when he plays train driver, shuttling his carriages around at the helm of his electric mining locomotive. And when he does, he likes to conduct himself properly by dressing up as a Victorian-era controller.

Zagal's private railway mirage is made more convincing by his house and other buildings he erected in his garden. He converted the back of his home into a replica of a station, complete with a large clock. And he added railroad style buildings around his home to perfect the look while simultaneously protecting his collection from the hard Chilean winter.

He even ponders on being buried in a train-style coffin. “I’ve been playing with trains all my life. When I got bored of models, I started buying real ones."

Jose Zagal's collection includes 100s of miniature and model trains on Santiago, Chile on Oct. 10, 2018.Richard Ulloa /

Zagal's home in Santiago, Chile, is full of hundreds of miniature model trains and other rail paraphernalia like lanterns, signs, clocks and clothing.


But his real passion is writ large by the full-sized trains in the garden, which include a steam locomotive and the smaller mining engine, which he bought for its power.

“I bought the electric locomotive from a Chinese company online, so I could move the others around,” he says. “It can shift a lot of weight.

“The people at the company I bought it from couldn’t understand it was just for my garden, for fun. They thought I was going to mine something and kept asking the weight of the minerals I needed to move.”

His favorite item in the entire collection is a caboose, with its accommodation quarters for the crew. Made in New York in 1895 by Pullman, it has a fully functioning kitchen, toilets and bedrooms.

A working kitchen inside one of train collector Jose Zagal's passenger cars.Richard Ulloa /

“I love to sleep in there, but my partner Erika only lets me do so when she’s out of town. She finds them a bit spooky," he says. "I filled it with other things I like to collect, like mannequins in old war uniforms."

Guests sometimes like to sleep in the trains too, so he fixed up the plumbing and facilities to make them livable.

The obsession, which started when Zagal was a small boy, seemed to grow as he did, like the size of the collectibles.

After he got bored of his model train set — at age 35 — the fanatic started buying up actual trains and now proudly has his full-size fleet at home.

And while his first love is trains, Zagal is also a distinguished professor of chemistry. He says his background in science has helped him install the collection.

As a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom and Emeritus Member of the Electrochemical Society of the United States, he used a scientific approach to the complicated delivery of the huge machines to his home.

“I didn’t want to have trains sinking into my lawn,” he says. “And I wanted to be able to move them around and drive them. So I planned the track and the sleepers first, laying them out ahead of the first delivery."

He had to model the angles of his garden and driveway to ensure he could get the Pullman in.

“The delivery prices are sometimes higher than the trains themselves. But fortunately Chile, as a mining country, has lots of options for the delivery of large machines.”

Do the neighbors mind when a train is delivered to their street?

“Not at all,” says Paulina Duclos, who lives directly across the road, flanked by towering canyon walls. “José is a special person and we know he’s a little eccentric. He brings something different to our neighborhood.”

Jose has designed the rear of his house to look like a train station.Richard Ulloa /


Following their delivery, the trains need maintenance. Only Zagal's loving attention has brought them back from their formerly vandalized states.

His partner Erika, 60, says: “If I can’t find José, I know he’s in his shed fixing a part for the trains.”

All the hours of planning, maintaining and polishing — along with all the money he spent on them — might not have been a total labor of love.

“Based on my research and the current prices of what people are paying for restored trains, it’s worth close to $1m U.S. I’m not going to sell them but maybe my children will after I’m gone. They’re not crazy about trains, like me."

Zagal says he's spent "some money" on making his collection, but only what he could afford.

"I think hobbies are important, so why not? We are prisoners of money in a way, so I have no issues spending on my trains, which bring me so much joy."

“My main issue is space," he adds. "I’m running out of garden.”


Liam Miller

Liam Miller is a freelance journalist based in Chile.

Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 00:38

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150 years of seeing red: The traffic light marks a milestone

With more than 1,000 people dying each year on London's horse-and-buggy-clogged roads, city leaders knew they had to do something to control traffic.

A traffic light next to the Houses of Parliament in London.Yui Mok / PA Wire/AP file

Dec. 10, 2018 / 7:45 AM GMT

By Rachel Elbaum

LONDON — Traffic lights are such a ubiquitous feature of the modern city that no one thinks much about them until you're stuck in a line of cars, impatiently waiting for the light to turn green.

But there was a time when cities were signal-free and traffic was directed by police officers — or not at all. That changed 150 years ago on Monday when the world’s first traffic light was installed in London. Towering 20 feet above the street, the gas-powered signal was placed at the busy intersection outside the Houses of Parliament.

The world's first traffic light was put up on Dec. 10, 1868.The British Newspaper Archive

With more than 1,000 people dying each year on London's horse-and-buggy-clogged roads at the time, city leaders knew they had to do something, according to the Transport for London transit authority. Invented by railway engineer J.P. Knight, the traffic light did just that.

Given its inventor's occupation, it's not surprising that it resembled a railway signal and was equipped with both waving arms and gas-powered green and red lights for use at night. A police officer changed the lights manually, using switches.

Despite the British capital's attempt to improve safety, the introduction of this new technology wasn’t without controversy.

“The direct control of our movement — stop now, go now — sat uneasily in Victorian liberal society,” said David Rooney, a researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of a book on this history of traffic congestion.

At the time, London arguably needed more traffic control than ever. Its population had exploded from around 3 million in 1861 to around 7 million by 1910.

However, the reign of the world’s first traffic light was extraordinarily short-lived. A gas leak caused a series of explosions, seriously injuring a policeman, after just a month in action.

The city had to wait nearly six decades for traffic lights to really take off in 1925, when signals with electric lights came to London from the U.S.

Today, there are nearly 9 million people living in the greater London area. It’s the world’s seventh most congested city, behind Los Angeles at No. 1 and New York at 3, according to transport analytics company Inrix’s global traffic scorecard.

Buses pass through traffic lights near the Houses of Parliament in London.Birute / Getty Images file

Parliament Square is now one of the capital’s busiest areas. Tourists, civil servants and politicians cram the sidewalks, while cars and trucks stream over the bridge to South London.

At the intersection where the first traffic light stood, there are now 24 individual lights directing cars and pedestrians, overlooked by a statue of Winston Churchill.

They are among the more than 6,000 lights that control traffic in London, and while they control traffic, they've done little to stem its flow.

“Driving around here is murder," Clive Pearce, a black-cab driver, said as he dropped off passengers outside Westminster Abbey. "I started driving 42 years ago and traffic is now the worst I’ve seen. A journey that used to take me 20 minutes from west to east now takes an hour.”

Although the technology behind the lights has changed over the years — from gas to today’s LED lights — the way we control traffic has altered little since Queen Victoria sat on the throne.

“With such a complex and expensive infrastructure buried under our feet, it seems as if traffic lights are here to stay," Rooney said. "Because despite all efforts to solve the traffic problem, our cities will always be congested."

Rachel Elbaum

Rachel Elbaum is a London-based editor, producer and writer. 


Luke Posted on December 15, 2018 00:35

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Strasbourg Christmas market reopens after attack

The Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg has reopened, two days after the attack carried out by a gunman on Tuesday evening.

Cherif Chekatt was killed on Thursday by police on a city street after he opened fire on officers.

Three people died following the shooting at the market and several more are seriously injured.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner is visiting the market as it reopens, talking to stallholders.

Strasbourg's mayor Roland Ries said security would be tight: "We have restricted the number of entrances with checkpoints, body searches and bag searches. We have reduced [the number of entry points] for greater control, with a better distribution of police forces," he told French radio.

The city had been in lockdown after the attack while more than 700 police and soldiers hunted down the suspected gunman.

Chekatt, 29, had a string of criminal convictions in France and Germany and had become a radical Islamist in jail.

Will Strasbourg's festive crowds come back?

By Gavin Lee, BBC News, Strasbourg

Signs of normal life are returning to the centre of Strasbourg, now the manhunt is over.

As security officials allowed the Christmas Markets to reopen, small groups filtered in.

But the city that promotes itself as the capital of Christmas doesn't feel like that just yet, as the big festive crowds that Strasbourg is famous for have not yet returned.

Traders say the fear factor appears to have put off many tourists, but they're relieved that they are back in business and that the city has moved on quickly.

The #Strasbourg Christmas markets have just reopened again 2 days after the shooting attack, and the morning after police killed the gunman. Market traders say it’s very quiet, compared to the thousands usually here,packing the streets, but they’re glad to doing business again

In place Kléber, where the gun attack unfolded, people have brought flowers and candles to place underneath the Christmas tree at the market entrance. Armed military police patrol in groups of four.

Three kilometres (two miles) south of here in Neudorf, investigators are attempting to retrace the steps that Cherif Chekatt may have taken as he hid for 48 hours.

The investigation will also look at what mistakeser we made in police surveillance methods after the suspect was released from prison and added to a security watch list of those monitored for extremist behaviour.

How was Chekatt found?

After an appeal for witnesses, the security forces received 800 calls from the public and quickly focused their search on the Neudorf area, where Chekatt was last seen after the attack, France's anti-terror prosecutor, Rémy Heitz, said on Friday.

As a result of two significant reports, an extensive police operation involving a helicopter was launched on Thursday evening at 19:30 local time (18:30 GMT).

At 21:00, officers in a police car noticed a man, whose description matched that of the suspect, walking down rue du Lazaret, Mr Heitz said.

The man noticed the police car and tried to enter a building at number 74, but could not get in. The officers identified themselves, and the man turned around, pointing a gun - similar to the one used in Tuesday's attack - and fired in their direction, hitting their car, he said.

Two of the three officers fired back several times and killed the suspect. He was identified through his fingerprints and declared dead at 21:05.

The officers found an old gun, still loaded, some ammunition and a knife on his body.

Image copyrightPOLICE NATIONALE 

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier thanked security forces in a tweet, vowing that the country's commitment against terrorism is "total."

Hundreds of French police and security forces had been searching for Chekatt.

A large police operation had taken place in Neudorf earlier on Thursday afternoon, but ended without results.

Seven people have been arrested in connection with the attack: Cherif Chekatt's parents and two of his brothers, as well as three other people close to him, Mr Heitz said.

Mr Ries said that finding Chekatt meant the worried people of his city would now be able to return to a normal life.

Mr Castaner thanked security forces in a tweet:

How did Tuesday's attack unfold?

At about 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT), a man opened fire close to the famed Christmas market near place Kléber.

Mr Heitz said the man had shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest") as he opened fire.

The suspect was armed with a gun and a knife and escaped the area after jumping into a taxi, Mr Heitz said.

As he fled he came into contact with four soldiers, Mr Heitz said, and began firing at them. The soldiers fired back, apparently hitting him in the arm.

The attacker told the taxi driver he had killed 10 people, and also said he had been injured during a firefight with soldiers.

He ordered the taxi driver to drop him near the police station in Neudorf. When he got out of the vehicle, he fired at police officers before escaping.

What do we know about the suspect?

Chekatt was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services.

He was on the "fiche S" watchlist of people who represent a potential threat to national security.

He had 27 convictions for crimes including robbery spanning France, Germany and Switzerland, and had spent considerable time in prison as a result.

Police were seeking him on Tuesday morning in connection with another case, but did not find him at home.

A search of his apartment in Neudorf revealed a grenade, a rifle, four knives - two of which were hunting knives - and ammunition.

The Islamic State group's self-styled news agency, Amaq, on Thursday said that Chekatt was "an Islamic State soldier" who had "carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens of coalition countries" fighting its militants in Syria and Iraq.

Who were the victims of the attack?

Three people died in Tuesday's attack, and one has been declared brain-dead, Mr Heitz said on Friday.

The death of Kamal Naghchband, a garage mechanic originally from Afghanistan, was announced on Thursday. The father of three died in hospital. His mosque announced his funeral would take place after Friday prayers. He had been visiting the market with his family and was shot in the head, his cousin told the AFP news agency.

A retired bank worker aged 61, from Strasbourg, was also killed in the attack, according to media reports.

The third victim was a Thai tourist who was on holiday with his wife.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha sent a letter of condolence to his French counterpart on Thursday that confirmed the man was among the dead, AFP reports.

Anupong Suebsamarn, 45, has been named by Thai media as the victim.

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 15:11

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The fight over the Indian baby born in a bank queue

He arrived in the world with a bang. His birth in a bank queue made global news. But two-year-old Khazanchi Nath is now at the centre of a bitter fight between the two sides of his family and two villages because of his celebrity status. The BBC's Geeta Pandey travels to rural Kanpur in northern India to piece together the toddler's story.

Khazanchi, which means "treasurer", was born in the state of Uttar Pradesh on 2 December 2016, less than a month after the Indian government banned 1,000 and 500 rupee notes overnight.

The decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, locally called demonetisation, led to a major cash crunch and for weeks millions of Indians were seen queuing outside banks to withdraw new currency notes.

A very heavily pregnant Sarvesha Devi had walked from her home in Sardar Pur village to the bank in Jhinjhak town and taken her place in the line - along with her mother-in-law Sashi Devi, her eldest child, 10-year-old daughter Priti, and hundreds of others - when she went into labour.

Her story made headlines and tiny Khazanchi became the poster boy in the state election campaign against India's ruling BJP. When he was just over two months old, I travelled to their dusty village to see him.

Four months before his birth, his father had died from tuberculosis. Describing the trauma of giving birth in the bank, his mother told me she too would have died if it wasn't for her mother-in-law.

But last week, when I wanted to see Khazanchi again, I had to visit another dusty village - Anantpur Dhaukal, where his mother moved last year after a bitter row with her in-laws. It's where Sarvesha Devi's parental home is, where her mother and three brothers live with their families.

Khazanchi is curious about me - he fixes his kohl-lined eyes on me and, at his mother's prompting, shakes my hand. I ask him who painted his nails deep pink. He smiles and points at Priti, his sister.

Unaware of the bitter battle being fought over him, he seems more interested in my glasses and tries to snatch away my phone when I get close to him to take a photo.

Sarvesha Devi borrows two wobbly plastic chairs from a neighbour's house and we sit facing each other to chat. Within minutes, Khazanchi begins to get cranky. "He's hungry," she says and starts breastfeeding him. By now, word has spread about my visit and we are soon joined by her mother, her brothers and a few neighbours.

Once Khazanchi has quietened down, I ask Sarvesha Devi about her relationship with her mother-in-law. This time, she has nothing complimentary to say about Sashi Devi. In fact, the relationship has soured so much that she talks about threats to life - her own and Khazanchi's.

After her baby was born, Sarvesha Devi was awarded 200,000 rupees ($2,990; £2,395) as compensation from the government for having to give birth in a bank queue.

The previously life-saving, loving mother-in-law is now described as the dreaded monster-in-law whom she accuses of hitting her regularly and demanding half the compensation money.

It's a significant amount of money for a family steeped in poverty with no fixed sources of income. And it was then that the family relations began unravelling.

So what happened that tore the family apart like this? That's the question I posed to Sarvesha Devi - and to her mother-in-law when I visited her later in Sardar Pur. And their family members and villagers.

In the claims and counterclaims, sometimes it's difficult to sift the truth from falsehood, to understand who's being honest and who's just exaggerating.

Khazanchi's family belongs to the Baiga tribe, which is among India's poorest and most deprived communities. They have little education, own no land and most make a living through begging.

Traditionally though, the Baigas were snake-charmers, and even though catching snakes was outlawed a long time ago, every time I've visited them, they've proudly shown off reptiles.

This time too, one villager asks me if I want to see the latest catch and even before I can respond, an angry baby cobra is brought out of a basket. He prods and pokes the reptile which begins to crawl on the ground, less than a metre from me. It's defanged, he assures me.

It'll grow up to three times its current size, he explains before packing it back in the basket. I keep a wary eye on it as we resume talking.

Uttar Pradesh, where Sardar Pur and Anantpur Dhaukal villages are located, is India's most populous state. It's home to more than 200 million people and more than 15,000 babies are born here daily, so it's difficult to imagine that the birth of one child could generate much excitement.

But Khazanchi was catapulted to stardom because of the circumstances of his birth, and that it came at a time when the state was getting ready to hold key regional elections. The then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav used the "birth in the bank queue" to point out what a misadventure demonetisation had been.

He invoked the infant at every political rally, insisting that PM Modi's currency ban had hurt the poor most, the sort of family that is Khazanchi's.

A few months after his birth, Mr Yadav presented his mother with the compensation money.

Sarvesha Devi says she spent a part of it clearing debts her husband had left and on the treatment of her eldest son, who also suffers from tuberculosis. The remainder has been secured in a bank deposit.

But then, she says, her mother-in-law demanded half the reward money and when she refused, "the family threw me on the ground and beat me up". And that's when she decided to leave.

The 37-year-old mother-of-five, who walks with a very pronounced limp, says she refused to part with the money because "I'm disabled and with my husband gone, there's no-one to look after my children and I have to secure our future".

Relations further deteriorated after she moved. Malkhan Nath, her eldest brother, says he's come under pressure from the community to send her back.

"We keep telling her that's your family, your home, please go back, but she refuses because she says they beat her and treat her badly. We don't know what to do. She's my sister: how can I tell her to go if she doesn't want to?"

The family dispute is now in the community court that Malkhan Nath calls their "high court". It comprises prominent community elders who adjudicate in matters involving Baigas. Their rulings are not legally binding, but they're rarely ignored because the defiant can face a social boycott and have to pay monetary fines.

Malkhan Nath says that in the past year he's had to appear before the "court" three times, and that once he had to pay 650 rupees as a fine because his sister defied the order to appear along with Khazanchi.

Matters came to a head earlier this month. On 1 December, a day before Khazanchi's birthday, Sarvesha Devi says two car-loads of officials turned up late at night at her home.

"I was just sitting down for dinner and Khazanchi was asleep. They insisted that we go with them to Sardar Pur for his birthday celebrations the next day. I refused, so they picked him up and took him to the car. He woke up and started crying. We raised an alarm and chased them. All our neighbours came over and helped us rescue him. They were trying to kidnap him," she insists.

Though Mr Yadav didn't win last year's regional election, he has maintained contact with Khazanchi. Local journalists say he had planned to use the toddler as his mascot for the general elections due in the summer and had announced that he would be gifting him two homes on his birthday - one each in Sardar Pur and Anantpur Dhaukal.

The plan was for the former chief minister to visit Sardar Pur on his birthday and hand over the keys to Khazanchi. With local journalists invited to cover the celebrations, it was meant to be a perfect photo-op.

But when Mr Yadav arrived at Sardar Pur, Khazanchi wasn't there so the keys were handed over to Sashi Devi.

Clearly disappointed at the toddler's absence, Mr Yadav said he didn't know about the "battle between his maternal and paternal grandmothers" and sacked two senior party colleagues for "embarrassing" him.

A few days later when I visited Sardar Pur, I found the spanking new house right by the roadside. Sashi Devi had gone to the market, so I chatted with her relatives and neighbours as I waited for her return. The marigold flowers used to decorate the house had nearly wilted, and the mood was downbeat too.

"A lot of people had gathered to see Khazanchi, but his mother chose to stay away," says his great-uncle Asharfi Nath. "Mr Yadav had come laden with presents, but he took it back. Sarvesha Devi could have come for an hour. By refusing to attend the celebrations, she humiliated Mr Yadav."

The villagers say all was well until Khazanchi's birth and they blame "the greed and jealousy of his mother's family and her village" for ruining things. They allege that her family wants her money and her village believes that if the boy stays there, they will see development.

The villagers also darkly hint at a wider political conspiracy - Sardar Pur supports Mr Yadav's Samajwadi Party while Anantpur Dhaukal is dominated by upper-caste Thakurs who support Mr Modi's BJP.

Mulayam Nath, a villager, says if Sarvesha Devi doesn't want to return, she can stay on in her parental village but "she must send Khazanchi back because he is our baby, he belongs to our village. The progress and the benefits the authorities have promised must come to us".

By the time Sashi Devi returns, it's beginning to get dark. She squats on the ground outside the newly constructed house as I ask her to respond to the allegations against her.

"It's all lies," she says. "I never asked my daughter-in-law for any money. She's been coached to say what she's saying."

Sashi Devi talks about how Sarvesha Devi and her five children were fed and clothed by the family when her son was too sick to work. And in the months after his death, how the little money her husband and other sons brought home was shared with her even though no-one was obliged to do so.

She rejects allegations that they ever hit Sarvesha Devi. "I have four more daughters-in-law and 16 grandchildren. How come no-one else gets hit?" she asks.

She has her own stories of assault and abuse: "I went to her village twice to bring her and the children back. Each time, they hid Khazanchi, and the women there assaulted me."

Sashi Devi also rubbishes the charge that she or any of her family members could hurt Sarvesha Devi or Khazanchi. "How can we kill our own daughter-in-law and grandchild?"

As I prepare to leave, I ask her if there's any chance of a reconciliation, but she's not very hopeful.

"I've met her thrice recently and asked her to come back and live in her new house, but she has refused," she says, wiping a tear with the corner of her sari. "Earlier, I lost my son. Now I've lost my grandchildren too."

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 15:02

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Branson's Virgin Galactic reaches edge of space

The latest test flight by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic successfully rocketed to the edge of space and back.

The firm's SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship reached a height of 82.7km, beyond the altitude at which US agencies have awarded astronaut wings.

It marked the plane's fourth test flight and followed earlier setbacks in the firm's space programme.

Sir Richard is in a race with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send the first fee-paying passengers into space.

He founded the commercial spaceflight company in 2004, shortly after Mr Musk started SpaceX and Jeff Bezos established Blue Origin.

In 2008, Virgin Galactic first promised sub-orbital spaceflight trips for tourists would be taking place "within 18 months". It has since regularly made similar promises to have space flights airborne in the near future.

But delays and a fatal crash in 2014 prevented Sir Richard's original ambitions.

On Thursday, the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship took off from the Mojave Desert in California.

The company said the space ship's motor burned for 60 seconds, travelling at 2.9 times the speed of sound as it gained height.

The rocket carried two pilots and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger, as well as four research experiments for NASA.

"Today we have shown Virgin Galactic can open space to the world," Sir Richard said.

The US government has awarded astronaut wings to pilots who ventured farther than roughly 80km beyond earth's surface.

But Thursday's flight did not breach the 100km Karman Line, which many organisations use to resolve debates about where space begins.

While the trip marked a milestone for Virgin Galactic, the firm's rivals have already ventured farther - albeit without humans on board.

SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, is planning crewed missions for early next year. Mr Bezos has also said Blue Origin plans to send its first crew to space in 2019.

Virgin Galactic, which is charging $250,000 for a 90-minute flight, has said more than 600 people have bought tickets or put down deposits for an eventual voyage.

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 14:48

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China buys US soybeans for first time since trade war

China has bought US soybeans for the first time since the trade war between the two countries started in July - a move hailed as a "great step" by US officials.

One of the biggest casualties of the US-China trade war has been the US soybean sector.

China is by far the world's biggest importer of soybeans.

And Beijing's high tariffs placed on US soybeans this year has been severely hurting US farmers.

A trade truce between China and the US was reached earlier this month however, and there had been much anticipation that China would soon return to the US soybean market.

But while China's purchase of 1.13 million tonnes of US soybeans on Thursday was met with much applause from some, others said the purchase was too small, and not a sign that the trade war was cooling.

  • "Having a million, million-and-a-half tonnes is great, it's wonderful, it's a great step," said Steve Censky deputy secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

"But there needs to be a lot more as well, especially if you consider it in a normal, typical year, we'll be selling 30 to 35 million metric tonnes to China."

The sale also failed to excite traders, who said the numbers fell short of estimates, which saw a sell-off in soybean futures.

"It's a start, but it's not nearly enough to fix our problems in regards to soybeans and a soybean oversupply in this country," said Joe Vaclavik, president of Standard Grain, a Tennessee-based brokerage.

Why do soybeans matter?

In 2017, soybeans were the single biggest US agricultural export to China, which accounts for some 60% of the global trade in the commodity.

And soybeans are vitally important to China because they use the product to feed livestock.

The key supplier globally is Brazil, but China has also relied heavily on the US for soybeans supplies - in part due to seasonality.

Chief economist Robert Carnell from ING Bank told the BBC that China's purchase on Thursday was more about convenience than anything else.

"The simple fact is China needs a lot of soybeans and it's been buying them from Brazil, not the US," he said.

"But Brazil could never supply all the soybeans China needed, so ultimately [China has] been driven back to US soybeans. And I think it's just convenient for them to do that right now."

Mr Carnell said that the recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and deputy chair, was far more indicative of where the trade war between the US and China was really up to.

"[It's] a battle for technology, a battle for 5G," he said. "In particular, Huawei has become one of the world's biggest suppliers of telecoms technology - and the US doesn't really like that.

"[So that arrest] is giving you a much better, a much clearer message on where the trade war lines in the sand are really being drawn."

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 14:46

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Why your pizza may never be delivered by drone

For years tech companies such as Amazon, Alphabet and Uber have promised us delivery drones bringing goods to our doorsteps in a matter of minutes. So why are they taking so long to arrive?

One word: regulation.

If our skies are to become as crowded as our streets, airspace rules need updating to prevent accidents, terrorist attacks, and related problems, such as noise pollution.

But that's easier said than done. Here's a rundown of the main issues.

Noisy nuisances?

According to a recent study by Nasa, the noise made by road traffic was "systematically judged to be less annoying" than the high-pitched buzzing made by drones.

The locals in the Australian suburb of Bonython, Canberra thought much the same thing when Wing, Google owner Alphabet's delivery drone service, began fast-food delivery trials there.

"With the windows closed, even with double glazing, you can hear the drones," one local resident told ABC News.

Consequently, limiting noise pollution is an important consideration for regulators, many of whom have forbidden drone deliveries after dark - precisely the time many hungry householders would like that takeaway meal delivered.

"Noise pollution has been an area of debate during the drafting of the new European rules," says Yves Morier of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Rogue drones

Even with relatively few drones in the skies, the number of potentially dangerous incidents is worryingly high.

Just last month, a "rogue" drone closed Wellington Airport in New Zealand, while a UK drone user was charged with endangering lives by flying too close to a police helicopter.

And Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he was recently the target of a drone "attack".

Regulators are trying to take back control by implementing registration schemes.

Media captionDrone endangered police helicopter in Cambridgeshire

"The vision is unified traffic management, digitalised, on all levels, from local to national and international," Benoît Curdy, secretary general of the Global Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Association (GUTMA), said in September.

"Registration is the first step, as it enables the authorities to know who is flying."

European regulators are equally concerned.

"Rogue drone use is a major concern for us," says the EASA's Mr Morier.

"We cannot reduce the risk to zero, but we can take steps to limit it. These include making registration obligatory for drones weighing more than 250g."

Are they safe?

Delivery drones will fall rapidly out of favour it they fall rapidly from the sky after running out of juice or crashing.In October, West Midlands Police reported a defect in its DJI Matrice 200 surveillance drone to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority. The drone experienced a sudden loss of power even when it had battery charge remaining.

"The biggest challenge is to reduce the risk of collisions between drones and other aircraft," says Mr Morier.

Wing says it has performed "tens of thousands of test flights" in the US and Australia, and is heading to Finland next year.

Its drones use "redundant motors, batteries and navigation systems with intelligent controls, so back-up systems can help keep aircraft safely in flight", the company says.

But Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights - where drones travel autonomously or are controlled by pilots remotely - are only likely to become viable once "detect and avoid" technology has been approved by regulators.

"Nasa has successfully built and flown a system this year," the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says. "But no 'detect and avoid' systems have received approval as yet."

It's a point reiterated by European regulators.

"There is no 'detect and avoid' technology capable of ensuring [that drones don't collide with other aircraft] at the moment," says Mr Morier.

For this reason it has stipulated that non-commercial drones cannot fly above 120m (394ft), although who polices this is another issue.

Lack of standards

Most countries now have - or will soon have - rules in place for small drones capable of carrying out surveillance or making deliveries. And bigger sky taxis are also in development.

"Some companies are already testing full-scale prototype pilotless air-vehicles," says the FAA. "The fast pace of change is fundamentally changing the role of the regulator."

But the rules on how and where you can fly drones differ widely from country to country.

In the US, the FAA rules state that delivery-style drones must weigh less than 55lbs (25kg) in total and fly up to only 400ft (123m).

In Saudi Arabia, all drones are banned.

While more than 50 countries belong to Joint Authorities for Rulemaking of Unmanned Systems (JARUS), a final set of standards has yet to be agreed.

Susanne Schödel, secretary general of FAI, the World Air Sports Federation, says: "Authorities are working on this on a global scale, but integrating drones into the airspace is a very complex undertaking."

One widely accepted standard is that drones will, initially at least, operate only in lower airspace, leaving the higher airspace free for commercial aircraft.

Where are we now?

First developed for military use during World War One, drones are now a global industry that investment bank Goldman Sachs expects to be worth $100bn (£79bn) by 2020.

Their commercial potential is already being exploited in many parts of the world, albeit on a trial basis.

In Switzerland, the national postal service Swiss Post has started using drones to ferry laboratory samples between hospitals in Lugano and Bern.

In China, e-commerce giant has been sending packages by drone in certain rural areas since last year.

And residents of a remote First Nation island in northern Ontario, Canada, will begin receiving goods by drone in 2019.

Other concerns

Video-equipped drones also pose a threat to privacy and threaten birds and other lower airspace users, critics say.

"We fear recreational airspace users such as paragliding pilots and hot air balloonists will have less freedom," says Ms Schödel.

So if you're expecting a drone to deliver your pizza any time soon, you're likely to go hungry.

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 14:43

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Did my children die because I married my cousin?

Ruba and Saqib both carry a gene for an incurable condition, which means their children have a one-in-four chance of dying in early childhood. They've already lost three. Ruba now wants IVF, to select a healthy embryo. Saqib is putting his trust in Allah. And some relatives want them to separate and remarry.

Ruba Bibi had not wanted to marry so young. She had planned to do A-levels and go to university, but before she had finished her GCSEs her parents arranged for her to marry Saqib Mehmood, her cousin, in Pakistan.

Born and brought up in Bradford, Ruba had visited Pakistan twice before the wedding - once when she was four and once when she was 12. She couldn't really remember the man she was now engaged to and had never spent time alone with him. He was 27 and worked as a driver. She was 17.

"I was really nervous because I didn't really know him," she remembers.

"I was really shy, I couldn't talk much and I hadn't ever had any interest in boys or anything like that. I was scared and begged my parents to delay things to let me finish school, but they couldn't."

After three months in Pakistan she was pregnant. She returned to Bradford two months later, shocked to be having a baby so soon. But also happy.

When their son, Hassan, was born in 2007 she excitedly called Saqib to tell him that all was well, although the baby seemed to sleep a lot and had trouble feeding.

"I just thought it was normal," Ruba says.

A few weeks later she went for a check-up, and as the GP watched Hassan moving she noted that his hip seemed stiff.

"She said she was going to refer him, but I thought it was something minor. They did some tests and then I got a call saying I had to come to the children's ward for his results," Ruba says.

"When I went in, the doctor told me it was very bad news. She gave me a leaflet and said he has this condition and it's very rare. It was too much for me to take in and I was just crying. I came home and rang my husband in Pakistan, who tried to calm me down. He told me that everyone goes through problems and that we would get through this together."

Ruba had no idea that both she and her cousin carried the recessive gene for I-cell, a rare inherited condition that prevents a child growing and developing properly.

Seven months later Saqib received a visa to live in the UK, and was able to hold his son for the first time.

"He said he looked like normal baby. He wasn't sitting or crawling, but my husband said some children were just slow," Ruba says.

She, however, could see a big difference between her son and other babies the same age. Hassan was growing slowly, and was in and out of hospital with chest infections. And as he got older his head increased in size.

When their next child, Alishbah, was born in 2010 tests confirmed immediately that she, too, had I-cell disease. She died at the age of three, towards the end of 2013 - just over a year after her elder brother.

Before getting pregnant a third time, Ruba consulted Mufti Zubair Butt, the Muslim chaplain at Leeds Teaching Hospital, to ask what her religion would make of screening during pregnancy - and termination if I-cell was confirmed.

He told her that it would be an acceptable course of action, but advised her to think very carefully.

"If you have this condition where the child is going to die in any case, or even if it doesn't die soon, it will have debilitating illness, that's sufficient reason to terminate before the soul enters the body, based on the sayings of the prophet," he said.

But he also said that she shouldn't do this just because she had a green light to do so, as it was something she would have to live with for the rest of her life.

And he advised her to consider the views of those in her community, many of whom were likely to oppose termination. "To overcome that, on a personal level, that's a great challenge as well," he said.

Born in Bradford

  • Ruba and her first child, Hassan, were among the first to be included in Born in Bradford, a long-term study involving 14,000 families in the city, 46% of them of Pakistani heritage
  • The city's infant mortality rate - double the national average - provided the impetus for the study
  • Doctors have identified more than 200 rare conditions and are working on better screening and counselling for couples

Ruba decided she would not want to terminate a pregnancy.

So when she got pregnant with her third child, Inara, in 2015, she refused the medical scans she was offered and turned down repeated requests from doctors to be screened.

"I wanted them to treat it like a normal pregnancy. I didn't want them to put the doubt in my head. I wasn't going to have an abortion, so I wanted to enjoy the pregnancy," she says.

"I used to say my husband there could be a chance this baby is ill as well, but he said, 'It's fine.' I think I had a lot of doubt - I knew the odds were the same as for the other two."

But Inara too was born with I-cell disorder.

"I was really happy that I had a baby, but when we saw her we kind of knew," says Ruba. "I was sad and upset that we went through all the pregnancy and we really wanted a healthy baby. I didn't know how much pain she would go through - but my husband was happy. He said, 'Just be grateful.'"

Inara died almost exactly a year ago, at the age of two. She fell ill with a chest infection last December and her condition deteriorated quickly. She was taken from the Bradford Royal Infirmary to York.

My husband says: 'If God is going to give me kids, then he can give me them from you... I'm not going to get married again'

"The doctors in York were trying to do 100% to keep her alive, I did have that hope but I could see she was in pain. She was sedated until she passed away. I had her in my arms for most of the time, then I lay down beside her. My husband realised she was taking her last breaths."

Ruba says she has no idea how they have all endured the pain of losing three children and of suffering six miscarriages, the last just weeks after Inara's death. "I didn't even know I was pregnant at that time and I miscarried after the funeral," she says.

She says it was Inara's death that made her accept a link between her children's misfortunes and cousin marriage.

For a long time she just did not believe it, in part because she saw other ill and disabled children at the hospice and it was clear that not all of them were conceived by married cousins. Some were from the white community.

"My husband still doesn't believe it," she says. "I believe it now because it's happened three times, so there must be something in what they're saying. It must be true."

Cousin marriage

  • In 2013 researchers published findings on cousin marriage in the Lancet: 63% of Pakistani mothers in Born in Bradford were found to be married to cousins and experienced a doubling of the risk of a baby being born with a congenital anomaly
  • The risk of having a baby with birth defects, usually heart or nervous system problems, is still small but rises from 3% in the general Pakistani population to 6% among those married to blood relative
  • Families in Bradford are still arranging marriages and choosing brides and grooms among their extended family back home - one in four children in the study had a parent brought over for marriage

After Inara's death, some of Ruba and Saqib's relatives, both in the UK and in Pakistan, came to the conclusion that they were unlikely to have a healthy child - and argued that the marriage should therefore end in a "happy separation". This would allow both partners to remarry and have healthy children with someone else.

"We both said no," Ruba says.

"My husband says: 'If God is going to give me kids, then he can give me them from you. He's given me kids from you and he can give me healthy kids from you. If it's written, it's written for you. I'm not going to get married again and neither can you get married again, we are both going to try together.'"

And although Ruba was reluctant to marry in 2007, after 10 years of married life she doesn't want to part.

"Relatives wanted us to be happily separated for the kids, so that I can have healthy kids with someone else and so could he. But what if I do have healthy kids with someone, they might not make me feel like he makes me feel? I might have kids but not a happy marriage. It might not be successful marriage, and I don't want to bring kids up as a single parent. I have heard about people doing this but it's not for us."

But what options does this leave them?

One possibility is to have IVF. This would enable doctors to screen embryos, rejecting those with I-cell disease, and selecting a healthy embryo to implant in Ruba's womb.

Saqib is not enthusiastic about this, Ruba says.

I thought the first time, when Hassan was diagnosed, that I couldn't do this - but I've done it three times

"He just says that whatever Allah is going to give us is meant to be - if we're destined to have a child like this then we can have it in any circumstances," she says.

For her part, Ruba would like to try IVF - but the length of the waiting list is a drawback.

"I want it to happen quickly. If you wait for something for a long time then it's more tempting to try naturally," she says.

Her husband has been to appointments with her but it's hard for him to take time off from the bakery where he works and he doesn't speak much English.

"He sits there not knowing what they're saying," she says. "He isn't keen, but says it's up to me."

Ruba says she cannot predict what will happen, but is concerned about what any naturally conceived child may have to endure.

"I thought the first time, when Hassan was diagnosed, that I couldn't do this, but I've done it three times so I'm not sure," she says. "But it isn't fair for the child to go through so much pain."

The couple's experiences have led others in the family, including Ruba's brother, to reject cousin marriage.

"We never use to think about the risks - up to my children we've never thought it was wrong to marry in the family, but because I've been through it my other relatives do think twice about going in the family," Ruba says.

"Ten years ago I just accepted what my parents said, but now our cousins have been given a choice and they're saying no to that. Our younger generation have been given a choice and if they don't like it they can speak up about it."

As well as losing three children, Ruba has also suffered six miscarriages, the last just weeks after Inara's death. She hadn't realised she was pregnant at the time, but miscarried after the funeral, when Inara was buried alongside her brother and sister.

She is sustained by her religion.

"God only burdens a person with how much they can take. Sometimes I think people are so lucky, they don't have to try hard and they get a healthy child, but sometimes those children bring trouble when grow up and so those tests placed on them are different," Ruba says.

"In this life I'm the unluckiest person, but in the next life I will be the luckiest because they were innocent children. And those children help you in the next life, because you will be with them."

You may also be interested in:

Elle Wright lost her son Teddy soon after he was born and wants to challenge the idea that a person can only be considered a parent if they have a living child.

ruby Posted on December 14, 2018 14:00

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Guatemala girl, 7, dies in US custody 'of dehydration, shock'

Washington Post reports the child died of dehydration and shock after being arrested by Border Patrol agents.

A seven-year-old girl has died after being taken into custody by the US Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed on Thursday. 

The girl, from Guatemala, died of dehydration and shock eight hours after she was taken into custody, the Washington Post reported.

On December 6, the child and her father had been held by immigration authorities in the US state of New Mexico as part of a group of 163 people who approached US agents to turn themselves in, the newspaper reported.

Early on December 7, the girl was found to have a 41-degree-Celsius fever and was taken by helicopter to El Paso hospital in Texas where she died, according to the report.

A statement by a DHS spokesperson said: "an accompanied female juvenile detainee began having seizures."

The names of the girl and her father were not released. The agency, which typically provides food and water to migrants in its custody, is investigating the incident to ensure whether appropriate policies were followed, the Post said.

The death of the child is expected to intensify scrutiny over the conditions endured by those held at Border Patrol stations and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities under the administration of Donald Trump, who has made toughening immigration policies a central tenet of his presidency and has pledged to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

"This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions," Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said in a statement.

"Lack of accountability and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths," she added. "In 2016, migrant deaths increased even as the number of border crossings dramatically decreased."

Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter that the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection, will appear in front of the panel next week.

"We will be demanding immediate answers to this tragedy," Nadler said.

Trump has sought to sow fear over thousands of migrants and refugees who have recently arrived at the border as part of an exodus, initially dubbed the Central American caravan. More than 6,000 people are currently waiting in Tijuana, northwestern Mexico, to file for asylum in the US.

Rights groups estimate many will have to wait up to two months before being allowed in the United States to submit their claims.

Many of the refugees and migrants have told Al Jazeera they are fleeing violence, poverty and political persecution.

Trump has sent more than 5,000 troops to the border to offer logistic support to border patrol agents. The Department of Defence approved a plan to extend the deployment of about 4,000 active-duty troops through January.

"When the Trump administration pushed for the militarisation of the border, including more border wall construction, they are driving people fleeing violence into the deadliest desert regions," said ACLU's Pompa, calling for a "rigorous investigation" into the girl's death and "serious reforms to prevent future deaths".

"The fact that it took a week for this to come to light shows the need for transparency for CBP."

This summer, the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which resulted in separating children arriving at the border with their parents, caused a national outcry. The policy was mostly reversed.

sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 13:10

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How to spot and treat a heart attack

A heart attack is the death of a segment of heart muscle caused by a loss of blood supply. The blood is usually cut off when an artery supplying the heart muscle is blocked by a blood clot.

If some of the heart muscle dies, a person experiences chest pain and electrical instability of the heart muscle tissue.

This MNT Knowledge Center will cover information about how and why heart attacks occur, how they are treated, and how to prevent them.

Fast facts on heart attacks:

  • During a heart attack, the heart muscle loses blood supply and is damaged.
  • Chest discomfort and pain are common symptoms.
  • The risk of a heart attack increases when a man is over 45 and a woman is over 55.
  • Smoking and obesity are big factors, particularly in the at-risk age range.


Heart attacks are a serious form of heart disease, with many different causes.

There are clear symptoms of a heart attack that require immediate medical attention.

A feeling of pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing, or aching in the chest or arms that spreads to the neck, jaw, or back can be a sign that a person is having a heart attack.

The following are other possible signs and symptoms of a heart attack occurring:

  • coughing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • crushing chest pain
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath called dyspnea
  • face seeming gray in color
  • a feeling of terror that life is ending
  • feeling awful, generally
  • restlessness
  • feeling clammy and sweaty
  • shortness of breath

Changing position does not alleviate the pain of a heart attack. The pain a person feels is normally constant, although it may sometimes come and go.

Warning signs

As heart attacks can be fatal, it is vital to recognize the warning signs that an attack is occurring.

While the symptoms listed above are all linked to heart attacks, there are four warning signs listed by the American Heart Association (AHA) as being crucial signs of an attack. These include:

  • discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the chest that lasts several minutes or resolves then returns
  • pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, back, stomach, or jaw
  • sudden shortness of breath

Other signs can include a cold sweat, a sick or nauseous feeling, or being lightheaded.

When a person has these symptoms, the emergency services should be called immediately.


There are two types of complications that can happen following heart attack. The first occurs pretty much straightaway and the second happens later on.

Immediate complications

  • Arrhythmias: the heart beats irregularly, either too fast or too slowly.
  • Cardiogenic shock: a person's blood pressure drops suddenly and the heart cannot supply enough blood for the body to work adequately.
  • Hypoxemia: levels of oxygen in the blood become too low.
  • Pulmonary edema: fluid accumulates in and around the lungs.
  • DVT or deep vein thrombosis: the deep veins of the legs and pelvis develop blood clots that either block or interrupt the flow of blood in the vein.
  • Myocardial rupture: the heart attack damages the wall of the heart, meaning an increased risk of a heart wall rupture.
  • Ventricular aneurysm: a heart chamber, known as a ventricle, forms a bulge.

Complications that can occur later

  • Aneurysm: scar tissue builds up on the damaged heart wall, leading to blood clots, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Angina: not enough oxygen reaches the heart, causing chest pain.
  • Congestive heart failure: the heart can only beat very weakly, leaving a person feeling exhausted and breathless.
  • Edema: fluid accumulates in the ankles and legs, causing them to swell.
  • Loss of erectile function: erectile dysfunction is generally caused by a vascular problem. However, it can also be the result of depression.
  • Loss of libido: a loss of sexual drive can happen, especially in the case of men.
  • Pericarditis: the lining of the heart becomes inflamed, causing serious chest pain.

It is important that a doctor monitors a person for several months after they have had a heart attack to check for any of these complications that may occur.



The quicker someone is treated when having a heart attack, the greater the chances of success. These days, most heart attacks can be dealt with effectively.

However, it is crucial to remember that a person's survival depends largely on how quickly they reach the hospital.

Treatments during a heart attack

Sometimes, a person who is having a heart attack will stop breathing. In this case, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, should be started immediately. This process involves:

  • manual chest compressions
  • a defibrillator

Treatments following a heart attack

Defibrillator panels can be effective during a heart attack.

Most people will need several kinds of medications or treatments after a heart attack. The aim of these measures is to prevent future heart attacks occurring. They may include:

  • aspirin and other antiplatelets
  • beta blockers
  • ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors
  • statins
  • angioplasty
  • CABG or coronary artery bypass graft


A heart attack is a medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart becomes blocked, often as the result of a blood clot.

Other terms used for a heart attack include myocardial infarction, cardiac infarction, and coronary thrombosis. An infarction is when the blood supply to an area is cut off, and the tissue in that area dies.

A heart attack is often confused for a cardiac arrest. While they are both medical emergencies, a heart attack is the blockage of an artery leading to the heart, and a cardiac arrest involves the heart stopping the pumping of blood around the body. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.


The best way of preventing a heart attack is to have a healthy lifestyle. Measures for healthy living include the following:

  • not smoking
  • eating a balanced, healthful diet
  • getting plenty of exercise
  • getting plenty of good quality sleep
  • keeping diabetes under control
  • keeping alcohol intake down
  • maintaining blood cholesterol at optimum levels
  • keeping blood pressure at a safe level
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • avoiding stress where possible
  • learning how to manage stress

It may be helpful for people to learn more about the warning signs of a heart attack, as well.



Any doctor, nurse, or healthcare professional will send someone straight to hospital if they suspect they may be having a heart attack. Once there, several tests may be done, including:

  • ECG or electrocardiograph
  • cardiac enzyme tests
  • chest X-ray


Recovering from a heart attack can be a gradual process. It depends on the severity of the heart attack and other factors, such as a person's age.

A person's recovery may involve:

  • Resuming physical activity: it is vital that a recovering heart attack patient stays active. However, a specialist should design any exercise program for them.
  • Returning to work: the appropriate time for someone to go back to work depends on various factors, including the severity of the heart attack and the type of job they do. It is vital not to rush back to work.
  • A period of depression: many people who have had a heart attack experience depression not long afterward. Those who feel depressed or anxious should tell their doctors.
  • Driving again: experts advise that a person refrains from driving for at least 4 weeks after a heart attack.
  • Erectile dysfunction: approximately one-third of men have problems getting or sustaining an erection after a heart attack.

It is important that men with erectile dysfunction talk to their doctors, as medication can restore function in most cases.

Experts say that sexual activity does not raise a person's risk of having another heart attack.


The following factors are associated with increased risk of a heart attack:

  • Age: Heart attacks are more likely when a man is over 45, and when a woman is over 55.
  • Angina: This causes chest pain due to lack of oxygen or blood supply to the heart.
  • High cholesterol levels: These can increase the chance of blood clots in the arteries.
  • Diabetes: This can increase heart attack risk.
  • Diet: For example, consuming large quantities of saturated fats can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
  • Genetics: A person can inherit a higher risk of heart attack.
  • Heart surgery: This can lead to a heart attack later on.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure can put unnecessary strain on the heart.
  • Obesity: Being significantly overweight can put pressure on the heart.
  • Previous heart attack.
  • Smoking: Smokers are at much higher risk than non-smokers.
  • HIV: People who are HIV-positive have a 50 percent higher risk.
  • Work stress: Those who are shift workers or have stressful jobs can face a higher heart attack risk.

Physical inactivity is a factor in heart attack risk, and the more active people are, the lower their risk of having a heart attack.

sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 09:30

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Red meat raises heart disease risk through gut bacteria

Scientists have uncovered further evidence of how a diet rich in red meat interacts with gut bacteria to raise the risk of heart disease.

A diet rich in red meat may affect heart disease risk by triggering the production of certain metabolites in the gut.

They found that people who ate red meat as their main source of protein for 1 month had levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) that were two to three times higher than those in people who got their protein primarily from white meat or non-meat sources.

Gut bacteria produce TMAO as a byproduct when they feed on certain nutrients during digestion.

Previous studies have implicated high circulating levels of TMAO in the development of artery-blocking plaques and raised risk of heart-related conditions.

In the recent research, scientists at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio uncovered two mechanisms through which a diet rich in red meat raises TMAO levels.

It appears that not only does frequent consumption of red meat enhance gut bacteria production of TMAO, but it also reduces elimination of the compound through the kidneys.

The European Heart Journal has published a report on the study and its findings.

"This is the first study of our knowledge," says senior study author Dr. Stanley L. Hazen, who chairs the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine in the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, "to show that the kidneys can change how effectively they expel different compounds depending on the diet that one eats — other than salts and water."

TMAO as a predictor of heart disease risk

In previous work, Dr. Hazen and his team had found that TMAO alters blood platelets to raise the risk of thrombosis, or blood clots.

Their work revealed that TMAO modifies calcium signaling in blood platelets. In addition, it showed that platelets respond differently to blood-clotting triggers when blood levels of TMAO are high.

The team proposed that the compound could be a powerful predictor of the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death — even when cholesterol and blood pressure levels are healthy.

Others have since replicated the findings and, like Dr. Hazen and his team, have continued to investigate TMAO and its impact on health.

Research from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, for example, demonstrated that people with acute heart failure fared worse if they had higher circulating levels of TMAO.

Clinical trials are also underway to test TMAO as a predictive marker of heart disease risk.

Red meat diet compared with other diets

The recent study assigned 113 individuals to follow three tightly controlled diets in a random order for 4 weeks each with a "washout diet" preceding the changeover.

The diets differed according to their main source of protein. In the red meat diet, 12 percent of the daily calories came from lean red meat in the form of pork or beef, while in the white meat diet, these calories came from lean white poultry meat.

Red meat diet compared with other diets

The recent study assigned 113 individuals to follow three tightly controlled diets in a random order for 4 weeks each with a "washout diet" preceding the changeover.

The diets differed according to their main source of protein. In the red meat diet, 12 percent of the daily calories came from lean red meat in the form of pork or beef, while in the white meat diet, these calories came from lean white poultry meat.

In the non-meat diet, 12 percent of the daily calorie intake came from "legumes, nuts, grains, [and] isoflavone-free soy products."

In all three diets, protein accounted for 25 percent of the daily calories, and the remaining 13 percent of this protein came from "eggs, dairy, and vegetable sources."

After 4 weeks on the red meat diet, "the majority of" the individuals had raised levels of TMAO in their blood and urine.

On average, compared with levels during the white meat and non-meat diets, blood levels of TMAO during the red meat diet were up to three times higher. For some individuals, the levels were 10 times higher. Urine samples revealed a similar pattern.

Reduced kidney efficiency

The study also yielded an unexpected result. While on the red meat diet, the study participants' kidneys were less efficient at expelling TMAO.

However, in the 4 weeks after ceasing the red meat diet, their blood and urine levels of TMAO fell.

Dr. Hazen says that the findings show that people can reduce their risk of heart-related problems by changing what they eat.

Gut production of TMAO was lower and kidney elimination was higher when the individuals followed the white meat or non-meat protein diet.

This suggests, says Dr. Hazen, that these types of diet are more healthful for the heart and body.

"We know lifestyle factors are critical for cardiovascular health, and these findings build upon our previous research on TMAO's link with heart disease."

sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 09:25

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Panic attack and panic disorder: What you need to know

A panic attack happens because of heightened anxiety. Anyone can have a panic attack, but it is also a hallmark symptom of panic disorder. It can lead to a rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, sweating, shaking, and other symptoms.

In people who do not have an anxiety disorder, a panic attack can happen if an event triggers anxiety.

A panic attack and panic disorder can affect anyone of any ethnic background, but it is more common among women than men.


Panic can lead to lightheadedness.

A panic attack often stems from a direct trigger or incident, but they can also begin suddenly and randomly with no obvious cause. They are believed to come from an evolutionary response to danger.

Having a panic attack is said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences in a person's life.

The American Psychological Association (APA), notes that an attack may only last for 15 seconds, but symptoms can to continue for about 30 minutes or longer, and sometimes for hours.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack involves at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Chills or feeling unusually hot
  • Derealization, or feeling detached
  • Dizziness and feeling lightheaded
  • Experiencing a strong, sudden fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or feeling as if a person is "going crazy"
  • Feelings of choking
  • Heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, or rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and stomach upset
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Trouble breathing, feeling as if a person is smothering

Panic attacks can also be associated with agoraphobia, a fear of places from which the individual considers to be dangerous, or difficult to escape from. People who have experienced a panic attack often say after that they felt trapped.

Sometimes the symptoms associated with a panic attack can mirror other medical conditions. Examples of these include lung disorders, heart conditions, or thyroid problems.

Sometimes a person may seek emergency medical attention for a heart attack, yet anxiety is the true cause. Panic attacks are highly treatable and don't mean that a person is a hypochondriac or mentally ill.

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is an underlying medical condition, and panic attacks are a symptoms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 6 million Americans have a panic disorder.

Women are most likely to experience the condition and it most commonly occurs when a person in early adulthood, from ages 18 to 25 years.

The condition occurs when a person has experienced multiple panic attacks and also lives in fear of having another panic attack. While everyone can experience a panic attack in their lifetime, those with a panic disorder experience recurrent attacks.

The fear they may experience another attack can cause them to withdraw from friends and family. They may fear going outside or in public places. A panic disorder can severely affect a person's quality of life and should be treated.


Experts say that anxiety and panic, to a certain extent, are a necessary part of our survival. However, when levels become so high that they undermine regular thought processes, a person naturally becomes afraid.

When the brain receives a surge of nervous signals designed to warn of imminent danger, the amygdala, a part of the brain, is activated. The amygdala controls a person's anxious response.

Some people's amygdala reacts with anxiety when there is no imminent danger, making it much more likely that they will experience high anxiety and panic attacks.

When a person is given the signal to react with anxiety, they produce adrenaline, also known as epinephrine.

Adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands. Some people call adrenaline the "fright or flight" hormone. A release of adrenaline into the system can raise the heartbeat, cause sweating, churn the stomach, and provoke irregular breathing. These are all characteristics of a panic attack.

If there is no imminent danger and the system is loaded with adrenaline, that hormone will not be used up for running away. The buildup can cause a panic attack.

A number of risk factors can increase the likelihood a person will have panic attacks and panic disorder.

Genetics may play a role. If a person has a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with panic disorder, they may be more likely to have a panic attack.

In addition to family history, experiencing major stress or life change can trigger increased anxiety and panic attacks.

Examples include a recent loss of a loved one or separation of marriage. Having a history of physical or sexual abuse may also increase a person's likelihood of having a panic disorder.

Habits such as smoking or drinking excessive amounts of caffeine are also risk factors associated with panic disorder. Use of drugs?

Panic attacks can also occur alongside conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sometimes, however, there appears to be no particular incident or family history to trigger an attack. They can occur without warning.



The APA publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The manual lists criteria to help a doctor diagnose mental health disorders, such as depression or panic disorder, and it aims to provide a standard for diagnosis across the country.

Frequent and sudden panic can be a sign of a panic attack.

The criteria for diagnosing a panic disorder include:

  • Experiencing frequent and unexpected panic attacks
  • Having at least one month of ongoing fear of having a panic attack and its accompanying symptoms, such as losing control. A person may significantly change his or her behavior for fear of having a panic attack in public
  • Having panic attacks that are not attributable to taking certain medicines or having another mental health disorder, such as social phobia

A person who has these symptoms is likely to have a panic disorder.


The most common treatments for panic disorder are medications and psychotherapy sessions.

Known as "talk therapy," psychotherapy involves talking with a licensed mental health professional to identify potential triggers of a panic attack in with the aim of overcoming fears.

Medications may also help to correct imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain that can lead to severe anxiety.

Examples include:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as hydrochloride (Effexor XR)

Sometimes one medication will work for one person with anxiety disorder, but not another. A person should always discuss potential benefits and side effects.

A doctor may also prescribe medicines known as beta blockers, which keep a person's heart rate from becoming too rapid and contributing to further anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).


In addition to these medical treatments for panic disorder, some lifestyle changes can help a person make to reduce the incidence of panic attacks and panic disorder.

Examples include:

  • Avoiding substances known to contribute to panic disorders, including caffeine, smoking, or using recreational drugs
  • Getting enough sleep every night
  • Joining a support group for those who experience regular panic attacks
  • Taking steps to reduce stress in one's life, such as practicing yoga, engaging in deep breathing, or engaging in regular physical activity


If left untreated, a panic disorder can begin to impact many aspects of a person's life.

Complications can include:

  • Abusing alcohol or other substances as a way to "escape" the concerns of daily life
  • Developing phobias, such as agoraphobia
  • Experiencing financial problems
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
  • Refraining from social situations
  • Requiring frequent medical care due to health concerns

Seeking medical treatment for panic disorder can help to prevent these complications.

Written by Rachel Nall RN, BSN, CCRN

sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 09:16

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New brain circuit that controls anxiety found

A previously unknown brain mechanism that regulates anxiety has come to light. It allows a gene-altering protein to enter the nucleus of brain cells.

New research uncovers a brain mechanism that controls anxiety.

The protein goes by the name of methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2), and scientists have linked it to anxiety behaviors.

The recent research could lead to new treatments for anxiety disorders that have fewer side effects, according to the team that carried it out at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

A paper on the study features in the journal Cell Reports.

"Current drugs for anxiety," says senior study author Mike Fainzilber, who is a professor in the biomolecular sciences department at the Weizmann Institute, "are limited in their efficacy or have undesirable side effects, which also limit their usefulness."

He suggests that the findings could help to overcome these drawbacks.

Anxiety and MeCP2

Most people experience anxiety now and again as part of everyday life. Anxiety disorders, however, are conditions in which the feelings of fear and uncertainty become overwhelming and do not go away. They typically last for 6 months or more.

The National Institutes of Health estimate that anxiety disorders affect around 1 in 5 people in the United States each year.

Having an anxiety disorder can also raise the risk of other illnesses such as heart diseasediabetes, and depression.

The study authors note that the gene MECP2 "is known to affect anxiety behaviors."

Scientists have linked changes to MECP2 to a number of conditions. These include Rett syndrome and MeCP2 duplication syndrome, both of which feature anxiety among their symptoms.

All cells contain MeCP2, but the protein is "particularly abundant in brain cells."

The protein regulates many genes that "play a role in normal brain function," and particularly those that help to maintain synapses, or the connections between brain cells.

Transport into the cell nucleus

The researchers became particularly interested in how MeCP2 enters the nerve cell nucleus, which contains the cell's genes.

They turned their attention to a family of transporter proteins called importins, which Prof. Fainzilber's laboratory has been investigating for more than 20 years.

For most of that time, he and his team have focused on the role of importins in nerve cells of the peripheral nervous system.

However, after first study author Dr. Nicolas Panayotis joined the group in 2012, they shifted their attention to cells of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.

Using genetically engineered mice, they identified importin alpha-5 as the transporter protein that helps MeCP2 to enter the brain cell nucleus.

In a series of behavioral experiments, they then saw that mice lacking importin alpha-5 did not display anxiety under stress compared to normal littermates or those lacking other importins.

Drugs to target the mechanism already exist

Further investigation revealed that without importin alpha-5, MeCP2 could not enter the nucleus of brain cells that control anxiety.

This had a knock-on effect on an enzyme that produces the signaling molecule S1P. It was the reduction in S1P signaling that brought down the anxiety.

In the final part of the study, the team searched for molecules that might target the mechanism.

They found that there are already some drugs in use that alter S1P signaling. One of these is fingolimod, which doctors prescribe for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

When the researchers treated unmodified mice with fingolimod, the animals displayed fewer anxiety behaviors, at a level similar to that of the modified mice that lacked importin alpha-5.

The finding could explain why a clinical trial of fingolimod for the treatment of multiple sclerosis reported that the drug appeared to have a "calming effect on patients."

Prof. Fainzilber says that they have now identified a number of candidate drugs that target the mechanism that they identified.

"Our findings have opened up a new direction for research into the mechanisms of anxiety."

sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 09:11

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How our body clocks can make or break our health

As our lifestyles become increasingly demanding, we build our lives around artificially divided days and nights that accommodate the need to work night shifts, stay up all night, or travel between continents. But this impacts our natural body clocks, with unwanted consequences.

New research homes in on how disruptions to our circadian rhythm make us vulnerable to disease.

If we tamper with our circadian rhythms — set by the body clocks that regulate all the automated processes that take place inside the body — we tamper with our health.

Our body clocks control metabolism, contributing to the proper functioning of every organ in our bodies.

However, if we regularly bypass our natural day to night cycles — by working through the night, traveling long-distance, or spending too much time looking at bright screens in the dark — our body clocks become disoriented and stop functioning correctly.

New research from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, and Nagoya University in Japan identifies a key mechanism that links the dysregulation of circadian rhythms with a greater exposure to chronic diseases.

"Epidemiological studies are consistently revealing more and more connections between modern lifestyles and our internal biological clock, and when those two clash, it can lead to development of diseases such as obesity and breast cancer," notes study author Steve Kay, Provost Professor of Neurology, Biomedical Engineering and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California.

However, he adds, "This study goes beyond the epidemiology to explore the mechanisms of circadian disruption as a risk factor for certain diseases."

The new study, which appears in PNAS, has identified a protein that plays a dual role in the context of the circadian rhythm, and which explains how disrupted body clocks can lead to disease.

Disrupting a delicate balance

Kay and colleagues focused on HNF4A, a protein found in cell nuclei, which previous research suggested is involved in the early development of the liver, kidney, and large intestine.

When the researchers analyzed liver and colon cells taken from mouse and human tissue, they found that HNF4A interacts with the circadian clocks of these cells in complex ways. More specifically, HNF4A can block two other proteins — CLOCK and BMAL1 — that help regulate circadian rhythms in mammals.

"Inside the cell, the cogs of the clock are universal, but the hands of the clock are specific to each organ, so how the clock does its work in each cell is different," explains Kay.

"So, in the liver, we looked at tissue-specific proteins and found that HNF4A is tied to the circadian clock, is regulated by the clock and cycles with the clock and, in turn, regulates the clock. That's the new finding here, and it's a big jump forward."

Steve Kay

As the study's first author, Meng Qu, also explains, "Mutations in [the] HNF4A gene are known to contribute to a rare hereditary form of diabetes called MODY1, and its expression dysregulation has been closely linked to liver cancer, both with mechanisms we don't fully understand."

"Our discovery suggests the clock disruption could be a potential mechanism and provides a bridge between circadian regulation and development of disease," she adds.

Modern lifestyles often demand that we live by irregular rhythms, and the researchers warn that this can contribute to the disruption of sensitive mechanisms, including the ones in which proteins, such as HNF4A are involved.

"Humans are not evolved for night shifts, nighttime lights, and intercontinental travel. Modern-life challenges to our circadian system present a long-term threat to our health," says Kay.

Discoveries such as the one highlighted in the current study can offer us a more detailed picture of how disrupted body clocks can affect health outcomes.

"Now we can see how HNF4A is a new chapter in a book that was mostly blank pages, so there's a story beginning there as we fill in a huge blank spot," Kay encourages.


sarah Posted on December 14, 2018 09:06

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EU gives doner kebabs a health grilling

Another week, another EU food scare. Is the future of the humble and hugely popular doner kebab now in question?

Recent headlines are not comforting for fans of the spicy, grilled Turkish meat.

"Is the doner a goner?" and "For pitta's sake" helped fuel an anxious debate, while Germany's Bild daily screamed "It could be the end of the doner!"

It's all because of a vote in the European Parliament next week. MEPs will debate whether to tighten controls over phosphate additives widely used in the meat following health warnings.

But it's not all bad news for this fast food favourite.

What's all the fuss about in the EU?

Technically phosphate additives are already banned from doner kebabs, but they are commonly used in the frozen meat and the EU rule isn't enforced.

The EU Commission wants to allow use of the additives and to regulate them - as happens already with some other processed meats, such as speciality sausages.

But a resolution put forward by the Socialist and Green groups threatens to block that move.

If it is successful, doner kebabs are likely to face tighter scrutiny.

What is the concern about phosphate additives?

There have been health warnings about a high intake of phosphate additives posing a possible risk, especially to people with cardiovascular problems and chronic kidney disease. The additives, identified by various E numbers on packaging labels, are also common in sausages and some other processed meats.

Christel Schaldemose, a Danish Socialist MEP, co-authored the resolution to block the Commission's plans. She told the BBC that "we fear the health effects" and "we don't have enough market surveillance" to control the use of phosphates.

The EU's European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) is now studying phosphate additives as a priority and plans to issue a scientific opinion on the risks before the end of next year.

"We're not saying we would ban doner meat forever, but let's wait until the Efsa review," Ms Schaldemose said.

Efsa says there is a need to establish whether the health risk comes mainly from phosphate additives or from a general accumulation of phosphates in the diet.

A scientific paper published by a German medical website, Deutsches Aerzteblatt, says naturally occurring phosphates in food - in meat, potatoes and bread, for example - "cannot be restricted without incurring the risk of lowering protein intake".

Only 40-60% of natural phosphates are absorbed by the body, but the absorption rate for phosphate additives is much higher, the study says.

"Phosphate additives in food are a matter of concern, and their potential impact on health may well have been underappreciated," it warns.

Processed meat can contain nearly 70% more phosphate than fresh meat.

Why use the additives?

Phosphate additives help to bind the meat, acting as a sort of glue. So when it's on a spit it doesn't fall apart.

That means the meat - usually lamb - should also cook through more evenly.

Phosphates can also act as acidic preservatives for meat, fish, cheese and soft drinks.

It is widely believed that they also help water retention in meat, keeping it juicy.

But Halil Ahmet, a director at Veli's Kebabs in Burton-on-Trent, said water retention was actually a bad idea.

"More water turns the meat into rubber, and the more phosphates you put in the more rubbery it gets," he told the BBC.

"We use a tiny level of phosphate - one gram per ten kilograms."

What does this all mean for kebab shops?

Nobody is threatening to ban doner kebabs, but the way the meat is produced may have to change.

Germany produces about 80% of doner meat consumed in the EU and about 110,000 German jobs depend on it.

Renate Sommer, a German MEP in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat (CDU) party, attacked the parliament resolution as "ridiculous" on Facebook (in German).

According to her, a typical EU citizen consumes as much phosphate from doner kebabs in one year as from drinking 1.5 litres (2.6 pints) of Coca-Cola.

She says kebab sellers have no alternative to phosphates for binding doner meat effectively.

But Mr Ahmet said he would like to see better checks by national food inspectors to make sure all kebab meat was up to standard.

"The checks are not adequate at all - we've complained to trading standards about other producers not conforming.

"They say 'we'll look into it', but they don't have enough inspectors."

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 17:55

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High-speed train crashes in Turkey, killing 9 By Isil Sariyuce and Ben Westcott, CNN Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT) December 13, 2018 Multiple dead in Turkish high-speed train crash

(CNN)A high-speed train crashed Thursday in the Turkish capital of Ankara, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens more, according to the city's governor.

At a press conference at the site of the crash, the governor, Vasip Sahin, said 46 people had been hurt in the crash, which took place at around 6.30 a.m. local time.


Marsandiz Station


"Our hope is the number of dead does not increase, but our units are working," Sahin said. "Once their work is complete, we will be able to share more information."

The train collided head-on with a maintenance vehicle in Ankara's Marsandiz station, causing part of a bridge to collapse onto two carriages, state news agency Anadolu said.

Rescue workers search through wreckage after a high-speed train crash Thursday in Ankara, Turkey.

Two of those injured were in a critical condition, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told the agency, adding no more wounded were at the crash site as of Thursday afternoon.

Video from the scene earlier Thursday showed rescuers combing through piles of warped metal while injured people were evacuated from the wreckage.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said three people had been detained in connection with the crash, and a criminal investigation launched.

"Those who are responsible will be brought forward," Erdogan said, "and whatever is necessary will be done."

Rescuers evacuate injured passengers after the high-speed train crash Thursday.

According to Anadolu, 206 passengers were on the train at the time of the crash. Three of the dead were train conductors, while the other six were passengers.

CNN Turk said the crash took place four minutes after the train left the station.

One witness told CNN he was on his way home from work when he saw the crash. "There were many injured people waiting to be rescued," Yasin Duvar said, adding he had helped a number of victims escape from the mangled train.

Members of rescue services work at the crash scene Thursday in Ankara.

The train was en route between Ankara and Konya when it crashed, Anadolu said.

The US Embassy in Ankara expressed its "deepest condolences" to the victims of the crash.

"We share the great sorrow and wish quick recovery to the many injured," the embassy's official Twitter account said.

Luke Posted on December 13, 2018 15:40

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Everything you need to know about pineapple

Pineapple is a tropical fruit available in any grocery store and a staple in many homes around the world.Christopher Columbus brought pineapples back to Europe after an expedition to South America. Pineapples became known as an extravagant and exotic fruit, served only at the most lavish of banquets.

However, pineapples are now common, and people are able to enjoy them in solid, dried, and juice forms.

In Central and South America, pineapple is not only valued for its sweet taste, it has been used for centuries to treat digestion problems and inflammation.

This article explores the health benefits and nutrition of pineapple, as well as providing ways to include it in the diet.


One cup of fresh pineapple chunks contains approximately:

  • 82 calories
  • 0.2 grams (g) of fat
  • 0 g of cholesterol
  • 2 milligrams (mg) of sodium
  • 21.65 g of total carbohydrate (including 16 grams of sugar and 2.3 grams of fiber)
  • 0.89 g of protein

As a percentage of your daily requirements, the same amount of fresh pineapple chunks provides:

  • 131 percent of vitamin C
  • 2 percent of vitamin A
  • 2 percent of calcium
  • 3 percent of iron

Pineapple is also a source of important vitamins and minerals, including:

Fresh pineapple is the only known source of an enzyme called bromelain, which might play a role in a range of different health benefits.


Eating fruits and vegetables of all types has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like pineapples decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease.

It also promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and an overall lower weight.

The following are possible benefits of eating pineapple.

Age-related macular degeneration

In one prospective study from 2004, people who ate 3 or more servings per day of all fruits demonstrated a decreased risk and slowed progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Asthma prevention

The risks of developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients.

One of these nutrients is beta-carotene. It is found in orange, yellow and dark green plant foods, such as pineapple, mangoespapaya, apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and carrots.

Some smaller studies have suggested bromelain can also contribute to reducing asthma symptoms.

Blood pressure

Increasing potassium intake by consuming high potassium fruits and vegetables can help with lowering blood pressure. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), fewer than 2 percent of U.S. adults meet the daily 4,700-mg recommendation.

A high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.


As an excellent source of vitamin C, a strong antioxidant, pineapples can help combat the formation of free radicals. These are linked to the development of cancer.

Older studies have shown beta-carotene to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in a Japanese population.

A 2004 case-control study linked beta-carotene to a protective effect on prostate cancer.

However, more recent studies have demonstrated that this may not be the case.

High fiber intake from all fruits and vegetables is associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.


Individuals with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets tend to have lower blood glucose levels, and individuals with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulinlevels.

One medium pineapple provides about 13 g of fiber.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21 to 25 g per day for women and between 30 and 38 g per day for men.


Pineapples, because of their fiber and water content, help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.

Pineapples are also rich in bromelain, an enzyme that helps the body digest proteins. Bromelain also reduces inflammatory immune cells, called cytokines, that damage the digestive tract lining.

The inedible stems are the most concentrated source of bromelain, which can be extracted and is readily available in supplement form.


Antioxidant-rich diets have been shown to improve fertility. Because free radicals can damage the reproductive system, foods with high antioxidant activity like pineapples are recommended for those trying to conceive.

The antioxidants in pineapple, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, and the vitamins and minerals copper, zinc, and folate have properties that affect both male and female fertility.

Healing and Inflammation

Some studies have shown that bromelain, primarily in the stem, can reduce swelling, bruising, healing time, and pain associated with injury and surgical intervention.

Heart health

The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C content in pineapple all promote heart health.

In one study, people who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium per day reduced the risk of death from ischemic heart disease 49 percent when compared with those who consumed less potassium.

Researchers link high potassium intakes to a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density, and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.


The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form or applied topically, can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture.

Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of the skin.


Select a pineapple with a firm, plump body, without bruising, or soft spots and with green leaves at the crown.

A green outer shell does not mean the pineapple is not ripe and, contrary to popular belief, neither does the ease in which the leaves pull from the crown.

Pick pineapples at their peak ripeness. Unlike other fruits, they will not continue to ripen once picked.

Whole pineapples should be stored at room temperature, while cut pineapples should be stored in the refrigerator.

When eating canned or packaged pineapple, make sure to pick up the varieties canned in pineapple juice, not heavy syrup.

Here are a few preparation tips for including more pineapple in the diet:

  • Add pineapple to your favorite kebabs. Try shrimp, chicken, or steak kebabs with red onions, pineapple, and cherry tomatoes.
  • Make a fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and grapes. Top with unsweetened shredded coconut for a fresh twist.
  • Add some pineapple slices to your salad at lunch or dinner. Compliment the pineapple with walnuts or pecans, a crumbled cheese, and light balsamic or citrus vinaigrette dressing.
  • Make your own juice. Nothing tastes better than fresh fruit juice in the morning. When you make your own, you can be sure there are no added preservatives or sweeteners.
  • Make a fresh salsa with pineapple, mango, jalapeño, red peppers, and chipotle pepper and use as a topper for your favorite fish tacos.

There is an excellent selection of pineapple products available for purchase online, with thousands of customer reviews.

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 15:14

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