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Ian Naude: Cheshire PC jailed for raping 13-year-old girl

A police officer who only joined the force "to gain the keys to a sweetshop" has been jailed for raping a girl.

Cheshire Constabulary PC Ian Naude, 30, met the 13-year-old after being called to her house over a domestic incident.

He contacted her over social media and eventually raped her in his car, while filming it on his mobile phone.

The "committed paedophile" was found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court of raping the teenager and jailed for 25 years.

Naude, of Market Drayton in Shropshire, was also convicted of four charges of attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offence and one charge of arranging a child sex offence, relating to five complainants aged between 12 and 15.

The father-of-one, originally from South Africa, previously admitted 31 offences including charges related to grooming underage girls via a fake Facebook and Snapchat profile.

Sentencing him, Judge Clement Goldstone QC said his rape victim had been just three weeks past her 13th birthday.

"In order to impose your will on a young girl and to commit offences of rape and sexual assault against her, you used and abused your position as a Cheshire Police officer, thereby enabling you to satisfy your lust and perversion," he added.

He said Naude was "out of control" with an "insatiable appetite" for young girls and described a selfie he took after raping his victim as showing his "smug self satisfaction and total lack of shame".

During his two-week trial, Naude denied rape and sexual assault as he claimed the sex with the girl was consensual and that she "seemed to be enjoying it".

Prosecutor Owen Edwards described Naude as a "committed paedophile" and said he joined the police "with the intention of exploiting the access he would gain to vulnerable young girls".

"In essence, he was hoping to gain the keys to a sweet shop," he added.

Naude met the girl after he was called to her house over an incident in October last year, the court heard.

After looking her up on Facebook and exchanging sexual messages and photos, he returned to her home three days later to pick her up while her mother was out.

He then drove her to a country lane where he attacked her.

In a statement read in court, the girl's mother said the victim would no longer leave the house without close family and friends and that she will no longer walk past the local police station and hides when a police car goes past.

Other parents said their daughters had gone on to self-harm after being groomed online by Naude, who would blackmail and threaten his victims, persuade them to send pictures of themselves undressed, tell them to call him "daddy" and send them videos of himself masturbating.

Naude also pleaded guilty to 31 other offences, including inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, misconduct in a public office and possessing 1,443 indecent images of children, including pictures of girls aged as young as 18 months.

The court heard he would gain the trust of the young girls by posing on social media as a 15-year-old boy called Jake Green.

It has since emerged that Naude, who previously served in Afghanistan as a machine gunner with the Royal Irish Regiment, was already being investigated for sex offences when he became a student officer in April last year.

Cheshire Constabulary said his appointment was delayed from January 2017 to April that year because he was alleged to have raped a woman in Staffordshire.

No further action was taken in the case and Naude was allowed to join - but reports of child grooming in Staffordshire and West Mercia which named him as a suspect in January and February 2017 were not picked up by Cheshire Police until after his arrest in November that year.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 15:02

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How to Recover From Pain After Delivery

While we congratulate you on new motherhood, we understand that giving birth is not an easy feat, whether done naturally or via caesarean. Recovering from pregnancy pain can take days, and in some cases, months. The contractions women notice after delivery take at least 2-3 days to subside. This is more pronounced in the case of women who already have experienced a pregnancy. Your hormones will also be fluctuating, making it more difficult to think clearly. Take your new routine slowly, and get someone to help you with your laundry or prepare meals for your family while you attend to your newest family member. Avoid using stairs and doing strenuous activities for some time. It is advisable to give your body some much-needed rest to recover from delivery.

Why Does Your Body Pain After Delivery?

Being a new mother has its challenges. Every day is filled with stress, new experiences, and lots of worrying. Body aches are very common after delivery. Though they make your daily tasks stressful with the baby, body aches are not serious concerns that need a medical intervention immediately. Here are some of the reasons why the body aches after delivery:

1. Hormonal Changes

After delivery, the muscles and ligaments which had gotten relaxed will start to get back into their position. This causes a lot of body pain and aches.

2. Weight Gain

You tend to gain weight along with the growing weight of your child during pregnancy. This causes joint pain, especially in the knees.

3. Arthritis

Certain pregnant women can suddenly experience pain in their joints due to arthritis post delivery.

4. Pain in the Tailbone

If you had some injury to the joints or any pain in the tailbone, you are likely to develop more aches in the joints and tailbone post your delivery.

5. Lack of exercise

If you do not exercise during pregnancy, or you are not in a position to exercise due to any previous history of injuries, you are likely to develop pains in the joints after your delivery.

6. New Routine

Frequent feeding sessions interfere with your sleeping patterns and are a major reason for feeling fatigue. This results in body pain after pregnancy.

Post Pregnancy Aches and Their Solutions

It can be very frustrating to know that all the headaches, body stiffness and aches that you had felt during your pregnancy are not going to go any time soon. It will still be a while before you feel connected with yourself. Let us look at some of these aches and suggest a solution to help you in your journey post-delivery:

1. Joint Pain after Delivery

The weight that you gained while carrying your baby causes joint pains. During pregnancy, the muscles and ligaments get relaxed to accommodate the increasing weight of the baby. After delivery, all these ligaments and muscles take some time to get back in their original position, and that results in aches.


You can undertake light exercises to keep your muscles relaxed. A hot water compress or an ice pack application can alleviate joint pain to some extent.

2. Body Pain

With the change in routine to accommodate your infant’s feeding needs, you are bound to get sleepless nights which can make you feel very tired.


A hot water bath works wonders on a tired body. Gift yourself a nice body massage to help you deal with body pain.

3. Backache

The most common ache post pregnancy is a backache. The weight that you carried during pregnancy has its effects on your back.


Massage your back with a relaxing oil and apply a hot compress or try to relax in a hot water bath for a few minutes daily.

4. Cramping of the Uterus

After your delivery, the uterus starts contracting which causes discomfort. This is a natural phenomenon since the uterus goes back to its original position.


A hot compress helps in giving temporary relief to the pain in the uterus. This is safe, and you can use it frequently.

5. Pain in the Tailbone

Your spine has to accommodate a lot of weight during pregnancy. This takes a heavy toll on the tailbone, and it becomes sore after delivery.


Try using a soft pillow or cushion when you are sitting. Avoid sitting on a hard surface. You can also try a sitz-bath. This is a process in which both your buttocks and hips are completely immersed in the water. They are known to alleviate pain due to haemorrhoids.

6. Persistent Headaches

The headaches that you experienced during your pregnancy are going to stay for some time. They are caused by changes in your hormonal levels, sleeping patterns and overall anxiety.


Try applying some pain relief balms to soothe yourself. Lavender oil is excellent for relaxing your body.

7. Arthritis

Some women with no prior history of arthritis can develop this pain post delivery.


You can try applying a hot compress or ice pack to the affected joints. If you experience severe pain, see your doctor and seek further treatment.

8. Haemorrhoids

These are caused due to the straining your muscles while pushing for your delivery. They cause discomfort while passing bowel and can cause both bleeding and pain.


Witch hazel is known to help get some relief from your haemorrhoids. It helps in controlling the itchiness that these haemorrhoids cause to your body and shrinks them down.

Tips to Manage Pain After Delivery

It must be really challenging for you now, with so many changes happening to your body and your routine. Although it is going to take you a while to recover from the pain after pregnancy, the tips we offer will make your new journey into motherhood less painful and more enjoyable:

1. Eating Healthy

A healthy diet plays a significant role in helping you recover from the pains and aches after delivery. Eat nutritious food and frequent, light meals. Dehydration is also known to cause a headache. Drink plenty of water, especially since you will be breastfeeding your baby.

2. Avoid Constipation by Eating Fibre

Haemorrhoids are very painful, and constipation increases the pain during bowel movement. Include plenty of fibre in your diet and drink lots of water. You can also use a stool softener.

3. Hot Bags or Ice Bags Application

Most of the time, pain in the body or the joints gets relieved with the application of hot bags or ice packs. Keep them handy and apply whenever you have time. They work amazingly well to relieve the built up stress in your muscles.

4. Relaxing Massage

Treat yourself to a relaxing massage every day. This helps in reducing your stress levels, and also provides the much-needed relaxation to your sore body.

Pains and body aches are natural after delivery. It will be a while before you feel like yourself again. It takes almost two-thirds of a year to deliver a baby – give your body time to recover from the delivery process. Resting is the key to faster postpartum recovery. A healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle go a long way in establishing a better recovery routine for yourself. Though the aches and pains are natural postpartum effects, it is wise to pay attention and listen to your body’s needs after delivery. If you notice any changes to your body like swelling or redness or a fever, seek help from your doctor immediately. Most of these pains and aches go away in a few weeks, but some may need further treatment from your practitioner. Enjoy motherhood, and take good care of yourself as well.

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 15:00

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Who was the 'Thai bride' dumped in the hills?

Moments after Richard Hill posed for this picture, he and his friends discovered a corpse lying in the mountain stream. More than 14 years later, police remain baffled as to the identity of the woman dumped in the Yorkshire Dales. But forensic advances have at last offered a clue, giving weight to a new theory about the final years of her life.

Stormy weather battered the five walkers as they set off from the quaint village of Horton in Ribblesdale for Yorkshire's famous Three Peaks.

After reaching the summit of the smallest, Pen-y-ghent, they were forced back to flat land by the wind and rain and took a detour along the Pennine Way.

The group decided to stop near a network of caves known as Sell Gill Holes - it was a natural break point and a chance to grab a bite and take a few pictures.

Minutes after they were taken, walker Peter Goodhew spotted the body of a half-naked woman in the stream, curled around the jagged grey rocks.

"We were having a look around, peering down the cave, and then I glanced to my left and at first I thought it was a mannequin.

"But as I got up closer it was the missing fingernails that struck me. I realised then it was a corpse."

"He shouted that there was a dead body," said his friend Mr Hill.

"It was so surreal. It really shook me to the core and once it had all sunk in, what had happened, the next day I cried."

Despite extensive inquiries, North Yorkshire Police has so far failed to answer the two most important questions: who is this woman and how did she die?

Examination of her body put her height at 4ft 11ins (149 cm) and her weight at about 10 stone (63kg).

She was believed to be aged somewhere between 25 and 35; her hair was shoulder length, and dark brown.

Pertinently, she was believed to be of south-east Asian origin. But this could only be narrowed down so far - she could have been from Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam or Indonesia.

But no-one ever came forward to identify the woman, who those in Horton in Ribblesdale would come to call the Lady of the Hills.

Saddened by the lack of interest in her, the parish council organised her funeral, which more than 40 people attended.

She is buried in a plot in the village graveyard.

"It's an incredibly sad story. Everyone in the village was so upset at the thought of this young lady just being left all by herself," said Sheila Millman, who was council chairman at the time.

"We felt a responsibility for her, like she belonged to us and we wanted to make sure she had a final resting place should her family ever get traced."

Inquiries by police were met with repeated dead ends.

Pathologists concluded she had been dead for between one and three weeks but there were no obvious signs of major trauma, such as being shot or bludgeoned, and they could not determine how she had died.

Decomposition of her organs meant doctors could also not say she died of a natural cause, such as by heart attack or stroke, but the lack of insect infestation suggested she had not been outside for long - perhaps only a few days.

Crucially, detectives favoured an explanation for her death that ruled out anything suspicious.

The fact she was found wearing only socks, a pair of green Marks & Spencer jeans, and a bra with broken hooks hanging off her left arm, suggested she might have become lost and died of hypothermia - the lack of clothes explained by a case of paradoxical undressing, where someone freezing to death might strip off under the illusion they are burning up.

A trawl of missing person databases, inquiries with foreign embassies, and anthropology and orthodontic tests failed to come up with any leads about her identity.

The case was eventually passed to the cold case team, which took a fresh look in 2016 - and came up with rather different conclusions from the original investigating team.

It began to consider the line of inquiry that the woman may have been a "Thai bride-type", according to lead investigator, retired Det Ch Insp Adam Harland.

"The term Thai bride does not necessarily mean the woman comes from Thailand but that she is a lady who has taken up a relationship with a white gentleman and has come back to live in the UK in the late 1990s or early 2000s," he explained.

"The fact that no-one has reported her missing suggests the relationship has broken down and her disappearance was because she's 'gone back home'.

"In this case, her partner had a natural excuse to explain her absence and for that reason I think, for now, he's got away with it."

Mr Harland and his team believe the woman had been living in a rural community in north Lancashire or south Cumbria and was murdered by her partner, then dumped outdoors. The stream where she was found is a mile from the main road and several from the nearest town of Settle.

Tellingly, she wore a band on her wedding ring finger which, because of its high percentage of gold, was traced to Bangkok.

According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2004 there were 3,000 people in Cumbria and Lancashire who were born in a south-east Asian country.

Investigators made use of a unique database that produces profiles of killers based on previous murder cases.

It shows that most bodies are carried no more than 50m (164ft) from a vehicle and that most drivers dumping a corpse travel no further than between 50 and 80 miles (80 to 130km).

The location of her body was off a rocky track only accessible by a 4x4, suggesting the killer may have lived in a rural location.

However, she was probably dumped in a more secluded spot and only became visible due to the heavy rain.

"That part of the Yorkshire Dales has its own microclimate," said fellow investigator and former detective, Max Jowett.

"We managed to track down a fell runner, who every morning would take a reading of the water level.

"When he gave us the charts it showed that there had been a massive spike in rainfall the 24 hours before she was found - enough to move a body."

Mr Harland maintains the killer was familiar with the area.

"If you came across this location by chance you'd maybe think about disposing the body in the cave," he said.

"But someone who knows this place would know that there's a metal grille at the bottom of the cave and that it's regularly visited by walkers.

"The likelihood is that she's been dead at home, they've needed to get rid of her quickly and they've brought her up here, over the hump and put her out of sight."

The newest and most compelling evidence has come from advances in forensic science.

Stable isotope analysis was not available to the original inquiry team, but has determined where the woman spent the last two years of her life.

It involves examining the levels of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen - found in soils or drinking water - in samples of the hair, teeth or bones, which can provide information about where a person lived.

The tests on the woman's bones and teeth confirmed she grew up in south-east Asia, but a cutting of her hair showed isotopes found in only a few places in Britain - including in south Cumbria and the northern tip of Lancashire.

"We do not find the needle in the haystack but we reduce the haystack to a manageable size," said Prof Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, who carried out the tests.

"We provide investigators with information to enable them to focus their efforts on a few select regions, thus increasing the chances of getting a match on, for example dental records, or next-of-kin DNA."

Cases such as these are not so much about solving the crime by "that lightning bolt moment" but by building a theory based on the most likely explanation and probabilities, said Mr Harland.

"Often you're peering down the telescope the wrong way and wondering why everything looks so small," he added.

"Once we find out who this lady is and the last person associated with her, I imagine they'll have a fair bit of explaining to do.

"We don't have many unsolved cases. This is not an easy one to solve, but it is solvable."

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 14:30

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'If the factory closes what could I afford to eat?'

Sao Run is worried that if the clothing factory where she works closes down she won't be able to feed herself and her son.

A 34-year-old widow, she has spent almost 13 years making coats and jackets at a facility on the outskirts of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.

With overtime she can earn up to $250 (£200) a month, but the future of the workshop and others like it in the country is now uncertain due to a continuing political dispute between the European Union (EU) and Cambodia.

Cambodia's garments manufacturing sector has boomed in recent years, in no small part due to the EU granting the country's exports tariff-free access to Europe, starting back in 2012.

This has led to around 200 international fashion brands now using more than 600 factories in the country, lured by both the country's low wages, and the fact they don't have to pay any duties when exporting the EU.

However, back at at the start of October the EU warned that Cambodia's tariff-free access to the European single market could come to an end if the government did not improve political freedom and human rights in the country.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the EU was launching a six-month review of the situation in Cambodia, and that unless Phnom Penh showed "clear and demonstrable improvements, this would lead to suspension of trade preferences" within 12 months.

Her comments were a response to what both the EU and US see as increasingly autocratic behaviour by the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.

Back in July his Cambodian People's Party won all 125 seats in parliament,helped by the fact that the main opposition party - the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - was officially shut down by the country's Supreme Court back in November 2017.

The court ruling was based on a complaint by Hun Sen's government that the CNRP was conspiring with the US to overthrow it, something it denied.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, says that the EU's threat has "heightened concerns" that international fashion firms could take their manufacturing business to other countries.

This would be a major concern for Cambodia when you consider the numbers involved. Mr Loo says that the industry employs more than 700,000 people, 85% of whom are women.

Meanwhile, official EU figures show that Cambodian clothing exports to Europe reached €3.8bn ($4.3bn; £3.4bn) in 2017. That is 44% of all Cambodia's $9.6bn exports last year.

No wonder then that there are fears over the possibility of significant factory closures and job losses, not only if the EU does end Cambodia's tariff-free status, but simply as a result of the threat.

George McLeod, an economic and political risk analyst based in Bangkok, says that Western clothing firms could easily switch production to Bangladesh, Vietnam or Indonesia.

For Sao Run, who has a three-year-old son to support, this is now a real concern. "The local union in our factory told us that the factory could close if the [EU] taxes are high," she says.

"For me, if the factory closes, what could I afford to eat?"

Global Trade

Another clothing industry factory work, Yon Chansy, 24, says that she found out about the EU's threat via Facebook, and that she is also now worried she may lose her job.

"I could consider migrating to Thailand if the situation in our country is very bad," she says.

For its part, the Cambodian government may now be prepared to compromise, but whether it does enough remains to be seen.

Last week the country's parliament (in which the government holds all the seats) said it would review a ban on more than 100 members of the opposition CNRP, but no timetable was given. Nor was there any indication of whether fresh elections would be held, or if the leader of the CNRP would be released from house arrest.

Meanwhile the government has been downplaying the importance of the EU market. Ministry of Industry and Handicraft spokesperson Oum Sotha told the BBC that "the market of Cambodia does not solely depend on Europe, we have a lot of markets."

Sebastian Strangio, journalist and author of a book called "Hun Sen's Cambodia", says the Cambodian government faces a real dilemma over the EU issue.

"The problem is that the 'clear and demonstrable improvements' the EU is demanding would, almost by definition, weaken Hun Sen's hold on power," he says.

"This he will never accept. It is therefore hard to see how the two sides will find common ground. Any concessions the Cambodian government makes will fall short of meaningful democratic reforms.

"Whether or not the EU will accept something cosmetic remains to be seen."

A source at the European Commission says the announcement that the ban on the Cambodian opposition might be lifted was "a first positive step".

"However, this needs to produce concrete and substantial results to alleviate the EU serious concerns... the implementation of this announcement and concrete changes on the ground would be among deciding factors," she added.

Tieng Ratana, a mother-of-three who works at a clothing factory to the west of Phnom Penh, says she hopes that the Cambodian government will think of people like her.

"We work very hard, so I really want our leaders to think about the workers first," she says.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 13:43

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Leopard kills Indian Buddhist monk meditating in forest

A monk meditating in a forest in the Indian state of Maharashtra has died in a leopard attack, officials say.

Rahul Walke had been "meditating under a tree" in the Tadoba forest, which is a protected tiger reserve, officials told PTI news agency.

Walke had been attached to a Buddhist temple which is inside the forest, but he had walked to a spot quite far away from it to meditate.

Forest officials said they had warned the monks against going too far inside.

"I would like to tell everyone not to go inside the forest," GP Narawane, a forest official, told BBC Marathi.

However, there are now plans to capture the leopard. "We have set up two cages and a camera trap, and we will try to tranquilise the animal," Mr Narawane said.

State government officials have said they will give Mr Walke's family 1.2m rupees ($16,762; £13,280).

A monk belonging to the same temple told BBC Marathi that he had seen the animal attacking Mr Walke when he visited his meditation spot to give him food on Wednesday morning.

He said he went away to seek help but by the time he returned with others, Mr Walke was dead.

The Tadoba reserve is home to an estimated 88 tigers. It is also home to a large variety of other animals, including leopards, sloth bears, hyenas and honey badgers.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 13:32

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'Death sentence': butterfly sanctuary to be bulldozed for Trump's border wall

More than 200 species make their homes at America’s most diverse sanctuary, but construction through the reserve could begin in February

On any given day at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, visitors can to see more than 60 varieties of butterflies. In the spring and fall, monarchs and other species can blanket the center’s 100 acres of subtropical bushlands that extend from the visitor center to to the banks of the Rio Grande river, where their property, and US sovereignty, end.

“It’s like something from Fantasia,” said the center’s director, Marianna Wright. “When you walk you have to cover your mouth so you don’t suck in a butterfly.”

Today the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the country, and other protected areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley along the US-Mexico border, are under threat. Last week, the US supreme court issued a ruling allowing the Trump administration to waive 28 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, and begin construction on 33 new miles of border wall in the heart of the valley – and right through the butterfly center.

“Environmental tourism contributes more than $450m to Hidalgo and Starr counties,” said Wright, referring to the adjacent counties in the valley. “Many of the properties people choose to visit to see birds, butterflies and threatened and endangered species are all going to be behind the border wall. For us, the economic impact is potentially catastrophic.”

“Walls have fragmented our habitat,” said Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderland team. The various patches of land that provide refuge for these animals will become “less viable, with less and less places for them to go”.

A July letter sent from US Customs and Border Protection to a not-for-profit environmental group and seen by the Guardian describes the route and possible components of the project as including a 30ft-tall concrete and steel wall, roads, and a 150ft “enforcement zone” where all vegetation will be cleared.

With construction of the wall due to begin in February, people like Nicol fear that the barrier will not only destroy habitat and undermine ecotourism but also lead to an increasingly deadly border as undocumented immigrants are pushed further and further into marginal and dangerous areas.

“This is not just they will drive ocelots to extinction,” said Nicol, referring to the critically endangered wild cat found in the Rio Grande Valley. “Families trying to come into this country will be pushed into the desert to die.”

“Border walls are death sentences for wildlife and humans alike,” said Amanda Munro of the Southwest Environmental Center, an organization that works to restore and protect native wildlife and habitats. “They block wild animals from accessing the food, water, and mates they need to survive. They weaken genetic diversity, fragment habitat, and trap animals in deadly floods. At the same time, they drive desperate asylum-seekers to risk their lives in the unforgiving desert.”

For Donald Trump, the new section of the barrier is making good on a campaign promise to build a “big beautiful wall”. A barrier that will add to the nearly 700 miles of walls and fences that already exist on or near the border.

More than 200 species of resident or migrating butterflies make homes at the butterfly center over the course of the year, including the vibrant Mexican bluewing, the tiny vicroy’s ministreak and the black swallowtail, all three of which carpet the wild dill at the property with their eggs each spring. The center opened in 2003 and is the flagship project of the North American Butterfly Association.

“It’s going to cut right through here,” said Wright, showing where the wall will split the center’s property 1.2 miles from the border and cut off access to nearly 70% of its land.

Trump has expansive federal powers to construct the border wall on both private and public land. Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has had the power to waive numerous environmental laws in the name of national security.

And the federal government can, and has, used eminent domain law to acquire privately owned land for public use.

“We fully anticipate that they will seize the land by quick take,” said Wright, referring to a Depression-era provision of the eminent domain law that gives federal agencies the right to take property without compensation or adjudication. “Legal claims are not addressed or settled. You don’t get your day in court. You don’t get to negotiate appraisals or offers. Nothing,” said Wright.

On Tuesday, the president threatened to use defense spending if his plans to build the wall were challenged. “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall,” Trump said in a tweet.

For Wright, this threat could mean the end of the butterfly center and enormous harm to its dozens of butterfly species and the threatened Texas tortoise, Texas indigo snake, and Texas horned lizard that are also found there.

“It is truly a sight to behold,” said Wright, looking out from the bank of the Rio Grande river.

“They are violating our constitutionally protected rights, and that should terrify everyone,” she said. “Even if you don’t care about butterflies, you should care about this.”

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 13:29

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The India girl who took her dad to the police over a toilet

A seven-year-old Indian girl went to the police after her father broke his promise to build her a toilet.

Hanifa Zaara told the police in a letter that her father had "cheated" her and should therefore be arrested. She said that she was "ashamed" to defecate outside.

Many Indians do not have access to toilets and nearly 500 million defecate in the open, according to Unicef.

Even where toilets have been built, many do not use them.

Hanifa who lives with her parents in Ambur, a town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, has never had a toilet in her house.

She told BBC Tamil's Krithiika Kannan that a few people in her neighbourhood did have the facility. So she asked her father to build a toilet in their house too. She was in nursery at the time.

"I was ashamed to go outside and I felt bad when people looked at me," Hanifa said. And she was especially motivated after learning in school about the health problems caused by open defecation.

In her letter to the police, she wrote that her father told her he would build the toilet if she topped her class.

"I have been topping my class since nursery," she wrote. "I am in the second grade now. And he is still only saying he will do it. This is a form of cheating, so please arrest him." If not arrest, she added, she wanted the police to at least force him to provide her with a signed letter saying by when he would get her the toilet.

Her father, Ehsanullah, told BBC Tamil he had actually begun building the toilet, but did not have enough money to complete it. He is currently unemployed.

"I asked Hanifa to give me more time but she stopped talking to me because I couldn't keep my promise," he added.

But Hanifa is not sympathetic. "How long can I keep asking him for the same thing? He kept giving me the same excuse about not having enough money. So I went to the police."

On Monday, she went to the police station closest to her school, along with her mother, Mehareen.

"She came with a bag filled with trophies and merit certificates and she arranged them on my desk," police officer A Valarmathi told BBC Tamil. "And then she said, can you give me a toilet?"

Ms Valamarthi says she called Mr Ehsanullah, who rushed to the police station, worried that his wife and daughter were in danger. He says he was shocked to find out the reason he had been summoned.

After reading the detailed letter Hanifa had written, he said she seemed to have learned how to write official letters by watching him.

Mr Ehsanullah often helps villagers fill out paperwork and write letters to local officials and lawmakers.

"I never thought this would backfire against me!" he said.

Hanifa's efforts have won the sympathy and support of the police.

"Her complaint was very honest, so we tried to resolve the issue," officer Valamarthi said.

She alerted district officials who now plan to raise money to build more than 500 toilets in Hanifa's neighbourhood.

"We were very happy to see her complaint. We organise classes in schools to encourage children to ask their parents for toilets at home," city commissioner S Parthasarathy told BBC Tamil.

He said they also want to make her the local face of the national Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign).

The government has set a goal to provide every household with a toilet by 2019, but the work has faced some resistance.

A recent study found that 89% of rural Indians defecate in the open because they do not want to clean toilets or live close to one - an attitude which, researchers say, is "rooted in the social forces of caste and untouchability".

For centuries, the practice of cleaning human waste was a task performed by those from low-caste communities.

Hanifa said she was "very happy" with the result of her letter.

She hadn't been speaking to her father for the last 10 days but the police brokered peace between them: Hanifa and her father finally shook hands.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 13:20

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Feature: Death for sale, horrible conditions in slaughter facilities

Thick, dark and dense smoke from burning lorry tyres made its way into the atmosphere. My eyes became teary from the smoke-inundated environment while my nose ran and I coughed intermittently.

Thick, dark and dense smoke from burning lorry tyres made its way into the atmosphere. My eyes became teary from the smoke-inundated environment while my nose ran and I coughed intermittently.

An offensive odour emanated from pools of blood of slaughtered animals that had been left unattended to, leaving the facility with unbearable stench. Businesses of flies were virtually having a field day as they gloated on the meat and blood clots in the facility.

A number of bare-chested young men dragged slaughtered animals and meat from one point to the other, on the bare floor that had been contaminated with blood clots and other pollutants. I watched on as meat was thrown into the blazing fire prepared with lorry tyres.

This was the ugly sight that greeted me when I visited the slaughter slab at Turaku, a suburb of Ashaiman in the Greater Accra Region, on November 17, this year.

Located about three kilometres from Ashaiman, Turaku is one of the largest homes to hundreds of thousands of livestock that are transported from many parts of the country and neighbouring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso for sale.

The slaughter facility in the area serves as a major source of meat supply to consumers in the Greater Accra Region and other parts of the country.

It was the seventh of slaughter facilities that I had visited on my mission to shed the light on the conditions under which animals are slaughtered and the meat prepared for consumption.

This is how the beef, chevon and mutton that many savour as a delicacy is treated at most slaughter facilities

I had earlier visited slaughter facilities located in some parts of Accra, such as London Market at Jamestown, Kaneshie, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra Central, Mallam Atta and Avenor.

My visit to Turaku and the other slaughter facilities showed that the chain of activities that go on from the point of slaughtering the animals, to transportation, to retail outlets for the consuming public pose serious health risk to patrons.

For instance, after four successive visits to the London Market slaughter facility, it was observed that the butchers had very little regard to meat safety as they left it uncovered, allowing flies to gloat on.

The facility had been engulfed with filth as piles of solid and liquid waste had inundated it, while poor drainage systems also created more mess.

The insanitary and unhygienic conditions in the slaughter facilities that I visited in Accra only paint a bad picture about how widespread meat safety issues are across the country.

The personal hygiene of the young men who handled the meat in these facilities was a major concern. Even more, they had not been taken through any certification process to enable them to ply that trade.

Public Health Act

The condition under which meat is processed for consumption is in sharp contrast with the requirements of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851).

Per the act, a slaughterhouse shall have facilities such as a decent killing floor, a refrigerated storage room with a separate hanging room, and proper and adequate appliances for killing animals, cleaning and hanging of their carcasses.

Additionally, the act requires that adequate facilities are provided for heating water for removal of blood and offal, and for receiving the organs and fat, as well as adequate supply of pure water for flushing and general cleansing purposes.

Among other things, the act further demands that an approved sewage disposal system and method of waste disposal should be adopted to prevent a health hazard from arising.

It further mandates the Veterinary Services Department (VSD), the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the local assemblies to have oversight responsibility over the safety and health of animals, safety of meat and personal hygiene and environmental safety respectively.

The VSD has the mandate under Act 851 to inspect animals to ensure that they do not have zoonotic diseases that could affect human populations.

The FDA, among other roles, is to ensure that there is proper sanitation in the meat chain, including the proper cold storage regimes for meat and medical certificates to handlers of the meat. 


Health experts say that apart from death from food poisoning that could result from the consumption of unwholesome meat, consumers of such meat were also exposed to heart complications, harmful cholesterol, acnes and erectile dysfunction.

According to the Head of Public Health and Food Safety at the VSD, Dr Bashiru Boi Kikimoto, the practice of using lorry tyres to prepare meat in some slaughter facilities did not only pollute the environment because of the emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere, but also had dire health consequences for consumers of unwholesome meat.

He disclosed that out of the 4,198 diseases that affected human populations, 3,558 of them were zoonotic, including those that result from the eating of unwholesome meat from slaughter facilities.

“The fact is that we could order the closure of some of these facilities; but if we do so they will slaughter illegally somewhere and cause more trouble.

We are trying to send more of our men to the grounds to do inspection, but the challenge here is that we are handicapped in terms of personnel,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Head of Agro products and bio-safety at the FDA, Mr Roderick Dadey-Adjei, said the manner in which meat was transported from slaughter facilities to the market for sale posed serious health risk to the public.

“The Public Health Act requires that the meat should be transported in a chilled storage facility but most of the time, it is left bare for flies to hover over it and make it unwholesome.

“We still have slaughter facilities where lorry tyres are used for meat preparation instead of gas; but this practice is detrimental to health because of the toxic chemicals and other pollutants. In the name of food safety, it is important for conscious efforts to be made to improve these facilities,” he said.

Way forward

The Public Health Act puts the mandate on local assemblies to establish good slaughter facilities that have proper source of potable water, lighting system, sanitation infrastructure and good floors for slaughtering animals.

It is important for metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to collaborate with the private sector to put up and operate slaughter houses that will meet acceptable standards.

For instance, blood from animals can be processed into animal feed when there is properpublic private partnership (PPP), especially in the wake of the government’s industrialisation agenda.

The FDA, VSD and other regulatory bodies must collaborate to enforce standards at the facilities and also crack the whip on recalcitrant meat handlers whose activities make meat unwholesome.

Source: Timothy Ngnenbe

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 12:31

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Brazil shooting: Campinas cathedral gunman 'mentally ill'

Police investigating a deadly shooting in a cathedral in the Brazilian city of Campinas have identified the gunman.

Euler Fernando Grandolpho opened fire in the Metropolitan Cathedral after midday Mass on Tuesday.

Four people were killed and four more injured before the 49-year-old turned the gun on himself after being shot by police.

Officers said the systems analyst had no criminal record and "no motive except for his own madness".

While gun crime is common in Brazil, shootings of this nature and especially in a place of worship are not.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro described the shooting as "a barbaric crime" on Twitter and the mayor of Campinas has declared three days of official mourning.

Police said the tragedy could have been much worse if more people had been inside the cathedral at the time.

Midday Mass was under way when the man, who was later found to be armed with two weapons, walked in and sat down in a pew.

Eyewitnesses said that after the Mass finished, he turned around and shot the worshippers who had sat down behind him, one of whom died.

Pedro Rodrigues was inside the cathedral when it happened: "I saw a man get up and position himself in front of a couple and he fired at point blank range at that couple. Then, my reaction was to run out and various other people left running with me. The man continued shooting, there were a lot of shots."

Police rushed in from the square outside but the gunman managed to fire about 20 shots before he was himself hit by a bullet in the side. He then shot himself in the head in front of the altar.

The Campinas police chief said they had found no links between the gunman and his victims.

Military police had at first said that five people had been killed but later corrected the figure to four.

They were named as 39-year-old Sidnei Vitor Monteiro, 68-year-old José Eudes Gonzaga Ferreira, Cristofer Gonçalves dos Santos, 38, and Elpídio Alves Coutinho, 67.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 12:30

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Koranteng writes: How Isaac Dogboe paid the price for lack of focus

Boxing has over the years shown that it is no respecter of persons, and a lack of preparation will surely come back to haunt you.

Boxing has over the years shown that it is no respecter of persons, and a lack of preparation will surely come back to haunt you.

The most notable lesson of them all was when Buster Douglas shocked the world by knocking out Mike Tyson in a fight where the world was patiently awaiting the former’s knockout defeat. The image of Tyson sprawling on the canvas, completely dazed and unaware of his surroundings is still a big reminder that even the great can fall if they get too comfortable.

What should’ve been a happy ending to a glorious year – which saw Isaac Dogboe announce himself to the world by capturing the world title and retaining it in style at the first ask – turned into a sucker punch for the British-based boxer. The 25-year-old lost his WBO Super Bantamweight title to little known Mexican Emmanuel Navarette at the Maddison Square Garden. Dogboe was largely expected to dominate his Mexican opponent who was relatively new to the world stage, but the Ghanaian ended up being taught a boxing lesson, eventually losing by a unanimous decision, and ending his eight-month reign as world champion. 300w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto; display: block; clear: both; margin: auto auto 15px; float: none; opacity: 1; transition: all 0.4s ease-in-out 0s;">

Underestimating your opponent is disrespectful

First rule of boxing is never to underestimate your opponent.

We underrated him, I did not have the best of training camps ahead of the fight,” Dogboe said after the fight.

A shocking revelation by the young champion, considering the magnitude of the fight. A world title fight is a world title fight regardless of the opposition. Dogboe, in the weeks leading to the bout, was often seen paying more attention to calling out more established champions in the super bantamweight division in Danny Roman and Rey Vargas, so much so that if one wasn’t an ardent follower of boxing one would have had no idea he had a title defense to deal with.

Interviews leading up to the fight with Navarette were dominated by verbal jabs to Roman and Vargas, paying very little attention to Navarette. The sudden attention from the media especially the British media, who immediately embraced him as one of their own after his first title defense against Japan’s Hidenori Otake seemed to have fed his ego. It is the job of the press to hype and project possible mouthwatering bouts, but the sole duty of the boxer is to focus and prepare for what is in front of him. Don’t get it twisted, trash talking in boxing is very necessary. It has a way of unsettling your opponent’s psyche and puts you in an advantageous position. But one has to fulfill their end of the bargain by being prepared.

Dogboe was simply outboxed and outclassed by the Navarette. The Ghanaian didn’t have a sniff of his opponent throughout the fight. Dogboe, who usually looked very much in control of all his bouts, looked clueless and stunned by the level of knowledge his opponent had about him. He had never been outthought and outsmarted in this manner and his corner had no antidote to Navarette’s strategy.

Dogboe’s loss is painful and gut-wrenching, especially for Ghanaians who had waited eight years just to boast of a world champion, only to see the right taken away after just eight months. However no one should doubt Dogboe’s resolve to recapture the world title crown. If anyone has showcased and exhibited fight and grit throughout their career, it is him. The only problem now is how soon will he get another shot to make amends for his basic mistake.

By: Daniel Koranteng

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 12:27

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Lake Titicaca: Underwater museum brings hope to shores

Ever since Reddy Guaygua was a boy, he dreamt of discovering hidden ruins.

Born in Mapiri, 130km (80 miles) north of La Paz in Bolivia, he was the only person from his small town to study archaeology. "My goal was to work in the villages, visit their archaeological sites and work in them," he says.

Now, years later, his dream has become reality. Mr Guaygua is in charge of tourism and culture in the town of Tiquina.

Tiquina lies on the shore of Lake Titicaca, which covers more than 8,500 sq km (3,300 sq miles) and creates a natural border between Peru and Bolivia. It was just five minutes from here that the submerged remains of an ancient civilisation was found 10 years ago.

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Following information provided by local people, archaeologist Christophe Delaere of the Free University of Belgium located 24 submerged archaeological sites in the lake's waters.

The most important site is in Santiago de Ojjelaya, and it is here that the Bolivian government is planning to build an underwater museum to preserve both the submerged archaeological structures and those on the shore.

The project, estimated to cost $10m (£7.8m) by the time it is completed in 2020, is being financed by the Bolivian government with help from Unesco, and has the backing of the Belgian development co-operation agency.

The 9,360-sq-m building will have two parts, one located on the shore where pieces salvaged from the lake will be exhibited and another semi-submerged part which will allow visitors to see some of the underwater structures, dubbed "hidden city", through glass walls.

José Luis Paz, director of heritage at Bolivia's ministry of culture, says that visitors will be able to see two types of underwater ruins: "ones which correspond to human settlements, sites that are hugging the lake's shoreline, and others [which were] the sites of spiritual offerings".

Mr Paz says the human settlements were probably flooded years before the spiritual sites, which were located in strategic places inside the lake.

A team of Belgian and Bolivian experts and specialised archaeological divers has managed to locate thousands of items.

"We found more than 10,000 pieces like vessels, gold pieces, ceramic, and thanks to the investigations it was possible to determinate that they belong to Tiwanaku culture and pre-Inca civilisations," Bolivia's Culture and Tourism Minister Wilma Alanoca says.

As they are well preserved, the plan is to only raise a few and leave most of them underwater.

Tiwanaku culture:

  • Pre-Hispanic empire that dominated a large area of the southern Andes and beyond
  • Reached its greatest power between 500AD and 900AD
  • Built exceptional ceremonial and public architecture from stone

Some of the pieces are estimated to be 2,000 years old and others date back to a time when the Tiwanaku empire was one of the most important Andean civilisations.

For Mr Guaygua and the people living in the 13 municipalities on the shores of the lake, the project to build the underwater museum offers the potential for increased tourism and thereby more work.

Currently most locals make a living from fishing or agriculture, and Minister Alanoca thinks that the museum could be key in stopping people from leaving their communities to go and work in the cities.

Unesco experts estimate that the ruins found so far only represent a tiny part of the Tiwanaku empire.

Mr Guaygua and fellow residents hope the treasure in the lake - and the sites they still hope to discover - may translate into more riches on the shore.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 12:19

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In pictures: Ethiopians drum for unity

Drummers came out in force in Ethiopia to celebrate the diversity of the country's more than 100 million people.

The celebration, officially called the Nations and Nationalities Day, is supposed to highlight Ethiopia's more than 80 nationalities and ethnic groups.

Troupes from across the country came to the main stadium in the capital, Addis Ababa, in traditional dress playing their cultural instruments.

This man was part of a group from Tigray in the north, who came to the festivities with a traditional flute and horn, or "shambeko" and "trumba" as they are known in the Tigrinya language.

These women, wearing clothes known as "tilfi" in Trigrinya, were clapping and dancing to the rhythm.

The men from Afar came with their swords, known as "dile" in the Afarinya language, strapped to their waists and carrying sticks, or "gebahada".

Afar is a sparsely populated area in the north-east of the country.

This young man, also from Afar, shows off a hairstyle which is popular in the region.

Tensions between different ethnic or national groups have been on the rise in recent months, causing deaths and mass displacement.

But tensions were not visible during the parade. In fact, at different times the troupes adopted dance styles from other parts of the country.

Oromos make up Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. These women came from Arsi in Oromia, which is a large swathe of territory in the west and south of the country.

What they are wearing symbolises women's power, including the stick, or "siinque" in the Afaan Oromo language.

It is used is to call the community to offer protection, if women are being threatened.

These men came from central Oromia, the area that surrounds the capital, with their shields and spears.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is from Oromia, has tried to emphasise the unity of Ethiopia since coming to power in April.

There is an ongoing debate in the country about how to balance the importance of ethnicity while identifying as an Ethiopian.

Healing ethnic divisions is one of Mr Abiy's biggest challenges in the run up to elections in 2020.

People also came from Gambella in the west of the country, which borders South Sudan, and this young woman is from the Nuer ethnic group.

Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) is, as the name suggests, made up of many different groups, including the Kambata, represented by these drumming women.

These women came from the Somali region. The beads around their necks and waist help keep their traditional clothes, in green or orange, in place.

While the women sang the men from the Somali region, which is in the south-east, danced.

These women, from the Agew ethnic group, are from the Amhara region in the north-west of the country.

There are many other ethnic groups in the region, but collectively the Amharas are the second largest grouping in the country.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 11:26

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Tyneside council worker 'saves Christmas' for children

Council staff have come to the aid of a children's nursery that accidentally threw away all its nativity costumes.

Tynemouth Nursery only realised the outfits had been put out with the rubbish after the bins were emptied.

North Tyneside Council offered to search the tip but was defeated by "thousands of black bags", and staff offered to make new costumes instead.

Nursery manager Melanie Robertson said the authority "actually saved our Christmas".

"We thought they would just say to us 'that's tough, sorry', but they didn't," she said.

The 38 three and four-year-olds at the nursery in North Shields had spent months practising songs and carols, ready to perform them for a 100-strong audience of proud parents and grandparents.

Staff had washed and ironed their costumes before packing them in black bin bags.

When they realised what had happened they "were absolutely devastated", Ms Robertson said.

Alerted to the clothing crisis, council staff offered to search the tip.

But, unable to find the right bags among "many thousands", they called back to offer to make new costumes instead.

Liz Devlin, who works in the authority's contact centre, arrived with "a car full of material", Ms Robertson said.

"She spent a whole weekend making a Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the kings, the angel," she said.

"I was just so emotional I couldn't stop crying."

Without the costumes "it wouldn't have been the same at all", Ms Robertson said.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 11:04

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6 Gross Things That Happen If You Don't Wash Your Bra Often Enough

We all have our own weird routines that allow us to go as long as possible without doing laundry. There's only so far we can take it, though, before our clothes start to turn on us and demand to be cleaned. And that includes the undergarments we wear on a regular basis, which are more sensitive than we give them credit for. Yes, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but our bras need to be washed more often than you might think.


Even though our bras might get washed less frequently than our shirts, the truth is that the closer something is to your body, the more frequently you should be cleaning it. This basic instruction comes from a professional, Mary Begovic Johnson, senior scientific communications manager of Procter & Gamble, who told Buzzfeed that you really shouldn't be wearing the same bra more than three to five times in a row. Another way to put it is that you should aim to toss your bras in the washer at least once a week.

This isn't one of those mom-like suggestions you toss aside because, well, she's a little paranoid and nobody has ever died from eating standing up. No; there are some actual, real-life consequences that come from failing to wash your bra. Whether it's acne or disagreeable scents, you don't want to wait around to witness what a dirty brassiere has to offer.

Here are six gross things that can happen if you don't wash your bra often enough.

1. Nasty Things Will Accumulate On Your Bra

Bacteria, oil, dirt, lotion, microorganisms, yeast, fungi — these merely make up the tip of the iceberg (or nipple, as it were). The longer you refrain from washing your bra, the more these nasties assemble without your permission. New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner says these things generally aren't dangerous when they come into contact with your skin, but put them all together in one place, unsupervised and left to their own devices, where they'll transform into something ominous, as we'll see below.

2. Your Bra Will Start To Smell — And That Smell Might Rub Off On Your Other Clothes

I'm sure you've learned by now, being an adult and all, that things stink if they don't get washed often enough. Your bra is not exempt from this. It doesn't matter how many times you spritz a little perfume on it as you get dressed in the morning; there will come a time when it's so dirty that it smells like a gym locker room you've become immune to. And that faint smell could potentially rub off on your other clothes, meaning you could be walking around with a generally unpleasant scent. Your friends and coworkers deserve better. Toss that bra in the washing machine.

3. Your Bra Might Become Stained

Deodorant is your best friend — until it sits on your undergarment for several days in a row and leaves a yellowish-beige stain on your lacy bra, that is. Dirt and oil like to gather together too, resulting in sweat discolorations that will be tough to get out (I hear baking soda as a prewash treatment works wonders).

4. You Could Get An Acne Breakout

This is especially likely to happen if you're exercising in sports bras a lot. Sweaty undergarments are one of the most common causes of body acne, and if you've never had it, don't bring it upon yourself. Because bras are so tight and close to the skin, all the grimey bacteria that has built up over time can easily cause friction. Acne happens anywhere that sees a lot of rubbing and excess heat, so if you don't wash your bra enough, you may be hit with some bacne, as well as pimples along your rib cage and underboob area.


While you have a little more wiggle room with your everyday t-shirt bras, you can't really afford to slack off on washing your sports bras. Those sweaty numbers need to be properly cleaned every two or three uses, at least. That should reduce the likelihood of any red bumps rudely showing up without an invite.

5. You Might Get A Rash Or An Infection

WebMD names clothing as one of the top things in our lives that cause serious skin irritation. Sometimes it's because the garments don't fit properly, and sometimes it's because they're not washed often enough. Dr. Zeichner told Buzzfeed Life that it's very easy for bacteria and yeast to gather underneath your breasts, which is an area they find to be moist and cozy.

That yeast and bacteria might result in a pink patch where the skin becomes raw, leading to redness and irritation (which can be cured in a day or two), a rash, or an infection. An infection would probably send you to a doctor, where you may have to get prescription meds to zap the problem.

6. Your Nipples Might Begin To Chafe

I wouldn't wish chafed nipples on my worst enemies. It's an incredibly uncomfortable thing to endure, and one of the causes? You guessed it: unwashed bras. Boston-based dermatologist Robin Travers, M.D., told Fitness Magazine that the recipe for chafing disaster is a sweaty undergarment and dry skin. Even the smallest amount of moisture that gets trapped between dirty fabrics and delicate skin can turn your nipple area into a danger zone.

Your nipples definitely don't have the time or energy to deal with that nonsense. To keep your boobs happy — and your sanity intact — set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to cart your bras to a washing machine at least once a week. If you're in a pinch, hand wash them and leave them out to dry overnight. Because nothing gross ever came out of a clean brassiere. (Well, OK, maybe that one hookup you had with a clean bra on was pretty gross, but you know what I mean.)

Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.

sarah Posted on December 13, 2018 11:02

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Maria Butina: Russian gun activist held in US conspiracy case

Maria Butina loves guns, has ties to a top Russian banker and has been held in an American jail since July on suspicion of conspiring against the US government, at a time when relations with Moscow went into freefall.

She is expected to plead guilty on Thursday under a plea deal agreed with federal prosecutors.

When she was arrested in July, Ms Butina, 30, denied conspiring to act on the orders of a Russian official to build relations with two Americans and try to infiltrate US political groups including a "gun rights" organisation, assumed to be the National Rifle Association.

She was not accused of being a spy, nor was she accused of an earlier salacious allegation that she had offered sex in return for a job.

Her case has no connection with the Mueller inquiry into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 Trump election victory.

But Russia has smelled a rat.

Her arrest was revealed within hours of President Donald Trump's heavily criticised Helsinki summit with President Vladimir Putin. And Russia detected a political motive aimed at undermining the meeting.

President Putin spoke out this week, complaining that "our Butina" was facing jail and had nothing to hide.

"I asked all the heads of our secret services what was happening. No-one knows anything about her," he said.

Who is Maria Butina?

Born in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul in 1988, according to her Facebook page, she has enjoyed using weapons ever since she was a child, picking up a gun for the first time at the age of 10.

She went to the local Altai state university to study political and educational science, according to her Facebook page. She appears to have been politically engaged and active in the university debating society.

Ms Butina then set up a private furniture company, travelling widely abroad and remaining politically active with the youth wing of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. And yet she attracted praise from opposition leader Alexei Navalny who spoke of her as a "decent person".

Promoting gun rights was clearly a deep passion, as she founded a group called the Right to Bear Arms and called for the sale of short-barrelled firearms to civilians to be made legal.

This, she argued, was "one of the last wishes of Mikhail Kalashnikov", the inventor of the AK-47, and her movement attracted support nationwide. The Russian edition of GQ magazine wrote an admiring profile, complete with photos of her in high heels and Versace, with revolvers in her hands.

Her self-defence drive fell flat because of government opposition.

But her movement continued to grow and one of its members was Alexander Torshin, a member of the Russian senate and deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank.

In 2012 he became a life member of the National Rifle Association in the US. His ties with the NRA endured and Maria Butina became his "unpaid special assistant".

Mr Torshin was placed under US Treasury sanctions in April, and is being investigated by the FBI over allegations of funnelling money to the NRA to aid the Trump campaign.

Moving from Russia to US

Maria Butina began travelling to the US for NRA conventions, and in 2015 she attended a Trump campaign event in Las Vegas, asking the presidential candidate about his views on US sanctions in Russia.

By 2016 she had a student visa for a Master's at American University in Washington DC.

Her LinkedIn profile said she was focusing on "cyber policy, the Internet of Things, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology".

According to US court filings, she was living with a 56-year-old American. He has been identified as Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative political activist, whose role is expected to be part of Ms Butina's plea deal.

She attended a National Prayer Breakfast in 2017 in the US when President Trump gave a speech. "It is important to support Trump morally," she was quoted as saying in the Russian press.

Political expert Andrei Kolyadin used her as an interpreter at the event and told Interfax news agency she had been considering what she should do after graduation in May.

Whatever her plans, gun rights remained close to her heart and she kept several active social media accounts as well as a blog.

She never shied away from a public profile. In one piece on the Russian Snob website she said her dream was "to live in a prosperous, highly-developed country, leading in the world, and without migration".

In another interview in 2016 with the Russian-based Guns website, she said she hoped that the Russian government would allow her organisation "to work with young children in schools" - like the NRA in the US.

'No spy qualities'

Alexander Torshin made no comment on her arrest.

However, the FBI alleged he was her main point of contact in Russia and that the two shared a string of messages. Prosecutors argued her aim was to carry out a "covert influence" campaign for the Russian government.

Since her arrest she has been held at an adult detention centre in Alexandria, Virginia, and sometimes in solitary confinement, say her lawyers.

Under her plea deal, Maria Butina is expected to admit to one charge of conspiracy, and could escape further custody because of time served.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said in July she was an "ambitious young woman" and not an agent of the Russian Federation. At the time he was adamant there was no evidence against her.

Her father Valery has called the charges against her "psychopathy and a witch-hunt".

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 10:43

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Strasbourg shooting: Face to face with gunman

"He came out from the porch of a building armed with a pistol in his hand, his arm outstretched."

One eyewitness to the shooting in Strasbourg told French media she stumbled into the path of the gunman - and was lucky to survive.

Audrey was one of many people taking in the Christmas markets with some friends when the first shots rang out.

"He headed towards a gentleman walking in front of me and immediately fired a bullet at his head," she told Radio Monte Carlo (RMC).

"The man collapsed, and the guy opened fire again at someone else who fell to the ground too," she added.

Her two friends ran, screaming. Audrey was left standing face-to-face with the shooter, paralysed with fear.

"He turned around, I was facing him," she told the radio station. "He ran off and went under another porch."

"Why didn't he shoot at me? I don't know. I think I was extremely lucky. As everyone was screaming, he fled."

Another witness named Jonathan was working as a waiter when he heard the gunfire.

'We had to tell her that her husband had been shot'

"I thought it was our slate that had just fallen outside," he told Dernières Nouvelles D'Alsace. But then he discovered a man lying on the ground, bleeding.

He quickly retreated inside and barricaded the restaurant, telling all his customers to get down.

But then he discovered the injured man had not been alone - and had been waiting outside for his family.

"The wife, who was with her son in the restaurant, was in the bathroom - and when she came out, we had to tell her that her husband was shot," he told RMC.

"He was losing a lot of blood"

The 34-year-old resident had been walking nearby when the attack happened, and found a man in his 50s lying wounded on the ground outside an ice cream parlour.

He phoned his brother, a doctor, to ask how he could help.

Media captionPater Fritz describes hearing gunshots and attending to a victim of the Strasbourg shooting

"He explained to me that I had to compress the wound, but I could not find the bullet entry wound," said François. "He was losing a lot of blood."

A passing cyclist then stopped and told him she was a doctor and gave the man heart massage. He never saw the gunman, and the fate of the wounded man is not yet known.

He ran off past a local cinema, where people were "walking quietly down the street, who had not heard". He warned whoever he could.

Eyewitness Pater Fritz told the BBC about a similar experience.

He heard gunfire and found a person who had been shot, lying on a bridge. He said he tried to resuscitate him - but the man died.

"There are no ambulance services able to enter the area, apparently," he said, adding: "After 45 minutes we stopped the resuscitation [attempt], because a doctor told us on the phone that it was pointless."

In the nearby basketball stadium, sheltering residents broke into a rousing chorus of the national anthem in solidarity with the victims - something which was widely played on French television.

But one of the people there, Benedict, told RMC: "I was not able to sleep, I was too shocked, I had too many emotions," and the he went for a late-night walk later instead.

"Two snipers stood in my window"

Another Strasbourg resident was caught up in the drama when two police snipers took over her living room.

according to Dernières Nouvelles D'Alsace.

They told her "there was an exchange of fire with the shooter, and that he had taken refuge at number 5 rue d'Epinal, directly opposite my home".

"They set up in the living room and moved my couch. A crack marksman stood at the wide-open window, his foot planted on a chair," she said. A second sniper joined the first a little and for a brief moment the shutters opened on the opposite window, but quickly closed.

"They shouted out 'it's useless trying to hide'."

Police then bashed down the door at number 5 and checked the neighbouring buildings - but the suspect had slipped away.

ruby Posted on December 13, 2018 10:03

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Movies Starring Women Earn More Than Male-Led Films, Study Finds



“Trolls.” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” “Moana.” “Inside Out.” “Wonder Woman.” All were global box-office hits that had women in leading roles.

They were also part of a broader trend. According to findings from the Creative Artists Agency and shift7, a company started by the former United States chief technology officer Megan Smith, the top movies from 2014 to 2017 starring women earned more than male-led films, whether they were made for less than $10 million or for $100 million or more.

The research also found that films that passed the Bechdel test — which measures whether two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man — outperformed those that flunked it.

“The perception that it’s not good business to have female leads is not true,” said Christy Haubegger, a C.A.A. agent who was part of the research team. “They’re a marketing asset.”

Casting women in leading roles is still more the exception than the rule in Hollywood. Women accounted for about a quarter of sole protagonists in the top films of 2017, and they played roughly a third of major characters, according to research from San Diego State University.

The new report from C.A.A., a leading talent agency, is part of an effort to pressure Hollywood into putting more women and people of color onscreen and behind the scenes, with proponents arguing that greater diversity improves the bottom line. In 2017, the agency released a report indicating that movies with multiethnic casts performed better on opening weekends than those with more homogeneous casts. The new study was created in conjunction with a working group from Time’s Up, an organization fighting workplace sexual harassment; the working group aims to improve the portrayal of women onscreen.

The question now is whether the industry will take heed. The San Diego State University study also found that the number of female protagonists with speaking roles in top films dropped in 2017 from the previous year. The new statistics from C.A.A. suggests that the makers of those films might be hurting their earnings.

“A lot of times in our business there is a lot of bias disguising itself as knowledge,” Haubegger said.

The C.A.A. and shift7 report looked at the top films at the global box office each year from 2014 through 2017, using information from Gracenote, a data and technology provider owned by Nielsen. (The time frame was based on a database C.A.A. created for its diversity study.) “Lead actor” was determined by the performer listed first on Gracenote. This meant that both “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” were designated male-led films: Gracenote listed Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill as the leads for each, rather than Daisy Ridley. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was led by Megan Fox and “Trolls” by Anna Kendrick.

The analysis was based on 350 films with budgets listed on Gracenote. Of those, 105 were led by women and 245 by men. The data was further broken down by budget size, partly because the tentpole films made for more than $100 million are a key part of studio business and the study’s authors decided that they needed to be considered on their own. (In that category, there were 75 male-led films and 19 films starring women.) The other categories were films made for less than $10 million, $10 million to $30 million, $30 million to $50 million and $50 million to $100 million.

In each bracket, the average earnings for female-led films surpassed those of their male-led counterparts. The median value, or numerical middle, which is often considered more statistically significant because it reduces the impact of outliers, yielded the same results, with one exception: In the $30 million to $50 million category, the median take for male-led films was $104 million, and for women it was $102 million.

The study also drew information from, which had applied the test to 319 of the films analyzed in the C.A.A. report. Of those, 60 percent passed. The researchers found that no film between 2014 and 2017 earned $1 billion without passing the Bechdel test and that no film has made $1 billion without passing the test since 2012.

While women account for about half of movie tickets sold, Haubegger said she believed the greater success of films starring women and people of color can be attributed to a thirst for fresh storylines. “You’ve got superhero fans that haven’t seen innovation in superhero movies in 36 years,” she said.

Haubegger also said the perception that such films are risky means they face more studio scrutiny from the outset. “I think they’re less likely to take a bet on a turkey,” she said, “And the movie ends up punching at or above its weight class.”

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 17:41

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A Film’s Horrors Evoke a Dark Era in Chile’s Past

A still image from “La Casa Lobo” (The Wolf House), a stop-motion animated film by the Chilean artists Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña. Twelve shots were needed for each second of footage in the 73-minute film.CreditCreditUpstream Gallery, Amsterdam


In the stop-motion animated film “La Casa Lobo” (The Wolf House), a young woman emerges from the walls and melts into the floor, paintings cry, a tree grows in a living room and pigs transform into children.

The Chilean artists Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña created each image of their visually stunning and horrifying film using life-size models and sets that are in a constant state of evolution. To do so, they set up temporary studios within art gallery spaces and museums from Chile to Amsterdam, creating the film with art aficionados as their witnesses.

Now the finished work will receive another art-world screening at Art Basel Miami Beach, as Upstream Gallery from Amsterdam presents the work in the “Positions” section, with an exhibition entirely devoted to this single work by Mr. León and Mr. Cociña. A limited edition of six copies of the film are on offer, priced at 30,000 euros (about $34,000) each.

Mr. León and Mr. Cociña spent five years creating the 73-minute film, in art institutions such as Casa Maauad in Mexico City, the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Santiago and the Media Arts Biennial of Chile in Santiago de Chile, among other locations. They did this in part because they knew the filmmaking process would be lengthy — they needed 12 shots for each second of footage — so they didn’t want to create it all in solitude.

“The process of the filmmaking had a sculptural quality and a material quality, and we wanted to be able to show that to the public as well,” Mr. León said during a video interview with the two artists from their homes in Chile. Mr. León will be at Art Basel for the opening.

“We decided we shouldn’t make an illustration but make the real thing in the art space,” he continued. “Our studio is really organic, really changing every day, really dirty and sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful, and we like that. We would like our films to be like that, and our exhibitions.”

It is their first feature-length movie, although the duo have made many short animated films that explore similar visual and thematic territory, such as “Los Andes” and “Lucía,” since they began working together in 2007.

“La Casa Lobo” tells the story of Maria, a young woman who lives in a German colony in Chile, who has been threatened with 100 days of solitary confinement for not taking proper care of pigs on the farm. She runs off into the woods, where she is chased by a wolf, but finds a small, abandoned, dilapidated cottage. Inside, there are two pigs, whom she promises not to eat but to protect from the wolf.

Alone in the cottage, Maria begins to imagine things — to hallucinate or to dream — and the pigs transform into a boy and a girl, her children, whom she tries to raise with a sense of security despite the constant threat of the wolf outside the door. But the dream continues to evolve and shift into nightmarish territory, as their food runs out and the wolf draws nearer. The film has many fairy-tale elements, drawing especially on the Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel, and is both surrealistic and Dada-esque.

“La Casa Lobo” had its premiere at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, the Berlinale, where it won a prize, and has since traveled to film festivals around the world, winning best animated feature film at the Monterrey festival in Mexico, best Latin American film at the Quito Latin American Film Festival in Ecuador and the public prize and best cinematography at the international film festival in Valdivia, Chile.

“The film is rolling out now in the film world, and we felt it needed a great platform to introduce it to the art world for the first time,” said Nieck de Bruijn, one of the two owners of Upstream. “We felt Art Basel Miami Beach was the best place for its art world premiere, because it’s the top event in the art world, but it’s also a fair that is very connected to the Latin American world.”

The narrative was inspired in part, the artists said, by a true story that is probably better known in South America than in the United States. It begins in a German colony reminiscent of a traditional Bavarian settlement known as Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony, which a group of German émigrés set up in southern Chile after World War II. In 1961, a former Nazi corporal, Paul Schäfer, who had been charged with sexually abusing boys at a German orphanage, became the colony’s leader.

During his nearly 40-year rule, he turned it into a horror camp, where children were separated from their parents and sexually abused, and adults were drugged and made to work in slavelike conditions, under constant surveillance. The Chilean military dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was not only aware of the colony and its leader, but also used it as torture camp for dissidents and political detainees from 1973 onward, according to the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation report, an investigation of human rights abuses under the Pinochet government.

The story of the Dignity Colony was explored in the 2015 film “The Colony,” directed by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Florian Gallenberger and starring Emma Watson. The story, Mr. Cociña said, was already very familiar to Chileans, so the references in his film will be accessible without too much explanation.

“Basically the love for German culture is mixed with fascism and mixed with the history of colonization,” he said. The film explores, in a visceral way, how one thing can morph into another in very fluid process, turning a dark corner at any moment.

“The film is really inspired by some cases of people trying to escape the colony, who were arrested by police and brought back,” Mr. León said. “This very eccentric cult or religious sect became very powerful in Pinochet’s time. The reason why they became so successful is still sort of a mystery. It’s a national trauma that we need to talk about, and it’s still very current because we have a right-wing government in Chile today.”

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 17:34

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Nikki Haley says she leveraged Trump's outbursts to get things done at the U.N.

Nikki Haley, who is leaving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year, told NBC's "Today" that she got things done by using President Donald Trump's "unpredictable" nature to her advantage.

"He would ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I'd go back to the ambassadors and say: 'You know, he's pretty upset. I can't promise you what he's going to do or not, but I can tell you if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far,'" Haley said in an exclusive interview which aired Wednesday morning.

"I know all of it," she said in response to a question about the president's bombastic, sometimes false statements in public and on Twitter. "But I'm disciplined enough to know not to get into the drama."


At the United Nations, "I was trying to get the job done," she said. "And I got the job done by being truthful, but also by letting him be unpredictable and not showing our cards."

On one of the more delicate diplomatic issues on her watch, Haley said the United States must be careful in confronting Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Haley made it clear that she blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government for Khashoggi's death, even as the president has said repeatedly that the United States has reached no final conclusion about the prince's involvement.

"It was the Saudi government, and MBS is the head of the Saudi government," Haley said Tuesday, referring to the prince by his initials. "So they are all responsible, and they don't get a pass, not an individual, not the government — they don't get a pass."

At the same time, Haley stopped short of recommending giving Saudi Arabia anything more than stern talking-to, saying the Saudis were helping the United States defeat Houthi insurgents in Yemen, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and "Iranian proxies" around the world.

"We do have to work with them in that case," she said of the Saudis, adding: "I think we need to have a serious hard talk with the Saudis to let them know we won't condone this. We won't give you a pass. And don't do this again.

"And then I think that the administrations have to talk about where we go from here. What I can tell you that's so important is that the Saudis have been our partner in defeating and dealing with Iran. And that has been hugely important."

Haley said that, in general, she was aware that some people believe that she and Trump aren't always on the same page, but she said that's only because "our styles are very different."

"And, you know, I've always found that funny," she said. "But the truth at the end of the day is I may be harder on some things or I may be tougher in some ways, but I've never strayed from where the president was or never strayed from where his policy wants to go."

As for Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman whom Trump has said he will nominate to succeed Haley at the United Nations, Haley said that while "I want her to be successful," only time will tell whether her appointment was a good one.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee whom Haley endorsed for president in 2016, has questioned Nauert's qualifications for the sensitive post, asking whether she "has the detailed knowledge of foreign policy to be successful at the United Nations."

But Haley noted, "a lot of people said that about me."

"I think that we should give her the opportunity to prove to the American public what she can do," she said. "I think that she has been working at the State Department on multiple issues for a long time.

"You know, time will tell how this works out, but I can tell you I'm going to support and help in her transition and her ability to move forward and be successful," Haley said.

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 17:24

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Climate change: Arctic reindeer numbers crash by half

The population of wild reindeer, or caribou, in the Arctic has crashed by more than half in the last two decades.

A new report on the impact of climate change in the Arctic revealed that numbers fell from almost 5 million to around 2.1 million animals.

The report was released at the American Geophysical Research Union meeting.

It revealed how weather patterns and vegetation changes are making the Arctic tundra a much less hospitable place for reindeer.

Reindeer and caribou are the same species, but the vast, wild herds in northern Canada and Alaska are referred to as caribou.

It is these herds that are faring the worst, according to scientists monitoring their numbers. Some herds have shrunk by more than 90% - "such drastic declines that recovery isn't in sight", this Arctic Report Card stated.

Why is a warmer Arctic worse for reindeer?

There are multiple reasons.

Prof Howard Epstein, an environmental scientist from the University of Virginia, who was one of the many scientists involved in the research behind the Arctic Report Card, told BBC News that warming in the region showed no signs of abating.

"We see increased drought in some areas due to climate warming, and the warming itself leads to a change of vegetation."

The lichen that the caribou like to eat grows at the ground level. "Warming means other, taller vegetation is growing and the lichen are being out-competed," he told BBC News.

Another very big issue is the number of insects. "Warmer climates just mean more bugs in the Arctic," said Prof Epstein. "It's said that a nice day for people is a lousy day for caribou.

"If it's warm and not very windy, the insects are oppressive and these animals spend so much energy either getting the insects off of them or finding places where they can hide from insects."

Rain is a major problem, too. Increased rainfall in the Arctic, often falling on snowy ground, leads to hard, frozen icy layers covering the grazing tundra - a layer the animals simply cannot push their noses through in order to reach their food.

Can anything be done?

At the global scale, this comes down to reducing carbon emissions and limiting temperature increase.

But scientists say we have opened the door on the "world's freezer" and the growing pile of evidence suggests warming in the Arctic will continue. The aim of this and other research in the region is to understand its impacts and learn how to adapt to a changing climate.

The report, complied by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), is now in its 13th year and the administration's Arctic research programme manager, Emily Osborne, said the region was now in "uncharted territory".

"In all the years of publishing the report card, we see the persistence of the warming continuing to mount," she said. "And this is contributing to extreme weather events elsewhere in the world."

Some other key points from the report included:

  • Plastic pollution: tiny microplastic contamination is on the rise in the Arctic, posing a threat to seabirds and marine life that can ingest debris.
  • Air temperature: For the past five years (2014-18) temperatures have exceeded all previous records since 1900.
  • Sea ice thinning: In 2018 Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past.
  • Toxic blooms: Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are coinciding with an expansion of harmful algal blooms in the ocean, which threaten food sources.

Also here at AGU, scientists have revealed that East Antarctica's glaciers have begun to "wake up" and show a response to warming. This is evidence of unprecedented climate-driven change at the top and bottom of the planet.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 13:39

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Grace Millane: Backpacker's body returned to family

The body of British backpacker Grace Millane has been formally identified and returned to her family.

The 22-year-old from Essex disappeared in Auckland on 1 December. Police ended their search on Sunday after finding a body on the outskirts of the city.

Det Insp Scott Beard said the family was in "the process of organising to take her home in the next few days."

A 26-year-old man has appeared in court in New Zealand charged with Miss Millane's murder.

Miss Millane's family said she "went off to travel the world in mid-October and arrived in New Zealand on 20 November".

'Forever a Kiwi'

"By the amount of pictures and messages we received, she clearly loved this country, its people and the lifestyle," they said.

"We all hope that what has happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world and discovering their own overseas experience."

They called her death "heinous" but thanked police for completing a "concise, stringent and thorough investigation".

Miss Millane's father David has flown to New Zealand and visited the place where her body was found.

He took part in a traditional Maori blessing ceremony alongside Grace's uncle and members of the New Zealand police force.

They added: "We would like to thank the people of New Zealand for their outpouring of love, numerous messages, tributes and compassion.

"Grace was not born here and only managed to stay a few weeks, but you have taken her to your hearts and in some small way she will forever be a Kiwi."

Miss Millane had been travelling alone in New Zealand for two weeks, following a six-week group trip through South America.

Police believe she was killed between 1 December and 2 December.

Det Insp Bird said his team was building "a timeline of the circumstances".

"Work continues to piece together exactly what happened to Grace," he added.

Officers are looking for a shovel believed to be connected to the inquiry.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 13:05

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Dartmouth Fatstock: Sexism row over men-only awards dinner

Women in farming have called on a men-only awards dinner "to get with the times" and allow them to attend.

The Dartmouth Fatstock Show in Devon, which sees farmers compete for the best cattle, sheep and poultry, has run for more than 100 years.

Show chairman, Phil Bond, said the men-only evening dinner was "a tradition and how it has always been done".

Farmer Chloe Quantick said: "They need to stop being a bit sexist and let us in there."

The current system sees prizes distributed to men and women at an afternoon ceremony, before the men's awards are presented for a second time at a hotel dinner.

This year's event took place on Tuesday.

The show committee recently held a vote and decided to maintain the exclusion of women - one farmer resigned in protest and said his pleas for change were "shouted down".

Mr Bond said: "That's the tradition, that's the way it always has been done. I've got the support and the backing from the committee to carry on.

"If in the future that changes as a democracy or as a vote within the committee that will carry on."

He said he believed "ladies are really not bothered" and he would rather keep out of the "petty argument of it all".

The Dartmouth Young Farmers Association currently has more female than male members, and there are four women on the show committee of 17.

Jessica Perry, a committee member, said the female ban was "very outdated now".

"It would be nice if we could move with the 21st Century," she said. "But that's something that as a group and as a committee the Fatstock show will have to discuss and hopefully move with the times."

Media captionFatstock show chairman Phil Bond says women are 'not bothered' about a men-only dinner

Ms Quantick, who won two championships at this year's show, said: "I think they should get with modern times and let the women come.

"They need to stop being a bit sexist and let us in there, because we can have a good laugh just as much as men can, so in my opinion we should be allowed to go."

Debbie Morris said there was no exception to the rule even when she was mayor of Dartmouth, when she was told a male representative would have to attend in her place.

She described it as an "old tradition" and said: "They like to have a raucous evening. Perhaps they feel the ladies wouldn't approve."

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 13:02

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Bloxwich Christmas decorations woman stuck in ceiling

A woman was left feeling a bit Claus-trophobic when she fell through the ceiling while getting her Christmas decorations from the loft.

Stacielea Doran hopped into the loft at home in Bloxwich, but the ceiling gave way and trapped her mid-fall.

She was left between floors with just the legs of her Beauty and the Beast onesie dangling into the room below.

The 30-year-old said after freeing her the kindly firefighters even helped lift down the tree.

Partner 'just laughed'

Ms Doran said she and her partner had just returned from getting some winter sun in Benidorm on Wednesday and decided to get into the festive spirit by putting up the decorations.

After falling, she said she was stuck for 15 minutes while she tried to get the attention of partner Nicki Ball, 34, who was in a nearby bedroom trying to book tickets to see singer Jess Glynne.

"When she came out and saw me she just laughed," Ms Doran said.

"Rather than helping me she took pictures."

She said it was an episode she was unlikely to Fir-get, adding: "I can laugh about it now, if I don't laugh I'll cry."

Crew Commander Adam Lovatt, from Bloxwich Fire Station said, when they received the print out for the call at 10:30 GMT on Friday, all it said was a woman had fallen through the ceiling.

He said: "On the way we were obviously thinking it could be quite a serious incident and there might be someone quite badly injured.

"Fortunately, I think it was embarrassment more than injury.

"I don't think any of us have ever been called out to something like that before."

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:59

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Instagram tightens eating disorder filters after BBC investigation

Instagram has placed more hashtags which could promote eating disorders on an "unsearchable" list after a BBC investigation found that users were finding ways around the platform's filters.

The photo-sharing network has also added health warnings to several alternative spellings or terms which reference eating disorders, some of which are popular hashtags on the platform.

Starting in 2012, the photo-sharing site started to make some terms unsearchable, to avoid users being able to navigate directly to often shocking images, and posts that promote the idea that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice rather than a mental illness.

If someone enters the unsearchable terms into the platform's search box, no results will come up.

Other hashtags, when searched, will active a pop-up asking the user if they need help, with options to "learn more", cancel the search, or view content anyway.

BBC Trending found that certain terms promoting bulimia were still searchable - and that the Instagram search bar was suggesting alternative spellings and phrasings for known terms which some see as glamorising or encouraging eating disorders

In one case, the search box offered 38 alternative spellings of a popular term.

More on this story

  • In response to our findings, Instagram made several alternative spellings unsearchable and added several others to the list of terms which trigger the health warning. Trending is not listing the specific hashtags on the list, but Instagram said it would continue to try to restrict content which appears to encourage eating disorders and self-harm.

"We do not tolerate content that encourages eating disorders and we use powerful tools and technologies - including in-app reporting and machine learning - to help identify and remove it," an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement.

"However, we recognize this is a complex issue and we want people struggling with their mental health to be able to access support on Instagram when and where they need it.

"We, therefore, go beyond simply removing content and hashtags and take a holistic approach by offering people looking at or posting certain content the option to access tips and support, talk to a friend, or reach out directly" to support groups, the statement said.

Bypassing filters

After Instagram and other social networks started to censor content that might encourage eating disorders, internet users attempted to navigate around the filters by deliberately misspelling commonly used eating disorder terms. The new hashtags could then be searched for on the platform.

While researching this story, we saw photos of skeletal bodies and posts that encourage extreme fasting.

Instagram, like most popular social networks, does not use moderators to proactively search for content that is against its rules. Instead it relies on other users to report violations.

'Emaciated bodies'

Rose-Anne had anorexia when she was 17. She saw photos on Instagram of people who have self-harmed and describes them as "distressing".

She says: "There's quite a lot of people who have self-harmed and full-length images of really emaciated bodies."

"It can be quite distressing to see those images, but it can also trigger the eating disorder."

Rose-Anne, who has now recovered from anorexia, also found that the platform recommended weight-loss hashtags in her news feed, despite the fact that she only followed eating disorder recovery accounts.

"I was getting suggested content that included weight loss tips... And that was without me searching it," she says.

Rose-Anne's experience demonstrates the difficulty that algorithms have in personalising the user experience and in detecting the difference between potentially positive and potentially harmful content.

Social networks can exacerbate eating disorders, but experts say they may also play a role in helping those suffering from mental illness. Positive communities have formed on Instagram and other platforms, and users sometimes post eating disorder related content as a public cry for help.'

Eating disorder charities are calling for social media networks to take more responsibility when it comes to policing content.

"The ideal situation is the content is not searchable and the content is removed but that if people are still searching for bad content, that health warning should come up every single time," says Tom Quinn of the eating disorder charity Beat.

Removing posts?

There's an argument that removing posts could drive discussion of eating disorders underground - where it's harder to moderate.

"It is unfortunate and it is true that there will be some people that if they can't find it on a readily accessible platform like Instagram will search for it in other ways," says Tom Quinn. "So while we recognize that some people will still find us content elsewhere that's no excuse for it still to be as readily accessible as it is currently."

Instagram rules prohibit content that "promotes or glorifies eating disorders" and the company says it will continue to develop its safety policies.

"Experts we work with tell us that communication is key in order to create awareness, and that coming together for support and facilitating recovery is important," a company spokesperson said.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:52

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sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:24

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Fruits that Burn Fat Like Crazy

Losing weight is not easy. Our bodies evolved to store fat to protect against periods of famine, but since millions of us are now eating way more than our bodies need, we end up with too much fat. To lose it, you need to trick your body into thinking you really are starving by taking in fewer calories than you burn.

Luckily, beyond calorie restriction, there are a few things you can do to jumpstart and extend your weight loss in a healthy way. Fruits that contain the antioxidant anthocyanin (a flavonoid) have been shown in multiple studies to increase the effects of a weight loss diet. You can usually spot an anthocyanin-rich fruit because it will be some shade of red or purple. Here are 7 great ones to add to your daily meal plan.

1. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are a fantastic thing to eat when you’re trying to lose weight. The University of Michigan did a rat study in which it determined that over the course of 12 weeks, rats fed tart cherries had a 9% greater reduction in belly fat than rats fed a so-called Western diet. The cherries actually altered the way the animals’ fat genes worked.

Tart cherries have also been linked to heart health and a reduction in inflammation, making them a great all around choice.

2. Berries of All Kinds

This is great news, because you won’t get bored with every type of berry to choose from. Fruits in this category are full of healthy polyphenols, which not only help you lose weight, they actually stop fat from forming. A study out of Texas Women’s University discovered that mice who received 3 daily servings of berry or berry powder reduced the expected formation of fat cells by 73%.

Berries are fantastic plain, sprinkled into oatmeal, yogurt, or salads, and even dried or powdered. With this many options, it should be easy to get a little berry with each of your meals.

3. Watermelon

We may avoid watermelon on the assumption that it is mostly sugar and well, water, but it is actually quite healthy for you. According to the University of Kentucky, eating watermelon may lower your fat accumulation and improve lipid profiles to boot.

Watermelon juice is also credited with a reduction in post-workout muscle soreness. Though largely a summer fruit, when it’s available, you should feel free to have all the watermelon you want.

4. Ruby Red Grapefruit

This breakfast staple is great for reducing belly fat and lowering cholesterol levels. In fact, participants in a six-week study who ate grapefruit with every meal shrunk their waists by an inch on average. Researchers think the reason is down to the powerhouse combination of phytochemicals and vitamin C found in this citrus fruit.

Grapefruit is fun to eat, too. Simply slice it in half and scoop out the segments with a spoon. It also gives a nice tart zing to salads

5. Pink Lady Apples

Apples in general are a great source of soluble fiber, which becomes gel-like in your stomach and helps you feel full longer. The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reports that every time you build in 10 more grams of soluble fiber to your diet, belly fat reduces by 3.7% over a five-year period.

That means that apples can assist your weight loss by cutting food cravings, as well as continue to slim your waistline years into the future. Pink Lady apples have been found to have the most flavonoid antioxidants, making them top among a lot of great apple varieties for weight loss.

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:16

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Spain warns Catalonia over region's Mossos police

The Spanish government has warned the Catalan authorities that national police could be sent to their region if they tolerate separatist blockades.

The warning - in three letters from ministers - followed a protest on Saturday by separatists who blocked the AP-7 motorway connecting France to Catalonia's coast.

Madrid accused the Catalan police force - the Mossos - of just standing by.

Spain's ruling Socialists oppose the Catalan independence movement.

Catalan nationalists regained power in Barcelona in May, after a seven-month period of direct rule by Madrid.

Hunger strike

Tensions remain high, as many Catalans resent Madrid's show of force last year, when it charged pro-independence leaders with sedition. Nine are in Spanish pre-trial detention, four of them now into the second week of a hunger strike.

The hunger strikers - Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn - accuse Spanish courts of deliberately delaying their appeals.

Pro-independence groups called Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR) blocked the AP-7 for 15 hours, in solidarity with the jailed Catalan separatist leaders.

On Sunday CDR activists also lifted toll barriers on the motorway, enabling motorists to pass through toll-free. It was a particularly busy long weekend, including two public holidays.

The letter from Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska noted a state security law which would allow Madrid to send police to Catalonia if the Mossos neglected their duties.

The law "provides for action by the state security forces when the state authorities deem it expedient", he told his Catalan counterpart.

The Madrid government, he said, "requires the Mossos to fulfil their legal duties".

"If that does not happen, an intervention by state security forces will be ordered."

After many huge nationalist demonstrations in Barcelona there is much nervousness about a planned meeting there between Spanish and Catalan ministers on 21 December. Spain will send a security contingent to protect its ministers.

Political pressures

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez heads a minority government that depends on nationalists - including Catalans - to stay in power, but he has ruled out any new Catalan referendum on independence.

In an election on 2 December his Socialists lost 14 seats in Andalusia - long a Socialist stronghold. There were big gains for right-wing parties strongly opposed to Catalan separatism - Vox and Ciudadanos.

In a further ratcheting-up of tension, Catalan premier Quim Torra irritated the Spanish government by praising Slovenia's successful - but bloody - path to independence. It broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.

After visiting Slovenia, Mr Torra said "Slovenians decided to forge ahead no matter what the consequences.

"Let us be like them, and let us be ready for everything in order to live free."

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said "it is the kind of language that seems to be calling for an insurrection".

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:13

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These Preschool Sweethearts Lost Touch, But 20 Years Later Everything Changed

We’ve all heard of high school sweethearts, but what about preschool sweethearts? Matt Grodsky and Laura Sheel were just that. The two met in preschool when they were only three years old and they formed an incredible bond. The pair was attached at the hip and Matt even proclaimed his love for Laura in front of the entire class. But as they grew up and went to different schools, distance got the best of them and soon enough, their friendship was cut short. That is, until their paths crossed again one day…

Matt and Laura Met at Preschool

The story of Matt Grodsky and Laura Scheel starts nearly 25 years ago. The two met at their Phoenix, Arizona preschool when they were just three years old. Right away, the pair became best friends.

Matt first noticed Laura on the playground and knew he wanted to be her friend, so he started following her around. Soon enough, Laura warmed up to Matt and they became inseparable. Although their parents thought their friendship was adorable, they didn’t think much of it. After all, they were just little kids.

Laura Thought Matt Was a Total Goofball

Matt knew he wanted to be friends with Laura so he would follow Laura around the playground all day. He even said in an interview with Today, “I don’t remember the first time I saw her, but she was always a girl who let me follow her around.”

At first, Laura thought he was a total goofball for following her around, but she realized just how funny and warm-hearted Matt really was. Soon enough, she and Matt were best friends. The pals did everything together, from playing hide-and-seek on the playground to mischievously staying up during naptime.

Soon though, the best friends wanted to hang out all the time — not just at preschool!

The Two Were Inseparable

For Matt and Laura, playing together at preschool wasn’t enough — they wanted to hang out more! By this point, the two best friends’ parents knew each other so the little ones started playing on the weekends too. They planned fun play dates and went to the movies with each other, with parent chaperones of course. Matt would even grab Laura’s hand during the scary parts.

The two pals were clearly inseparable, and although Matt was just four years old, he wanted everyone to know how he felt about Laura!

Matt Always Tried to Impress Laura

It’s funny to think back to when we were little kids and remember the things we did to impress our friends. Whether it was showing off our collection of Pokemon cards or swinging extra high on the swings, those days were much sweeter!

Matt loved his best friend Laura and was always trying to impress her. One of his favorite ways to show off how cool he was was to recite lines from his favorite Disney movies like The Lion King.

Laura Taught Matt Lots of Things

Matt may have spent lots of time trying to impress Laura, but Laura effortlessly impressed him! She even taught him lots of things too. Laura was the one who taught Matt how to swing on the swings. She also taught him how to draw rolling hills and even how to eat string cheese the right way.

These things might seem minor to us now, but when someone teaches you things like this as a kid, they become the moments you really remember for the rest of your life.

Little Lovebirds

By the time they were four years old, everyone knew that Matt and Laura were best friends. It was easy to see. After all, while at preschool, the pair was attached at the hip. And they hung out every weekend! Their friendship was undoubtedly special. Everyone thought the two were little lovebirds — even Matt.

One day, Matt stood in front of the class and declared that one day, he would marry Laura, saying, “Just you wait!” Unsurprisingly, his classmates laughed at him. After all, how many of your childhood friends to you still keep in touch with?

Little did they know, his prediction wasn’t that far off.

Preschool Pals

While no one took Matt’s declaration seriously, he and Laura remained best friends throughout preschool. They continued to set up playdates outside of school and always attended each other’s birthday parties.

Even though they were just four years old, their bond was clearly special. It truly seemed like Matt’s declaration might not even be so absurd! But as preschool came to a close, the pals we about to go through a big change — starting kindergarten.

Unfortunately, their bond would soon be put to the test.

Matt and Laura Start Kindergarten

Before they knew it, the day was finally here: Matt and Laura were starting kindergarten. The two had graduated from preschool and were ready to start the next chapter of their lives.

Starting kindergarten is a big step in any child’s life, but it was even more bittersweet for Matt and Laura. The preschool pals weren’t sure if they would be put in the same class and were starting to realize their days of playing with each other all day might be over.

The Friends Went to Different Elementary Schools

Not only were Matt and Laura not in the same kindergarten class, they weren’t even enrolled in the same school. Of course, this wasn’t a deliberate choice made by their parents, but rather, it was dictated by where they lived.

Still, the best friends were upset when they realized they wouldn’t be able to play together as much anymore. Their parents didn’t seem to understand how attached they were either, and simply assured the pals they would still get to play together on the weekends.

They Hung Out Every Now and Then

Their parents assured the two pals that would still get to play together on the weekends, but this was only partially true. Life gets busy, and before they knew it, Matt and Laura’s time together was steadily dwindling.

Still, the pals tried to hang out whenever they could. They even took this sweet Christmas card photo with two of their other friends one year! Unfortunately, as the two finished kindergarten and went on to other grades, they started seeing each other less and less.

They didn’t know that Christmas cards would eventually become their only form of communication.

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:13

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Strasbourg shooting: France hunts gunman as alert level raised


Media captionPater Fritz describes hearing gunshots and helping a victim of the Strasbourg shooting

France has issued a maximum level of alert as police hunt a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded, eight of them seriously.

The gunman, 29, known to authorities as having been radicalised in prison, escaped after reportedly being injured.

Some 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman. The deputy interior minister has acknowledged he may no longer be in France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the country had issued an "urgence attentat" (emergency attack) alert, expanding police powers and creating the highest degree of vigilance.

He added that border controls had been strengthened and security at all Christmas markets would be stepped up.

The mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, has said the Christmas market will be closed on Wednesday and flags lowered to half-mast at the local town hall.

Protests have also been banned in the city - which is the seat of the European parliament - but not in the rest of France, Reuters news agency said. The country is in the midst of a wave of protests highlighting the economic frustration and political distrust of poorer working families.

What happened?

The attack unfolded at around 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday close to Strasbourg's famed Christmas market near one of the central squares, Place Kléber, which attracts thousands of visitors at this time of year.

A woman called Audrey told France's BFM TV how she came face to face with the killer.

"He came out from the porch of a building armed with a pistol in his hand, his arm outstretched. He headed towards a gentleman walking in front of me and he immediately fired a bullet at his head," she said.

The gunman then opened fire for a second time, and another man fell to ground.

Her friends began to run to safety, but Audrey was frozen to the spot. The gunman turned, and faced her - but then he too ran.

"Why didn't he shoot at me?" she told the TV channel. "I don't know. I think I was extremely lucky. As everyone was screaming he fled."

At some point in the moments that followed, the gunman exchanged fire with officers who were patrolling the area as part of anti-terror measures.

It is thought he was injured. According to Mr Castaner, the man "fought twice with our security forces".

How did he escape?

According to France's BFM TV, he managed to reach a taxi which drove him away from the scene and dropped him in the vicinity of the police station in Neudorf, the area where he is understood to live which sits on the border between Germany and France.

It was the taxi driver who told police the man was wounded in his left leg.

Residents in Neudorf have been urged to stay indoors.

What do we know about the gunman?

A picture is beginning to emerge of the suspected attacker, although a motive is still not known.

He has not been officially named, but French media are referring to him as Chérif Chekatt.

According to police, he was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services as a possible terrorist threat. He was the subject of a "fiche S", the same system under which Amedy Coulibaly - who attacked a supermarket in 2015 - was flagged.

He is understood to have served prison sentences in both France and Germany, while BFM TV described him as a "repeat offender" and "delinquent".

However, while Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez confirmed he had served several sentences, he said his crimes had never been terrorism-related.

But, Mr Nuñez added, it was during one period in prison that he was indentified as having become radicalised.

"The fact he was a 'fiche S' did not pre-judge his level of dangerousness," Mr Nuñez told France Inter.

Stephane Morisse, from the FGP police union, said the man's flat in the Neudorf district of the city had been searched by police in connection with a robbery on Tuesday morning, but he was not there.

Grenades were found during the search, according to BFM TV.

What about the victims?

There has been some confusion over the number killed in the attack. At one point, the figure was revised down to two by officials, but has since gone back to three.

Thai media have named Anupong Suebsamarn, 45, as one of he dead. He is believed to have been on holiday with his wife.

Not much else is known yet, apart from the fact no children were hurt, and one soldier was slightly injured by a ricocheting shot.

Why is Strasbourg a target?

Strasbourg has been the target of jihadist plots in the past.

Not only does it have one of France's oldest Christmas markets, but it is the official seat of the European Parliament. That parliament was in session at the time of Tuesday evening's attack.

In 2000, the Christmas market was at the centre of a failed al-Qaeda plot. Ten Islamist militants were jailed four years later for their part in the planned New Year's Eve attack.

Security has been tight there ever since the 2015 Paris attacks.

However, MEPs were determined to carry on the morning after the attack, with German MEP Jo Leinen posting a picture of singing and Christmas lights in the European Parliament.

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ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:06

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The Germans solving rising rents with people power

Despairing of rising prices, some Germans are taking matters into their own hands to secure long-term, cheap, and stable rents.

Rents in Munich's trendy Westend district have soared in recent years. The former working-class neighbourhood, home to the city's oldest brewery, the Augustiner, has been smartened up and gentrified.

Anger at rising rents has grown, with 10,000 people taking to the streets in protest in Munich last September.

But in one building, known as Ligsalz8, rents have remained the same for 10 years - and are set to stay that way.

"In 2008, we started with rents of €7.88 per square metre and in 2018 it is still the same," York Runte, one of the tenants, told me.

And in Munich, that's cheap.

"Average rent around here is €13 per square metre, but now if you are a new tenant, you have to pay more than €17," said York.

How Ligsalz8 keeps its prices low

It's a communal property, neither owned by private landlords nor by the state.

Ligsalz8 is part of a rental housing syndicate, the Mietshäuser Syndikat, which aims to keep rents affordable and out of the hands of speculators.

There are rent controls in Munich and prices are lower than in the UK, but rents are still creeping up.

Ligsalz8 is involved in more than 100 projects throughout Germany, and has links to similar setups in the Netherlands and Austria. Aware of how high living costs are in the UK, the organisers are keen to spread the idea even further.

"We thought, what can we do to make sure that these flats never get privatised again?" said York.

How they buy their buildings

Groups of tenants create housing associations, which join with the syndicate to form private limited companies. Those companies then buy - and own - the buildings.

They are financed by direct microcredits in the form of tiny loans and crowdfunding, as well as "standard" bank loans and support from the syndicate.

The rents stay the same, even after the loans are paid off.

It's not a co-operative.

Tenants would need their own capital for that, York told me, and there is the danger that with a majority vote, the rental flats could be put on the market again.

Instead, the tenants administer the buildings themselves and make the key decisions on upkeep, renovation and rents, but the syndicate has the right to veto any proposal to re-sell the property.

"We are not start-ups, we are very solid and stable and pay off the interest on our loans on time," another tenant, Ralf Homann, said.

For residents like Ramona Pielenhofer, a young freelance designer, the model provides security.

"In Munich it is particularly hard to find affordable places to live. But compared with other flatshares I have lived in, Ligsalz8 is cheap," she told me.

"And that makes many things much simpler for me, including my decision to go freelance. I became self-employed three years ago and it's a real relief to be able to live here.

"It is also really nice to be in the centre of the city. I can cycle to work and take advantage of the shops and bars and restaurants."

Ramona says her fellow tenants are like "a kind of family".

"We are all very different, we have different jobs, we are of different ages including a 20-month-old baby. But this building brings us together. We feel responsible for the house. I like it very much."

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:58

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Yemen war: Billions in aid, but where's it going?

The ongoing UN-sponsored peace talks are seen as a key moment in the search for an end to the war in Yemen.

They also bring a glimmer of hope that the desperate situation inside the country can be alleviated.

Images of severely malnourished children, outbreaks of cholera and warnings of whole communities on the brink of starvation have brought the urgency of finding a diplomatic solution into sharp focus.

Three-quarters of the Yemeni population is estimated to be in need of humanitarian support.

And the longer the conflict continues, the worse the situation is becoming.

That is despite very large sums pledged in aid for Yemen.

The UN appealed for close to $3bn (£2.4bn) to fund the humanitarian response in 2018. It will ask for $4bn next year.

So how much of this has been received, where is it coming from, and where is it going?

Biggest donors

International donors have been praised for raising large amounts of money for Yemen in response to the humanitarian crisis.

Almost all of the $2bn pledged at a UN conference in April has been received or formally committed.

The first pledging conference for Yemen held in 2017 was similarly as successful. The UN says 94% of the pledges - $1.1bn (£862m) - were fulfilled.

Half of the money pledged in this year came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These are the two largest contributors to the UN's plan followed by the US, Kuwait and the UK.

The money has been given to dozens of UN agencies, international organisations and local NGOs. The largest recipients include the World Food Programme, United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organization and the UN refugee agency.

These are large sums, but this UN-co-ordinated funding plan is only around half of the total aid committed for Yemen. It's estimated that in total $4bn has been made available this year.

Much of this extra funding has been provided by the UAE - a further $1bn - making it, by a significant margin, the largest humanitarian donor to Yemen this year.

The Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates was the largest individual recipient in 2018.

So if such large contributions are being committed to Yemen, why isn't aid reaching those needing it most?

The view from inside Yemen

Nawal Al-Maghafi, Special Correspondent, BBC Arabic

The current conditions on the ground are seriously hindering the delivery and distribution of aid - far too little is reaching those desperately in need.

On the one hand, the Saudi-led coalition is enforcing a commercial blockade on sea and air routes into the country, and placing restrictions on relief supplies.

A total of 90% of imports are food, fuel, and drugs, and the blockade is effectively choking a country heavily reliant on these goods. Aid is also subject to long inspection delays as well as in some cases being rejected altogether.

Coalition forces have also bombed bridges linking Yemen's main port at Hudaydah with Sanaa, the capital city, which has meant trucks loaded with vital supplies are having to take other routes, adding many hours to journey times, increasing the price of delivery and, in some cases, making it impossible to deliver supplies at all to areas in desperate need.

On the other hand, local groups and warlords are also hindering the delivery of aid, and at times there is outright looting and selling on the black market.

Houthi rebels have blocked access to besieged cities such as Taiz and set up checkpoints into the capital, charging extra fees to aid agencies, who in turn have less available to spend on humanitarian aid.

Profiteers on both sides of the conflict are also intentionally creating shortages and spiking prices of certain items such as fuel and gas.


The UN says humanitarian organisations are now able to reach eight million people a month but the warnings of a catastrophic famine have grown stronger.

So why isn't the situation improving?

Delivering aid in an active conflict is challenging - continued fighting and air strikes make it dangerous for humanitarian workers to gain access to people in need.

In the months of June and July this year, 86% of incidents where UN staff were delayed or denied access were due to administrative restrictions on movement - activities that require permissions from the authorities. Most of the rest were delayed by military operations and hostilities impeding humanitarian operations.

Suze van Meegen, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, highlighted some of the difficulties faced by its staff operating in Yemen.

"Restrictions on the movement of humanitarian goods and personnel span challenges with security and logistics, as well as complex, changing bureaucratic impediments, delayed visa processes for international staff, and threats to the safety of Yemeni humanitarian staff - the ones working at greatest personal risk to help people in need."

However, no amount of aid can offset the economic collapse and spiking food prices that the war has produced, says Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Centre for Global Development.

Yemen depends on imports for almost all of its food. But ongoing fighting and a tightening of the two-year blockade by Saudi-led coalition forces has led to a significant drop in the amount of food entering the country.

The coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, says the blockade has been necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

Between May and August this year food imports fell by 30%, according to the UN.

Famine warning

As a result of the blockade and a collapsing currency, food prices have soared, leaving a desperately poor population unable to buy food even though it is available in shops and on market stalls.

A pro-Yemeni-government assault on Hudaydah port, which supplies food and goods for just under two-thirds of Yemen's population and serves shipments of aid, threatened food supplies even further.

"If food imports dry up there's no way for the aid community to offset a famine," says Mr Konyndyk.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:40

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Ian Paisley facing new questions over luxury Maldives holiday

Ian Paisley was given a complimentary holiday at a luxury Maldives resort months after advocating on behalf of its government, according to new evidence.

BBC Spotlight obtained the evidence which suggested the visit was requested by the Maldivian government and facilitated by the resort owner, who had political links.

The programme examined whether the MP should have declared the holiday in 2016.

He said he paid for part of the holiday and the rest was paid for by a friend.

Mr Paisley did not reveal the identity of this friend. He said the friend was unconnected with his work and has received no benefit as a result of his work.

  • Luxury resort

Ian Paisley, his wife and his two sons received full-board five-night stay at the luxury resort in October and November 2016, eight months after he was part of a controversial parliamentary visit to the islands.

Gavin Millar QC, an expert on parliamentary rules, said the Nolan principles on standards in public life place an onus on Mr Paisley to be transparent about why he has not registered the trip to the Maldives.

Mr Millar added: "MPs should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

"Now his decision in this case, his decision was not to register the benefit, after the trip in late 2016, and he has an obligation to give reasons for that decision.

"My judgement in this instance given the issues that have been raised is that unless he can come up with some wider public interest argument for not saying more, he should be saying significantly more about any considerations that are relevant to the motive of that source in paying that money."

Mr Paisley has been contacted by Spotlight about Mr Millar's comments but has not responded.

In a statement to Spotlight on Tuesday, Mr Paisley said: "I have responded in clear and categoric terms to your questions.

"For the record, the Government of the Maldives did not organise or pay for my family vacation in 2016, which I do not intend to go into with you. I'm satisfied the vacation did not have to be recorded on the register."


Ian Paisley visited the Maldives in February 2016 with two other MPs from an All-Party Parliamentary Group.

At the time, the Maldives government, headed by President Abdulla Yameen, was being criticised by organisations including the United Nations and the Commonwealth for human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley, however, appeared to advocate on behalf of the regime, speaking out against economic sanctions.

With the other two MPs, he also visited the prison where opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed had been held, and described the conditions as quite luxurious.

Later that year Mr Paisley travelled to the Maldives again for a holiday with his wife and two children.

Spotlight's evidence, including an image which appears to be from the resort's internal records provided to the programme by an anonymous source, suggests that full board and transfers were provided complimentarily at the request of Mr Yameen's government and facilitated by the resort owner, Hussain Hilmy.

Mr Hilmy is a former minister in the Maldives government and has held a number of other important public posts.

Gavin Millar QC said that if, as Spotlight's documentary evidence suggests, the benefit was requested by the government and facilitated by Mr Hilmy, Mr Paisley should not have accepted it.

"But having accepted it, he certainly should have registered it undoubtedly.

"There are very strict rules about lobbying and creating an interest for yourself that may be perceived as lobbying. The moment you know these facts, that are disclosed in this document, the perception is that this is a reward for him having advocated for the Maldives government."

Ian Paisley has denied that the trip was connected with the government of the Maldives.

Register of members' interests

Last week, Ian Paisley told Spotlight that he had discussed the holiday in the Maldives with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone during her investigation into his Sri Lanka holidays.

Mr Paisley claimed that as a consequence of that conversation, he had satisfied himself he did not need to register the holiday.

After Spotlight contacted the commissioner's office, Mr Paisley got in touch with Spotlight again to clarify that he had not spoken to the commissioner as he had claimed.

He said he had in fact spoken to the parliamentary registrar who administers the register of members' interests.

Mr Millar QC said the registrar's role was limited.

"The one thing they can give you as an MP is a clear account of what the rules require and what they don't require. But I understand that is as far as they will go. They will not give a licence to an MP not to declare in a particular situation nor will they say you must declare in a particular situation.

"That's not how the code works. The way the code works is that it is ultimately always a matter for the MP."

Ian Paisley also told Spotlight he had evidence which, he said, "categorically disproves that the trip was connected to the government".

Two emails, which he had arranged from contacts linked to the regime and the resort.

The first was from Ahmed Shiaan, who was the Maldivian Ambassador to the UK at the time of the visit.

He said the holiday had not been arranged by the Embassy or paid for by the government of the Maldives.

Ian Paisley also sent Spotlight an email from the resort's commercial operating officer, Andrew Ashmore, who said invoices for the stay had been settled and paid for privately although he could not say by whom.

When the Daily Telegraph published revelations about his holidays to Sri Lanka in 2017, Ian Paisley initially said that the articles were 'devoid of logic' and threatened legal action.

He also referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, found that Mr Paisley had failed to properly declare two holidays and engaged in paid advocacy for the Sri Lankan government.

Her findings were supported by parliament which suspended Mr Paisley from the House of Commons for 30 days.

However, a petition to trigger a by-election in his North Antrim constituency fell short by 444 votes, an outcome described by Mr Paisley as a 'miracle'.

On his return to the House of Commons following his suspension, he said 'a smaller man than me would have crumbled'.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:10

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2018 'worst year for US school shootings'

This year, 113 people have been killed or injured in school shootings in the United States.

That's the sobering finding of a project to count the annual toll of gun attacks in schools.

At the beginning of 2018, Education Week, a journal covering education in the US, began to track school shootings - and has since recorded 23 incidents where there were deaths or injuries.

With many parts of the US having about 180 school days per year, it means, on average, a shooting once every eight school days.

Another database recording school shootings says 2018 has had the highest number of incidents ever recorded, in figures going back to 1970.

That database, from the US Center for Homeland Defense and Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), uses a different way of identifying gun incidents in school, and says this year there have been 94.

Never 'normal'

The idea behind the year-long Education Week project was to mark each shooting - so that attacks should never come to seem "normal" and that every victim should be remembered.

But it was also an attempt to fill in the gaps in knowledge, because while there was intense media coverage of multiple-casualty shootings, there was much less clarity about the attacks happening across the country each month.

Lesli Maxwell, assistant managing editor of Education Week, said this year has "definitely been an outlier" with two large-scale school shootings, which have contributed to such a high annual loss of life.

Seventeen people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

At Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas, there were 10 killed, with both gun attacks carried out by teenage boys.

"This year also stands out because of all the activism that followed Parkland, with students leading the charge," says Ms Maxwell.

Teenagers, guns and victims

There have been campaigns for tighter gun control - and on the other side of the debate, calls for more weapons in the hands of teachers or school staff.

While such mass shootings made headlines around the world, the majority passed by with much less attention.

These included a shooting at a primary school in Virginia last month, when a parent collecting their child was shot in the leg when a gun in the pocket of another parent was accidentally fired.

Or in March in a high school in Maryland, when a 17-year-old teenager shot and injured two students and then, after he was confronted, killed himself. One of the injured, a 16-year-old girl, died a few days later.

The shootings are a bleak list of teenagers, guns and innocent victims. The perpetrators are as young as 12 but are mostly 16 or 17.

The lack of certainty about the number of school shootings is also because it can be defined in different ways.

Highest level

The Education Week tracker only counted events where there were casualties and where shootings took place on school property and in school time and where there was a victim other than the perpetrator.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security has a different measure - counting gun incidents in school, regardless of the time or whether anyone was shot or injured.

This wider measure has so far recorded 94 school shooting incidents across the US - which stands significantly above what had been the previous highest total, 59 in 2006.

By this measure, 2018 has also been the worst year for deaths and injuries, with 163 casualties, compared with a previous high of 97 in 1986.

It also shows the big increase over the decades, with annual casualties in the 1970s never higher than 35, about a fifth of this year's level.

Killers typically 17 and male

The data from five decades of school shootings shows the most typical age for a school killer is 16 or 17 and these perpetrators are highly likely to be male.

The attacks are not often "indiscriminate", but are more usually an "escalation of a dispute" or a gang-related incident.

But as well as following the statistics of school shootings, Ms Maxwell has seen the aftermath.

In the schools affected by such attacks, she says, there can be a cycle of strong and contradictory emotions.

At first, along with the "raw grieving" there can be a "coming together" of communities.

But that can be followed by divisions and a "splintering" as families look for answers and people to hold accountable for their loss.

She says there can be "fury against authorities and institutions", rather than any consensus on what should happen next.

No consensus

There is also no agreement at a national level about how to respond to school shootings, with opinion just as divided as when the year began.

"The needle hasn't moved," she says.

There are calls for guns to be kept out of schools and others calling for more guns to be used to defend schools.

"Our sense is that a vast majority of teachers don't want to be armed," she says.

"Whether it's one child or 17, it's awful and tragic and we need vigorous discussion about how to put a stop to it," says Ms Maxwell.

But there is no sign of any agreement about how that might happen.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:07

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Letter from Africa: Why Kenyan men don't want to share power with women

In our series of letters from African journalists, media and communications trainer Joseph Warungu reflects on gender inequality in Kenyan politics.

The Kenyan parliament is a tough playground. And just like any other playground, the bigger ones tend to play rough and keep the toys to themselves.

The "boys" in parliament have been doing exactly that, by refusing to share their play area and their toys - or their seats and their political power.

For eight years, women have been pushing for a bigger role in politics through the enactment of a law that would fulfil the requirements of the 2010 constitution, which states that "not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender".

But the latest attempt to pass the bill has failed, and now the "boys" and "girls" have gone home on a long holiday, stretching to February.

Gone too is the opportunity - at least for now - to reform the playground, meaning Kenya's parliament continues to lag behind other East African countries in terms of gender balance.

In Rwanda, more than 61% of MPs are women; in Tanzania it is 37%, while the figure for Uganda is 34%. In Kenya only 22% of legislators are women.

So what is getting in the way of giving women a bigger voice in parliament? There are four key reasons:

1) Fear

In order to satisfy the requirements of the two-thirds gender rule, 42 new female MPs would need to be nominated, raising the total number of legislators from 349 to 391.

Some Kenyans fear that in a country with some of the most highly paid MPs in the world, an enlarged national assembly will mean an additional tax burden.

Others are afraid that they will lose the right to decide who represents them if political parties assume the role of nominating the additional female MPs.

In holding on to their toys, some male MPs have expressed the fear that the calibre of female leaders will be compromised by political parties' use of dubious nomination criteria.

But paradoxically, this issue has never been raised when it comes to nominating male MPs.

The playing field is clearly not level.

2) No whip

Given past difficulties in pushing through the gender bill, many had expected President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga - who now leads the main opposition grouping - to read the riot act to their MPs.

These national leaders have in the past joined forces and whipped parliamentarians into line when they cared enough about a particular bill in the national assembly.

An example was a recent successful move by the president - with support from Mr Odinga - to push through new tax measures that were unpopular with MPs and the public.

Here though, the president and his deputy have taken a softer approach - dropping the stick in favour of the carrot - by presenting the gender bill as a historic opportunity.

Before an attempt to pass the bill in 2016, President Kenyatta said: "I call upon all our members to vote for this bill... the people of Kenya are waiting to see you make history this afternoon".

But the plea fell on deaf ears as the bill was not passed because of a lack of quorum.

Two years later, as the MPs were confronted with yet another opportunity to do the right thing, another appeal was made, this time by Mr Ruto: "You have a moment of history to demonstrate that Kenya will not be the same again,

"You male MPs should be the last to stand in the way of our mothers and daughters."

But the MPs did not budge, turning their backs on history.

3) Distracted by 'stomachs'

While proponents of the gender bill were focused on getting it passed, many of the MPs were distracted by another bill that spoke directly to their stomachs.

Called the Parliamentary Service Bill, it will, if passed, increase the MPs' benefits.

In addition to their hefty salaries and other generous perks, they will be entitled to a second car maintained by the taxpayer, a house or generous housing allowance, and a fund to help them monitor government projects.

In addition, the MPs want the bar and canteen in the parliamentary complex to be at the level of a five-star hotel.

The MPs know that the president is not in favour of this bill and has threatened to reject it, arguing that the legislators should be sensitive to the needs of ordinary Kenyans.

So privately many of the MPs have offered a deal: "Approve our stomach bill and we'll approve your gender bill."

But such a deal may not be something the president and his deputy can stomach.

4) Grassroots 'apathy'

Finally, the march to gender equality has also been held back by poor mobilisation of grassroots support.

Ambitious and well-educated women in the workplace are not afraid to demand their rights.

But for many women, especially those living outside the city, their focus is on survival.

With corruption eating deep into the fabric of Kenyan society and the cost of living as high as ever, they are too busy struggling to stay afloat to have much time for the gender debate.

But their mobilisation could also have helped counter the lame excuses that have propped up the status quo, such as the comment by a male MP who reportedly said: "Men and women are equal under the constitution, so let women fight for themselves just like men!"

The Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) has been working hard to garner support for the gender bill.

Many other organisations have also lent a hand, but a lot more needs to be done.

Before the 2017 general election, I worked with the experts at the National Democratic Institute, a US-based non-profit group operating in Kenya, to help equip the new women candidates and youth aspirants with media, communication and other skills. A number of the aspirants were successful.

How to share?

So what more can be done to make the gender bill a reality and increase women's participation in political decision-making?

Firstly, when parliament revisits the bill in February, it must be backed by a sustained and robust campaign by politicians and civil society - like the one that led to the repeal of an article protecting one-party rule in the old constitution.

Secondly, political parties must be pushed to declare safe seats for women. This move has succeeded in other democracies, and it can succeed here.

Thirdly, women must be encouraged to compete in elections - because it works.

In the 2013 general election, when the devolved system of government was introduced for the first time, not a single woman was elected governor to lead any of Kenya's 47 county governments.

Today there are three women governors who successfully fought off strong competition from well-established male politicians.

From zero women senators in 2013, there are now three elected women senators. And in the national assembly, the number of elected women rose from 16 in 2013 to the current 22 elected in 2017.

In addition, the second-longest serving elected MP in Kenya is a woman. Naomi Shaban has been elected to parliament four times since 2002.

The boys in parliament may have taken their toys home for the holiday - but they should be prepared to share when they come back.


ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 10:50

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Meng Wanzhou: Trump could intervene in case of Huawei executive

Donald Trump says he could intervene in the case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou if it helps to avoid a further decline in US relations with China.

"Whatever's good for this country, I would do," the US president said.

Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant, was granted bail on Tuesday by a Canadian court.

She was arrested on 1 December and could be extradited to the US to face fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of sanctions on Iran.

Ms Meng, 46, denies any wrongdoing and has said she will contest the allegations.

She is the daughter of Huawei's founder and her detention, which comes amid an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, has angered China and soured its relations with both Canada and the US.

In an interview with Reuters news agency on Tuesday, Mr Trump said he would intervene in the US Justice Department's case against Ms Meng if it would serve national security interests or help achieve a trade deal with China.

"If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made - which is a very important thing - what's good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," he said.

What happened in the courtroom?

Justice William Ehrcke in Vancouver set bail for Ms Meng at C$10m (£6m; $7.4m).

Of that, C$7m must be provided in cash with C$3m in collateral.

The judge said that she would be under surveillance 24 hours a day and must wear an electronic ankle tag. She will be unable to go out between 2300 and 0600 and must surrender all passports and travel documents.

In the three-day bail hearing in Vancouver, Ms Meng's lawyers sought to provide guarantees that she would not pose a flight risk if released. The application was opposed by Canadian prosecutors.

US prosecutors say Ms Meng used a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom to evade sanctions on Iran between 2009 and 2014. They allege she had publicly misrepresented Skycom as being a separate company from Huawei. It is also alleged she deceived banks about the true relationship between the two companies.

Applause broke out in the courtroom when Justice Ehrcke granted bail. Ms Meng cried and hugged her lawyers.

The judge ordered her to reappear in court on 6 February.

After the ruling, Huawei issued a statement, saying: "We have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach a just conclusion."

How has China reacted to Ms Meng's arrest?

China, which insists that Ms Meng has not violated any laws, had threatened severe consequences unless Canada released the Huawei executive.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng earlier summoned both the US and Canadian ambassadors and lodged a "strong protest" urging her release.

The ministry described Ms Meng's arrest as "extremely nasty".

Separately on Tuesday, it emerged that a Canadian former diplomat had been detained in China.

Michael Kovrig's current employer, the International Crisis Group, said it was working for his prompt release. There has been no official word from China about his whereabouts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was in direct contact with Chinese authorities concerning the case.

Mr Kovrig previously worked as a diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the UN in New York.

Canadian officials said there was no "explicit indication" of any link between Mr Kovrig's reported detention and the arrest of Ms Meng.

Who is Meng Wanzhou?

Meng Wanzhou joined Huawei as early as 1993, when she began a career at her father's company as a receptionist.

After she graduated with a master's degree in accountancy from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1999, she joined the finance department of Huawei.

She became the company's chief finance officer in 2011 and was promoted to vice-chair a few months before her arrest.

Ms Meng's links to her father, Ren Zhengfei, were not public knowledge until a few years ago.

In a practice highly unusual in Chinese tradition, she adopted her family name not from her father but her mother, Meng Jun, who was Mr Ren's first wife.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 10:41

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Man held by armed police at UK Parliament


Media captionThe BBC's Laura Kuenssberg witnessed the man being pinned to the ground by police

A man has been arrested by armed police officers after it is believed he broke into the grounds of Parliament.

An eyewitness told the BBC the man jumped over railings before being Tasered by police.

The man was held within the parliamentary courtyard but has now been taken away in a police van.

Police say he has been arrested on suspicion of trespassing at a protected site and is not being investigated by the Met's counter terrorism command.

The Metropolitan Police said the man ran towards officers and a Taser was used when he did not comply with their requests to stop.

He is to undergo a mental health assessment, police said.

They would not say whether the man was armed.

Parliamentary authorities say the incident, which happened just before midday on Tuesday, is contained.

Christopher Hope, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, told BBC News: "I heard a scream and then looked out the window, and then about half a dozen police officers who appeared not to be armed were running towards a man.

"And then it appears the man was Tasered.

"It appears to be contained now. There are armed police patrolling downstairs by the Christmas tree."

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who also witnessed the disturbance, says she saw the man on the ground, arguing and shouting at police.

Police gathered up his belongings, including what looked like a passport, before bundling him into the back of a police van, she added.

The incident, which is still in the very early stages of being investigated, happened in the same area inside Parliament's grounds as last year's terror attack.

PC Keith Palmer, who was guarding the gates, was stabbed and killed by Khalid Masood, moments after he had knocked down pedestrians indiscriminately on Westminster Bridge, killing four people. Masood was shot dead by armed officers.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 18:23

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South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls out ‘boring man with no plan’ in feminist hit

A man named Gatluak is probably feeling a bit embarrassed as South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls him out for being a “boring man with no plan” in a hit song shared widely since its release in June 2018. Or, rather several Gatluaks — the name is common in South Sudan and “all know a Gatluak [who behaves this way]”, Nyaruach says.

With fierce feminist messaging, Nyaruach's playful song reclaims a woman's dignity after getting burned in love. It also reminds the world that vibrant music and art emerge out of Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, one of the largest refugee camps in the region.

Nyaruach, a single mother of two who lives in Kakuma, told Global Voices during a Skype interview:

South Sudanese men fail women with the wrong kind of love. So, my message is to the young girls of the new generation … Love is killing the new generation.

The catchy song and music video, which features some of Nyaruach's Kakuma co-residents, released in November 2018, caught the world's attention for its hypnotic Afro-beats and bold lyrics.

Gatluak bought her cold drinks, they went on long walks, and then ghosted her! “You refuse to pick my phone after you get what you want. You are such a bastard guy, I just want to say goodbye! May God bless you where you are. You boring man — with no plan. With no plan!” sings Nyaruach.

“Gatluak” is the second release on the album NAATH (“humans” in Nuer) produced by Nyaruach and her brother Emmanuel Jal, a hip-hop artist who gained notoriety after his autobiography, “War Child: A Child Soldier's Story”, was published in 2009. As children, the siblings were forced apart through extreme circumstances.

The two draw on Nuer traditional folk and love songs and interlace them with addictive dance beats. “We can’t forget our culture”, Nyaruach said. “We have to remind the new generation about the past — and music makes people happy.”

Nyaruach and Jal named the album NAATH after the “glorious Kingdom of Kush” of the Nile as an antidote to images of war and poverty that have characterized South Sudan.

A long road to music

Nyaruach was born in 1983 in Tonj, Sudan and separated from her family at the age of four when her mother died. Her brother Jal was taken as a child by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and forced to fight. He was then taken to Kenya at the age of 11 with the help of a British aid worker who was married to then-senior SPLA commander Riek Machar. There he discovered hip-hop, which he used to encourage peace.

Nyaruach's life took a different turn. She spent several tumultuous years with relatives and ran away from an abusive father at the age of 10, surviving several arduous escapes from Sudan, first to Ethiopia and later, to Kenya.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, after a 22-year long civil war (1983-2005). The peace did not last long despite major investments in South Sudan's development. In 2013, armed conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This spread to other areas of the country, gradually turning into an inter-ethnic conflict between the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Dinka, represented by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the Nuer, represented by then-Vice President Riek Machar.

Nyaruach did not reunite with Jal until they met in Nairobi. They collaborated on a song called Gua, or “peace” in the Nuer language. She was 22. The song was a hit in Kenya in 2005 and a breakthrough song for Jal, who went on to become an award-winning musician and peace activist.

Jal also faced criticism for contradicting his role model status with using social media to air divisive views that stoked ethnic tensions when conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013.

In 2015, Nyaruach traveled to South Sudan for a short visit. Upon her return, she spoke out against the violence she witnessed. Pregnant with her second child, she decided to shift to Kakuma, seeking security.

Kakuma Refugee Camp was originally established by the UNHCR in 1992 to host 20,000 Sudanese children and youth known later as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” fleeing violence during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

Today, over 56 percent of the population of Kakuma and neighboring Kalobeyei settlement are from South Sudan. At the end of January 2018, the camps hosted a total of 185,449 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

Nyaruach said that living in a refugee camp is especially hard on women with children.

They give us firewood for a month, it finishes after seven days. We need to eat our meal, we wake up at 4 a.m. to steal. Yes, we have to steal it — and it's very dangerous. They rape us, they can even shoot and kill us. But we can't report. Who is going to report? We have no voice or authority.

Enduring years of hardship has taken at toll on Nyaruach's spirit. Reuniting and making music with Jal has felt like salvation. “I have a heart of singing”, says Nyaruach. “Jal taught me how to rhyme.”

‘Woman have no rights’

Nyaruach's song uplifts women and girls in South Sudan who she says have “no rights, no matter how young you are” in a recent interview with Kenya's The Star.

South Sudanese women are among the most marginalized, and the conflict has made conditions untenable. More than 80 percent of those who have fled the violence in South Sudan are women and children.

outh Sudan has gone through several rounds of failed and fragile peace negotiations, but data shows that women have been far less involved than men in the peace process, despite research that suggests including women at higher levels would improve stability.

Machar returned to South Sudan in October 2018 after two years in exile in South Africa to work with Kiir, but many are wary of the peace deal after five years of protracted conflict.

“Women in South Sudan have been treated by government soldiers and armed actors, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict”, UN investigators said in September 2018. “The plight of South Sudan’s women and girls should no longer be ignored”, they said — referring to disturbing testimonies of rape victims.

According to a 2017 survey issued by the International Rescue Committee and Global Women’s Institute, 65 percent of South Sudanese women interviewed had experienced physical or sexual violence.

Nyaruach has her own testimony.

[South Sudanese] men's ideas are changing about love. They get married to many wives and then destroy our lives. They fail to take care of their children properly. They rape us, use young girls, get us pregnant and leave us.”

Nyaruach says music is her calling. “If I hide what is killing me in my heart, what can I do to make a change?” she asks. No wonder “Gatluak” is a hit. This is Nyaruach's chance to demand the men in her life to do better, not just in love but war — and peace.

sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 15:42

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Aylesbury goalkeeper, 14, dies after match injury

A 14-year-old goalkeeper has died after he was injured in a "collision" with another player at a youth football match.

Luca Campanaro, a Bedgrove Dynamos FC player from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was hurt at an away match in Hillingdon, west London on Sunday.

He was airlifted to the Royal London Hospital where he died on Monday.

His stepfather Adam Keedle described Luca as an "amazing young man and a real loss to the world".

'Minute's applause'

A statement released by the club on Monday said: "We are deeply saddened to have to announce that a young player from the club sadly passed away this afternoon after being involved in a collision during a youth match on Sunday 9th December.

"Our thoughts are with Luca's family and loved ones at this distressing time.

"We also offer our heartfelt condolences to his team mates and all associated with the club as we now try to come to terms with the tragic loss of our friend and teammate.

"With the family's approval we will be honouring our weekend fixtures with a minute's applause to celebrate the life of this fantastic young man."

Mr Keedle said he could not offer "enough" praise to the medical staff who treated Luca at the scene and in hospital.

Close family friend Dave Garricks confirmed the goalkeeper died "doing what he loved".

Mr Garricks has set up a JustGiving page to raise funds of the family. It currently stands at more than £13,000.

"I am shocked. It's no life at 14 to be taken," he said.

He described The Mandeville School pupil as a dedicated footballer who loved the game and was an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 14:32

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the world's rarest

    • The world’s most expensive ham

      A tiny organic farm in south-western Spain produces unconventional ham that sells for €4,100 (£3,600) a leg, and is recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s most expensive.

    • The land covered in sacred gold

      In Myanmar, gold is so sacred that it can be found in anything from traditional medicine to face creams, and it’s sometimes even added to drinks or food.

    • One of India’s best-kept secrets

      One of the rarest flowers in the world, the Neelakurinji blooms just once every 12 years in India’s south-western state of Kerala, when it covers the hills in a violet hue.

    • A scent worth more than €50,000 a kilo

      A scent with few natural analogues, orris is exceedingly rare; the fact that people continue to seek out this fragrance despite its high cost speaks to its enduring appeal.

    • A duvet that costs $15,000

      Just south of the Arctic Circle, a few dedicated Norwegians are keeping the tradition of sustainable eiderdown farming alive – and are making some of the world’s most coveted duvets.

    • The mystical tea that fetches $1,850/kg

      On the slopes of the Himalayas, workers at the world’s first biodynamic tea farm wait patiently until the planets align to pick India’s most expensive tea.

    • The rarest fabric on Earth

      The once-endangered vicuna is thriving in the Peruvian Andes, thanks to a bold plan to sustainably gather and sell its valuable fleece – and give locals a stake in its survival.


ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 12:17

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Iran's fascinating way to tell fortunes

I was sauntering about the foothills of the mountains in Tehran with my friend Jamshid, and Shirin, a girl he was courting. A friend of Shirin’s had just been diagnosed with cancer, and Jamshid and I were trying to console her, insisting that everything would turn out fine – but to no avail. As we were walking towards one of my haunts for chai and ghalyan (water pipes), we came across a wizened old man with a canary perched on a little box of coloured cards.

“Wait,” Shirin told us, walking towards him while drawing money from her purse. She handed him a note, closed her eyes and clasped her hands together while the little bird hopped about and pulled out a card at random with its beak. As she read the poem written on the back, a smile broke out on her face.

“What does it say?” Jamshid asked her.

“Thank God,” Shirin replied with a sigh, reading the opening line: “‘Joseph the lost shall return to Canaan – grieve not.’ It means she’s going to be OK.”

While in Tehran, Iran, writer Joobin Bekhrad’s acquaintance was reassured by a fortune picked at random by a bird .Of love and wine

Poetry occupies a particularly hallowed space in Iranian culture. Far from merely appreciating poetry as an art form, we Iranians – of all backgrounds and socio-economic classes – live and breathe it. A street sweeper will quote Khayyám on the transience of life, just as a taxi driver will recite the mystic verse of Rumi and a politician will invoke the patriotism of Ferdowsi. On the other hand, my great-uncle, just like Voltaire, loved the instructive Sa’di to the point that he chose our family name (Bekhrad, meaning ‘wise’) from a line in one of his poems. However, when it comes to Persian belles-lettres, it is Hafez who unquestionably reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of Iranians.

A 14th-Century poet, Hafez spent most of his life in his native Shiraz, now popularly known as the ‘City of Poets’. He is best known for his ghazals (love poems), which constitute the bulk of his compendium, Divan. In his poems, he writes chiefly of love and wine, as well as the brazen hypocrisy of holy men and religious authorities. Never one for putting up appearances, Hafez preferred to engage in what some called ‘sin’ rather than pass himself off as a paragon of virtue. Written in a florid, yet lucid and highly readable, style, the collected works of his Divan represent what many believe to be the glittering zenith of Persian poetry.

As beloved as Hafez’s poetry is, it is perhaps just as controversial as it was when it was written – a fact that might account for its immense popularity throughout the centuries. In modern-day Iran, Hafez is peerless, adored as an almost godlike figure. His poetry is often sung and set to classical Persian music. His tomb in Shiraz incessantly bustles with devotees, admirers and tourists from around the world.

Most interesting, however, is the popular Iranian tradition of using Hafez’s poems for divination; in other words, what Shirin did that day in Tehran.

The collected works of Hafez’s Divan represent what many believe to be the glittering zenith of Persian poetry.

The ‘Tongue of the Unseen.

Known as fal-e Hafez (which roughly translates to ‘divination via Hafez’), the tradition involves consulting the poet – known as Lesan ol Gheyb (‘Tongue of the Unseen’) – for questions about the future, as well as guidance regarding difficult decisions and dilemmas.

The tradition of fal-e Hafez has been practised in Iran (and elsewhere in the Persian-speaking world, such as Afghanistan) for centuries. According to a well-known story, it originated upon the death of the poet. In a 1768 letter to the Orientalist Sir William Jones, the Hungarian nobleman Count Károly Reviczky, who had ‘read [the story] somewhere’, wrote that some holy men were unsure what to do with Hafez’s corpse on account of ‘the licentiousness of his poetry’. A dispute ensued as to whether or not they should bury him, after which, Reviczky writes, ‘they left the decision to a divination in use amongst them, by opening his book at random, and taking the first couplet which occurred’.

It was Hafez’s lucky day, for these were the words that were chanced upon:

Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz, Iran, incessantly bustles with devotees, admirers and tourists from around the world.

Just as it’s little wonder that Hafez’s poetry is so adored amongst Iranians, so too is the custom of fal-e Hafez. Since time immemorial, Iranians have been a deeply inquisitive people, ever looking to uncover hidden meaning and mystery in the world around them. According to Columbia University’s Encyclopaedia Iranicathe Byzantine historian Agathias, for instance, wrote of Zoroastrian priests who saw the future in flames. In Iran’s national epic, the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), Ferdowsi tells (in just one of the book’s many accounts of divination) how the monarch Khosrow Parviz interpreted the accidental falling of a quince from the top of his throne as an omen of his impending death and the demise of the Sassanian dynasty. In more modern times, as Persian literature scholar Mahmoud Omidsalar writes in the Encyclopaedia, Iranians have used playing cards – and even chickpeas – to tell their fortunes; and, while some also use other books of Persian verse (such as Rumi’s Masnavi), as well as the Koran, Omidsalar posits that Hafez’s Divan is undoubtedly the most popular medium when it comes to bibliomancy in Iran.

Fal-e Hafez can be done anywhere, as long as the Divan is at hand

Today, you can have your fortune told by the bard of Shiraz just about anywhere in Iran. Men with trained birds proffer their cards of poetry on busy streets as well as at popular recreational spots for locals and tourists, such as Darband in Tehran where Shirin had hers told, and Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz. In major cities like Tehran, which are notorious for their often near-stagnant traffic, children (sans the gimmicky birds) gather at bustling intersections to do the rounds at lengthy red lights, letting curious passengers pick out poetry cards at random to (hopefully) set their hearts at ease.

While vendors of Hafez poem-cards abound throughout Iran, fal-e Hafez can be done anywhere, as long as the Divan is at hand. Just think of a question (never to be divulged to anyone) and turn to a page in the book at random for the response. Should I take that trip to Venice? Is my lover cheating on me? Will I get the job? As says the proverb, only God and Hafez of Shiraz know the answer – which will chiefly lie in the first couplet that one sees. Iranians consult the poet any time they so desire, although major Iranian festivities marking turning points – such as Norooz (the Iranian New Year) and Shab-e Yalda (the Winter Solstice) – are particularly popular occasions.

The practice of fal-e Hafez involves consulting Hafez for questions about the future and guidance regarding difficult decisions.

Shirin was fortunate to receive a positive response from Hafez, who doesn’t always have good news in store. That same year, I, too, closed my eyes, asked a question in my mind and reverently opened the Divan at random. Iran was to play Argentina the following day in the 2014 World Cup, and I wanted to know if our boys would send Lionel Messi off the field with his tail between his legs. It was with much dismay that my eyes fell on the following lines:

As I soon found out, it wasn’t only wine that Hafez knew a thing or two about, but the World Cup, too. As sure as he’d put it, it was Messi who sent us packing, and not the other way around.

A poet for all seasons

I have Sa’di as my namesake and Khayyám as my hero – but it is with Hafez that I, like the overwhelming majority of my compatriots, live. As a child, I could never understand my paternal grandmother’s fascination with Hafez, or why my maternal grandfather used to quote the poet day and night, and keep a threadbare copy of his Divan on his living-room table, like some sort of permanent fixture (it’s still there).

Today, you can have your fortune told by the bard of Shiraz just about anywhere in Iran.

Least of all could I appreciate how, on Shab-e Yalda, my aunt would close her eyes, whisper something to herself, and open that same threadbare Divan to see what ‘dissolute old Hafez’ (as Friedrich Engels once described the poet in a letter to Karl Marx) had to say in response to her questions.

With time, I have come not only to obsess over the beauty of Hafez’s poetry and consider him a kindred spirit, but also to develop a penchant for fal-e Hafez. I don’t believe in fate or predestination, and in no way vouch for the efficacy of the poet as an all-round problem solver. Yet, in true Iranian spirit, I constantly find myself turning to him whenever I have a burning question or need advice on a sensitive issue.

Sure, it was quite a downer when Hafez told me Iran wouldn’t beat Argentina; but there’s an indescribable joy and comfort I feel when the poet assures (and sometimes, reassures) me that everything’s going to be OK. And isn’t that what we all, Iranian or otherwise, want to know – or at least believe.


ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 12:01

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How safe are probiotics?

Amid the increasing rise of probiotic use in Western society, a recent journal article asks whether we should evaluate the products' safety with a little more scrutiny.

Probiotics are popular, but what does the evidence say?

For millennia, humans have consumed foods rich with live bacteria.

Yogurt, for instance, dates back to at least 5000 B.C., and in Korea, kimchi — fermented vegetables — has also been consumed for thousands of years.

Today, however, live microorganisms are added to a range of products advertised as providing a wide array of medical benefits.

Creative marketing and a general fascination for gut bacteria have combined to create a huge market for probiotics.

Perhaps surprisingly, to sell a product that contains live microorganisms there is no legal requirement to provide evidence that it works or, importantly, that it is safe.

An article published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine argues that this is a dangerous state of affairs. The piece was written by Dr. Pieter A. Cohen from the Cambridge Health Alliance at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

The state of the evidence

Dr. Cohen begins by outlining the proven benefits of probiotics. For instance, Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to help treat some types of diarrhea in children and reduce recurrence of Clostridium difficile infections in adults.

In spite of the specific cases mentioned, he argues that the strains used in foods and supplements have not been proven to benefit health and neither have they been shown to be safe.

Manufacturers claim that probiotics help maintain respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, and psychological health. However, Dr. Cohen writes that "[d]espite the advertised indications, there are no large, long-term clinical trials proving that probiotics offer clinical benefits for people who are already healthy." He continues:

For instance, a comprehensive review of relevant literature published earlier this year concluded that "[t]he feasibility of probiotics consumption to provide benefits in healthy adults requires further investigation."

In other words, there may be benefits, but the evidence simply does not exist to definitively say either way.

Despite this, manufacturers are legally permitted to tell consumers that their products "support the immune system" or "boost digestive health." Perhaps even more worryingly, they are not required to add information regarding potential adverse effects.

What are the possible dangers?

Over the years, dozens of case reports have underscored the potential hazards of probiotic supplementation. Risks include fungemia and bacteremia — the presence of fungi or bacteria in the blood, respectively.

Individuals with compromised immune systems are most at risk, including the very young and old. These organisms have evolved to infect, after all.

Because many probiotic trials do not report adverse events sufficiently, the exact scope of this problem is not known.

Aside from the risk of opportunistic infections sparked by probiotic consumption, there is the potential threat of low quality and contaminated products.

Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stringent safety rules for the manufacturing of supplements, these are not always followed.

According to Dr. Cohen, an inspection of 656 facilities in 2017 found "violations in more than half." He continues:

"These violations were not trivial: Most commonly, companies had failed to establish the identity, purity, strength, or composition of their final product."

This potential threat is brought into stark focus by the case of an 8-day-old infant who developed a fatal fungal infection following the use of a probiotic supplement that had been contaminated with fungi.

As Dr. Cohen notes, although following FDA regulations more closely would help reduce the risk of product contamination, it would still not ensure that the probiotic itself was entirely safe.

The author ends his article by calling for more stringent controls from the FDA. He writes:

"The agency should [...] require manufacturers, as Canadian authorities already do, to provide the specific strain or strains, and the number of live microorganisms per serving, on every bottle of probiotic supplements."

He also urges them to introduce extra safety testing, focusing especially on "potentially transferable antibiotic resistance genes." As it stands, we do not know how consuming bacteria with an array of new genes might impact antibiotic resistance now or in the future.

Dr. Cohen's take-home message is clear and concise:

sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 11:28

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the 'flower man' of Suadi Arabia

It’s a perfect selfie opportunity in the most unlikely of settings. Four-wheelers wind precariously up the sides of lush mountains, their backseats filled with Saudi families and tourists from other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. As the vehicles make their way through the cool mist, the passengers intermittently pull over to dig for cameras and wallets. Jeep doors are flung open as they approach stalls selling honey, fruit and – the most coveted good – dazzling flower crowns of red and orange blooms. Visitors pose for cameras with the wreaths atop their heads, their best smiles on show for social media.

The flower crowns for sale at sites across ‘Asir province aren’t merely bait for cash-flush tourists seeking to show off to their friends back home. These intricately constructed headpieces are the traditional garb of the so-called ‘Flower Men’: members of the Qahtan tribe who maintain the practice of donning flowers and greenery for the sake of both beauty and health, and now sell these traditional crowns to visitors to the region.

Today, mostly concentrated in the southern Arabian Peninsula, Qahtanis are said to be the oldest social formations in the area, claiming to be the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham, of the Hebrew Bible. Their floral nickname comes from the fact that many Qahtani men traditionally crown their heads with intricate arrangements of herbs, flowers and grasses.  

Male members of Saudi Arabia’s Qahtan tribe are known as ‘Flower Men’ for their intricately constructed floral headpieces.

According to the late researcher Thierry Mauger, the construction of these flower crowns is approached by the tribe’s younger men as a friendly beauty competition: they incorporate as many colourful additions, like marigold and jasmine, as possible. Men of middle age and above, conversely, take a more sombre approach, constructing their wreaths with greenery like wild basil. Some wear them daily for aesthetic purposes, while others adorn themselves on special occasions like major Muslim holidays. Others still wear them when sick, choosing herbs and greenery specifically for their medicinal properties.

But floral crowns are not the only element that sets this tribal group apart from the dominant Saudi culture, popularised by the government elite, most of whom are originally from the Najd and Hijaz regions.

The Flower Men’s home region, ‘Asir, is located atop a plateau that receives more rainfall than any other area of the kingdom. In May and June, temperatures in the country’s interior cities can top 30C, but ‘Asir province, some 900km south-west of the capital Riyadh, greets unprepared tourists with chilly winds and the occasional rainstorm. Its peaks, the highest in the country, host agricultural terraces carved into the mountainside by its inhabitants who subsist on small-scale farming of wheat, coffee and fruit.

The headpieces are donned for the sake of both beauty and health – some are made from flora believed to fend off headaches or sinus maladies.

The Qahtan tribal group has had a trying history. In Arabic, ‘Asir translates to ‘difficult’, and it is this challenging remoteness of ‘Asir’s jagged cliffs, according to local folklore, that led a handful of Qahtani families to flee here from the surrounding lowlands to escape the invading armies of the Ottoman Empire more than 350 years ago. Following the occupation of ‘Asir by forces loyal to the House of Saud, the region was incorporated into the Saudi nation in 1932.

Living in small, self-governing groups in the mountains, the Qahtani villages were barely accessible – for both protection from surrounding tribes and political autonomy – until the late 20th Century. The settlement of Habala (derived from the Arabic word for ‘rope’), for example, was only reachable by a network of handrails and rope ladders. The construction of a cable car in the 1990s by the Saudi government increased access to the remote area, but also highlighted issues concerning the integration of tribes into the national identity and whether these unique cultures can withstand modernisation.

The mountainous province of ‘Asir, meaning ‘difficult’ in Arabic, appealed to the Qahtan as it provided autonomy and protection from invasion.

But, despite the odds, many of the Flower Men’s customs have indeed survived. In fact, the practices that risked being forgotten now serve to attract tourists to the region. In small eateries dotting the winding runs of Jabal Sawda, Saudi Arabia’s tallest peak, Qahtani servers festooned with bright blooms bring hot plates of goat and rice to locals and visitors. Guides at Habala greet visitors wearing colourful striped cloths draped at the waist. In comparison to the austere garments worn by women in the drier, hotter regions of the country, the Qahtani women traditionally wear closer-cut styles that keep them warm when temperatures drop. Although they don’t wear the flower-laden headpieces, headscarves and cloaks display intricate geometric embroidery and tassels are festive in bright yellow, blue and red.

Travelling in the region, one can’t help but marvel at the mud and stone buildings, dating back more than 200 years, that look like earthen mini-skyscrapers. These homes were constructed in close arrangement in tribally grouped communities, reminiscent of dwellings found in the Yemeni cities of Sana’a or Shibam, demonstrating that a common culture between the two states precedes the establishment of modern borders.

‘Asir province’s mud and stone buildings are similar to those seen in Yemeni cities like Sana’a, demonstrating a common culture between the states.

Curious visitors crane their necks to get a good look at the watchtowers, which, though no longer in use, rise above the residential quarters. The buildings boast complex architectural details that allow the homes to withstand the realities of ‘Asir’s climate: drainage systems that prevent rainfall from accumulating on roofs; a density of bricks to promote thermal retention and acoustics; and the homes’ few, small windows and bright-blue borders, two elements said to keep both mosquitoes and evil spirits at bay.

The inside of these homes are a visual treat all unto themselves. Interior walls – particularly in the majlis, the room designated for receiving guests – are painted in an array of bright blue, green, red and yellow, the geometric designs reflecting the patterns that have come to define an essential element of ‘Asir’s identity (and were inscribed on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017).

Today, these murals take their inspiration from the architectural symbols that, in the past, told visitors about the inhabitants of the house: patterns, shapes and shades informed others of the age, gender and make-up of each family. Repainted each year during the hajj season, a month dictated by the lunar calendar when Muslims make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, these decorations are the work of local women who transmit the art form inter-generationally by inviting relatives of all ages to aid in the annual upkeep.

But most of the tiny, isolated villages atop the highest peaks are empty.

Government projects, like a cable car to the settlement of Habala, have increased access to the remote ‘Asir region.

As part of a project to make the region more accessible to tourists, in the last half of the 20th Century the Saudi government forcibly relocated residents of villages like Habala, settling them in newly constructed developments with access to better infrastructure, services and schools. Their villages now operate as sites for tourists to explore ‘Asiri culture; the Flower Men only return temporarily to their ancestral villages to give tours, perform staged demonstrations of traditional regional dances and build their businesses around the tourist economy.

Herein lies the paradox of this underrepresented region: the slow trickle of modernisation chips away at indigenous ways of life, but an increased interest from the outside brings with it the possibility of safekeeping customs at risk of disappearing. Habala, due to its picturesque landscape and history of near-total isolation, has received particular attention from tourists.

But this doesn’t mean Qahtani culture is being completely eroded. Though many Flower Men now depend on the tourist economy to support their families, interest in the province has led to opportunities for locals to engage in their own cultural preservation. After many years of a national economy made wealthy by its oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which aims to lessen dependence on oil revenue in the decades ahead, includes plans to strengthen cultural programmes and the tourism sector. An allocation of nearly $1 billion dollars has been set aside to restore heritage sites, including those in ‘Asir.

Many Qahtani customs have survived contact with the outside world, including the colourful murals painted by women on the walls of their homes.

While many top-down initiatives like those of Vision 2030 focus on simply preserving the past, other projects are concerned with incorporating local knowledge with cultural and economic production.

In 2017, the organisation Art Jameel taught local artists the skills necessary for digitally recording traditional ‘Asiri mural paintings, with the goal of developing producers at the community level who will support traditional arts and crafts. Similarly, Dar Al-Hekma University in Jeddah spearheaded a project in 2014 entitled Reinventing ‘Asir that uses media, science, art and technology to encourage the preservation of architecture in tandem with supporting contemporary art, sustainable local development and agriculture.

“Since the ‘Asiris always proudly lived off the land and built their houses in a self-sustained manner,” explains the project’s mission statement, “they are in fact again at the forefront of what are considered globally cutting-edge trends.”

Today, the Flower Men only return to their ancestral villages to build their businesses around the tourist economy.

When night falls and the tour buses make their way to nearby hotels, the mountain villages like Habala again sit empty. It’s difficult to preserve your flower crown once you’ve left ‘Asir: after a few days, the blooms dry and flake with even the lightest touch, and the basil and jasmine lose their scent. Though much of ‘Asir’s recent economic success has focussed solely on the preservation of local history, hopefully these new initiatives that aim to bring locals into the decision-making process will allow ‘Asir to be a culturally unique place of the past, as well as have a blossoming future. 

“[The] fact is that any true identity emerges from both: the past and the future, memory and invention,” said Anna Klingmann, head of the architecture department at Dar Al-Hekma University. “If we prioritise one over the other, neglecting either memory or invention, the future or the past, part of our identity suffers.”

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 11:12

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Muckamore Abbey seclusion room was 'dark dungeon'

The mother of a severely-disabled man who is a patient at Muckamore Abbey Hospital described a seclusion room her son was placed in as "a dark dungeon".

The woman said she was horrified that in 2017 the room was being used for people with learning disabilities.

Families want a public inquiry to investigate allegations of physical and mental abuse at the hospital.

The Belfast Trust said it "apologised sincerely" for behaviour it said fell below professional standards.

In July, it emerged that 13 members of staff at the County Antrim hospital had been suspended by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust following allegations of ill treatment.

At the time it said: "This regrettable and unacceptable situation in no way reflects the work of our 500 dedicated and professional staff who provide excellent care every day to the 80 patients in Muckamore."

Padded walls


Media captionMuckamore seclusion room was 'a dark dungeon'

The man who was secluded at the hospital's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) last year has complex disabilities including autism and epilepsy and cannot speak or feed himself.

His family says he has the mental capacity of a two year old, and was locked in the room for up to two hours more than once.

His mother, who has asked for her identity to be protected, said alarm bells started ringing as soon as she saw the room.

"I saw a room 12 by eight, with padded walls, and a leather chair sitting in the middle of it," she told BBC News NI.

"There was nothing to look at, no stimulation whatsoever.

"The room had no toilet, nor drinking facilities.

"All I thought of was my poor boy was in there with not even a drink," said the mother.

"In 2017 this was happening in our country."

'Knuckles rubbed on head'

CCTV footage from the PICU unit shows her son being punched in the stomach by a nurse.

The footage, taken over a three-month period, also shows patients being pulled, hit, punched, flicked and verbally abused by nursing staff.

Sources have told the BBC the CCTV footage shows some of the most degrading and cruel behaviour against vulnerable adults ever captured in the UK.

A father was visibly upset as he described what he had been told about his son's treatment.

"They swung him round by the arm for over a minute and then let him go and he fell. He has epilepsy, he's on medication," he said.

"They tipped him out of his chair. Knuckles were rubbed against his head and various other incidents that I still don't know about but that is on the CCTV footage.

"I only know a short resumé of the allegations. I have been advised they are horrendous.

"I feel so guilty for putting him in, but as a parent you thought you were doing the best thing for him.

"He was let down so badly by the system and so were others.

"It is deeply distressing for a parent to be aware that you have entrusted your son into care and it went so miserably wrong."

Under review

The Belfast Trust said the seclusion room was still used in emergencies, but its use was being reviewed.

An adult safeguarding investigation began in September 2017 following reports of inappropriate behaviour and the alleged physical abuse of patients by staff in the PICU and another ward in the hospital.

Each family affected will receive a report about the care and treatment of their child, and the BBC understands families are being offered the opportunity to view some of the CCTV footage from Muckamore.

A Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) report is due to be published, which the BBC understands will outline "catastrophic and systemic failures" involving senior management and nursing staff.

Its author, Margaret Flynn, headed up the review into the Winterbourne View abuse scandal in England.

The level of abuse at Muckamore Abbey is on a similar scale, sources say.

The PSNI confirmed last week it was investigating 132 potential criminal cases, but that figure is expected to rise: The BBC understands the scale of the investigation is unprecedented.

A specially commissioned panel is reviewing more than 90,000 hours of CCTV footage, which may trigger more investigative actions.

Since November 2017, 13 staff members have been placed on "precautionary suspension" after ill-treatment allegations.

They remain off duty, on full pay.

One senior manager is understood to have offered to retire early after allegations were made, and is currently off sick.

A senior nurse is also on long-term sick leave.

'She was black and blue'

One County Down mother, whose daughter was an in-patient at Muckamore, said she repeatedly voiced her concerns to management and the regulatory body the RQIA, but was ignored.

"I felt powerless that no matter what I did or who I spoke to, including the RQIA and health trust management, the same things kept happening over and over again," she said.

"I raised concerns about the continuous incidents. She was black and blue, being hit by other patients.

"She was trailed up the corridor by her hair but no one listened. She was failed, I was failed."

The woman raised her own concerns about the seclusion room after her daughter appeared traumatised and said she had been "put in jail".

The Belfast Health and Social Trust said it took the concerns raised by relatives extremely seriously, and had arranged to meet one of the families.

The RQIA said it followed up each case raised "in line with our powers".

"We are constantly working to improve out accessibility, so as people can bring their concerns to us in the knowledge action will be taken.

"The abuse, by its very nature, was hidden from management at this service, from visiting professional staff such as psychiatrists who were present on a daily basis."

Due to the complexity and scale of the investigation, the National Crime Agency has been asked to provide advice to the PSNI if requested, but has not been asked to play an active role.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:52

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Toast of the town all the world's a stage

The modern gastronomic landscape is an intricate and competitive space, led by the world’s culinary superstars. While rock star chefs are certainly not a new concept, their prevalence and reach has never been more prominent than over the past decade – and it has changed the way we eat. TV cooking shows such as MasterChef and Top Chef have propelled the most lively of culinary maestros and their respective cuisines to worldwide audiences, who further spread the foodie message on social media, posting images of everything from street-side snacks to Michelin-star meals.

At the same time, travel has become simpler and more affordable for many people, meaning ingredients and dishes have become increasingly exotic as chefs and gastronomes scour the globe for the next quinoa or bibimbap. Meanwhile, the standards and expectations of diners – who are eating outside the home more often – are at an all-time high. Chefs, like never before, must perform small gastronomic miracles for their guests. And this same pressure is being applied to mixologists, whose libations must all but have transformative powers.

While the food and beverage industry is meeting these new demands in myriad ways, few seem to be as effective as specialising in something, and then working to perfect the experience – as one hotel group is keenly aware of. “The Peninsula Hotels is known as a specialist in Cantonese fine dining, with renowned Chinese restaurants in the majority of our hotels,” says James Overbaugh, the Director of Global Food and Beverage Operations for the hotel group. “We are perhaps most famous for creating XO sauce at Spring Moon restaurant at The Peninsula Hong Kong.”

A relatively recent addition to Cantonese cooking, the history of this intensely garlicky chilli paste is shrouded in mystery, but the sauce is believed to have been developed in the 1980s. A dollop of XO sauce enlivens dishes, whether mixed in with tender braised beef or tossed through mussels and clams.

While the sauce has become one of Spring Moon’s signatures and is now served in the hotel group’s Chinese restaurants – and countless other eateries – worldwide, a superlative dining experience requires more than good food in today’s competitive climate. Ambience and service also play a vital role, while a storied history adds further incentive, particularly for travellers in search of something extraordinary. 

Marble floors pave the entrance to The Lobby at The Peninsula Hong Kong – one of Hong Kong’s most elegant meeting places, since 1928 – where soaring gilded columns are topped with the faces of gargoyles, all of which have been restored to their former glory. In between potted palms, guests dine on exquisite finger sandwiches to the sound of string instruments. The refined surrounds, coupled with excellent food and service, make the hotel’s daily afternoon tea one of the city’s iconic foodie experiences. And upstairs, Swiss restaurant Chesa has been one of the finest places in Hong Kong to order veal Zurichoise for more than 50 years.

Yet even in the world’s more traditional restaurants, a new benchmark exists: An emphasis on locally sourced produce and ingredients and increasing demand for more ethical practices. “Sustainably farmed, caught or produced products are a top priority,” says Overbaugh. “Whether Fairtrade-certified coffees and chocolate, pesticide-free produce or wild-caught fish, our chefs are always looking for the best the market has to offer.” In addition to crafting dishes infused with local flavour, many restaurants are elevating their offerings by ensuring a holistic experience, which encompasses a design aesthetic that speaks to what is being offered on the plate.

Celebrating farm-to-table-style cuisine, Jing restaurant in Beijing was redesigned with a contemporary aesthetic reminiscent of a secret Chinese garden, complete with lush floral table arrangements, and artworks by leading Chinese artists. “The design needs to reflect the theme and experiential aspects of the restaurant,” says Overbaugh, “and be constructed and finished in a manner consistent with the highest level of quality.”

At The Belvedere in Beverly Hills, that meant an elegant and understated décor of cream-coloured walls and pastel blue furnishings, to allow modern art to stand out. Now, guests of the newly refurbished 25-year-old restaurant can enjoy Mediterranean fare such as wild Alaskan turbot and filet mignon while admiring artworks by the likes of Japanese icon Yayoi Kusama and American pop art hero Robert Indiana. Details like these ensure a restaurant not only stays relevant, but also becomes a must-visit destination.

“Foodie tourism is on the rise,” says Overbaugh. “For many travellers, culinary experiences and exciting, quality restaurants and bars are a critical factor in choosing a destination or hotel. Even luxury travellers who aren’t on a culinary pilgrimage are influenced by the perceived quality of a hotel’s food and beverage offerings.” As such, the Peninsula team delivers a stage-like performance that is both considered and measured, to ensure their dining options are not only worthy of best restaurant accolades but are also considered among a city’s defining visitor experiences.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:38

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Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?

Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting.

Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's leaders are considering a referendum on what their approach should be.

As public opinion - and that of governments - changes, it seems increasingly likely that other countries will follow, raising questions about how they work together to manage the use and supply of cannabis.

What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation?

War on drugs

It was only in 2012 that Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.

Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use.

Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives.

Eight more states and Washington DC have since supported the legalisation of recreational cannabis and penalties are softening elsewhere. The use of the drug for medical reasons is allowed in 33 of the 50 states.

In many ways the jury is still out on the effects of legalisation on society and individuals' health, but there is no question that public opinion and government policy has softened.

The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.

That Mexico will legalise marijuana seems a virtual certainty. The new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has introduced a bill that would legalise its medical and recreational use, while the country's supreme court recently ruled an absolute ban on recreational use unconstitutional.

Other countries are pushing ahead. Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal. In Spain it is legal to use cannabis in private, while the drug is sold openly in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Still more countries allow the use of medicinal cannabis.

Sick children

In many countries, the move towards legalisation started with a softening of public attitudes.

In the US and Canada, images of sick children being denied potentially life-changing medicines had a tremendous impact on public opinion - a concern that brought forward legalisation for medical purposes.

A similar softening of attitudes has been seen in the UK.

In June, 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who has severe epilepsy, was admitted to hospital after his medical cannabis oil was confiscated. A month later, a special licence to use cannabis oil was granted to seven-year-old Alfie Dingley, who has a rare form of epilepsy.

Following high-profile campaigns, the UK government changed the law to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products.

As US states such as California found in the 1990s and 2000s, familiarity with medical cannabis can soften attitudes towards recreational use.

But in the UK, the Home Office says the recreational use of cannabis will remain banned, although senior figures, including former Conservative leader William Hague, have suggested a rethink.

Mexico has also had cases of children being denied medical cannabis, but it has also been motivated by the extraordinary violence of its drugs war.

Although marijuana makes up a relatively small share of drug cartel revenues, continuing to ban it is seen as increasingly at odds with reality.

Mexican diplomats warned the US it was difficult to enforce the fight against cannabis when the neighbouring American state of California legalised recreational use.

The cannabis market

With countries worldwide moving towards some form of legalisation, others are rushing to catch up.

Often, as in many parts of Latin America, governments want their farmers to have access to the potentially lucrative medicinal cannabis markets that are developing.

Corporations have also expressed interest. For example, Altria, which owns cigarette brands including Marlboro, has made a $1.86bn (£1.46bn) investment in a Canadian cannabis company.

Over time, as the US demonstrates, it is quite possible that the medical trade could quite easily morph into recreational sales - potentially opening up an even bigger market.

One immediate obstacle is that cannabis for recreational purposes cannot be traded across borders. Countries can only import and export medicinal cannabis under a licensing system supervised by the International Narcotics Control Board.

Farmers in countries such as Morocco and Jamaica may have a reputation for producing cannabis, but they can't access markets that domestic producers sometimes struggle to supply - as happened in Canada following legalisation.

The effects of cannabis

  • Can cause confusion, anxiety and paranoia
  • If smoked with tobacco, can increase the risk of diseases like lung cancer
  • Regular use has been linked to an increased risk of psychotic illness
  • Used in some places to treat side effects of multiple sclerosis and cancer
  • Trials under way to look at how it might be used to treat other conditions including epilepsy and HIV/Aids

Developing rules

While there are some rumblings of change within the international legal system, as yet this seems far off.

Governments that want to move towards legalisation face a challenge: steering a course between uncontrolled legalisation and hard prohibition.

Poorly-regulated industry and mind-altering substances are not a combination about which many societies would feel comfortable.

But it seems a virtual certainty that more countries will change their approach to cannabis in the coming decades.

As such, domestic and international rules will need to catch up.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:12

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Is it possible to reverse 'chemo brain?'

Chemotherapy can affect a person's brain for years after coming to an end. How does it actually change the brain, and is there anything that scientists can do to reverse these effects?

Researchers are looking into ways of reversing the 'chemo brain' effect.

Many people who undergo chemotherapy will notice cognitive impairment and behavioral changes. This might include difficulty with movement.

Some people refer to this effect as "chemo brain."

It can last for months or years, impacting people's quality of life following cancertreatment.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California recently conducted a study to find out exactly how and why chemotherapy agents affect the brain, and to see whether or not there is any way to block or reverse that effect.

The results — which appear in the journal Cell — appear to indicate that methotrexate, a common chemotherapy drug, affects the normal functioning of three important types of cell present in the brain's white matter.

Chemo brain's impact

The scientists also report learning that a drug currently undergoing clinical trials for other uses can address these ill effects in a mouse model.

"It's wonderful that [people who have undergone chemotherapy are] alive, but their quality of life is really suffering," claims lead study author Erin Gibson. "If we can do anything to improve that, there is a huge population that could benefit," she notes.

"Cognitive dysfunction after cancer therapy," explains senior study author Dr. Michelle Monje, "is a real and recognized syndrome."

"There [is] real hope that we can intervene, induce regeneration, and prevent damage in the brain," she adds.

Specifically, chemo brain tends to severely affect children who have undergone cancer treatment. Dr. Monje and team believe that finding a way to address this problem could truly improve these children's lives.

The chemo drug that disrupts brain cells

In the recent study, the researchers focused on three important types of cell that are present in the brain's white matter. These are:

  • Oligodendrocytes. These generate and protect myelin, which is the substance that insulates axons. Axons are the fibers through which nerve cells communicate with one another.
  • Astrocytes. These help keep the neurons well-irrigated, and they maintain a healthy environment for these cells, allowing them to communicate properly.
  • Microglia. These are specialized immune cells that normally destroy any foreign agents that may be harmful to the brain.

When the scientists compared frontal lobe brain tissue collected postmortem from children who had received chemotherapy with tissue from children who had not, they saw that the former presented significantly fewer oligodendrocyte lineage cells.

To understand why oligodendrocytes were not doing well in the chemotherapy-exposed brain, the researchers turned to young mouse models that they injected with methotrexate.

They aimed to replicate the dosage and practice performed in human cancer treatment, so they gave the mice three doses of the drug once per week.

After a period of 4 weeks, the mice that received methotrexate had sustained damage to their oligodendrocyte precursor cells, which are the fresh cells that normally develop to replace oligodendrocytes that can no longer function.

Following exposure to methotrexate, more precursor cells began to start the maturation process, but they remained stuck in an undeveloped state, unable to actually reach maturity. This was the case even 6 months after the mice's treatment with the chemotherapy drug.

This also impacted the thickness of myelin, and the mice even faced the same behavioral problems as people who undergo chemotherapy often do. These include motor impairment, anxiety, and problems with attention and memory.

Some of these effects also persisted for 6 months following treatment with methotrexate.

The importance of 'intercellular crosstalk'

When they tried injecting oligodendrocyte precursor cells from the brains of healthy mice into those of the experimental mice, the investigators noticed that these cells also started the maturation process at higher rates, but they did not get stuck midway through this process.

This, the team suggests, meant that there were problems in the cells' environment following treatment, which stopped them from completing their normal process.

The researchers next turned to study the microglia and found that these were abnormally active for at least 6 months following the chemotherapy treatment, thus interfering with the normal functioning of astrocytes and disrupting the healthy nutrition of neurons.

However, when the researchers gave the experimental mice a drug whose effect was to selectively deplete microglia, this allowed the oligodendrocyte precursor cells to resume their normal process of maturation; it stopped astrocyte disruption and renewed normal myelin thickness.

Also, this approach reversed numerous cognitive impairment symptoms in the mice that received the new drug.

"The biology of this disease really underscores how important intercellular crosstalk is," says Dr. Monje, adding, "Every major neural cell type is affected in this pathophysiology."

"If we understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to cognitive dysfunction after cancer therapy, that will help us develop strategies for effective treatment. It's an exciting moment," she concludes.



sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 10:10

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Roger the kangaroo: Enormous roo dies aged 12

Roger, a kangaroo who won global fame for his enormous size and impressive physique, has died at the age of 12.

The roo was rescued as a joey after his mother was killed in a car accident, and grew up at the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs in Australia.

And he grew up a lot - ending up more than 2m (6ft 7) tall and weighing 89kg (196lbs).

The sanctuary announced his death from old age at the weekend, saying they had lost their "beautiful boy".

"He was still a baby when I saved him from his mother's pouch after she'd gotten killed on the highway," Chris "Brolga" Barns told the BBC.

Mr Barns set up the sanctuary as a place to raise him. The marsupial soon became the alpha, and had 12 partners. There are currently more than 50 kangaroos at the site.

"At the beginning, there was a close bond but soon he looked at me as competition and wanted to fight me," said Mr Barns.

Roger first came to the world's attention in 2015 when images of him crushing a metal bucket in his hands using his huge muscles went viral.

"Roger was as muscular as they come," Mr Barns said, pointing out that while his size and strength were not entirely unusual, they still set him apart from many other male kangaroos.

"Ever since he was featured on TV and clips went viral, there's been a lot of love and attention for him," Mr Barns said.

"Now that he passed away, we are again getting a lot of attention and have received condolences from people around the world."

In his later years, Roger had struggled with arthritis and fading vision, but was "loving his retirement", Mr Barns said in 2016.

Kangaroos can live for as long as 14 years but rarely make it to that age when in the wild.

"Life is much harder in the wild for an older kangaroo," Mr Barns told the BBC.

"When they get sick, the dingos, our wild dogs, will attack and eat them."

He said Roger had been buried in the sanctuary so "he will always be here".

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:04

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Somalia piracy: How foreign powers are tackling it

Foreign navies have played a key role in curbing piracy off Somalia's coast, writes the BBC's Anne Soy.

On a beach in Hordeia on the northern coast of Somalia, I asked a former pirate what attracted him to piracy in the first place.

The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me he was originally a fisherman and that was his main source of income but things changed when an illegal trawler destroyed his net.

"I had a boat and a net on it, then a trawler cut our fishing nets and pulled them away. I was left with an empty boat," he recalled.

He and a fellow fisherman tried to shout and call the trawler crew, but it was in vain. It angered them.

"They passed over our nets and pulled them away. Our fishing equipment was destroyed."

The former pirate's story was not unusual.

In the second half of the last decade what began as a defensive act against big trawlers, quickly morphed into a lucrative illegal business that raised global concern.

As he and other fishermen lost their trade, they turned to piracy, hijacking ships and passengers for ransom.

Dramatic cliff

It also drew in former militiamen who fought with warlords during Somalia's long civil war.

I wanted to know more about his days as a pirate but he became unsettled and ended the interview abruptly.

What appeared to make him uneasy was a Spanish Special Forces soldier who had wandered over.

Security around the beach was tight as a helicopter hovered in the sky. The helicopter was part of the European Union Naval Force (EUNavfor).

It gave a clue as to what has changed in recent years that has dramatically reduced the threat from piracy.

A decade ago, pirates operated freely and there were plenty of hideouts for them along the coastline, like Eyl, a small, scenic port town in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

As I approached Eyl, I saw the town by the beach right in front of a high, dramatic golden-brown cliff. The cliff seemingly shelters the town from wind and dust blowing from the mainland.

Dangerous sea passage

Locals told me about the time years ago when pirates flooded the market with money, causing the cost of living to rise sharply.

Armed, they also terrorised the local community, but they rarely killed anyone.

They also held some of the sailors they captured hostage as they demanded huge ransoms, sometimes of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The possibility of huge riches seemed to have been the main driver of piracy off the Somali coast.

But it was the lack of an effective central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, and the subsequent disbandment of the Somali navy, that enabled it to happen.

Somali territorial waters saw a rise in smuggling, illegal fishing by foreign trawlers, illegal dumping and later piracy.

The route through the Indian Ocean past the Somali coast became known as one of the most dangerous sea passages in the world.

But 10 years ago, the European Union, Nato and others began to deploy naval forces to the region shortly after the UN Security Council allowed warships to enter Somali territorial waters.

Pirate attacks have now all but stopped, after reaching a peak in 2011.

I wanted to see how this change had come about and spent seven days on the ESPS Castilla, a Spanish naval ship that is part of EUNavfor.

On the second day onboard, breakfast was cut short and we were guided to the ship's bridge. A boat had been spotted in the distance.

"We don't think it's anything suspicious but we carry out 'friendly approaches' as part of patrolling the sea," explained an officer.

After a quick briefing, five or so marines geared up and descended from the warship onto a waiting boat. We followed on a second boat, keeping our distance.

Rich fish stocks

As soon as the Spanish boat had pulled alongside the fishermen, a quick search was conducted.

"The vessel is from Yemen but the crew are mostly from Somalia," the officer on our boat explained after listening to the radio communication.

Finally, we were allowed to board the fishing boat.

The fishermen, about eight of them, were by then relaxed and making jokes as they drank water from bottles given to them by the special forces.

"There's a good market for fish in Yemen that's why we sell our catch there," explained Osman Ali.

He said he used to fish off the coast of Tanzania, but was attracted further north because of the rich fish stocks in Somali waters.

"But I have not seen pirates," he said nervously and quickly changed the subject.

All the fishermen operating here know each other and if there is a security problem they quickly alert their colleagues and move to safer waters, he added.

"Sometimes we meet bad people who steal our tools and fish, but the presence of the warship has made things better," Mr Ali said.

Boat blown up

On another day, news came through that a freight ship came under attack 300 nautical miles east of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

A small boat, or skiff, got within 50m (164ft) of the ship and fired. But the onboard security returned fire, scaring off the small boat.

The Castilla was too far away to intervene, but the next day the skiff was traced to a bay that is a known pirate base, just off the Somali coast.

Spanish forces towed the skiff into sea and later blew it up.

It was only the second incident reported in 2018. Both attacks were unsuccessful.

As for the town of Eyl, a revolt had forced the pirates out.

Back to fishing

Eyl Police Commissioner Mohammed Dahir Yusuf exuded confidence about the town's ability to deal with any resurgence.

"Any illegal boats are dealt with by the marine forces who catch them and bring them here, where they are dealt with."

He was referring to the Puntland Maritime Police Force, around 800 men strong, and the largest such unit in the country.

But its abilities are limited.

"We don't have enough boats to take to sea," Mr Yusuf said.

He added that the force only had two small boats, hardly enough to adequately patrol the vast sea and apprehend suspects.This is not the only challenge.

Marco Hekkens, an adviser on maritime security to the EU's civilian mission in Somalia, said illegal fishing is continuing.

EUNavfor can report suspicious fishing vessels to the authorities, but given Somalia's limited capacity to deal with them, hardly anything is done.

Rear Admiral Alfonso Perez de Nanclares is also cautious despite the success in quelling piracy.

"When the mission started we had about 40 hijacked ships, and more than 700 hostages," he told me.

"Piracy has been contained but I really think the intention of going back to this business is still there. I think by working together [with the authorities] we'll be able to su and eradicate it."

Back in Hordeia, before the reformed pirate got cold feet, he told me that he had gone back to fishing.

But there continues to be a danger that the piracy cycle could be repeated.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 09:35

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Huawei arrest puts 'bullseye' on Apple

You don't need to look hard to see how the Global Times - the state-backed Chinese newspaper - is interpreting the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.

"Washington's move to stifle Huawei will undermine itself," reads a headline. "Banning Chinese companies like Huawei will isolate US from digital economy of the future," reads another.

It's that second headline, the threat of isolation, that should give US technology companies considerable pause as we head into Ms Meng’s 12th day of detainment in a Canadian jail.

The fallout from her arrest will surely mean, at the very least, an even more difficult relationship for the handful of US tech giants that have found great fortune in China.

In particular, Apple, the poster child for US tech success, and a company that relied on China for 20% of its revenues this past year.

The Global Times said: "Some Western countries are resorting to political means to resist Huawei's attempts to enter into their markets.

"Failure to provide reciprocal opening-up means their companies won't get any benefits from China's digital economy.”

Blocked sales

“Look,” said analyst Dan Ives from investment firm Wedbush, “the Huawei CFO situation... it’s the straw that could break the camel’s back.”

China has long felt that the US is unfair to its big tech firms - in particular Huawei, which is the closest thing the country has to a true Apple competitor. While it doesn’t (yet) come close in terms of yearly revenue - $266bn for Apple against an expected $100bn or so for Huawei - the firm did manage to leapfrog Apple in global smartphone sales earlier this year. Huawei is now second only to Samsung.

On Tuesday, a Chinese court banned the sale of older iPhone models as part of a long-running patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Qualcomm. Most legal observers had expected China to reject Qualcomm’s request for an injunction.

There is no direct link between this action and the Huawei row. But taken against the backdrop of Ms Meng’s arrest, and ongoing tariff disputes, it’s being seen as a muscle-flexing display on the part of the Chinese.

But the real success story for Huawei won’t come from smartphones, but the equipment that makes them worth having. Huawei is positioning itself as the vendor of choice for rolling out 5G technology, the next generation of mobile network.

Put simply, if China thinks the US is unfairly hobbling the opportunity for Huawei to be a major player in 5G, it may retaliate and Apple could feel the brunt.

"The last thing tech investors wanted to see was this news about the CFO of Huawei,” Mr Ives said.

"It fuels the flames of further retaliation.”

A mild protest

Mr Ives said Apple must feel like it has a “bullseye” on its back.

Wedbush estimates 350m iPhones in use around the world are approaching the point when most people would want an upgrade, with around 70m of them in China.

"You’re talking about a quarter of the incremental growth over the next three to four years is going to come from China.”

Even without official intervention, the publicity hit Apple could suffer might make a dent in their Chinese revenues. Outside court in Vancouver, members of the city’s Chinese community have made their feelings clear, holding “Free Meng” signs and telling reporters they feel the US is bullying Huawei and, by extension, China.

And according to internal memos obtained by Yahoo News, a number of Chinese companies have taken steps to promote their employees use Huawei products instead of Apple.

“The news of Huawei CFO Ms Meng Wanzhou’s arrest by Canadian authorities has shocked the Chinese people,” a memo to staff at Jiangxi Ruike Refrigeration Technology is reported to have said, encouraging employees to trade in their iPhones for a Huawei device (in return for a healthy subsidy).


But there is one aspect of Apple’s success in China that could mean it's spared Beijing’s wrath - even if Ms Meng finds herself extradited and even jailed.

Apple of course doesn’t just sell products to China, it makes them there. In 2017, Apple estimated that between manufacture, retail, distribution - not to mention those developing for its software - it was responsible for 4.8m jobs in China.

Further, the company has opened research centres that are providing a home in China for the country’s brightest graduates.

"They have relationships with the Chinese government because they’ve been a massive employer,” Mr Ives said, suggesting Beijing might be limited in what action it could take as result.

"By hurting Apple, it would to some extent be almost like burning down your own house."

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 09:22

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Are millennials on track to become the richest generation

With matters of money, millennials have an uphill climb.

That is the story we hear: millennials digging out from record student loan debt – expected to soar above £1tn ($1.27tn) in the UK over the next 25 years alone – and scrambling to pay rent with globally rising living costs and lower wages. And the numbers corroborate the story. Generation-on-generation wealth is declining, and millennials are financially worse off than those before them.

None of this is exactly surprising, however. We have known for years that the 2008 global financial crisis hit millennials hard, with many graduating directly into a troubled global economy – from which some countries are still struggling to rebound entirely. Slow wage growth, high living costs and a lack of retirement savings mean millennials will be playing catch-up well into retirement.

When baby boomers pass on their assets to younger family members, analysts expect them to leave $4tn of wealth to millennials within the UK and North America alone

That’s if they can afford to quit working at all. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, when millennials in the world’s eight largest pension markets start to retire, the retirement savings gap will be $427tn. That’s more than six times the 2015 figure of $67tn. Driving this shortfall are things like longer life expectancy, the deceleration of a long-term growth environment and poor savings rates, coupled with low levels of financial literacy.

This doesn’t paint a hopeful picture for the future – but maybe there is a scenario that is not so bleak. Could a windfall from the richest generation – baby boomers – reverse the fortunes for millennials?

Shelter from the storm

Unlike millennials, baby boomers are the wealthiest generation in history – and will remain that way until roughly 2030.

According to a wealth transfer report by the Royal Bank of Canada, when this group passes on their assets to younger family members, analysts expect them to leave $4tn of wealth to millennials within the UK and North America alone. This ‘inheritance boom’ will position millennials who have baby boomers in their families to receive record sums of inheritance.

As baby boomers are living longer, they are spending more of their savings. For many millennials, some family assets might not be retained to be passed on.

Is the solution to millennials’ money woes, then, to wait for the wealthier baby boomer generation to die out and inherit their assets?

It’s an argument made by Paul Donovan, UBS Wealth Management’s chief global economist, who earlier this year predicted that millennials will actually become history’s wealthiest generation. Speaking to Business Insider, he argued that wealth doesn’t evaporate from the economy. And, since baby boomers are a larger generation than millennials, wealth will consolidate as it is passed down through the generations. Simply: fewer people, the same amount of wealth distributed among them.

All in the family

It’s not that simple, says Moritz Schularick, professor of economics at the University of Bonn in Germany. He says that the intergenerational wealth transfer model in which millennials become the wealthiest generation on record is a “global top 1% model”.

“It applies to people who have so much they can never spend their wealth,” he says. “Normal people – and standard economic models – assume that people save for old age and then use their savings [and] wealth to pay for things when they have no income. At the end of their lives there is some inheritance, but not that much.”

Between 1995 and 2016, only 2% of bequests equaled $1,000,000 or more – yet this money comprised upwards of 40% of wealth transferred

Lowell R. Ricketts, lead analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s Center for Household Financial Stability, agrees. He says that only a minority of baby boomer families will pass on “significant wealth”. (June 2018 figures from the US Federal Reserve confirm this: between 1995 and 2016, only 2% of bequests equaled $1,000,000 or more – yet this money comprised upwards of 40% of wealth transferred.)

Although some assets by nature do retain value or even appreciate, Ricketts says, we cannot assume that baby boomers will hold onto assets until bequest. “A home and the property it’s built on may need to be liquidated in retirement to maintain a standard of living. Therefore, even if those assets don’t disappear from the economy, they might not be retained and passed on.”

Tried-and-true plan B

Even if the transfer of assets occurred and it also significantly impacted millennial wealth, says Ricketts, timing is a crucial factor.

In the St. Louis Fed’s Demographics of Wealth summary, researchers write that American wealth accumulation for households headed by someone born in the 1980s are 34% percent below expectations. “These families are approaching important financial milestones (homeownership, raising children, saving for retirement) with diminished wealth accumulation,” says Ricketts. “A windfall in the future won’t help these families meet their current financial obligations. In other words, the promise of a transfer in the future won’t help meet the down payment required for a mortgage.”

Even if you think you might be in line for an inheritance, it's possible that you might not get it in time to help you afford milestones like buying real estate.

If you are among the millennials crossing your fingers for surprise cash infusion, then Donovan’s model likely doesn’t apply to you. Waiting on a windfall can’t be your plan A – and, even then, you might be waiting too long.

As elder generations continue to struggle with retirement savings and live longer on less, millennials looking to save for retirement might want to keep courting the tried-and-true option: socking away money with lower-volatility vehicles. The silver lining of higher interest rates in the economy is not nearly as thrilling as found wealth, sure. But aren’t millennials used to taking what they can get?

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 14:18

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