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the designer changing the way aircraft are built

It looks more like a chicken carcass than a drone. Wishbone-thin struts hold together a skeletal scaffold that seems too fragile to fly.

But don’t be fooled. It may not look it, but this design is one of the strongest among thousands of alternatives. We know because an artificial intelligence has dreamed up and tested every one of them.

The use of massive computing power to conjure radical new designs automatically – a process known as generative design –  is revolutionising the way human designers work, letting us build things we previously couldn’t have imagined.

The technology is already designing everyday industrial components from seatbelt brackets in cars and motorbike chassis to cabin partitions in passenger aircraft. Not only are these computer-generated designs stronger and lighter than human-crafted solutions but they’re weird – designs that no human would have come up with in the first place.

“The computer can really surprise you,” says Lilli Smith at Autodesk in Boston, a software design company which has several generative designs under its belt, including the unusual drone chassis. 

Instead of waiting for inspiration to hit, computers go looking. Handed a set of design constraints – such as making it lightweight, strong and low-cost – generative design software identifies and assesses hundreds or thousands of candidates that all fit the bill, before selecting the pick of the crop.

Humans switch from being creators to curators

By trawling through an exhaustive set of options, computers typically find ones that a human would have missed. Designers can simply choose from a handful that the software predicts will do the job better than the rest. Humans switch from being creators to curators.

The basic idea is simple: here’s what I want, show me the best. But the software and cloud-based computing power needed to pull it off have only appeared in the last few years. For one of its first generative design projects, in 2015, Autodesk Research teamed up with the Bandito Bros, a US multimedia studio known for its wacky stunts, and asked an AI to design a car.

The team wired up a custom-built off-road buggy with hundreds of sensors and raced it around the Mojave Desert. This let them capture a vast amount of data about the stresses that extreme driving placed on different parts of the vehicle. They then fed this to the generative design system with the instruction to produce something that could handle this. The resulting design, dubbed the Hack Rod, gave a glimpse of the future: more strength from less material – and alien-looking.

There’s a reason generative designs look weird, as if they were the result of a natural process rather than made, says Erin Bradner at Autodesk Research in San Francisco. “The algorithm will fine tune the structure so that not a single piece of material is added that’s not needed,” she says. “Some people relate it to erosion.”

Generative design combined with 3D printing allows structures to be made that were impossible before.This process of elimination applies not only to the amount of material in a structure but also the number of parts needed to make it. “That can mean fewer suppliers, faster assembly and fewer points of failure,” says Bradner.

The trouble with favouring organic structures is that they can be hard to manufacture with traditional machines. Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – can be used to make most shapes, but not all industries yet use it. To get around that, you can instruct the design software to generate something that can be made by certain kinds of equipment.

“A designer can specify that she wants to make a part on a three-axis mill with a specific diameter cutting tool and the algorithm will only produce parts that can be made by that mill, with that cutter,” says Bradner.

Manufacturing limitations become yet another design constraint that the software takes on board. “Designers are faced with a myriad of choices every day that they don’t have the time or mental resources to fully explore,” she says. “If I could make my part in aluminium or steel what would it look like? If I could manufacture by 3D printing or milling, what alternatives could I consider?”

The cabin partitions in passenger aircraft can be made lighter but stronger when designed by Al.

Generative design is still a new technology, with many projects one-off experiments, such as the Hack Rod and drone. But companies like Autodesk and Frustum, based in Colorado, are starting to take the tech mainstream via collaborations with a range of major manufacturers. “We’re doing a lot of work with aerospace companies,” says Frustum’s chief executive Jesse Blankenship.

When designing components for aircraft, a small reduction in weight can makes a big difference

When designing components for aircraft, a small reduction in weight can makes a big difference. Blankenship says his company’s software has been used to design lighter components like heat exchangers and acoustic baffling. Frustum has clients in the defence industry as well, but they’re tight-lipped about what they’re designing. “I just know they buy the software,” he says.

Autodesk has also been helping aircraft lose weight. The Airbus A320 now has lightweight partitions between cabins that were designed by an AI that Autodesk Research co-developed with New York-based software company The Living. The partition’s skeletal design has rods criss-crossing at odd angles.

Others have also been looking at AI’s ability to improve aircraft design. Researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) have been investigating its role in helping to tune combat aircraft to specific missions. Aerospace engineers at Delft University in the Netherlands have also been developing a tool that produces conceptual aircraft designs.

Airbus estimates that the new cabin partition design can save up to 465,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

It’s not only planes that benefit from being lighter. Autodesk has worked with US car maker General Motors to create a seatbelt bracket that is 40 percent l

ighter and 20 percent stronger than the previous version. At its annual trade show in November this year, Autodesk also showed off an AI-designed suspension system for a Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 racing car and a frame for a BMW motorcycle.

Even Nasa is in on it. Next to the car and bike parts was a lander that Nasa is developing for missions to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Autodesk’s generative design for the lander’s legs is 35 percent lighter than previous human-made designs.

For David Kirsh, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego and visiting researcher at University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, generative design lets us outsource a kind of hands-on problem solving.

Kirsh is interested in how human thinking is embedded in our physical environment. Imagine you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You could try to fit all the pieces together in your head, using what we might call the mind’s eye. Or you could build it. For any puzzle with more than a handful of pieces, solving the problem with our hands rather than our head is far easier. “Cognition is a product of the interaction between brains, bodies and the world,” he says.

The intritcate legs of Nasa's new interplanetary lander are nearly a third lighter than anything a human could come up with.

Many problems can’t be solved (just) in our head at all, which is why design typically involves prototyping to see how pieces fit together and work as a whole. Here’s another example. If you have a peg that you need to fit into a tight hole you don’t study the peg and the hole and calculate how it’s going to go in. “The trick is actually to put it part-way in and then jiggle it,” says Kirsh. “There is no counterpart in the mind for jiggling.”

Trying out thousands of different ways to meet a set of design constraints – like different positions for the peg in the hole – is a form of virtual jiggling

But generative design could be the next best thing. Trying out thousands of different ways to meet a set of design constraints – like different positions for the peg in the hole – is a form of virtual jiggling.

In fact, some design problems are a lot like puzzles. When Autodesk Research wanted to set up a new office in Toronto, they worked with The Living again to design the layout. Most offices stick to a standard floor plan, with meeting rooms in the middle or around the edges and the desks grouped together.

The design generated for the Toronto office is different. As with the Hack Rod, the designers collected as much data as they could, this time about people’s working preferences – how much natural light, how much social interaction, their working hours and so on. They also noted which groups needed to be close to which other groups.

The designs often appear similar to shapes and structures found in the natural world.

Feeding these constraints to the software produced hundreds of possible layouts for the office’s desks, meeting rooms and social spaces. The one that the designers picked from the few most recommended by the AI has small groups of desks interspersed with communal areas and teams arranged in a way that maximises interaction.

Van Wijnen, a construction company based in the Netherlands, is doing the same thing for entire neighbourhoods. The firm has changed its entire construction process to make the most of its generative design tools.

Its houses are now made from prefabricated parts, which means working out the best way for them to be built and arranged along a street becomes another puzzle.

To design its neighbourhoods, Van Wijnen gives its software a large number of constraints, from the requirement that all apartments should have at least 3,000 square metres of floor space and at least one parking space to the requirement that all roof-mounted solar panels get enough sunlight and that there is a variety of different house designs in a street.

For now, arranging these pre-designed pieces of a large puzzle pushes the software as far as it can go. Designing a whole house from scratch would involve many more variables – and regulations – than designing a new part for a vehicle. But eventually we might get computers to come up with new architectural designs. It might possible to teach them to design a building in the style of Le Corbusier, the famous Swiss-French architect, says Smith. Or the load-bearing structure of a skyscraper could be designed in the same way as a car chassis, which could let us build taller buildings than we ever could on our own.

AI-aided design could lead to exciting new buildings that rival those created by architect Le Corbusier like the Notre-Dame-du-Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France.

There is certainly an appetite for using AI in design. According to Blankenship, sportswear companies like New Balance and Adidas have started looking at generative design as a way to make personalised trainers, offering customers huge variety in the style and function of their footwear. Add in 3D printing –letting you manufacture unorthodox shapes on the spot – and you could generate your customised design on a website and have it made in the shoe shop down the street.

This changes the relationship between product designers and their customers. To paraphrase Maurice Conti, who helped pioneer generative design at Autodesk before moving to experimental tech company Alpha in Barcelona: instead of making people want to buy your stuff, you invite them to make stuff they want to buy.

There are of course limitations to the technology. ”It’s not magic,” says Kirsh. Some things will be harder for computers to make. For example, many of our most celebrated objects or buildings give us a particular experience or make us feel a certain way. But that’s hard to put into code. “We might not be able to pin down what causes that feeling,” says Kirsh.

What’s clear is that designers have a powerful new tool and the best designs will come from a back and forth between human and machine. “Computers will do what computers are good at, people will do what people are good at,” says Bradner.

“It’s a fascinating opportunity to think in new ways,” says Smith. “People think it’s going to take away their jobs but it’s going to make them so much better.”  Blankenship agrees. “We could certainly get to a future where a lot of design work is fully automated,” he says. But you still want people to sign off on it. Is it any good? Is it better than the last one? Is it what we want?

These are questions only a human can answer. “Otherwise what are we doing it all for? A machine without people doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 11:01

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the 'weird events' that makes machine hallucinate

The passenger registers the stop sign and feels a sudden surge of panic as the car he’s sitting in speeds up. He opens his mouth to shout to the driver in the front, remembering – as he spots the train tearing towards them on the tracks ahead – that there is none. The train hits at 125mph, crushing the autonomous vehicle and instantly killing its occupant.

This scenario is fictitious, but it highlights a very real flaw in current artificial intelligence frameworks. Over the past few years, there have been mounting examples of machines that can be made to see or hear things that aren’t there. By introducing ‘noise’ that scrambles their recognition systems, these machines can be made to hallucinate. In a worst-case scenario, they could ‘hallucinate’ a scenario as dangerous as the one above, despite the stop sign being clearly visible to human eyes, the machine fails to recognise it.

Those working in AI describe such glitches as ‘adversarial examples’ or sometimes, more simply, as ‘weird events’.

A few simple stickers on a 'stop' sign are enough to render it invisible to a machine vision algorithm while to human eyes it is still obvious.

“We can think of them as inputs that we expect the network to process in one way, but the machine does something unexpected upon seeing that input,” says Anish Athalye, a computer scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Seeing things

So far, most of the attention has been on visual recognition systems. Athalye himself has shown it is possible to tamper with an image of a cat so that it looks normal to our eyes but is misinterpreted as guacamole by so-called called neural networks – the machine-learning algorithms that are driving much of modern AI technology. These sorts of visual recognition systems are already being used to underpin your smartphone’s ability to tag photos of your friends without being told who they are or to identify other objects in the images on your phone.

More recently, Athalye and his colleagues turned their attention to physical objects. By slightly tweaking the texture and colouring of these, the team could fool the AI into thinking they were something else. In one case a baseball that was misclassified as an espresso and in another a 3D-printed turtle was mistaken for a rifle. They were able to produce some 200 other examples of 3D-printed objects that tricked the computer in similar ways. As we begin to put robots in our homes, autonomous drones in our skies and self-driving vehicles on our streets, it starts to throw up some worrying possibilities.

People are looking at it as a potential security issue as these systems are increasingly being deployed in the real world. – Anish Athalye

“At first this started off as a curiosity,” says Athalye. “Now, however, people are looking at it as a potential security issue as these systems are increasingly being deployed in the real world.”

Take driverless cars which are currently undergoing field trials: these often rely on sophisticated deep learning neural networks to navigate and tell them what to do.

But last year, researchers demonstrated that neural networks could be tricked into misreading road ‘Stop’ signs as speed limit signs, simply through the placement of small stickers on the sign.

While making a turtle look like a rifle to a machine learning algorithm seems benign, researchers fear it could have consequences as AI is used in the real world.

Hearing voices   

Neural networks aren’t the only machine learning frameworks in use, but the others also appear vulnerable to these weird events. And they aren’t limited to visual recognition systems.

“On every domain I've seen, from image classification to automatic speech recognition to translation, neural networks can be attacked to mis-classify inputs,” says Nicholas Carlini, a research scientist at Google Brain, which is developing intelligent machines. Carlini has shown how – with the addition of what sounds like a bit of scratchy background noise – a voice reading “without the dataset the article is useless” can be mistranslated as “Ok Google browse to evil dot com”. And it is not just limited to speech. In another example, an excerpt from Bach’s Cello Suit 1 transcribed as “speech can be embedded in music”.

To Carlini, such adversarial examples “conclusively prove that machine learning has not yet reached human ability even on very simple tasks”.

Under the skin

Neural networks are loosely based on how the brain processes visual information and learns from it. Imagine a young child learning what a cat is: as they encounter more and more of these creatures, they will start noticing patterns – that this blob called a cat has four legs, soft fur, two pointy ears, almond shaped eyes and a long fluffy tail. Inside the child’s visual cortex (the section of the brain that processes visual information), there are successive layers of neurons that fire in response to visual details, such as horizontal and vertical lines, enabling the child to construct a neural ‘picture’ of the world and learn from it.

Neural networks work in a similar way. Data flows through successive layers of artificial neurons until after being trained on hundreds or thousands of examples of the same thing (usually labelled by a human), the network starts to spot patterns which enable it to predict what it is viewing. The most sophisticated of these systems employ ‘deep-learning’ which means they possess more of these layers.   

By subtly changing the texture of an object, researchers were able to make a 3D printed baseball look like an espresso.

However, although computer scientists understand the nuts and bolts of how neural networks work, they don’t necessarily know the fine details of what’s happening when they crunch data. “We don't currently understand them well enough to, for example, explain exactly why the phenomenon of adversarial examples exists and know how to fix it,” says Athalye.

Part of the problem may relate to the nature of the tasks that existing technologies have been engineered to solve: distinguishing between images of cats and dogs, say. To do this, the technology will process numerous examples of cats and dogs, until it has enough data points to distinguish between them.

“The dominant goal of our machine learning frameworks was to achieve a good performance ‘on average’,” says Aleksander Madry, another computer scientist at MIT, who studies the reliability and security of machine learning frameworks. “When you just optimise for being good on most dog images, there will always be some dog images that will confuse you.”

One solution might be to train neural networks with more challenging examples of the thing you’re trying to teach them. This can immunise them against outliers.

“Definitely it is a step in the right direction,” says Madry. While this approach does seem to make frameworks more robust, it probably has limits as there are numerous ways you could tweak the appearance of an image or object to generate confusion.

Impressive as deep learning neural networks are, they are still no match for the human brain when it comes to classifying objects, making sense of their environment or dealing with the unexpected.

A truly robust image classifier would replicate what ‘similarity’ means to a human: it would understand that a child’s doodle of a cat represents the same thing as a photo of a cat and a real-life moving cat. Impressive as deep learning neural networks are, they are still no match for the human brain when it comes to classifying objects, making sense of their environment or dealing with the unexpected.

If we want to develop truly intelligent machines that can function in real world scenarios, perhaps we should go back to the human brain to better understand how it solves these issues.

Binding problem

Although neural networks were inspired by the human visual cortex, there’s a growing acknowledgement that the resemblance is merely superficial. A key difference is that as well as recognising visual features such as edges or objects, our brains also encode the relationships between those features – so, this edge forms part of this object. This enables us to assign meaning to the patterns we see.

“When you or I look at a cat, we see all the features that make up cats and how they all relate to one another,” says Simon Stringer of the Oxford Foundation for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence. “This ‘binding’ information is what underpins our ability to make sense of the world, and our general intelligence.”

This critical information is lost in the current generation of artificial neural networks.

“If you haven’t solved binding, you might be aware that somewhere in the scene there is a cat, but you don’t know where it is, and you don’t know what features in a scene are part of that cat,” Stringer explains.

To our ears a piece of classical music can sound like a symphony of instruments, but it can be altered so an AI interprets it as spoken instructions.

In their desire to keep things simple, engineers building artificial neural frameworks have ignored several properties of real neurons – the importance of which is only beginning to become clear. Neurons communicate by sending action potentials or ‘spikes’ down the length of their bodies, which creates a time delay in their transmission. There’s also variability between individual neurons in the rate at which they transmit information – some are quick, some slow. Many neurons seem to pay close attention to the timing of the impulses they receive when deciding whether to fire themselves.

“Artificial neural networks have this property that all neurons are exactly the same, but the variety of morphologically different neurons in the brain suggests to me that this is not irrelevant,” says Jeffrey Bowers, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol who is investigating which aspects of brain function aren’t being captured by current neural networks.

Another difference is that, whereas synthetic neural networks are based on signals moving forward through a series of layers, “in the human cortex there are as many top-down connections as there are bottom up connections”, says Stringer.

His lab develops computer simulations of the human brain to better understand how it works. When they recently tweaked their simulations to incorporate this information about the timing and organisation of real neurons, and then trained them on a series of visual images, they spotted a fundamental shift in the way their simulations processed information.

Rather than all of the neurons firing at the same time, they began to see the emergence of more complex patterns of activity, including the existence of a subgroup of artificial neurons that appeared to act like gatekeepers: they would only fire if the signals they received from related lower- and higher-level features in a visual scene arrived at the same time.

Binding neurons may act like the brain’s equivalent of a marriage certificate: they formalise the relationships between neurons.

Stringer thinks that these “binding neurons” may act like the brain’s equivalent of a marriage certificate: they formalise the relationships between neurons and provide a means of fact-checking whether two signals that appear related really are related. In this way, the brain can detect whether two diagonal lines and a curved line appearing in a visual scene, for example, really represent a feature like a cat’s ear, or something entirely unrelated. 

“Our hypothesis is that the feature binding representations present in the visual brain, and replicated in our biological spiking neural networks, may play an important role in contributing to the robustness of biological vision, including the recognition of objects, faces and human behaviours,” says Stringer.

Stringer’s team is now seeking evidence for the existence of such neurons in real human brains. They are also developing ‘hybrid’ neural networks that incorporate this new information to see if they produce a more robust form of machine learning.

“Whether this is what happens in the real brain is unclear at this point, but it is certainly intriguing, and highlights some interesting possibilities,” says Bowers.

One thing Stringer’s team will be testing is whether their biologically-inspired neural networks can reliably discriminate between an elderly person falling over in their home, and simply sitting down, or putting the shopping down.

“This is still a very difficult problem for today’s machine-vision algorithms, and yet the human brain can solve this effortlessly,” says Stringer. He is also collaborating with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, in Wiltshire, England, to develop a next generation, scaled-up version of his neural framework that could be applied to military problems, such as spotting enemy tanks from smart cameras mounted on autonomous drones. 

Stringer’s goal is to have bestowed rat-like intelligence on a machine within 20 years.

Stringer’s goal is to have bestowed rat-like intelligence on a machine within 20 years. Still, he acknowledges that creating human-level intelligence may take a lifetime – maybe even longer.

Madry agrees that this neuroscience-inspired approach is interesting approach to solving the problems with current machine learning algorithms.

“It is becoming ever clearer that the way the brain works is quite different to how our existing deep learning models work,” he says. “So, this indeed might end up being a completely different path to achieving success. It is hard to say how viable it is and what the timeframe needed to achieve success here is.”

In the meantime, we may need to avoid placing too much trust in the AI-powered robots, cars and programmes that we will be increasingly exposed to. You just never know if it might be hallucinating.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 10:51

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why 'flammable ice'could be the future of energy

Buried below the seabed around Japan, there are beds of methane, trapped in molecular cages of ice. In some places, the sediment covering these deposits of frozen water and methane has been eroded away, leaving whitish mounts of what looks like dirty ice rearing up out of the seafloor.

Put a match to this sea ice and it doesn’t just melt, it ignites

Take a chunk of this stuff up to the surface and it looks and feels much like ice, except for a give-away fizzing sensation in the palm of your hand, but put a match to it and it doesn’t just melt, it ignites. Large international research programmes and companies in Japan, among other countries, are racing to retrieve this strange, counter-intuitive substance – known as fiery ice – from beneath the seafloor to use its methane for fuel. If all goes to plan, they may even start extraction by the end of the next decade. But the journey so far has been far from smooth.

Could this humble material solve future energy crises?

There’s no doubt that methane hydrates could offer a major source of fuel, with recent estimates suggesting they constitute about a third of the total carbon held in other fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Several nations, notably Japan, want to extract it. It is not hard to find, often leaving a characteristic seismic signature that can be detected by research vessels. The problem is retrieving that gas and bringing it to the surface.

“One thing that’s clear is that we’re never going to go down and mine these ice-like deposits,” says Carolyn Ruppel, who leads the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project.

It all comes down to physics. Methane hydrates are simply too sensitive to pressure and temperature to simply dig up and haul to land. They form at typically several hundred metres beneath the seafloor at water depths of about 500 metres, where pressures are much higher than at the surface, and temperatures are close to 0C. Take them out of these conditions, and they begin to break down before the methane can be harnessed. But there are other ways to do it.

“Instead, you have to force those deposits to release the methane from the formation in the seafloor. Then you can extract the gas that comes off,” says Ruppel.

A Japanese government funded research programme is trying to do just that. Its initial mission, after several years of preliminary research scoping out likely spots for methane hydrates, was in 2013. “It was a world-first,” says Koji Yamamoto, director general of the methane hydrate research and development group at the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, and one of the leading researchers in Japan’s national gas hydrates research programme.

The team managed to produce gas from the methane hydrate reserves by drilling a borehole down into the seabed of the Nankai Trough, off the eastern coast of Japan’s main island. By lowering the pressure on the reserves, they were able to release and collect the gas. The test ran for six days, before sand entered the well and blocked the supply.

second test in 2017 ran in the Nankai Trough. This time the researchers used two test wells. The first encountered the same problem as before and became blocked with sand after several days. But the second of the well ran for 24 days without technical problems, Yamamoto says.

In 2013, the deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu succeeded in extracting methane hydrate from the waters around central Japan.

In general, people just feel really scared to do anything to the ocean floor. The place is known to be unstable and earthquakes happen – Ai Oyama

Even though the tests ran for a short time, they showed that there was a glimmer of potential that Japan might have usable carbon-based natural resources. The public reaction, however, was mixed, says Ai Oyama, a technical translator and former research analyst working on methane hydrates at the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute. Some welcomed the idea that Japan may have energy independence. Others were very wary about any technique that disturbed the seafloor near tectonic plate boundaries.

“In general, people just feel really scared to do anything to the ocean floor. The place is known to be unstable and earthquakes happen,” Oyama says.

The fear is that depressurising one part of the methane hydrate deposit might make the whole reserve become unstable.

“People worry that we’ll start extracting methane from the gas hydrates and get into a runaway breakdown where we can’t stop it,” says Ruppel.

The problem with this would be two-fold. First, a lot of methane gas would suddenly be released into the ocean – which could potentially add vast amounts of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.

Second, methane hydrate releases a lot of water as well as a lot of methane when it destabilises, which would introduce a lot more liquid into the sediment below the ocean floor. In a steeply sloping environment, a lot of excess water could lead to landslips. Some environmentalists even fear that it could lead to a tsunami.

However, the physical properties of methane hydrate put a natural brake on this chain of events, says Ruppel. To release methane from a deposit, you have to put energy into the system. Without working hard to release the gas – through lowering the pressure or raising the temperature of the deposit – it simply stays put in its stable form of methane hydrate.

“So the problem is actually the opposite. You may start the process of getting the gas to come off, but to keep that process going, you have to introduce more energy to make it happen,” says Ruppel.

While a runaway reaction isn’t likely, the Japanese programme is still carrying out extensive environmental studies to test the safety of the methane hydrate production. The data gathered at the first test in 2013, and at a second longer test in 2017, so far hasn’t suggested that the technique will destabilise the ocean floor, Yamamoto says. But given Japan’s history of natural disasters – around 24,000 people are still under evacuation order since the 2011 T?hoku earthquake and tsunami – the public is highly risk-averse.

Flammable ice can be fragile, and if it crumbles during drilling, it could release a 'methane burp' into the ocean. Some fear that this may unleash a tsunami.

“We feel that gas hydrate production is environmentally safe,” says Yamamoto. “But still, [the public] have a concern about negative effects of gas hydrate production.”

As well as the reserves buried beneath the sea floor, there is another type of methane hydrate deposit that has been gaining attention from Japanese researchers. Efforts to research shallower deposits, very close to the seafloor surface, is also being explored off in the Sea of Japan to the west of the country. Accessing these shallow reserves poses a very different potential risk.

Japan's untold stories

Welcome to BBC Future Now's Japan season, in which we explore the country's most exciting medical, technological, environmental and social trends.

Coming up:

The Olympic medals made from recycled phones
How Japan made fatherhood sexy
The secrets of Okinawa's superagers

... and many more.

“These are very active biological environments,” says Tim Collett, a senior scientist at the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrate Project. “There are whole communities that live off the methane.”

These environments are rich in unique organisms, from bacteria to very large tubeworms and crabs, all specialised to live off the methane as their source of energy. In other parts of the world where these methane-based communities live, they are often protected as rare natural environments.

Beneath the permafrost

Japan’s main efforts in extracting methane hydrate, however are not in the seafloor at all, but in the only other place that flammable ice can found – deep in the permafrost, the permanently-frozen layer of rock or soil that covers the ground at polar regions and high-rise mountains. Researchers from Japan, which doesn’t have its own permafrost, are assisting in the most ambitious on-land production test for methane hydrate so far, in Alaska’s North Slope.

In December, researchers from Japan’s national research programme are set to start work with the US Geological Survey and the US’s Department of Energy, to begin what they hope will be a long-term production test site. While this source of methane hydrate is very different, the methods used to get to it are actually very close.

Flammable ice appears to smoke as it melts.

“The conditions at those reservoirs under the permafrost are pretty similar pressure and temperature conditions as they are in the Nankai Trough,” says Collett. “It turns out, to the best of our knowledge, even though the Arctic and the marine environment are very different, the physical properties of the deposits and how they occur in the sediments appears to be very similar.”

The production techniques used in Alaska could end up being transferrable to the marine environment. But there are still big challenges. A long-term production of methane hydrates hasn’t been carried out anywhere yet, on land or under the sea.

“We’re still very much in research mode,” says Collett.

Given the difficulty of retrieving gas from methane hydrate reserves, and the concerns around extraction, the stakes have to be high for a nation to invest heavily in this technology. Having very few other options in terms of domestic energy makes this hard-to-access source of methane an appealing prospect. Japan is not a country that has other carbon-based sources of energy to fall back on.

“Japan imports a lot of natural gas, but it is very costly. If we have our own domestic resource, [it could] contribute to the energy security of Japan,” says Yamamoto.

As an economic resource, it’s easy to see the appeal of methane hydrate. But, fundamentally, it is just another source of natural gas and burning it would contribute to climate change.

All the social and environmental issues associated with fossil fuels apply to gas hydrates

“The most important thing is the recognition and appreciation that gas hydrates are just another fossil fuel,” says Collett. “All the social and environmental issues associated with fossil fuels apply to gas hydrates.”

In this context, methane hydrates – if they are to play a role in Japan’s energy future – are likely to be used as a bridging fuel, in the transition towards renewables. Natural gas is the least carbon-intensive form of fossil fuel, releasing less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released than coal or oil. But, as a carbon-based fuel, burning it still contributes to climate change.

Japan has been researching the potential of flammable ice for decades, but it is only within the last few years that extraction has come within reach .“We need to shift to renewable energy,” says Koji Yamamoto. “But complete switch to renewable energy [takes] a very long time.”

Even as a transition fuel, gas hydrates could be hugely important, Ruppel says. “Were a country able to efficiently produce methane from these deposits, it could open a new realm in bridge fuels to another energy future,” she says.

How useful a role it can play in the future depends on how quickly methane hydrate can be accessed and produced on a commercial scale. The Japanese government hopes to begin commercial projects exploring methane hydrate between 2023 and 2027, according to its latest Strategic Energy Plan.

This target could be a bit ambitious. Jun Matsushima, a researcher at the Frontier Research Center for Energy and Resources at the University of Tokyo, puts the estimate at around 2030 to 2050. “There is a long way to commercialise methane hydrate,” says Matsushima.

The make-or-break moment will be when a long-term production test can be sustained without technical problems or budget constraints shutting it down, says Ruppel.

“I would guess there will be a long-term production test – from months to more than a year – by 2025. But I don’t have a crystal ball,” Ruppel says.

But at the same time, Japan is committing to moving towards renewable energies and decarbonisation. As technologies for harnessing renewable energy become better and cheaper, the role for fossil fuels – especially experimental and expensive ones like methane hydrate – decreases. The longer it takes to get methane from gas hydrate reserves on a commercial scale, the shorter the useful window for using it may be. The other possibility is that adding in a new accessible source of fossil fuel could delay the transition to renewables, says Collett.

This source of carbon, the most abundant in the world, may be one of the last new forms of fossil fuel to be extracted on a commercial scale. It is also the only one to be developed with the end of fossil fuels in sight. The race for methane hydrates is a unique one, where researchers are working towards a goal that might be made irrelevant by renewables by the time they reach it.

For this reason, methane hydrates may well have a shelf life, but it remains to be seen whether Japan, and other countries pursuing them, will be able to get to them on a sufficiently large scale before they’ve already become expendable.




ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 10:43

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Arsenal TV don’t ask the same questions! Man Utd boss Jose Mourinho berates MUTV reporter

Jose Mourinho showed signs of the mounting pressure on his shoulders by turning on Manchester United’s own in-house TV channel.

Mourinho is set to name a makeshift defence for Wednesday’s crunch clash with Arsenal after injuries to Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia. Luke Shaw is a doubt and Ashley Young is ruled out through suspension.

It means Marcos Rojo is likely to play for the first time this season, while midfielder Nemanja Matic may be deployed as an emergency centre back.

United go into the game at Old Trafford eight points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, with Mourinho accepting his side will go into the New Year outside of the Champions League positions.

Man Utd in defensive nightmare ahead of Arsenal clash

Defeat to Unai Emery’s side would heap further pressure on the under-fire manager and he showed signs of that stress getting to him when refusing to answer questions from an MUTV reporter ahead of the match.

Asked for an update on injuries, the 55-year-old snapped: “I don’t want to update you. I would like Arsenal TV to make the same questions, but they don’t. They hide everything from the inside, so why should I answer to you, so why should I give anything to you?”

Mourinho was more open with the written media, revealing the extent of the injury crisis he faces and admitting he may have to wait until the last minute to name his side.

“Against Southampton, three hours before the game I didn’t know the team I was going to play,” he said. “So nobody knew the team and ourselves we didn’t know yet.

“We were waiting to see who could and couldn’t and I think we are going to be in a similar situation. If you asked me at 11 o’clock (on Tuesday) I would say Smalling is not playing, Bailly is not playing, Jones is not playing. Of course, Lindelof is out of the question.

“But we have to wait. Valencia is not playing Shaw is a doubt. (Matteo) Darmian is back, but I have to wait and select everybody again and take everybody and maybe tomorrow we decide, like the last match, a couple of hours before the game.”

United’s problems go further with Alexis Sanchez out until the New Year with a torn hamstring, while Romelu Lukaku limped out of the 2-2 draw with Southampton. Marcus Rashford is also a doubt with an ankle injury.

Mourinho is confident they will at least secure a top six finish this season, but failure to qualify for the Champions League would put him in serious danger of the sack.

He had warned the club’s hierarchy of a difficult season after failing to secure a host of top targets in the summer, but even he admits he didn’t expect a 16-point gap between his side and Premier League leaders Manchester City by the start of December.

“The distance the 16, the eight, the 12, the four. the five is something I couldn’t predict,” he said. “You always think in a positive way - you always think the distance is not going to be so big, but I said clearly that last season we did not get the credit we deserve.

“I think last season to finish second and to play the FA Cup final and to qualify from the Champions League group as first last season, we didn’t get the credit we deserve.

“All of the teams they got better. Spurs was the team who didn’t make direct investment, but the best investment is to keep the top players you have so everything got better and we didn’t. So I was expecting difficulties for this season, but my target is still the top four and we have to fight until the end to try to finish in the top four.”


sarah Posted on December 05, 2018 10:01

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Europe’s highest tides sneak up on tourists in St-Malo, France, lapping against medieval granite ramparts and onto salty pavements. But Malouins, as locals are called, embrace the raging tide with a graceful kinship.

When I’m in St-Malo, even if I can’t see the sea, I can feel her

The Malouin community has always been tied to the ebb and flow of the sea. Founded on Brittany’s northern coast by Gauls in the 1st Century BC, the port city stands where the mouth of the Rance river meets the English Channel. Because water flows in and out of the bay in both directions, its rising tides are legendary.

In summer, sunscreen-doused English tourists wander off ferries from Portsmouth, while the French flock here for summer breezes and Breton savoir-faire. But St-Malo and her tides belong to locals, who welcome the constant salt spray with a chuckle of gratitude.

“When I’m in St-Malo, even if I can’t see the sea, I can feel her,” said Yannick Heude, a local sommelier and wine merchant. “I know she’s right here, that she’s always nearby. And if I’m too far away, then she is, too.”

St-Malo’s community has always been tied to the ebb and flow of the sea, where the rising tides are legend.

As proprietor of the local wine shop Cave de l’Abbaye St-Jeanand a partner at local cooking school L’École du Goût, Heude keeps one foot in local gastronomy and the other in the bay. The sea imbues the local culture with what Heude describes as ‘a salty side’ that’s equally present in local dishes as it is in Malouin identity.

“We’ve got la terre et la mer [the land and the sea] that blend to help our chefs create extraordinary cuisine. It’s simple, precise and invigorating,” he said.

During a boating trip 15 years ago with friends, Heude found himself pondering a seaborne idea. “There was a fisherman, a sailor, a restaurateur and myself – a sommelier,” he explained. “One of us was expecting a child, and said ‘Listen, I should put some wine underwater to celebrate my son’s birth.’ And I said, ‘Well, I can organise that if you like’.” While setting aside a bottle of wine to age in celebration of a child’s birth is a common practice among oenophiles, Heude explained that this suggestion to age the wine in the sea was unprecedented. But what started as a small feat – bringing 12 bottles of Fiefs Vendéens wine from the Loire Valley to the bottom of St-Malo’s harbour – became l’Immersion, an annual tradition that has evolved into a national phenomenon.

Yannick Heude, proprietor of the St-Malo wine shop Cave de l'Abbaye St-Jean, has been aging wine in the sea for 15 years .There’s an undeniable poetry to the emergence of sea-aged wine in a town that’s so proud of its maritime heritage. St-Malo and its harbour first rose to prominence as one of the primary ports of call for the French spice trade. Malouins voyaged as far as Québec (the voyages of Jacques Cartier – a Malouin – led to France laying claim to Canada) and the Falkland Islands (originally named Îles Malouines in honour of early Malouin settlers). In 1590, St-Malo declared independence from France in an effort to protect its maritime economy from the Wars of Religion, adopting the motto, ‘Not French, not Breton, but Malouin’. Although the autonomous Republic of St-Malo only lasted for three years, the Malouin identity continued in a spirit of unbridled self-determination, inextricably anchored to the sea.

We’ve got ‘la terre et la mer’ that blend to help our chefs create extraordinary cuisine. It’s simple, precise and invigorating

Heude continued to place wine on the sea floor every year, gathering his friends to taste the previous year’s bounty. Beyond the initial resonance of the idea of sea-aging wine, there’s also a science to the process that Heude and his friends pegged with sheer intuition. Off the coast of Brittany, the temperature of the ocean floor hovers at 9-10C – the equivalent temperature of a deep wine cellar – while the water shields the wine from damaging UV rays. Plus, the twice-daily ebb and flow of some of the biggest tides in Europe mirror a technique used to age wine, particularly Champagne, known as remuage. The process of slowly tilting wine as it ages keeps the sediment from settling on the sides and bottom of the bottle and maintains the visual clarity of the wine.

The wines Heude selects change every year, though he is sure to include bottles of both regular and sparkling, and the differences in flavour of sea-aged wines varies by cuvée (the type, blend and batch of wine), which is the fun of it all. As a rule of thumb, Heude says, wines that have only been lightly filtered are poised for the most remarkable transformations underwater. As the tides move the natural sediment in the bottle, the flavour notes of the wine deepen. The effect is particularly enthralling with sparkling wine, as the changing tides refine the carbon dioxide bubbles to a crisp finish.

Heude (centre) came up with the idea to age wine in the St-Malo harbour while on a boating trip with friends.

After discovering the effects of sea-aging, Heude decided to make annual wine deposits to the harbour floor. Every year, on the first weekend of June, 100 gourmands and sommeliers from across France purchase tickets to experience the phenomenon in person.

The day-long affair begins with l’Immersion itself. Curious tourists watch as Heude and his team load up a fishing boat with nearly 700 wine bottles in the shadow of Tour Solidor, a 14th-Century tower originally built to control the entrance to the Rance river. Wine bottles are stacked in pallet boxes built for shellfish producers – fitting for a ritual so intimately tied to the local food culture. Extra holes in each box ensure water and seaweed can flow around the bottles during their year-long sojourn at the bottom of the bay. “We saddle them up, and then they’re ready to go,” Heude said.

Off the coast of Brittany, the temperature of the ocean floor hovers at 9-10C, the equivalent temperature of a deep wine cellar.

Once they’ve been brought out into the harbour, the boxes are lowered 15m to the sea floor with a trawler. A diver loosely anchors the boxes with enough leeway for each one to move in harmony with the tides. Then they pick up last year’s drop off (this year’s haul) in preparation for a boisterous unveiling. After 12 months of anticipation, Heude and his team push each box to the centre of the crowd. Extra treasures – shellfish, handfuls of seaweed – swirl around the barnacle-laden bottles, giving everyone a glimpse of what the bottles witness during a year on the sea floor.

A frenzy ensues as Heude invites onlookers to dive into a free degustation of the region’s gastronomic riches. Sourdough bread from Philippe Renault’s bakery in Dinard, Jean-Yves Bordier’s award-winning butter, oysters from Cancale and tripe from nearby Normandy round out the abundant spread. Amid the joyful flurry, expert sommeliers crack open the bottles to compare sea-aged wines with their cellar-aged counterparts. These tastings unfurl meticulous analyses by expert palates – but this is just the beginning.

During l’Immersion, attendees are invited to taste the sea-aged wines, along with other local specialties, including bread and oysters.

After the wine tasting, participants who purchased tickets for l’Immersion in advance of the festival accompany the coastguard organisation Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM) on a short journey to Cézembre, a small, uninhabited blip of sand off the coast of St-Malo that served as a German naval battery in World War Two. Most of its sweeping landscape remains enclosed by barbed wire because the island’s innermost areas haven’t been cleared of land mines, but the shore provides a safe and scenic venue for a riotous Malouin feast. Plates of fried seafood and salt-marsh lamb pile up next to more butter, freshly baked bread and bottles of sea-aged wine, still dripping with salty water. “That’s a little more rock’n’roll. It’s a big party and everyone loves that, too,” Heude said.

At its heart, l’Immersion is much more than a wine tasting. It’s a celebration of Malouins’ unceasing connection to the sea.

“That’s what has cradled us since our infancy, and at the end of the day, we can’t do without it,” Heude said. “Whether it’s in the arts or in food, it’s in everything: it’s there in wine tastings, in the shrimp, in the scallops, in the fish we catch, in the spring vegetables, in new potatoes. We’ve got it all here. We’ve truly got it all.”

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 09:57

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No hate crime charges in 'terrible attack' on Latino father, son due to legal loophole in Utah state law

A man accused of beating a Latino father and son while making derogatory statements about Mexicans will not be charged with a hate crime due to limitations of state laws in Utah.

Alan Dale Covington, 50, faces four felony counts of aggravated assault, as well as several weapons and drug charges, according to Salt Lake County jail records. He allegedly beat Jose Lopez, 51, and his son Luis, 18, with a 5-foot metal pole outside the family's tire shop last week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Covington reportedly said, “I’m going to kill someone” before swinging the pole at the two men, according to police logs. Luis was struck in the head and later transported to a local hospital in serious condition. His father sustained a laceration to his forearm. 

Veronica Lopez told the Tribune that her father and brother felt targeted by the attacker who also shouted "I hate Mexicans" and "I'm here to kill a Mexican" before asking if they were part of the "Mexican mafia." Her father, who immigrated to Utah from Mexico, has owned a tire business for four years.


But Covington has not been charged with a hate crime because only misdemeanor assaults can be enhanced as hate crimes in Utah, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. He said the statute is so unworkable that no one has been convicted of a hate crime for the 20 years it has been in place.

"Is there a statute on the books that says hate crime? Yes is it applicable? No," said Gill. "It's a false hope."

Jose Lopez received eight stitches in his arm and had his back severely bruised due to the assault while Luis "had a three hour surgery to place a titanium plate from the right side of his face to his nose to be able to attach the bones and keep his eyeball in place," according to a GoFundMe set up for the family. The online fundraiser has received more than $35,000 for the cost of their medical expenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah released a statement and called the attack "very disturbing."

"This is a terrible attack on a person, a family, and our sense of security from hate-filled acts in Salt Lake City," the statement read. "The ACLU of Utah strongly condemns crimes where the victim is selected because of that person’s race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability."

Salt Lake City police detective Greg Wilking told the Tribune that it appears Covington was under the influence of drugs during the attack and may also have "some mental health issues" that "clouded his judgment."

Covington has previously spent time behind bars where he was concerned about being attacked by a member of the Mexican mafia – a prison gang mostly based in California.

“He wasn’t really based in reality," Wilking told the Tribune. “We don’t want to ignore a hate crime if it’s a hate crime, but we don’t want to make it a hate crime if there’s not that aspect of it.”

As for whether this was a hate crime or not, Gill, the district attorney, said that because there is no legal remedy in place "we will never know because we will never get to that analysis."

sarah Posted on December 05, 2018 09:53

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I was walking with a few friends on a mossy forest path through Fleury-devant-Douaumont, a small village nestled in the pastoral landscape of north-eastern France. It had rained heavily the night before and a fine mist still hung in the air. A cacophonous flock of birds hid in the lush canopy above my head, their lively song juxtaposing the deep silence of the tens of thousands of unknown soldiers who lay in the hallowed ground below my feet.

During World War One, French and German soldiers completely razed nine villages during the Battle of Verdun, the longest and one of the fiercest artillery battles of the war. Raging for around 300 days and nights in 1916, troops used giant guns – including Germany’s infamous ‘Big Berthas’ – to rain a never-ending barrage of shells over the combat zone. The shells contaminated the earth so badly with lead, arsenic and lethal poison gas, France determined that most of the villages couldn’t be rebuilt. Casualties of war, it was said they had ‘died for France’.

Over the last 100 years, only one of the destroyed villages has been reconstructed. Another two have been partially rebuilt, but the remaining six, including Fleury-devant-Douaumont, sit uninhabited within France’s Zone Rouge, or Red Zone.

Trails through France’s Red Zone follow the trenches dug by soldiers during World War One’s 300-day Battle of Verdun.

After the war ended in 1918, the French government deemed 1,200 sq km of non-contiguous land near Verdun too dangerous to inhabit and too costly to rehabilitate. Although no-one lives in any part of the Red Zone and much of it is still considered too dangerous for visitors, French law recognises the destroyed villages as municipalities – there are even designated mayors who receive government money to receive guests and preserve the memory of what’s left. Besides the villages, which are open year-round and deemed safe to visit, a few museums and other sites have been erected to memorialise the soldiers who lost their lives for their countries.

Just outside the Red Zone, a small private museum, Romagne ‘14-‘18, tells the personal stories behind a large collection of war memorabilia. Inside the zone, south of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, the Mémorial de Verdun (a museum and memorial opened in 1967 by the government) offers stunning exhibits that give visitors a more comprehensive overview of the war.

Just a few minutes drive away, the Douaumont National Necropolis and Ossuary contains the skeletal remains of about 130,000 French and German soldiers. Located on a hill that cascades from the necropolis and ossuary, a cemetery contains a sea of more than 15,000 white headstones – Christian, Jewish and also Muslim, reminders that French colonial forces were instrumental in defeating the Germans at Verdun.

Yet while these sites deserve attention, it wasn’t until I walked through the trenches in and around Fleury-devant-Douaumont that I started to feel the true magnitude of the war.

Nine French villages, including Fleury-devant-Douaumont, were destroyed during the Battle of Verdun.

The path we were walking along was an old communications trench. Once, soldiers skittered back and forth along the path carrying messages between bunkers. Today, old cement posts still line some portions of the route, which is at constant threat of being engulfed by the forest. Suddenly, the path ended and we reached a small clearing.

“Be careful,” warned our guide, historian Guillaume Moizan, pointing towards twisted cords of rusted metal that thrust from the ground like roots. We were standing on top of the ruins of a bunker. Small stones and pine needles were scattered over the moss that blanketed the structure. Moizan picked up a stone and handed it to me. I was surprised by its weight.

Lead. It was a small, rusted part of an exploded shell. I rolled it gently between my fingers.

The birds overhead had grown silent. I could feel my heart beating in my chest as I peered down at the amalgamation of metal, moss and pine needles on the bunker. A single small, pink flower grew amid it all. In this open-air memorial, life finds a way.

The cemetery at the Douaumont National Necropolis and Ossuary contains the graves of more than 15,000 soldiers who perished during the Battle of Verdun.

Some historians call the Battle of Verdun a ‘meat-grinder’: healthy men were pushed into the fray only to be masticated and torn asunder by the war’s hungry machine. First-hand accounts of the battle mention that the sky, thick with acrid smoke, was animated at night by a horrifying fireworks display of flaming blue, yellow and orange shells. The dead couldn’t be removed from the battlefield, and living soldiers were forced to sleep, eat and fight beside the stinking, rotting corpses of their friends.

Standing in the forest, it was difficult to imagine the carnage. The mastermind of the battle, the German Army’s chief of staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had tried to end the whole bloody war by forcing his enemy into a trap where “the forces of France will bleed to death”, but in the process, he also very nearly bled his own army dry. Together, both sides suffered an estimated 70,000 casualties per month – or a total of more than 700,000 (it’s thought that between 80,000 to 100,000 of the dead still remain lost in the forest).

Today, nothing remains of Fleury-devant-Douaumont except for stone ruins of the foundations of a few buildings.

Jean-Pierre Laparra, the mayor of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, helps keep the ghosts from the war alive. His great-grandfather settled in the village in 1909, but was evacuated along with his wife after war descended upon them in 1914. Their son – Laparra’s grandfather – stayed behind to fight.

Nothing remains of Fleury-devant-Douaumont except for stone ruins of the foundations of a few buildings. Laparra, who lives nearby, often leads visitors from around the world across a thin path that has been constructed over the ruins. Along the way, he points out various landmarks: the grocery, the foundry, the blacksmith. He talks about how the inhabitants lived and notes where the children went to school.

The villages in the Red Zone “are the symbol of the supreme sacrifice,” Laparra said. “You must always know what happened in the past to avoid reliving it. We must never forget.”

Museums like Romagne ‘14-‘18 and the Mémorial de Verdun preserve the stories of soldiers who fought in the Battle of Verdun.

After the war ended, acorns and chestnuts were collected from the ravaged battlefield and sent by the Mayor of Verdun to Britain as remembrances of the battle between French and German soldiers. A couple were planted in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and others have been traced to various grounds across the United Kingdom. Today, these trees tower over the land.

In the ghost villages of the Red Zone, nature also thrives. In the decades after the war, millions of saplings – including thousands of Austrian pines given as war reparations by Vienna – were planted in and around the cratered trenches. Today these stalwart pines share the land with some of the same species of magnificent oak and horse chestnut that made their way to Britain.

Olivier Gérard, director of the Douaumont Ossuary Foundation as well as the mayor of Douaumont (another destroyed village, located just north of Fleury-devant-Douaumont) – tells me: “Nature and life always find a way.”

Debris from the Battle of Verdun, including dog tags, shells and silverware, can still be found in the forests of the Red Zone.

Over the course of a century, the trees have absorbed enough of the contaminants from the toxic earth to allow other species of flora to thrive, and the land is teeming with life. In effect, the bucolic countryside of the Red Zone is turning into a Green Zone, although with arsenic levels in the soil up to 35,000 times higher than normal, the forest is nowhere near pristine.You must always know what happened in the past to avoid reliving it

As we walked, Moizan paused, bent down and plucked a piece of metal from the ground: a fork. The rain from the night before had washed away the top layer of soil, yielding detritus from the war. In addition to shells, dog tags, helmets and even bones sometimes appeared. We stared at the fork for a few moments, and I wondered to whom it had belonged. The average age of soldiers who enlisted in World War One was 24. Someone’s son once ate using that fork. Perhaps he also used it to eat his last meal.

At the edge of the forest, we came to a small chapel, constructed after the war was over as a place to pray and remember the dead. We walked around it, and I was mesmerised. It’s the only building for miles, and I recalled a rhyme my stepfather, a minister, taught me when I was a young child.

“Here is the church,” he said, while hiding his fingers within his hands. Then, thrusting up two fingers in a triangle shape, he continued: “Here is the steeple.” Finally, while opening his hands and waving his fingers, he exclaimed: “Open the doors, and see all the people!”

A small chapel was constructed near Fleury-devant-Douaumont after the war as a place to pray and remember the dead.

Staring at the church, I felt as though I could see the ghosts of the people who once lived in the area. As we left, an old man slowly passed us on the path. Who is he, I wondered? A descendant of one of the soldiers? Or perhaps a retired soldier from another war, there to pay homage to his brethren? I looked back at the man, towards the church and beyond, at the forest, which swayed in the wind over the cratered battlefield. The sun had risen high over trees and the forest was bathed in golden light. I noticed a number of young birch trees standing together like waifs, their leaves glittering.

I realised that I was still carrying the piece of shell Moizan had handed me at the bunker. I let it drop heavily to the ground with a soft thud. From somewhere out of the last vestiges of the fog over the forest, a flock of birds took flight. The air was punctuated by a mad rush of feathers, and then the tiny souls lifted and disappeared into the light.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:53

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Blackfishing: The women accused of pretending to be black

"I've had no surgery, so I can't take off these lips. I can't remove my 'fake bum implants'."

Over the past month Aga Brzostowska has been labelled a "blackfish".

It's a term used for someone accused of pretending to be black or mixed-race on social media.

The suggestion Aga has been faking her race is news to her.

The 20-year-old University of Birmingham student told Radio 1 Newsbeat her skin is naturally "not pale". But she does admit to making it darker.

"With things like tanning, I don't think I've done anything in a malicious way.

"So I don't feel like I need to stop doing something because... why would I stop doing something that's benefitting me or that I enjoy doing?" Aga, who asked to be referred to as Alicja, says.

She says she's not suggesting "white privilege is not a thing" - but wants to tell her critics "the assumptions you're making are wrong".

Alicja is just one of a number of white Instagram influencers who've been accused of changing their features to make themselves look more like black women.

People have pointed in their pictures they have darker skin, fuller lips, bigger thighs and bums, and hairstyles that include curls and braids.

Sweden's Emma Hallberg, who has more than 260,000 Instagram followers, is the most infamous.

She had to defend herself after two photos of her went viral on social media.

"I do not see myself as anything else than white," Emma told Buzzfeed. "I get a deep tan naturally from the sun."

Emma's defence is similar to the two women accused of blackfishing spoken to by Newsbeat.

Alicja admits that two pictures of her which were doing the rounds on Twitter - one from when she was 13 and one taken recently - don't look good for her.

"I understand why the Twitter thread was made. And it makes sense to use my pictures, because without looking at anything or knowing me, it makes sense to put those two pictures together because obviously you can see a mad difference - a crazy difference.

"So I'm not really upset at the fact that someone used the pictures without knowing me. It makes sense of what they were trying to get across."

Alicja claims the differences in her appearance shown in the two pictures is completely natural - the result of hard work in the gym, and being fresh back from holiday - braids included.

And she thinks part of the reason people are surprised when they find out she's white is down to "stereotypes" about what Polish people look like.

"I'm proud to be Polish but I don't know why I look like this - my features are just there. I can't help that I have big lips and not the stereotypical Polish features," she says.

As for the braids, Alicja says her friend's little sister had started a hair company and wanted to use her head for pictures.

"I didn't really think much of it. I really appreciate the culture and I really just love the look - that was literally it."

Why is this a big deal?

Blackfishing has been talked about a lot ever since writer Wanna Thompson's Twitter thread - which highlighted women accused of blackfishing - went viral last month.

Some people have been questioning why it's an issue.

Dara Thurmond, a nurse from New York who's been vocal about blackfishing, told Radio 1 Newsbeat that black people "just being ourselves" has "always been frowned upon".

She says her frustration comes when white women who appear to be posing as black don't know "the struggle that black women go through just to be accepted as who they are".

"Even now in certain work spaces, black women can't wear their natural hair out. They have to wear weave.

"They have to press their hair so that it's straight, because to wear an afro or to wear braids or to wear locks is seen as unclean or untidy - it's not professional."

She says women accused of blackfishing are being "unfair" to black women who are trying to make it as influencers and get product endorsements of their own.

"You take away from them," Dara says.

Jaiden Gumbayan is 19, from Jacksonville, Florida, and has also been accused of blackfishing.

Like Alicja, she says she understands some of the backlash against her, but denies pretending to be a different race to her own.

She believes there's a "fine line between appreciation and appropriation".

"It could be looked at as the biggest form of flattery to some black women or people of colour, and to others it's mimicking and taking their culture without knowing the history behind it," she says.

"I know that there are other influencers on Instagram, and other celebrities... that is their intention."

A name that's been mentioned in almost everything written online about blackfishing is Kardashian.

It's because Kim, in particular, has been accused of appropriating black cultureon several occasions down the years.

The "Kardashian effect" has also been blamed for an apparent rise in young people seeking cosmetic surgeries.

Dara says she wasn't entirely surprised when she heard about the phenomenon of blackfishing.

"We're coming into a time where you see a lot of black women really expressing themselves and stepping into their blackness, and owning it, and not being ashamed of it anymore.

"So it makes sense why it's happening - because I guess some people who are white-presenting feel like they're not the standard anymore. So now they're trying to do things to stay relevant and keep their popularity."

"It's perfectly fine to appreciate the mixed variety of people that you grew up around," she adds.

"But if it gets to a point where you are now trying to pass as someone of mixed race and you're not... that's when it becomes an issue."

Jaiden says that the backlash against her has taught her that there are "other ways of showing appreciation"."We can appreciate their culture without having to do or wear their hairstyles, or trying to act or be a certain way that we're not."

Alicja says she's had people telling her to kill herself after posting pictures online.

She says the claims that she's been blackfishing mean she'll be more "cautious" with looks like braids in future.

"I'm obviously learning about what they're trying to say and taking it on board, honestly I am.

"But there's only so much I can do when I don't feel like I've harmed or done anything in a malicious way."

Will she change her pictures?

"I don't know what I can change, because it's just me."

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:45

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Biohacker: 'I've created a new human sense'

Biohackers want to make their bodies and brains function better by "hacking" their biology. The BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme meets the people who are inserting technology under their skin, adopting extreme diets and trying to change their DNA.

Liviu Babitz wants to create new human senses. Touch his chest and you feel his first effort, a vibration every time he faces north. If some animals can already sense direction, why shouldn't we?

He can feel north because of an electronic implant on his chest called the "North Sense". It includes a compass chip, Bluetooth connection and is attached to the skin with two titanium bars like a piercing.

Liviu, 38, is the chief executive of his own company, Cyborgnest, which designed the implant. He sees this as the first step in an entirely in-built navigation system and hopes to end what he calls "generation screen".

"You walk on the street staring at your phone. You want to get somewhere but you have no idea what's happened in the world around you because all you did was stare at the screen on the way," he says.

"Imagine if you didn't need it, you could navigate the world exactly like a bird and you would know exactly where you were all the time - blind people could navigate."

'Biologically fluid'

His invention is highly unusual but actually seems tame in comparison with Rich Lee, a 40-year-old cabinet-maker from St George, in the US state of Utah.

Rich is a grinder - a biohacker that does extreme body modification. In his fingers, he has magnets and two near-field communication (NFC) chips that can be programmed to link to websites or open car doors, among other tasks.

He has a biotherm chip in his forearm, which can constantly monitor body temperature (but are usually used in pets), and headphone implants right in his ears.

He has also attempted "Crispr" - probably the most extreme and controversial kind of biohacking, a technique used by scientists to target and edit your genes.

While scientists are still working out the limits and dangers, Rich is experimenting at home and admits if he gets it wrong, he could kill himself.

"We've got all this genetic engineering knowledge and what I'm backing is the concept of being able to change your genes or get genetic modification like you would get a tattoo," he says.

"I want to see a biologically fluid society where people can just augment these things."

This home biohacking can of course go very badly wrong - Rich pulls up his trouser legs to reveal a selection of scars from implanted shin guards that got so swollen they had to be removed, which he did with pliers and no painkillers.


Luke Robert Mason, director of the Virtual Futures organisation, says there is a great deal of excitement around biohacking but "we are a long way from radically altering the human body in the sorts of ways they evangelise".

"What we see today are the first steps by a brave group of pioneers. Today's reality is a lot more experimental (and painful) than is often communicated to the public.

"There is a lot that can be learned from the outcome of their self-experimentation. Some have even argued that biohackers might increasingly be responsible in helping the advancement of wearables and wellness technologies."

There are biohackers working with far less extreme - though still very experimental - methods.

Corina Ingram-Noehr, 33, an American events organiser living in Berlin, has a daily ritual involving technology, diet and more than 20 different vitamin supplements to try to keep in peak physical condition.

Next to a cupboard that resembles a chemist's shop, she also has a Power Plate, which vibrates from 30 to 50 times a second to make her exercise more effective. And while vibrating, she uses an infrared light in an attempt to build collagen in her skin.

Corina can also be found walking the freezing cold streets of Berlin with bare legs. She calls this her cheap biohack version of cryotherapy - or cold therapy - and admits the "cops on her street" think it is hilarious.

She discovered biohacking when recovering from a serious concussion that left struggling to speak. Her boss recommended trying medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oil, which helped her "head turn on" and acted as something of a gateway drug for biohacking.

"It opened the floodgates and I was like, 'If this works, this one little thing works so well - like, what else can I do?'

"Biohacking for me is taking control of your own biology. It's taking shortcuts to get to a place that you want to be - so shortcutting your health. That's kind of how I think of it at least."

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:35

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Winter’s cool indifference had already embraced the snow-tipped peaks of the Tian Shan mountain system, winds whispering the tall trees into a state of undress.

“It is cold,” said Alexey Raspopov, a guide with Trekking Club Kazakhstan, pointing to the dashboard thermometer of his 4x4 as we ascended, leaving Kazakhstan’s second city Almaty to disappear beneath a layer of smog.

One could see with his own eyes that this beautiful site was the origin of the cultivated apple

After driving for about two hours to the Turgen Gorge, we abandoned the vehicle and continued on foot. The climb was not difficult, but biting gusts threatened to take the feeling from my fingertips and steal the words from my lips as I asked Raspopov, who has led hikes in the region for the past 30 years, about the landscape that unfolded before us.

“It has changed a lot,” he said, calling upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the thickening pollution and a shrinking glacier to illustrate his point – not that he needed to. The near disappearance of the forests of Malus sieversii, or wild apple, that once blanketed the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau section of the Tian Shan mountains (which also stretches to Kyrgyzstan), are testament enough to the changing times.

The foothills of the Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan were once blanketed with Malus sieversii trees.

When storied Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov first identified the Malus sieversii as the progenitor of the domestic apple, Malus domestica, in 1929, the region’s forests were thick and their harvests bountiful.

“All around the city one could see a vast expanse of wild apples covering the foothills,” wrote Vavilov of his visit to Almaty, then Kazakhstan’s capital. “One could see with his own eyes that this beautiful site was the origin of the cultivated apple.”

Vavilov based these words on his idea that the ‘centres of origin’ of a species lie in the places where you find its highest genetic diversity. His observations that all domestic apples may originate from Almaty has since been confirmed by modern genetics.

“At some point, either seeds, trees or budwood from desirable trees was taken out of the [Malus sieversii] forests by humans and grown elsewhere,” said Gayle Volk, a research plant physiologist at the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA). “In some cases, those trees could have hybridised with wild apple species growing in other regions. The selection process continued.”

The Malus sieversii has been identified as the progenitor of the domestic apple.

Silk Road trade is believed to have scattered the fruit far and wide, eventually reaching North America with European colonists.

Despite being the first to scientifically assert Almaty’s association with the apple, Vavilov was not the first to observe fruit’s influence on the region. “Almaty used to be called Alma-Ata,” Raspopov told me at the apogee of our ascent. “It means ‘father of apples’,” he added, before handing me an acid-green fruit the size of a child’s fist.

Zesty, sweet and deliciously crisp, it was not plucked from one of the nearly naked branches in front of us, which, when in season, bear apples of all shapes, sizes, flavours and textures – and, as Raspopov warned me, are rarely edible. Instead, this apple was a triumph of farming and cultivation, sadly the very same human endeavours that have ravaged the wild apple’s natural habitats. This thought did not stop me from accepting another though, listening as Raspopov continued: “Kazakh people, Almaty people, they are very proud of the apple. It comes from here.”

Silk Road trade brought the apple from Kazakhstan to Europe, China and, eventually, North America.

That pride is worn plainly for all to see throughout the city. Billboards bearing images of apples and Almaty’s tagline, ‘the city of [a] thousand colours’, advertise nothing else but the famous fruit, injecting bold pops of red along otherwise grey highways. At the A Kasteyev State Museum of Arts, Kazakhstan’s biggest art museum, apples appear in oil paintings and metal sculptures. On a larger and more public scale, murals depicting the fruit adorn the sides of buildings, and a giant granite apple-shaped fountain is a point of attraction at Kok Tobe mountain, one of the city’s major landmarks. On my way to the cable car that takes visitors to its peak, I waited patiently in line to take a picture of a sunshine-yellow, Soviet-era car, stuffed full of plastic apples; the licence plate read ‘I love Almaty’.

In the city’s Green Bazaar, a farmers’ market thronging with locals wrapped up against the chill, precarious towers of apples fastidiously organised according to hue, size and shape beckoned. Slices were deftly cut and devoured, offered with a steady stream of Russian – the lingua franca here – and gratefully received with a grin and a quiet “spasiba” (Russian for ‘thank you’, and about the sum of my knowledge of the language).

Kazakh people, Almaty people, they are very proud of the apple

Just as the Malus sieversii is the progenitor of modern apples, the Green Bazaar is ground zero for Kazakh cuisine. Each aisle presents another ingredient or element fundamental to the country’s culinary history. There is the corner dedicated to horsemeat, from an animal so sacrosanct to the once-nomadic Kazakh people that it is considered a delicacy. Then there are countless Korean specialities, emblematic of the diaspora that led many Koreans to settle in Central Asia after being forcibly deported from Soviet Russia by Stalin in 1937, where they had fled following the breakdown of the Chosun dynasty in 1910. And there are pickles of almost every type imaginable, garnished with generous amounts of dill.

Everything needed to make some of the country’s signature dishes can be found here. Take plov, a Central Asian rice dish that each country has adapted slightly. In Kazakhstan, the twist comes in the form of apples, which are added to the customary lamb, carrots and onions for a bit of additional sweetness.

Almaty used to be called Alma-Ata, meaning ‘father of apples’.

But while the region has gladly accepted the Malus domesticaas its own, Kazakhstan’s wild apples have been decidedly neglected.

Malus sieversii is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the ICUN Red List (last assessed in 2007), with its population ‘decreasing’. Threats to the few remaining forests include residential and commercial development, livestock farming and deforestation. Moves have recently been made to preserve those that remain in the Trans-Ili Alatau foothills by Italy’s Slow Food foundation (which requires permits for visitors to enter the forest) with funding from Cultures of Resistance Network.

“Again and again, Slow Food has demonstrated that slowing down and paying attention to what we eat is not just a matter of the lifestyle choices of the affluent,” said Iara Lee, director of Cultures of Resistance Network. “It’s about highlighting models of agroecology that provide alternatives to environmentally destructive corporate farming, where profit becomes the driving concern. We need alternative models now more than ever.”

Whether Vavilov foresaw such destructive human activity when he first visited Almaty is impossible to imagine. However, the visionary scientist made certain to collect Malus sieversii seeds to protect the species and help prevent any future famine. He added them to his collection of 250,000 seeds, fruits and roots at one of the world’s first gene banks in Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

During the Siege of Leningrad from 1941 to 1944, several botanists who worked at the gene bank chose to starve to death rather than eat the seeds stored there. Vavilov also died of starvation, imprisoned in the gulag for falling out of favour with those in power. Thankfully, though, his legacy survives to this day. Now named the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry(VIR), the gene bank is the only facility of its kind in Russia.

“We collect, evaluate, maintain and use the collection according to Vavilov’s theories and approaches,” said Igor Loskutov, the head of the institute’s rye, barley and oats genetic resources department. “We are working to prevent the loss of genetic diversity and genetic erosion. The VIR is important not only for Russia, but for the whole of mankind.”

Volk agreed: “The wild species in their native habitats will always be important, however, gene banks increase accessibility to the wild species and can serve as a partial backup in case of unexpected circumstances,” she said.

Although apples feature prominently in Kazakh cuisine, the Malus sieversii is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the ICUN Red List.

In the case of Almaty’s wild apple forests, let’s hope those unexpected circumstances never arise.

Back in the birthplace of the modern apple, the work of Vavilov, along with his courageous colleagues and his contemporaries, is a footnote in the story of a city whose identity is entwined with the fruit. To celebrate their work, and to satisfy a sudden craving, I stepped into a street-side stall and bought a mottled green-and-red apple. It was delicious.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the car filled with apples as a Volga. We regret the error.

Culinary Roots is a series from BBC Travel connecting to the rare and local foods woven into a place’s heritage.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 18:10

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Russia 'partially unblocks' Ukraine ports

Ships have begun heading through the Kerch Strait again towards two key Ukrainian ports, a Ukrainian minister has said, nine days after Russia opened fire on three boats.

Mariupol and Berdyansk were "partially unblocked", said Volodymyr Omelyan.

Russia seized 24 Ukrainian sailors on 25 November in the first open clash between the two states since 2014.

The Ukrainians had initially headed towards Mariupol and were targeted in international waters.

How did crisis erupt?

Before the clash in the Black Sea, the government in Kiev had accused Russia of stopping cargo ships going to and from the two ports, which are in the Sea of Azov, shared by both states.

Earlier this year the Russian government opened a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and then annexed.

The Russians began inspecting ships and the Ukrainians accused them of imposing an economic blockade. After the clash, Kiev said no Ukrainian ships were allowed through.

Mr Omelyan, Ukraine's infrastructure minister, said on Tuesday that ships were "navigating through the Kerch Strait to and from Ukrainian ports". "They are stopped and inspected by Russia as before, but the traffic has been partially restored."

What does Russian move mean?

By Jonah Fisher, BBC Kiev correspondent

Legally a complete blockade on ships using Ukrainian ports was impossible to justify. So Russia appears to have gone back to the system it had in place before the Black Sea clash of 25 November.

It's what one Ukrainian official calls a "quiet" blockade.

That means some ships doing business with Ukraine are allowed through, but they face lengthy delays at the entrance to the strait.

Time is money for shipping companies, and an extra day at sea can cost up to $15,000 (£11,600; €13,150). So, visiting a Ukrainian Azov port remains a risky and potentially expensive undertaking.

It's unclear what would happen if Ukraine attempted to send its naval vessels through the strait again.

The Ukrainian minister said that 17 ships were queuing to enter the Sea of Azov and one was set to leave, while another nine ships were still in port.

There was no word from Russia about the movement of shipping through the strait. However, the development came as Nato foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss the latest flare-up.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian media said violence had continued in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists seized areas of two border regions in 2014.

A Ukrainian soldier was killed in shelling in the Luhansk area on Monday, Interfax reported.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 17:06

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Italian mafia: How crime families went global

Italian police have carried out a spate of anti-mafia raids, arresting dozens of suspects near Naples, Rome and Agrigento in Sicily.

Illegal drugs, arms trafficking, extortion, contract killings, political bribery, prostitution, art thefts... the list of crimes is long.

So who are the Italian mafia?

Sicilian Mafia - Cosa Nostra

The Sicilian gangs established the model for other mafias. They meted out local justice in the 1800s, then grew in power and sophistication.

Cosa Nostra means "our thing" - it is the original Mafia, with a capital M, based on family clans.

It is famous for the "omertà" - a code of silence demanding extreme loyalty. Turncoats risk torture and death, or punishment of their relatives.

Even today they settle some business disputes and retrieve stolen goods in Sicily, undermining the slow-moving Italian courts. But many despise them for the "pizzo" - protection money - that they extort from businesses.

Cosa Nostra earned notoriety in the US, where it became the Italian "Mob", feuding and racketeering in Chicago, New York and some other cities. It accumulated power by controlling illicit alcohol in the 1920s Prohibition era.

America's FBI says the US crime syndicate is largely separate from the clans in Italy. Heroin trafficking remains a core business for Cosa Nostra.

Say "mafia" now and many people will think of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. The Sicilian word actually implies "manly", and the label is often applied loosely - and inaccurately - to organised crime gangs.

Some Italian mafia clans operate globally, competing with similarly ruthless "mafia" gangs from Russia, China, Albania and several other countries. Sometimes gangs co-ordinate their crimes and share out the loot.

Cosa Nostra infiltrated local and national politics not only in Italy but also in the US.

The Christian Science Monitor and others documented the Mafia's power in Italian society in the 1980s.

But not all big Italian corruption cases involve the Mafia. Rome's "Mafia Capital" trial exposed huge municipal corruption, but not "mafia association".

Today Cosa Nostra and the three other main Italian mafia groups - the Camorra, 'Ndrangheta and Sacra Corona Unita - have an estimated 25,000 members in total, with 250,000 affiliates worldwide, the FBI says.

Cosa Nostra was essentially at war with the Italian state during the reign of "godfather" Salvatore "Toto" Riina.

In May 1992, Riina's men detonated a bomb that killed prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards just outside Palermo.

Two months later they killed his replacement Paolo Borsellino and five bodyguards in Palermo, with a car bomb.

Riina died in prison in November 2017, aged 87, while serving 26 life sentences for murder.

Cosa Nostra has muscled into some EU-funded projects in Sicily, intimidating local contractors. A BBC investigation in 2010 found that wind farms were among the businesses targeted.

Sicilian society has fought back. An anti-Mafia group called Libera Terra runs new businesses, including hotels, with cash and property seized from the Mafia.

Prof Federico Varese, an Oxford University expert on the Mafia, says Cosa Nostra is now extorting "pizzo" from some state-funded migrant shelters in Sicily.

But some migrant gangs are competing with the Mafia, in local prostitution for example, he told the BBC.

Italian police have also put the Mafia under "huge pressure" in Sicily, Prof Varese said.

Naples mafia - Camorra

An estimated 4,500 people are in the Camorra clans in Naples and Caserta, just north of the port city.

Their main business is drugs - they are often extremely brutal. They also extort money from construction firms, toxic waste disposal and garment businesses. Their targets include Chinese-run sweatshops making copies of Italian fashions.

Image captionDilapidated tower blocks in Scampia are a known Camorra stronghold

Vicious Camorra feuding was documented by Italian undercover reporter Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah became a bestseller.

Saviano has police bodyguards and lives a life of secrecy after receiving Camorra death threats.

In an interview with US public broadcaster PBS, Saviano said the Camorra and 'Ndrangheta were less hierarchical than Cosa Nostra and more powerful, with younger leaders and "much more blood". They are also less involved in politics than Cosa Nostra, he said.

Camorra drugs crime has spread to Spain, but the syndicate remains rooted in poor suburbs of Naples, such as Scampia and Secondigliano.

Mafia violence in Ostia, a poor suburb of Rome, has also been linked to the Camorra. Italians were outraged when a Spada clan member there was filmed headbutting a TV journalist.

Women in the tight-knit Camorra family clans often play important roles as messengers and accountants, paying clan members, Prof Varese says.

Calabrian mafia - 'Ndrangheta

Calabria, the "toe" of the Italian boot, lies near Sicily and the 'Ndrangheta was originally an offshoot of Cosa Nostra.

The name comes from the Greek "andragathia", meaning courage or loyalty.

The FBI estimates 'Ndrangheta membership at about 6,000. They are based in one of Italy's poorest regions.

Varese says it has direct links to crime gangs in Mexico and Colombia. It is reckoned to control as much as 80% of Europe's cocaine trade.

It is also entrenched in the crime scene in and around Turin in northern Italy.

'Ndrangheta brutality was demonstrated in the German city of Duisburg in 2007, where six Italian men linked to the crime syndicate were shot dead, their bodies left in vehicles near an Italian restaurant.

Puglia mafia - Sacra Corona Unita

The smallest of Italy's main mafia syndicates, Sacra Corona Unita ("United Sacred Crown") is based in Puglia, in the far south-east.

The FBI says it has about 2,000 members and specialises in smuggling cigarettes, arms, drugs and people.

Puglia is a natural gateway for smuggling from the Balkans. Puglia clans are believed to have strong links to Eastern European crime gangs.



ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 16:47

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Italian Mafia 'godfather' Settimo Mineo held in Sicily raid

Italian police have arrested the man said to be the new head of the Sicilian Mafia, along with 45 associates.

The dawn raid in Palermo netted 80-year-old jeweller Settimo Mineo. He was reportedly elected Cosa Nostra godfather at a Mafia meeting in May..

The Mafia suspects are accused of extortion, firearms offences, arson and other crimes.

The Sicilian Mafia - the Cosa Nostra - managed to rebuild its leadership, known as the Cupola, after it had not met for years, reports say. The godfather is also known as the "capo dei capi" - or boss of bosses.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted that it was "an extraordinary intervention" by the Carabinieri (the paramilitary police), "who have dismantled the new 'cupola' of Cosa Nostra".However, another of Mr Salvini's tweets this morning - discussing the alleged arrest of 15 members of the "Nigerian mafia" in Turin - has drawn criticism.

Turin magistrate Armando Spataro reportedly said that Mr Salvini's message threatened to disrupt the ongoing operation in the city. Moreover, not all those arrested have links to organised crime, and 15 was not the correct number of people arrested, he said in a statement.

In recent years police have hit the Cosa Nostra network hard. It was long handicapped by the fact that Toto Riina was in jail, but when he died the Mafia moved to rebuild the cupola without taking orders from a "godfather".

Riina was notorious for his brutality. In 1992 two leading prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were blown up in Mafia hits. Six months later Riina was arrested.

'I fell from the clouds'

Mineo allegedly ran Mafia operations in Pagliarelli, a central district in Palermo. Italian media report that he avoided using a mobile phone and preferred to walk rather than travel by car.

Valued by Riina, he survived an ambush back in 1982 in which his brother Giuseppe died. Another brother, Antonino, was shot dead later.

Mineo was arrested in 1984 on the orders of leading prosecutor Giovanni Falcone. Italian daily La Repubblica says he told his interrogators: "I don't know who you're talking about, I fell from the clouds."

Mineo was jailed for five years in a big Mafia trial based on the Falcone investigation.

In 1992, Falcone and another top prosecutor - Paolo Borsellino - were blown up in Mafia hits. Riina was arrested six months later.

Media captionRiina is believed to have ordered more than 150 murders

Mineo was rearrested in 2006 and spent another 11 years in jail. A well-known "pentito" (police informer), Tommaso Buscetta, is reported to have provided intelligence about him.

Commenting on Tuesday's raid, the head of the parliamentary anti-mafia commission, Nicola Morra, said "the state has won". He warned: "They will never give up - but nor shall we."

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 16:14

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Migrants jump border fence in Tijuana to try to reach US

About two dozen migrants climbed over the border wall separating Mexico from the US near Tijuana on Monday.

While some ran to evade capture, most handed themselves in to border guards.

The attempt to cross into the US illegally came just days after the migrants were transferred from one temporary shelter to another after it had become unsanitary.

Thousands of people have left Central America for Tijuana in the hope of crossing into the US.

They arrived in mid-October after having travelled more than 4,000km (2,500 miles), much of it on foot.The group, dubbed "migrant caravan", has been camping out in a sports complex turned into a temporary shelter by the local authorities.

Last week city authorities bussed them to a concert venue that now acts as a federally run shelter, 14 miles to the south.

Officials said conditions at the Benito Juárez sports complex on the border had become untenable after parts of it had flooded.They told the migrants food and medical services would no longer be provided there.

Having spent a month trekking towards the United States, many of the migrants are growing frustrated at the long wait that faces them at the border.

Many say they are fleeing gang violence in their home towns and want to apply for asylum based on "credible fear", while others are hoping for better job opportunities in the US.

Applying for asylum at a border post can take months and with US officials restricting the number of applicants to between 40 and 100 a day at El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana, the migrants could be stuck for months or even years in the shelter.

Media captionWhy are there so many people at US border?

Some of those jumping the fence said they hoped their cases would be heard more quickly that way.

US President Donald Trump has lashed out at the migrants, calling them an "invasion", which he said threatened to "overrun" the US.

He has sent troops to the border and issued an order denying the possibility of asylum to migrants crossing the southern border illegally - but that order has since been halted by a US federal judge.

A previous attempt by a larger group of migrants to jump over the border wall was met with tear gas, sending women and children running back to the Mexican side.

Mexico has demanded that the US investigate the use of tear gas during the incident. The migrants who stormed the border were deported by Mexico.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 13:41

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George HW Bush's service dog Sully pays touching last tribute

The labrador who worked as a service dog for President George HW Bush has been pictured resting beside his coffin, in a moving tribute.

Mr Bush, who served as the 41st US president between 1989 and 1993, died late on Friday at the age of 94.

Sully the dog is travelling with the casket on the flight from Texas to Washington and back this week.

Mr Bush's body is due to lie in state this week ahead of a day of national mourning.

The coffin is being flown from Texas to DC on board Air Force One - temporarily renamed Special Air Mission 41, in homage to the late president - and then back on Wednesday, with Sully accompanying the body throughout.

The picture was tweeted by Mr Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, showing Sully next to Mr Bush's casket on Sunday along with the caption: "Mission complete."

Social media users thanked Sully for his services and commented on his and dogs' loyalty generally towards their owners.Sully is named after the airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed a passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009, saving all 155 passengers and crew on board.

The two-year-old labrador was assigned earlier this year as a service dog to Mr Bush who used a wheelchair in the last years of his life.

A highly trained dog, Sully can perform a number of commands, including opening doors and fetching items such as the phone when it rings.

He will now work as a service dog, assisting with therapy for wounded soldiers.

Sully has his own Instagram account; here he is shown "assisting with voting" as Mr Bush cast his ballot in last month's US presidential mid-term election.

Not all US presidents have been fond of dogs, though: John F Kennedy was allergic to dogs, and Donald Trump does not have one.

President Bush had been receiving treatment for a form of Parkinson's disease and had been admitted to hospital with a blood infection in April.

He died in Houston, Texas.

He will be buried at the presidential library in Texas, alongside his wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Bush, who died seven months ago.



ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 13:27

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France fuel protests: PM Philippe suspends fuel tax rise

France's PM has announced a six-month suspension of a fuel tax rise which has led to weeks of violent protests.

Edouard Philippe said that people's anger must be heard, and the measures would not be applied until there had been proper debate with those affected.

The protests have hit major French cities, causing considerable damage for the past three weekends.

The "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) protests have now grown to reflect more widespread anger at the government.

Three people have died since the unrest began and the resulting violence and vandalism - notably when statues were smashed at the Arc de Triomphe last Saturday - have been widely condemned.

"Yellow vests" are so called because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

The movement has grown via social media and has supporters across the political spectrum.President Emmanuel Macron was elected two years ago with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping reform, but his popularity has fallen sharply in recent months.

Mr Macron has accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block the reforms.

What did Mr Philippe say?

Mr Philippe announced the measures in a TV address after meeting MPs from the ruling party, La Republique en Marche.

He said the six-month suspension would be applied to fuel tax increases, as well as hikes in electricity and gas prices and strict vehicle emissions controls.

"The French people who have put on yellow vests love their country," he said. "We share those values."

But he said the violence must stop.

"The main role of the state is to guarantee public order but we must fight against anything that endangers the unity of the nation," he said, adding that any future demonstrations should be declared officially and carried out peacefully.

Mr Philippe added that a public consultation would be held on taxes and public spending from 15 December until 1 March.

It is not clear how the government will find the revenue it was anticipating from these measures, but Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire - quoted by Reuters - said the suspension would not put its budget commitments in jeopardy.

What is the wider anger about?

Emmanuel Macron was elected on a platform of economic reform, which would, the French people were told, improve their lot - with lower unemployment and a kick-started economy.

But many feel that has not emerged. An analysis of the 2018-19 budget carried out by France's public policy institute, for example, found that the poorest quarter of households would largely see their income drop or stay the same under the plans.

Middle-income earners would see a modest bump - but the greatest beneficiaries would be those who are already wealthy, in the top 1%. The pattern is worse for retired people - almost all of whom will be worse off.

The protesters had been waiting for the president to enact the next step in the elaborate pas-de-deux, which is French social negotiation.

What the ritual required was a gesture from the government that showed that it had not just listened, but was prepared to appease.

That is how, since time immemorial, French social conflicts have been resolved.

The difficulty for Emmanuel Macron is that this is exactly the kind of capitulation to the street that he has vowed to stop. There will be no change of direction, he repeats to all who will hear, because that would only store up worse problems for the future.

How has the news been received?

Yellow vests spokesman Benjamin Cauchy said the move was "either a disguised political snub or... to make fun of the French and put the tax back in six months".

Bruno Retailleau, the Senate leader of the centre-right opposition, the Republicans, said the suspension was "absolutely inadequate".

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen concurred, tweeting (in French) that a postponement, rather than cancellation, of the tax did not go far enough.

Ségolène Royal, former ecology minister for the centre-left Socialists, welcomed the move but said the tax should have been put on hold from the beginning.

Who are the protesters?

The "gilets jaunes" movement began as a protest against a rise in duties on diesel - which is widely used by French motorists and has long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel.

Mr Macron says his motivation for the increase is environmental, but protesters call him out of touch - particularly with non-city dwellers who rely on their cars.

The movement later grew to reflect a range of grievances, including the marginalisation of rural areas, high living costs, and general anger at President Macron's economic policies.

The protests have no identifiable leadership and gained momentum via social media, encompassing a whole range of participants from the anarchist far left to the nationalist far right, and plenty of moderates in-between.

Nearly 300,000 people took part in the first countrywide demonstration. There were more than 106,000 a week later, and 136,000 people last Saturday.

What were the changes that caused this anger?

The price of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, has risen by around 23% over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 (£1.32; $1.71) per litre, its highest point since the early 2000s.

World oil prices did rise before falling back again, but the Macron government raised its hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol.

Mr Macron has blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise but said more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.

The decision to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol on 1 January 2019 was seen as the final straw for the protesters.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 13:18

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Surrogate mothers: 'I gave birth but it’s not my baby'

Canada has become a hot destination for parents-to-be looking for "altruistic surrogates" - women who give birth to babies they are not genetically related to and only charge expenses.

Marissa Muzzell spent 16 hours in labour to deliver a baby girl.

She suffered from acute morning sickness during her pregnancy and had to be hospitalised twice. She underwent months of daily hormone injections and previously endured four failed embryo transfers.

She did all of this for a baby that is not hers.

Marissa, 32, is a surrogate in Canada, where hundreds of women like her volunteer to give birth to babies that will then go home with somebody else.

"I've just created [a] family… someone else's family," says Marissa laughing, still recovering in the delivery room after handing over the newborn to the baby's parents - a same-sex couple from Spain. 

There is a steady surge in demand for surrogacy globally. Canada has experienced dramatic growth in the practice, with some estimates suggesting an increase of more than 400% in the past decade.

Surrogacy here is "altruistic" - meaning the women who carry the babies cannot make a financial gain out of it. Canada is not the only country where this type of surrogacy is the norm - this is also the case in the UK, for example.

But the legislation in most Canadian provinces makes it easier for intended parents to obtain legal parenthood of a surrogate baby. Also, unlike some other countries, Canada opens this practice to same-sex couples and single parents.

Altruistic surrogacy is more ethically acceptable for some and also a lot cheaper, compared to countries where surrogacy is commercial, such as the US.

Surrogacy in Canada is steadily growing as more people are struggling with infertility and same-sex male couples are seeing this as a viable option to build their families"

Leia Swanberg, surrogacy agency owner

"I see a lot of American surrogates who get paid thousands of dollars just to get pregnant, whereas in Canada we don't do that," says Marissa.

Here, surrogates only get reimbursed a capped amount of pregnancy-related expenses, like antenatal vitamins, maternity clothes, groceries and travel costs for medical appointments, as well as lost wages if they take time off work due to medical reasons.

And they need to produce a receipt for every expense they claim.

"This is not an income that you can save, we're not baby machines," says Marissa, who works as a youth worker.

"To me that made it that much more special. You're not doing it as a job, but from the kindness of your heart"

'Online dating'

Canadian surrogates are gestational carriers, which means that the embryo transferred into their womb is created in a lab with someone else's egg, never their own.

There are at least 900 active surrogates, according to estimates from Canadian media - and official statistics are hard to come by.

"Eleven years ago, when I started the company, we had eight [surrogate] babies born in a year. In the last month alone we've had over 30 babies born," says Leia Swanberg, founder of Canadian Fertility Consultancy, one of the largest surrogacy agencies in the country.

The volunteers must undergo medical and psychological evaluations, and need to have given birth to at least one child of their own.

Ms Swanberg, a former surrogate herself, vets them and helps match them with intended parents across the world.

"It is like online dating," says two-time surrogate Janet Harbick, 33, who is currently pregnant with a baby girl.

"You have to fill in a profile, then you get sent profiles from intended parents.

"It is always hard. There are more couples than surrogates, so you feel very responsible. How do I choose? There's a connection, you simply feel it when you first make contact."

Janet had her first surrogate baby last year for a French couple, and then became pregnant again just four months after giving birth.

"I've already thought of doing two more, a sibling journey for each couple I've had a baby for, to give them brothers or sisters," she says.

"I love being pregnant and my body heals well, so why not?"

Like her, many surrogates volunteer multiple times. Most also keep in contact with the families they help create.

"These guys [the intended parents] start off as strangers, then they become friends, eventually they become family," says Janet.

"They are uncles to my kids, and I'm in my 'surro' baby's life for the long run."

These women agree that surrogacy is a life-changing experience, which may partly explain why they give up their time and put their bodies at potential risk.

"I cannot imagine life without kids," says mother-of-five Janet.

"My tubes are tied and I don't want any more, but I love the feeling that I'm able to produce this for someone who couldn't have it any other way."

Marissa says: "I think it's just bringing light back into the world. I'm creating a child for these gentlemen but I'm also creating a legacy."

Yet the road to having a surrogate baby can be lengthy and tough.

Multiple rounds of IVF, failed embryo transfers and miscarriages are common.

"I was very, very sick during the pregnancy, so my husband had to cover for me. He was super-supportive and so were my kids," says Janet.

"In my case, my fiancé gave me a hard time - he never understood why I was doing this," adds Marissa.

Being from a small rural town, she also found it difficult to avoid criticism from neighbours.

"I got a lot of: 'How could you give up that baby?' 'Why are you sacrificing your family life for a baby that you won't bring home?'

"So if you want to be a surrogate, you need to stick to your guns. It's your body, your choice."

Criticism of surrogacy is not uncommon.

Within feminism, for example, there is a school of thought that views it as a form of exploitation of the female body.

Academic Katy Fulfer, from the University of Waterloo, conducts research into surrogacy and says even though surrogacy in Canada is unpaid it does not mean there is no exploitation.

"I think comparing surrogacy and prostitution is appropriate, as you have two forms of embodied labour that people are selling," she says.

"The fact that women don't get paid is problematic, because fertility here is a for-profit industry and everyone else gets paid. Why isn't the surrogate getting paid?"

Within the altruistic model, surrogates only get expenses reimbursed while agencies, doctors, lawyers and fertility clinics are paid a fee - making it an expensive endeavour for intended parents that may cost over C$75,000 ($56,767;£44,600).

"As compensation is banned, even sending flowers to a surrogate could expose intended parents to criminal liability," says agency owner Leia Swanberg.

A breach could lead to fines of up to C$500,000 ($378,450; £297,300) or a 10-year jail sentence. There is currently a big push to change this legislation.

"In truth, it would be good to have more relaxed regulations and not have to collect receipts, but it's not a big deal. We are not in this for the money," says Janet.

"I'm proud, very proud that I'm able to carry this child."

"You are making brand new parents," adds Marissa.

"I handed this baby back to them with joy, because this baby was never mine".

"Think of surrogacy as extreme babysitting. In the end, the baby gets to go home to its parents. There isn't much more to it than that."

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 11:22

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Rare gold coins found in Israeli city of Caesarea

A collection of gold coins believed to have been hidden 900 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists in the ancient Israeli port city of Caesarea.

The rare cache was found - along with a single gold earring - in a bronze pot between stones in the side of a well.

The hoard of 24 coins appears to have been hidden by someone who hoped to retrieve it, but never returned.

Archaeologists say the owner may have died when the city's inhabitants were massacred by a Crusader army in 1101.

The discovery was made during an excavation and conservation project at the Caesarea World Heritage site.The 11th-Century coins were found between two stones in the side of a well at a house in a neighbourhood dating to the Abbasid and Fatimid periods.

"The cache is a silent testimony to one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea: the violent conquest of the city by the Crusaders," archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

They added that, according to written sources, most of the inhabitants of Caesarea were massacred by the army of Baldwin I, who ruled the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem between the years 1100 and 1118.

"It is reasonable to assume that the treasure's owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold," said the directors of the excavation, Dr Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar.

The latest discovery was found near the location of two other treasures of the same period - a pot of gold and silver jewellery found in the 1960s and a collection of bronze vessels found in the 1990s.

These treasures are currently displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

In 2015, scuba divers inadvertently discovered the largest trove of gold coins ever found off Israel's Mediterranean coast. About 2,000 pieces dating back more than 1,000 years were spotted on the seabed by members of a diving club.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 11:10

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Bulandshahr violence: Arrests over India policeman killing

Three men have been held over the killing of an Indian police officer in mob violence that erupted after rumours spread that cows had been slaughtered.

Subodh Kumar Singh was killed as police clashed with right wing Hindu groups who said police failed to halt the killing of cows in Uttar Pradesh state.

Cows are considered holy by India's majority Hindu population and many states have now banned cow slaughter.

The issue has sparked violence before, but an attack on police is unheard of.

So-called cow vigilantism has been on the rise and led to several killings in the past few years.

Police are now looking for 24 others suspected to be involved in Monday's murder in Bulandshahr district.

Many states, including Uttar Pradesh, have actively started enforcing bans on cow slaughter after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed India's federal government in 2014.

In Monday's incident, a mob attacked policemen and set fire to a police station in Bulandshahr alleging cow slaughter in the area.

An 18-year-old protester was killed and another policeman was injured in the violence.The police have registered cases of rioting, attempt to murder and destruction of property against 50 unnamed people.

Shops and schools in the area are shut and more than 1,000 policemen have been deployed, says BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava in Bulandshahr.

Our correspondent says incidents of violence over alleged cow slaughter are not uncommon in this region, but a direct attack on the police is unprecedented.

The incident has prompted outrage on social media, with many calling the attack "senseless" and "barbaric".

Local villagers alleged that they found carcasses of some cows near Mahav village on Monday morning. They claimed that the animals had been slaughtered.

"The local police got information about cow slaughter after which they immediately started investigating the matter," Anuj Jha, a top district official, told reporters on Monday.

"But soon after, people in the area blocked the streets and started pelting the police with stones."

Mr Jha added that police officer Subodh Kumar Singh died in the clashes that followed.

It is unclear where the alleged cow slaughter occurred.

Police said they were investigating the incident to find out who instigated the violence.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 11:05

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China cracks down on wedding extravaganza and extreme pranks

China is trying to put the brakes on a trend towards increasingly lavish weddings and pre-wedding pranks which can often become violent or sexualised.

Authorities have said modern weddings are both too extravagant and against Chinese and socialist values.

The traditional "hazing" rituals couples are put through have also often been getting out of control.

Beijing's suggested answer is to try to standardise ceremonies to a more traditional and simple format.

Stop pulling all stops

People in China, as in many countries, have increasingly found themselves competing with neighbours and friends over weddings, and caught up in spiralling spending as bigger weddings become the fashion.

That means expensive receptions, elaborate outfits and overseas wedding photo shoots, pulling out all the stops no matter the cost.

Guests are also expected to bring ever more lavish gifts.

Meanwhile the tradition of playing pranks on the bride and groom - originally meant as a way of helping them relax on their big day - has often been getting out of hand.

There are regular news reports of wedding-goers carrying out humiliating or violent pranks which have crossed the line into assault.

Last week, a bridegroom was hit by a car while trying to escape the pre-wedding ritual which involved him being tied up and beaten.

One week before, several bridesmaids were injured by broken glass when the groom's party tried to get into the bride's house by breaking the door with an axe.There have also been reports of brides being forced to mime sexual acts or bridesmaids being pursued to the point of sexual harassment.

The ministry of civil affairs condemned all this as "extravagance and wastefulness" and instead proposed a clear "guidance" towards more "simple and moderate" weddings, China's Xinhua news agency said.

Ceremonies should "integrate socialist values and Chinese traditional culture" to combat "negative social trends and wrong values" and instead set an example for society.

Authorities would "set guidelines on the process of weddings and the amount of cash gifts," ministry official Yang Zongtao said in an interview on state TV broadcast on Sunday.

It's not the first time China has tried to steer how exactly it wants its citizens to tie the knot.

In 2016, the Communist Party issued a raft of guidelines that included how to celebrate y wedding in the spirit of the party's austerity drive.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 09:38

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Donald Trump v the world: US tariffs in four charts

Donald Trump has agreed not to escalate his trade war with China, but many other countries have also been affected by the US president's America First trade policy.

From Spanish olives to Canadian steel, no corner of the world has been untouched by US trade tariffs - a tax on foreign products - since President Trump entered the White House.

Along the way, he has rewritten the rule book for how the US goes about the process of protecting its domestic trade.How are tariffs usually made?

A tariff is a tax on a foreign product designed to protect domestic producers in an effort to boost local economies.

But under international trade laws, the US can't just implement them willy-nilly, they need to provide a reason why the tariff is necessary and investigate it fully.

Until recently, the vast majority of US tariffs were justified as countervailing and antidumping duties.

  • Countervailing duties level the playing field when a foreign industry has been unfairly subsidised
  • Antidumping duties level the playing field when a foreign industry has been flooding the US market with its products

Not all investigations lead to tariffs - at some point during the process, the US may decide they don't have grounds to be implemented. But many do.

No stone unturned

Under President Trump, the Department of Commerce has begun 122 investigations into anti-dumping/countervailing duties.

These tariffs have targeted all corners of the globe, reaching 31 countries total and affecting some $12bn (£9.4bn) in imports.

China has borne the brunt of US scrutiny, with about 40% of countervailing/antidumping investigations targeting Chinese products ranging from aluminium alloy to rubber bands to silk ribbons.

Other countries have found themselves in Mr Trump's crosshairs as well.

After receiving a complaint from California farmers, the US levied tariffs on Spanish olives, arguing that EU payments to olive farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) constituted an unfair trading subsidy.

Most of the world's olives come from the Mediterranean, but in a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last September, Mr Trump signalled a willingness to protect American farmers.

"It must be fair," he said, describing the trade relationship between the US and Spain. "And it must be reciprocal."

That decision affects $68m of Spanish exports to the US and has raised the eyebrows of the EU.

As with Spain, the US has shown no qualms about going after traditional allies such as Canada.

The single largest investigation since Mr Trump took office focused on Canadian aircraft company Bombardier, and affected $5bn of Canadian exports to the US.

Eight months later, the US International Trade Commission found Canada's aircraft industry did not harm US businesses, and the 300% duties against the Bombardier C-Series were cancelled.

Although most tariff investigations targeted mundane industrial products, like carbon and steel wire or mechanical tubing, many could have a real impact on the US consumer.

A far-reaching investigation into citric acid touched three continents, with tariffs issued for Belgium, Columbia and Thailand. The chemical compound mimics the sour tang of lemons and is used in a large amount of common candies and drinks, from Sour Patch Kids to 7Up.

Another massive investigation into biodiesel from Argentina and Indonesia led to tariffs being issued on $1.5bn of imports. The fuel, which is made from plants, is used in diesel cars and lorries, as well as airplanes and trains. The market has huge growth potential in the US, which is a major grower of corn and soybeans, and the tariffs could ostensibly help grow the industry.

Similar tariffs were introduced by the EU in 2012.

Upping the stakes

Tariffs are nothing new.

Over the last decade, the US government collected approximately $283bn in customs duties.

Last year, the Commerce Department began 82 probes - nearly double the 56 that Barack Obama's administration started in 2013, its most active year,

And in a significant change in protocol, officials are no longer waiting for companies to petition for help.

Last November, the Department of Commerce self-initiated investigations in Chinese common alloy aluminium.

It was the first time the department acted on its own regarding antidumping or countervailing duties, without a complaint from industry, in decades, and a sign of a shift in the department's policy under the new administration.

"[President Trump] isn't willing to wait for companies to come forward. He wants to do it himself, he wants to have the government decide," says Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

"So he starts self-initiating cases but also... he says we're going to start using other laws where there are much more presidential discretion."

But by far the biggest shift in US trade policy has been Trump's willingness to buck with tradition if it will let him get tariffs through faster.Rather than go through lengthy antidumping/countervailing investigations - and risk his tariffs being overturned - Trump has introduced hundreds of billions of tariffs under little-used aspects of trade law.

Citing national security concerns, Trump has taken sweeping actions to protect steel and aluminium producers and embarked on a trade war with China, which he accuses of intellectual property theft.

These unusual measures far outweigh traditional antidumping/countervailing investigations. In China alone, traditional investigations target $3.4bn of products, while tariffs retaliating against intellectual property theft target $250bn.

"You now see a lot more import protection that you would typically see arise," Bown says.

Will these stick?

Trump's willingness to think outside the box on trade has made him a thorn in the side of countries like China who can't predict his next move.

They have also led to retaliatory tariffs on hundreds billions of dollars of US goods.

But after a summer of hostile trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico, and an escalating trade war with China, things seem to be calming down.

Last week, he signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). The agreement signalled the end of a long and tense saga between the three neighbours.

He also seems keen to end his trade war with China.

But if Trump's past actions have taught anyone anything, it is that the only thing predictable about his trade policy is its unpredictability.

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 09:23

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“Which form should I use when I talk to you: feminine or masculine?” I asked Lukas Avendaño, who I had seen in trousers earlier in the day but now was wearing a traditional black skirt with colourful embroidered flowers called an enagua. We were speaking in Spanish, with its gendered nouns and pronouns. “I prefer you’d just call me sweetheart,” Avendaño giggled.

Here, in the Istmo de Tehuantepec region in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, there are three genders: female, male and muxes. This third classification has been acknowledged and celebrated since pre-Hispanic times, and it’s hard to imagine life without muxes here. But in this region where most people speak the indigenous Zapotec language, my question doesn’t make much sense.

“In Zapotec, as in English, there are no grammatical genders. There is only one form for all people. Muxes have never been forced to wonder: are they more man or woman?” Avendaño explained.

“We’re the third sex,” added Felina, who, unlike Avendaño, decided to change his given male name, Ángel, and goes only by this moniker. “There’s men and women and there’s something in between, and that’s who I am.”

In the Istmo de Tehuantepec region in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, there are three genders: female, male and muxes.

I was at Vela de Las Intrepidas (Vigil of the Intrepids), the annual celebration of muxes that takes place each November in Juchitán de Zaragoza, a small town on the Istmo de Tehuantepec. Observing the different muxes, I couldn’t see much in common between their styles. There were muxes who, like the local tehuanas (women from the Istmo de Tehuantepec), wore the same richly embroidered outfits that inspired Frida Kahlo’s unique look. Others seemed to prefer Western-style dresses or drag queen apparel. And there were some wearing men’s clothes, showing their status with just simple makeup and nail polish.

“It’s hard to describe who a muxe is. Basically, we can say that a muxe is any person who was born a man but doesn’t act masculine,” Avendaño said.

“What we know, ‘under Western eyes’, as ‘male-to-female transvestite’, ‘male-to-female transsexual’, ‘effeminate gay’ or ‘masculine gay’ seems to be included within the category of ‘muxe’ as long as there is also a strong component of ethnic identity,” writes anthropologist Pablo Céspedes Vargas in his article Muxes at work: between community belonging and heteronormativity in the workplace. Avendaño similarly emphasised that ‘muxe’ is a Zapotec term and it can’t be understood without knowing more about their culture.

The Vela de Las Intrepidas (Vigil of the Intrepids) takes place each November in Juchitán de Zarag.

That’s because the concept of muxe exists only here, on the Istmo de Tehuantepec, where they are an important part of the community. Some say they fell out from the pocket of Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of Juchitán, as he passed through town, which, according to locals, means they were born under a lucky star. A second version of the saint’s legend says that Vicente Ferrer was carrying three bags: one with female seeds, one with male seeds and one where the two were mixed. According to this story, the third bag sprung a leak in Juchitán, and that’s the reason why there are so many muxes here.

“It’s not true there are more of them here. They’re just more respected, so they can be more visible,” said Fernando Noé Díaz, a primary school teacher who has many muxe friends. One named Kika (who also only goes by her first name) had invited us for tonight’s vela. There, each muxe had a section with tables and decorations where food and drinks were served to their guests. “I guess muxes are so respected because they are more a social gender rather than a sexual one. They have an important role in the community,” Noé Díaz added.

Juchitán is famous throughout Mexico for its strong and proud women. Some even call it a matriarchy, which is not necessarily correct, but women traditionally handle the money brought home by the men. (Locals joke that men here have sweet or salty penises, meaning they are either farmers or fishermen.) Women, on the other hand, are supposed to sell what men produce, and the market is their domain. Tonight, as is vela tradition, women traditionally donate money as a gift, while the men carry cases of beer.

“When the man is at sea or in the field and the woman is at the market, there is no-one to take care of the household and family. That’s where the muxe comes in,” Noé Díaz explained. “Some even say it’s a blessing for a mother to have a muxe son who will help her at home and take care of young siblings. Also, muxes are socially not allowed to have long-term relationships or get married so they can stay with their mothers when they get old.”

Some say muxes fell out from the pocket of Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of Juchitán, as he passed through Juchitán.

At the vela, the mothers are the ones who serve food at each muxe’s table. Kika's mother was checking that nobody was hungry, and younger family members gave me a new bottle of beer when mine started to empty. But Kika didn’t want to dedicate herself to housework, as is one of the muxe’s traditional roles, along with handicrafts and selling at the market. She owns a beauty salon in the centre of the town. The same with Felina, who runs a muxes’ group, Las Auténticas Intrepidas Buscadoras del Peligro (The Authentic Intrepid Danger Seekers), the organisers of tonight’s vela.

According to Noé Díaz, a lot of muxes work preparing the traditional fiestas that are a big part of the local economy. They make costumes and ornaments for velas, baptisms, communions, quinceañeras (15th birthday parties) and weddings. Noé Díaz also knows muxes who dedicate themselves to creating art and handicrafts to sell at markets. Another of his muxe friends is a primary-school teacher.

Fernando Noé Díaz: “It’s not true there are more of them here. They’re just more respected, so they can be more visible”.

Avendaño is an actor and director who travels the world with his show about being a muxe, Réquiem para un Alcaraván(Requiem for an Alcaravan). The spectacle puts a lot of emphasis on the Catholic part of the muxe identity.

“Muxes have always had an important role in the local Catholic church. It was their job to prepare the church decorations. In Tehuantepec, the town I come from, muxes have their own brotherhood inside the church,” Avendaño said, explaining that the Catholic Church wisely accommodated the tradition of three genders that is so strong and deeply ingrained in the local culture.

Today’s celebration started with a holy mass in honour of muxes at the local church of Vicente Ferrer.

“God created woman and man, but he also created human nature, and – please forgive me, God, if I offend you – it’s possible that the nature created by him decided who humans are. And among people, there are homosexuals and it’s totally natural,” said ‘Padre Panchito’, as parish priest Arturo Francisco Herrera González is nicknamed, while he delivered his homily. “God created us in his image, and each one of us is unique. There are no two identical individuals and we have to respect that,” he stated.

A lot of muxes work preparing the traditional fiestas that are a big part of the local economy.

After mass, the traditional procession began through the streets of the town. The colourful crowd was led by a band and muxes carrying candles. Behind them, more muxes rode in cars and trucks decorated with flowers, balloons and paper decorations. But the highlight of the day was the party that took place at night outside town. There were three stages and big speakers. I could see many people: women, men and children. Everyone was wearing regional clothes: women in enaguas and embroidered blouses called huipiles; men in white guayaberashirts. All were welcomed on the stage by a muxe who was this year’s ‘la mayordomo’, the main organiser of the vela, who was accompanied by their partner who is a mayate. Mayates are men who have sexual relationships with muxes, but aren’t muxes themselves and are not considered gay.

“An important difference with urban Western sexual culture is that for Zapotecs, only sexual relationships between a muxe and a heterosexual male have meaning. Relations between muxes or between a muxe and a gay man don’t make sense, in fact they are even inconceivable. No muxe would sleep with a man who considers himself gay,” writes Marinella Miano Borruso in an article Entre lo local y lo global. Los muxe en el siglo XXI (Between local and global. Muxes in the 21st Century). “Zapotec society as a whole doesn’t perceive a man who has relations with a muxe as a homosexual, his hetero-status is not questioned.”

Muxes also play an important role in the local Catholic Church, making decorations for baptisms and weddings.

According to Miano Borruso, historically muxes didn’t have to be homosexual. There were cases of them being heterosexual, bisexual or asexual. “Traditionally, being muxe didn’t depend on sexual orientation. It’s a cultural gender, social function and identity, but not a characteristic of someone’s desires,” she explains in her book Hombre, mujer y muxe en el Istmo de Tehuantepec (Man, woman and muxe in Istmo de Tehuantepec).

Nonetheless, all the muxes I talked to at the vela considered themselves homosexual or as a woman born in a male body. Some transform themselves with hormone therapy and implants. During the annual Queen of the Muxes contest, which formed part of the vela, I noticed many of them had artificial breasts. “That’s something new. Fake boobs don’t make a muxe more muxe,” Noé Díaz commented.

Muxes have also been involved in the struggle for LGBT rights. Amaranta Gómez Regalado, a muxe from Juchitán, was a local candidate in the elections for the Mexican Congress. Even though she didn’t get enough votes, she became famously known as the first transsexual candidate of Mexico. She’s still involved in politics, especially in campaigns against homophobia and for HIV/AIDS prevention.

“Instead of dedicating our lives to embroidery, handicraft or street sales, more and more of us are getting higher education,” Felina said. “If we, the daughters of St Vicente, won’t fight for our rights, then who will?”

For the Mexican and international gay community, Juchitán has become a symbol of tolerance.

Still, Mexicans have been ambivalent towards homosexuals in general. On one hand, Mexico City was the first Latin American capital to legalise same-sex marriage. Yet Mexico also suffers one of the highest rates of crime against the LGBT community in the world, with 202 people murdered due to homophobia between January 2014 and December 2016 – which equates to one every three to four days.

For the Mexican and international gay community, Juchitán has become a queer paradise and a symbol of tolerance. Even though some locals still discriminate against muxes, and the muxe community as a whole has less opportunity to study and gain employment, the traditional indigenous division of three genders as a natural and traditional way of being has inspired the LGBT scene around the world – and muxes are becoming aware of it.

“We dedicate this night not only to muxes,” I hear from the stage. “It’s also your night, for all homosexuals, not just for the ones from the state of Oaxaca, but for all gays from all over the world. Juchitán is open to all of you.”

ruby Posted on December 03, 2018 15:06

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Jackie Chan's daughter confirms marriage to Canadian girlfriend

Etta Ng, the estranged teenage daughter of movie star Jackie Chan, has announced that she has married her 31-year-old Canadian girlfriend.

The happy couple shared a picture of Ms Ng, 19, and social media personality Andi Autumn with their apparent marriage certificate, dated 8 November.

Media reports said the pair registered their marriage in Canada, and are now in Ms Ng's native Hong Kong.

The news was celebrated online, and trended on Chinese platform Weibo.

Ms Ng is martial arts star Chan's only child with actor and former beauty queen Elaine Ng Yi Lei following an affair the couple had in 1999.

She was raised by her mother but local media reports suggest their relationship was fraught with tension in recent years.

"We have all been hurt but if you can dream of love, you can find it," the couple wrote in their photo caption. "Love is kind, it does not judge. Love is both strength and weakness. Love can make change. Love wins!"

Ms Ng and Ms Autumn are said to have begun dating in late 2017 and Ms Ng moved to Canada shortly thereafter.

In April, the couple made a public plea for help on YouTube, claiming they were homeless for a month "due to homophobic parents".

This was disputed by Ms Ng's mother, who told the Asian news site Coconuts the couple "should go find work" and not rely on Ms Ng's father's fame to get money.

Gay Star news reported that Jackie Chan said he was fine with his daughter's sexuality, but according to media reports he has never had a relationship with her.

In 2015 Chan told the BBC of his shame and shock following the news his older son Jaycee Chan had been jailed for six months in China for drug offences.

ruby Posted on December 03, 2018 14:59

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Trump says China agreed to reduce tariffs on US car imports

Beijing will "reduce and remove" the 40% tariffs it places on US cars imported into China, US President Donald Trump has said.

China has declined to confirm President Trump's announcement, which he made on Twitter without providing details.

The move, if confirmed, would be welcomed by a car industry unsettled by the escalating US-China trade war.

President Trump and Xi Jinping have now agreed to a temporary truce in the bitter dispute.

Over dinner at the G20 summit, they agreed to not increase tariffs for 90 days to allow for talks.

Failure to strike a deal would have seen tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods rise from 10% to 25% at the start of next year, and would have opened the way for tariffs on additional Chinese goods.

President Trump was in ebullient mood after the developments.

On Monday, China's foreign ministry said the presidents of China and the US had instructed their economic teams to "intensify talks" towards removing all tariffs following the G20 meeting, However, it did not say if that was a plan with specific goals or something that was merely desirable.

Asian markets rallied after news of the trade war truce. In China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index climbed 2.5% and the Shanghai Composite index jumped 2.6%. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1%.

The gains spread to Europe, with the UK's FTSE 100 index, the Cac 40 in France and Germany's Dax index all up by about 2%.

The trade war has seen the US and China hit each other with escalating tariffs in an attempt to make their domestically made goods more competitive.

The US says its tariff policy is a response to China's "unfair" trade practices and accuses it of intellectual property theft.

Since July, the US has hit China with tariffs on $250bn (£195.9bn) worth of goods. China has retaliated with duties on some $110bn of US goods over the same period.

  • As part of this, the US imposed a 25% tariff on Chinese cars, on top of the 2.5% already in place.

    In July, China, which is the world's largest market for cars, imposed a 40% tariff on US vehicle imports. The rate is much higher than the 15% it places on other trading partners and forced many carmakers to raise prices.

    In his tweet, President Trump said Beijing had "agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the US".

    He did not provide a new level for the Chinese tariffs, and Beijing did not immediately confirm the statement.

    What was agreed at the G20?

    In a statement, the White House said US tariffs on Chinese goods would remain unchanged for 90 days, but added: "If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10 percent tariffs will be raised to 25 percent."

  • The US said China agreed to "purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other products from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries".

    Both sides also pledged to "immediately begin negotiations on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft", according to the White House.

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters after the talks that "the principal agreement has effectively prevented further expansion of economic friction between the two countries".

    Are tariffs still in place?

    Yes. The truce prevents raising tariffs as planned on $200bn worth of Chinese goods.

    But it does not remove tariffs that apply to a total of $250bn of Chinese goods targeted since July.

    The truce also does not affect the existing duties China has imposed on $110bn of US goods in a tit for tat retaliation.

  • Will this resolve the dispute?

    While the result of the G20 meeting was better than expected, it is unclear how the two countries will manage to resolve their underlying differences.

    "There should be no wishful thinking that the truce would end the trade war between the world's two largest economies," DBS strategist Philip Wee wrote in a research note.He said it "remains to be seen if real progress could be achieved during this narrow window to resolve the contentious issues, not just on trade, but also intellectual property".

  • Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said while the agreement itself was "positive" the next steps remained unclear.

    "Whether we will see further de-escalation or whether it is temporary reprieve continues to be very much up to a political decision in Washington DC - that will continue to make this uncertain," Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics said.


ruby Posted on December 03, 2018 14:53

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Sonali Bendre: Bollywood star's cancer posts inspires India fans

Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre has returned to India after undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer in New York.

Social media users are full of praise for the 43-year-old actress, who has been candidly documenting her cancer journey for months.

The star's husband Goldie Behl told local media that she was "recovering" but would need regular check-ups.

Some cancer patients have said the star's openness has been "encouraging".

Renuka Prasad, a breast cancer survivor who works at the Indian Cancer Society, told the BBC that seeing celebrities open up about "taboo topics" like cancer is a "welcome change".

"Many patients don't always get to hear stories about the individuals behind the disease, so when they see people like Sonali Bendre celebrating life, it's very encouraging and motivating," she said. "It shows them that cancer doesn't have to be a death warrant - there is life after it and it can often be good."

A real life happy ending

Geeta Pandey, BBC News Delhi

When I first read about Sonali Bendre's cancer in July, I immediately thought of her role in the Bollywood superhit Kal Ho Na Ho.

There, Bendre plays friend, confidant and doctor to the hero, played by superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who is terminally ill.

The scenes in the film play out in New York city, where Bendre helps Khan deal with a weak heart that finally gives up in a dramatic finale.

Fifteen years after her guest appearance in the film, Bendre spent months in New York city, battling "high grade cancer".

Khan, her co-star in a number of films, was among the Bollywood celebrities who visited her in hospital.

On Monday morning, India woke up to the happy news that Bendre had beaten cancer. She arrived at Mumbai airport early in the morning, holding husband Goldie Behl's hands, grinning happily.

It's a fittingly happy ending.

Ms Prasad, who works with cancer patients, also added that "celebrities talking about such diseases is important because it bolsters awareness".

In a Twitter post on Sunday, Bendre said "the fight is not yet over", but that she was looking forward to being back home in Mumbai city.

Her husband Mr Behl told reporters that "the disease can come back" even though the treatment has ended.

After her diagnosis, Bendre took to Instagram with a post in which she said she "was determined to fight" the cancer and thanked her family and friends. She added that her "high-grade cancer" had metastised.

Fans flocked to the comments section, wishing her the best for a speedy recovery.

In another touching post that resonated with fans, she also opened up about what it was like to break the news of her illness to her 12-year-old son.

"As much as we wanted to protect him, we knew it was important to tell him the full facts [...] He took the news so maturely...and instantly became a source of strength and positivity for me," she wrote on Instagram in July.

ReportEnd of Instagram post 2 by iamsonalibend

Her posts have garnered attention for capturing the various stages of living with the disease - a video montage about her decision to shave her head, a heartfelt note on having "bad days" and pushing through and some cheerful photos with close friends and family, among others.

ruby Posted on December 03, 2018 14:25

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Looted 5,000-year-old artefacts to be returned to Iraq

Eight 5,000-year-old artefacts looted from Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein will be returned after being identified by the British Museum.

The objects were seized by police from a now-defunct London dealer in 2003.

The collection has spent 15 years in the hands of the state but has now been established as being from a site in Tello in southern Iraq.

The items, which include a marble bull pendant, will be presented to the Iraqi embassy in London on Friday.

The British Museum's director Hartwig Fischer said the organisation was "absolutely committed to the fight against illicit trade and damage to cultural heritage".

  • Artefacts worth €40m recovered in raids across Europe
  • US returns 'looted' royal seals to South Korea after 60 years
  • Germany returns 3,000-year-old Olmec statues to Mexico
  • In addition to the bull pendant, the collection - which dates back to 3000BC - includes a gypsum mace head, two stamp seals, an inscribed pebble and three clay cones bearing Sumerian cuneiform script.

    None of the items were accompanied by documentation when first discovered in England by the Metropolitan Police - and the dealer they were taken from made no attempt to reclaim them.

    After years in police storage, the collection was taken to the British Museum in 2018.

    By reading the inscriptions on the items, museum experts were able to determine not just which site they belonged to, but also which parts of specific building remains they came from.

    The cone inscriptions bore the name of the Sumerian king who commissioned them, the temple they came from and the god the temple was dedicated to.

Following a presentation ceremony involving the British Museum and Iraqi ambassador to the UK, the antiquities will be returned to Baghdad next week.

Iraq's ambassador to the UK, Dr Salih Husain Ali, said he wanted to express his "thanks and appreciation" to the museum, adding that cooperation between the two countries was "vital for the preservation and the protection of the Iraqi heritage".

ruby Posted on December 03, 2018 09:49

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”I was born blind” – Chidinma Ekile

    Nigerian Singer, and Mtn Project Fame winner, Chidinma Ekile, AKA Ms Kedike, has revealed she was born blind.The star singer in an Interview with Guardian said according to her parents, she just could not see for some months.

     Chidinma said she would love to be seen more as someone who does a lot for visually-impaired kids and young people as she can relate with their situation.

          She said, “I was born blind. I just couldn’t see for some months. Since I sang about it, I felt the need to help kids that find themselves in such situations or even worse. So every time I travel to these places, I try to extend a hand of love to these children.

       “For some years now, I think like two years or thereabout. I’ve been using my foundation to do quite a lot of things. I’ve been able to take it to some places in Africa. The last time, I think I was in Togo and I was able to do a few things with the SOS village, I hope to do more of that.”

            It was supported by the singles “Jankoliko”, “Carry You Go”, “Kedike”, and “Run Dia Mouth”.The album features guest appearances from Sound Sultan, Tha Suspect, Olamide, and Muna. In 2012, Chidinma won the “Best Female West African Act” category at the 2012 Kora Awards; she performed “Kedike” at the ceremony.Chidinma Ekile, the last of six children, was born in Ketu, Lagos State. Both of her parents are from Imo State. Chidinma started singing at the age of 6, and grew up with a disciplinarian father.

                When she was 10 years old, she joined her church’s choir. She attended primary and secondary school in Ketu prior to relocating to Ikorodu with her family. Chidinma declined her admission into the University of Lagos due to her advancement in the aforesaid competition.In an interview with YNaija, Chidinma said that she has always taken school seriously and her decision to enroll at Unilag was inevitable. She also said that music hasn’t always been on her agenda, and that she decided to give music a try after winning the MTN Project Fame competition.

          It was supported by the singles “Jankoliko”, “Carry You Go”, “Kedike”, and “Run Dia Mouth”.The album features guest appearances from Sound Sultan, Tha Suspect, Olamide, and Muna. In 2012, Chidinma won the “Best Female West African Act” category at the 2012 Kora Awards; she performed “Kedike” at the ceremony.Chidinma Ekile, the last of six children, was born in Ketu, Lagos State. Both of her parents are from Imo State.

              Chidinma started singing at the age of 6, and grew up with a disciplinarian father. When she was 10 years old, she joined her church’s choir. She attended primary and secondary school in Ketu prior to relocating to Ikorodu with her family. Chidinma declined her admission into the University of Lagos due to her advancement in the aforesaid competition.In an interview with YNaija, Chidinma said that she has always taken school seriously and her decision to enroll at Unilag was inevitable. She also said that music hasn’t always been on her agenda, and that she decided to give music a try after winning the MTN Project Fame competition.

sarah Posted on December 03, 2018 09:02

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang owed more plaudits for his Arsenal form

       We take a look at why Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang deserves more plaudits for his Premier League scoring record..

         "He could be a superstar in the Premier League that man. We don't speak about him enough. We think of Kane and Aguero but he has gone under the radar in terms of the Premier League. Since he came in last January at the end of the Wenger era, his actual ratio of goals, his actual conversion rate, is as good as anyone in the Premier League."

       Jamie Carragher's verdict on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came after the Arsenal forward scored twice in the Gunners' dramatic 4-2 win over Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium. The goals took him into double figures for the Premier League season and out on his own as the competition's top scorer for the current campaign

          But as Carragher suggests, Aubameyang has been delivering for Arsenal ever since he scored on his debut for the club in a 5-1 win over Everton in February. He has now hit 20 goals in his 27 Premier League appearances. No player has scored more goals in the competition in that time. It is three more than Harry Kane and eight more than Sergio Aguero.

Season player stats — Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — Attack

  • Total shots (exc. blocked shots)25

    Shots on target13

    Goals scored10


    Conversion rate


    Mins per goal


    Left foot goals


    Right foot goals


    Headed goals



    8Goals inside the box


    Goals outside the box


    Direct free kick goals

          Aubameyang's minutes-per-goal ratio during this period is also superior to any of his rivals. His goals have come at a rate of one every 104 minutes compared to the 110 minutes per goal of Aguero and the 113 minutes per goal of Salah. As for Kane, his 17 goals for Tottenham in this time have come at a rate of one every 135 minutes.

           The Arsenal player's strike rate is all the more remarkable given that he has started the majority of Premier League games operating on the left wing rather than as an out-and-out striker. Seven of his dozen starts this season have been on the flank with Alexandre Lacazette playing through the middle, but it has not stopped him racking up the goals.

I have always looked at Lacazette and thought he was a good player. I am actually looking at this guy and thinking he is a great player.

              "I have always looked at Lacazette and thought he was a good player," said Carragher. "I am actually looking at this guy and thinking he is a great player."

          Can Aubameyang maintain this form? Incredibly, he has found the net with each of his last 10 shots on target in the Premier League. That is a run that cannot continue for long but it is now 10 months since Aubameyang made his Arsenal debut and he has shown the consistency that is demanded of a top striker. At 29, he looks to be in his prime.

Aubameyang is under the radar no more.

sarah Posted on December 03, 2018 08:40

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George Bush's last day started with three eggs, ended with 'I love you'

           George H.W. Bush began the last day of his life with three eggs for breakfast and ended it by telling his son he loved him. James Baker, a close friend who served as secretary of state under the 41st president, told CNN's "State of the Union" that he stopped by Bush's home Friday morning and that Bush woke up and ate a big breakfast.

           "He said, 'Hey, Bake, where are we going today?' and I said, 'Well, jefe, we're going to heaven,' " Baker recounted. "And he said, 'Good. That's where I want to go.' "
 Bush, 94, had been bedridden for several days and struggled to speak, Baker said. He appeared more alert than usual Friday morning, Baker said.

        "We all began to think, well, here we are, he is going to surprise us again, it's another bounce-back day," Baker said. But Baker said that when he returned that evening, Bush had weakened greatly. Baker said he spent the last of Bush's hours with him as the former president spoke on the phone to family members, saying his goodbyes.

         "They got 43 (George W. Bush) on the phone, and he said, 'I love you, Dad,' " Baker said. "And 41 said, 'I love you, too.' And those were the last words he ever spoke." Baker called Bush Sr. underappreciated, describing him as the best one-term president in history. He called Bush his best friend and "a beautiful, beautiful human being." 

          The nonprofit Points of Light foundation, founded by the former president to encourage people around the world to solve its problems through service, urged people to pay homage to Bush through a day of service.   "I encourage those paying tribute to President Bush to take a moment to pledge their service and recognize the service of others," said Natalye Paquin, the group's executive director. "To become their own point of light in communities around the world."

       Bush died at his Houston home Friday night shortly after 10 p.m. He had suffered from vascular Parkinsonism and in recent years struggled to speak more than a few words at a time. He was the son of a senator and the father of Jeb Bush, the two-term governor of Florida, and George W. Bush, the two-term governor of Texas who went on to win two terms as president. 

        Bush’s remains will be flown Monday morning from Ellington Field in Houston to the Joint Base Andrews military facility in Maryland. The public will be able to pay its respects to Bush from 7:30 p.m. Monday to 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington. 

A state funeral will be held at the Washington National Cathedral, beginning at 11 a.m. Wednesday. It will be the first presidential funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006.

          President Donald Trump and first lady Melania announced they will attend the funeral. Wednesday will be a national day of mourning, Trump declared, and federal agencies and departments will close "as a mark of respect" for Bush.

"President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life," Trump tweeted Saturday. "Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!"

             Bush's remains will be returned to Houston on Wednesday afternoon. A funeral service is planned at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on Thursday. Thursday, the president’s casket will be taken by train to College Station, Texas, accompanied by Bush family members and close friends. A funeral procession will travel on George Bush Drive toward the Bush Library complex. 

          Bush will be buried Thursday in a family plot behind the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University, alongside his wife of 73 years and former first lady, Barbara, and daughter Robin, university officials said in a statement Saturday. 

             Barbara Bush passed away in April at the age of 92. Robin died in 1953 at 3 years old.

sarah Posted on December 03, 2018 08:30

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Sir Billy Connolly wants to die on shores of Loch Lomond where he played as a child

Sir Billy Connolly has revealed he wants to die in his native Scotland by the shores of Loch Lomond.

The veteran comedian - who moved from New York to Florida two years ago - said he longed to return to the Scottish lake where he played during his time in the Cub Scouts.

In his new programme, Billy Connolly's Ultimate World Tour, the actor and presenter is seen in his Florida home reminiscing about his childhood.

He says: "I remember standing by the shores of Loch Lomond, Inversnaid, and the sky was beautiful.

"I remember that line, I forget whose line it is: 'Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is my own, my native land.'

"I don't like to look like a bagpiper with heather in my ears but sometimes your love for the place just has to find a stage. I'd like to die there.

"It's a weird subject to bring up, but I'm 75. I wouldn't like to stay away forever. I'd like to be planted there eventually, in Loch Lomond."

In 2013, the comedian revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and prostate cancer on the same day.

He has been given the all-clear for cancer and moved to Florida to fight the degenerative disorder.

Sir Billy, now 76, will travel through his newly adopted home state while looking back at his travels from the last 25 years, from Scotland to Canada and Australia in ITV's Ultimate World Tour.

ruby Posted on December 01, 2018 11:35

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Researchers identify worst year to be alive on Earth

The Black Death of the 1300s and the Spanish flu that swept Europe after the First World War are two of the most well-known disasters to befall humankind.

The pandemics claimed the lives of half of Europe and centuries later up to 100 million people.

But researchers say new evidence has found there was a worse time to be alive - the year 536 AD.

The Earth was plunged into darkness for 18 months when a thick cloud blocked the sun - causing temperatures to drop, crops to fail and people to starve.

Temperatures that summer plunged by between 1.5C and 2.5C. The decade that followed would be the coldest in the previous 2,300 years.

"It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," Michael McCormick, historian and archaeologist, told Science Magazine.

The source of the cloud so thick it obscured the sun in the sixth century has long puzzled historians, but ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier has unlocked the mystery.

A team led by Mr McCormick, chair of the Harvard University initiative for the science of the human past, and glaciologist Paul Mayewski, of the climate change institute of the University of Maine (UM) in Orono, found an enormous volcanic eruption in Iceland was likely to blame.

Studies in the 1990s of the growth rings inside trees had suggested the summers of and around 540 were colder than expected.

The researchers' paper, published in Antiquity journal, reports evidence of a huge volcanic eruption just a few years before this icy period.

It belched ash across the Northern Hemisphere and was followed by two other eruptions in 540 and 547.

Matters were exacerbated in 541 when bubonic plague hit the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. It wiped out up to a half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire, Mr McCormick says.

The combination brought Europe to a standstill until 640, when researchers identified a return of lead in the ice which suggests industry had restarted.

ruby Posted on December 01, 2018 11:20

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300 passengers stranded as snow and ice hits travel

Hundreds of people have spent the night stranded in airports after snow and ice disrupted travel across the UK.

A spate of accidents on major roads was followed by problems for air passengers - with delays and cancellations at Stansted Airport sparking a backlash on social media.

Frustrated travellers slammed airlines and the airport for a lack of information - with many reporting being stuck on planes for hours, late notice of cancellations and troubles getting their luggage back.

Lana Briggs, who flew into Stansted from Dublin with a young child, said she had been left without her bags after hours of delays and received "very little information" from the airport or her airline.

She told Sky News: "People are talking about; 'It's going to descend into a riot if we don't get more information.' I'm sure it's not going to happen but it does feel pretty devastating at the moment.

"It's definitely tense.

"Mums and babies are on the floor. There are families kipping on suitcase carriers and even on some of the baggage belts that aren't working at the moment.

"All the local hotels are booked up."

Meanwhile, passenger Fiona Davidson tweeted: "@Ryanair my 13 year old daughter was left sitting on the same plane for 8 hours, no explanation, no refreshments... shocking service."

Hundreds of people waiting for baggage from cancelled flights from Stansted Airport! What a shambles r I feel sorry for the elderly and those with kids. Incredibly stressful and expensive time to travel. Next available flights not for DAYS apparently...

A spokesperson for London Stansted told Sky News: "Due to adverse weather conditions today Ryanair and Easyjet cancelled a number of flights.

"There are up to 300 passengers in the terminal waiting to rebook flights.

"Passengers unable to return home are being looked after by Stansted Airport with beds and blankets, and additional help for elderly passengers or those with young children.

"Free food and drinks have been provided to delayed passengers throughout the day.

"All passengers due to travel are advised to check the status of their flights with their airline before travelling to the airport."

"All affected customers have been contacted by email and SMS text message and advised of their rebooking options.

"We sincerely apologise to all customers affected by these weather cancellations and disruptions, which are entirely beyond our control."

Cold Feet star Fay Ripley was among those caught up in Wednesday's disruption.

She wrote: "Just arrived in #Copenhagen after spending 10 yes 10 hrs On the runway. #shameonyou #Ryanair terrible treatment #Criminal #illegal."

An accident in treacherous conditions closed the M1 for several hours on Wednesday morning, before it reopened at 12.30pm.

The lorry crash closed all three lanes southbound before junction 19, with Leicestershire Police telling Sky News it was likely caused by the wintry conditions.

The worst of the snow fell across the Midlands and parts of Wales - with motoring organisations reporting a surge in minor bumps and breakdowns.

The RAC said it attended "a dozen vehicles" on the M25 alone - blaming a large pothole for causing punctures and wheel damage.

The seasonal weather hit as many people prepared to return to work after a short Christmas break.

The worst disruption was on the A14 in Suffolk, which was hit by heavy snow and flooding.

Drivers there were understood to have been stuck for more than five hours.

Meanwhile, engineers were rushed to restore power to more than 24,000 homes.

A build-up of snow and ice on power lines was blamed for bringing them down.

M5 motorway in South Gloucestershire

A lorry stuck on the A14 in Northampton 

:Wintry conditions at Stansted AIrport. Pic: @RobertsNiomi

:A stuck lorry on the A14. Pic: @simontab 

Northants Police Tactical Support Team handout photo of stuck lorries on the A14 westbound between J1 and J8

A man warns motorists to pass slowly following an incident on the A417 between Gloucester and Cheltenham

Stuck lorries on the A14. Pic: @simontab 

:Snow reduces the M5 motorway down to two lanes between junction 14 and 15 in South Gloucestershire

Police attend an accident on the M1. Pic: Northants RAPT

:A snow plough clears the A14 near Kettering

Stationary traffic on the A14 in Northamptonshire westbound between Junction 2-3. Pic: Sean Byrne

Sky reporter Andy Marsh stuck in snow on the M1

:A stuck lorry on the A14. Pic: @simontab 

:A lorry crash closed the M1

Early morning tailbacks after an accident closes the M1 in Leicestershire

M5 motorway in South Gloucestershire

:A lorry stuck on the A14 in Northampton 


ruby Posted on December 01, 2018 11:04

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Fashion design – courses, jobs and salaries in Ghana

       Is fashion design your dream career? If so, what fashion design jobs are available in Ghana and what are their respective salaries? Do you really need to pursue any course before you become a fashion designer? It’s no secret that the fashion industry is hard to break into. Fashion design is a highly competitive field which calls for helpful ideas to guide individuals on important aspects such as courses, jobs and what they should expect in terms of salary ranges.

        If you want to stand out as a fashion designer in Ghana, there is no excuse for you not to have a look at this article. It will update you on the education and preparation necessary to become a fashion designer. 

A flair for style and passion for fashion are just the right recipes for a career in fashion design. Fashion designers have to exploit their creative and technical skills to create clothes and accessories that stand out. Fashion designers in Ghana must be more than that. Their clothes can give people a feeling of confidence and power. At the same time, they can be comforting. All these said, designing clothes as a full-time job may be every fashionista’s dream, but many people do not know that a lot goes into the job than picking swatches or figuring out the right color combination. Fashion designers have a duty to stay up to date when it comes to trends. 

         Fashion design courses The best way to become a fashion designer is to become a suitable course. Apart from giving you skills, a fashion designer course imparts you with a whole lot of knowledge that will keep you going. The good thing with fashion design in Ghana is that you can easily find a course based on your education level so it does not have to be a college degree.

       However, an undergraduate degree is recommended if a rounded experience is what you are looking for. If you are short on time or money consider shorter courses. Also consider a particular specialization in an area you are interested in such as footwear, menswear, womenswear or accessories.

        Careers in fashion design in Ghana include Clothing design, Fashion design, Fashion writer/journalist, Fashion merchandising, Patent making, And Product management. Below are the most popular fashion design courses in Ghana.

            Fashion design jobs There are many employment opportunities for individuals with an interest in the fashion industry as occasioned by the demand for fashion design dresses for the red carpet. Such opportunities can be available in many different sectors and may involve working in export houses where you are in charge of textile, garment or even handloom exports, working in the retail and wholesaling of garments such as sportswear, haute couture, government employment in the textile manufacturing industry, fashion show organizing and publishing, fashion program production in TV and film, and teaching.

             As you can see there is no shortage of fashion design jobs in the Ghanaian market. All you have to do is choose the market segment you want to target and come up with the right product. Here are some of the course-specific careers you might pursue in fashion design:

  1.   Professional certificate course jobs: Textile designer, Tie and Bye Specialist, Fabric printing expert, self-employment
  2. Diploma fashion design jobs: Fashion merchandisers, Fashion retailers, Fashion coordinators, Fashion forecasters, Fashion industry quality control, Production management, Floor management, Visual Merchandising, Textile design, Fashion illustrators, Fashion teaching.
  3. Certificate holder jobs: Marker making, Pattern grading, 3d Product visualization 

Popular fashion design schools in Ghana 

               Ghana has no shortage of schools when it comes to fashion design. The list for such schools is endless and all of them offer market-based competitive courses. Some of the popular schools are: Joyce Ababio college of creative design School of Fashion and Design Ghana Second Image Beauty School Riohs Originate Jiffah Fashion Designing School Libelt School of Fashion 

           Top fashion design skills It is obvious that fashion designers must stand out from the rest of the jobs. This cannot be possible if one lacks the right skills for the job. Below are some of the most important skills for one to survive and thrive in this field: Creative and artistic Being original and inventing new ideas Sensitivity to colors is a must have because shades and tones might ruin your career Ability to visualize things in three dimensions and translate the same into garments Key communication skills Entrepreneurship Sketching Market analysis

                Fashion design average salaries in Ghana Because many fashion design courses lead to self-employment, it is difficult to point out the exact salary for professionals in this field. Even those who are employed in various agencies have to negotiate their salaries based on their reputation, business acumen, and the size of the hiring company, fashion design course and terms of the contract. One is always advised to enter the fashion world not for money but for passion. In as much as money matters if you follow your passion you are likely to be more contented and then money will follow. Based on Linked in statistics, the median salary of a fashion designer is $65,000 per year. It is also difficult to estimate wages the official national average salary has not been provided.

On the Paylab Ghana website, for instance, they have recorded the official national Brutto average salary in Ghana in the Textile, Leather, and Apparel Industry as 0.00 GHS. Now that you know what it takes to have a career in the fashion design industry you just have to make a couple of choices.

          The first question you might want to ask yourself is whether self-employment is for you. Working for a company may mean regular hours with a predictable schedule. If your choice is a contract or working as a freelancer you will be deciding the jobs to take and those not to take. This also means you will be having the burden of finding your own business


sarah Posted on December 01, 2018 10:54

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Cancer cells' use of sugar holds the key to their destruction

Cancer cells' use of sugar holds the key to their destruction

Scientists have suggested a way to improve treatments that use viruses to attack cancer. It exploits the fact that cancer cells need a lot of glucose and must metabolize it rapidly to survive.

Cutting down cancer cells' sugar supply could make them more vulnerable to treatment.

Oncolytic viruses specifically target and enter cancer cells and use the cells' machinery for their own multiplication and spread.

They destroy tumors from the inside without harming nearby healthy tissue.

A recent study proposes that restricting the cancer cells' supply of glucose, and altering their ability to metabolize it, may strengthen the power of oncolytic viruses.

The research team, at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, used mouse models and cells from ovarian, lung, and colon tumors in order to demonstrate the effect.

Cancer Research UK sponsored the study, and a paper on the work features in the journal Cancer Research.

"Our research in the lab," says lead study author Arthur Dyer, who is currently a Ph.D. student in the university's oncology department, "showed that restricting the amount of sugar available to cancer cells makes these cancer-attacking oncolytic viruses work even better."

sarah Posted on December 01, 2018 10:44

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Powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Alaska

A powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake has struck Alaska and prompted fears of a tsunami in the US state.

The US Geological Survey says the earthquake was centred around seven miles (12km) north of Alaska's largest city, Anchorage.

The National Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami warning for coastal zones of southern Alaska but it has since been cancelled.

US President Donald Trump said Alaska had been "hit hard by a 'big one'" and the federal government would "spare no expense" in its response to the earthquake.

As the quake hit, people ran out of buildings or sought shelter under office desks.

People went back inside buildings later before a smaller aftershock sent them running back into the streets again.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries.

Police in Alaska's Kodiak island community - about 200 miles (321km) south of Anchorage - told residents to head to higher ground amid the tsunami threat.

The Anchorage Police Department said they were operational after Friday's "massive earthquake".

"There is major infrastructure damage across Anchorage," it said.

"Many homes and buildings are damaged.

"Many roads and bridges are closed. Stay off the roads if you don't need to drive. Seek a safe shelter. Check on your surroundings and loved ones."

Hank Graper, a lawyer working and living in Anchorage, said he saw traffic poles swaying and called it the most "violent" quake he had experience in his 20 years in the city.

Pictures posted to social media sites showed damage that included collapsed ceiling tiles at an Anchorage high school and buckled roadway pavement in places.

One photo shows a newsroom based in the city that felt the blow of the earthquake.

Another showed a car in the middle of a collapsed road.

Cereal boxes and packages of batteries littered the floor of a supermarket and picture frames and mirrors were knocked from living room walls.

Alaska averages 40,000 earthquakes per year, with more large quakes than the other 49 states combined.

Southern Alaska has a high risk of earthquakes due to tectonic plates sliding past each other under the region.


ruby Posted on December 01, 2018 10:34

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For nonbinary patients, seeking health care can be a painful task

Nov. 29, 2018 / 5:04 PM GMT

By Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

When 19-year-old Kam Brooks was admitted to a behavioral health care facility in Sanford, Florida, after having suicidal thoughts, a nurse following her usual procedure asked the teen to remove personal items, including a bra.

“It’s a chest binder, not a bra,” Brooks, who identifies as neither male nor female but as gender nonbinary, responded before changing into a long-sleeve shirt and gray sweatpants.

Kam BrooksCourtesy Kam Brooks

During another interaction at the same facility, Aspire Health Partners, a nonprofit that caters to low-income patients, a counselor asked if Brooks was "male or female." This question, Brooks lamented, ignored the possibility that someone could identify as neither — or as somewhere in between.

“I went with the lesser of two evils and decided to portray myself as a man,” said Brooks, who had been struggling with gender dysphoria, a conflict between a person's gender assigned at birth and the gender with which they identify.

“I didn’t want to re-educate them on the correct terminology,” Brooks added. “I just wanted to get out of there.”

Brooks, who was assigned female at birth and and uses they/them pronouns, was eventually put on a list of female patients by the nursing staff and repeatedly referred to as a girl.

“General health care — physical or mental — I'm even more uncomfortable with due to the likelihood of being misgendered and experiencing miseducation as a patient,” said Brooks, who now relies on backlogged LGBTQ clinics for services.

Citing federal patient privacy laws, Todd Dixon, a spokesperson for Aspire Health Partners, said he could not comment on Brooks' claims.


A recent study in the journal LGBT Health found Brooks' experience is not uncommon among nonbinary patients. The report, conducted by researchers at San Francisco State University and Columbia University, found nearly all nonbinary participants surveyed reported encountering health care providers who did not provide gender-affirming or inclusive care.

"Participants felt that providers — even those with training in transgender care — lack the knowledge, training and experience to provide them with the health care they need," the report's authors, James E. Lykens and Allen J. LeBlanc of SFSU and Walter O. Bockting of Columbia, concluded. Genderqueer and nonbinary "young adults in our study often felt misunderstood, disrespected and frustrated as they sought and received health care."



The study's findings did not come as a surprise to Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Fenway Institute's National LGBT Health Education Center. Keuroghlian said most doctors are not educated about nonbinary gender identities.

“Clinicians have not been trained across the board to know how to use correct names and nonbinary pronouns,” he said. “It’s a critical part of affirming the patient and having them remain engaged in care. Otherwise, people will not go back to see their clinician.”

A health care provider who is not educated about or supportive of the patient's gender identity can compound a nonbinary patient's trauma, Keuroghlian said.

“There is a chronic victimization that is unfortunately perpetuated in health care, which should be a refuge for everyone to access care,” Keuroghlian said. “When that doesn’t happen, there is re-traumatization and people continue to experience minority stress. This can be a source of anxiety and depression, which can lead to adverse health outcomes.”


Mishi Killion, who is 26, gender-nonconforming and uses male pronouns, said he was told at a doctor's office that he was not "trans enough" for hormone replacement therapy.

“It ruined all the plans that I had,” said the Kentucky native, who spent months retrieving gender-affirmation documents for hormones and surgery. “It sent me into a deep depression and messed up my dysphoria that was under control.”

Killion, who presents as androgynous, said doctors urged him to consult more therapists to confirm a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

“Now, I wonder every time I go to the doctor if they are going to say the same thing to me again,” added Killion, who said he sobbed in the exam room as doctors denied his eligibility for hormone treatment. “I already don’t like doctors in the first place, but it put a bad taste in my mouth and made me trust doctors even less.”

Violette SkyeCourtesy Violette Skye

Violette Skye, 42, an activist in Salem, Oregon, who was born intersex and identifies as gender nonbinary, said doctors forced them to go on testosterone.

“Most doctors operate within the binary and only see people as either male or female,” said Skye, an advisory committee member for the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project, a nonbinary advocacy group in Fremont, California. “My body rejected testosterone for the decades that I was on it.”

Elliot Butrie, 17, said a therapist three years ago laughed and said nonbinary gender identity did not exist, dismissing it as a phase. Butrie dropped the therapist.

“It hurts that people constantly question who you are," said Butrie, who lives in Michigan.

After that painful visit, Butrie wondered what it would be like to be a normal teenager. “If my therapist says I'm not real, maybe I’m not real,” Butrie recalled thinking at the time.


Individuals who identify as nonbinary or genderqueer (another term used to describe those who identify as neither exclusively male nor female) are a "substantial and growing subgroup of the gender nonconforming community," according to Lykens, LeBlanc and Bockting.

In a 2017 survey published by the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, 12 percent of respondents between 18 and 34 identified with a gender identity other than the one they were assigned at birth. Three percent of those surveyed identified as "agender"; 3 percent as "gender fluid"; 2 percent as "transgender"; 2 percent as "unsure/questioning"; 1 percent as "bigender"; and 1 percent as "genderqueer." While the specific term "nonbinary" was not one of the options, a number of the other terms would fall under the nonbinary umbrella.


Several states across the country are now recognizing gender identities other than male and female on government IDs. New York City last month became the fifth place in the U.S. to offer nonbinary (also called gender-neutral or third gender) birth certificates, following California, Oregon, Washington state and New Jersey. Three states and Washington, D.C., allow nonbinary driver licenses.

A number of health care professionals, researchers and nonbinary patients say the medical community must make changes to address this growing group as well.

In their report, Lykens, LeBlanc and Bockting recommended that health forms "be inclusive and affirmative of a range of gender identities and expressions"; that providers receive more training in order to "establish a higher level of gender literacy and competence" to better serve nonbinary patients; and that providers "avoid assumptions" about patients' gender identity and "ask open-ended questions" to "encourage them to relate their unique experiences of identity and health."




Keuroghlian, who two years ago started a program at Harvard Medical School to teach doctors-in-training about caring for transgender and nonbinary patients, recently launched a guide specifically aimed at helping doctors communicate with nonbinary patients.

"Best practices for all health care staff include avoiding assumptions about patients’ gender identities, asking for information about name and pronouns in order to adopt these consistently throughout the clinical setting, and describing anatomy and related terms with gender-inclusive language," Keuroghlian and his co-authors wrote in the guide's conclusion.

Brooks said they hope doctors and other health care providers can foster a safe space for nonbinary patients.

“People should have something that is reliable, not something that will make them feel worse,” Brooks said.


Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

Tatyana Bellamy-Walker is a freelance journalist covering LGBTQ politics. She is also a Knight Fellow and Master's candidate at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism. 




Luke Posted on November 30, 2018 16:07

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Sainsbury's launches £1.50 edible insect range in UK supermarket first

Sainsbury's has become the first UK high street supermarket to stock edible insects.

Barbecue-flavour roasted crickets are being put on sale in 250 stores across the country from Sunday.

The Eat Grub's "smoky BBQ crunchy roasted crickets" are described as "crunchy in texture with a rich smoky flavour".

Packets of the insects will cost £1.50.

The grubs have been on sale from online supermarket Ocado for at least five months, with mixed reviews.

One poster, who gave the product one star out of five, said: "My hubby... said they didn't taste at all of BBQ... he could taste was fish sauce? Way too expensive as well."

But another, who gave the full 5/5, said: "Tried the final flavour in this selection from Eat Grub and LOVED this - much tastier than a bag of crisps without the calories. Couldnt stop eating them!"

Sainsbury's suggests the crickets can be eaten as a snack or used to garnish dishes such as tacos, noodles and salads.

Eat Grub was formed in 2014 by Shami Radia and Neil Whippey to enable people living in Western countries to try a food source that is commonly available in some other parts of the world.

Mr Radia said: "Currently, insects are eaten and enjoyed by two billion people worldwide.

"We're on a mission to show the West that as well as having very strong sustainability and environmental credentials, they are also seriously tasty and shouldn't be overlooked as a great snack or recipe ingredient."

Sainsbury's and EatGrub say insects are more popular than might be expected, with a survey finding that 10% of Britons have tried them and more than half of those have enjoyed them.

Eat Grub says dried crickets contain more protein per gram than beef, chicken or pork - with 68g of protein per 100g, compared to 31g of protein in beef.

Edible insects are also said to be more sustainable than other meat, taking up less land and requiring less animal feed than livestock.

More from Sainsburys

Food policy manager at WWF Duncan Williamson said edible insects could help reduce shoppers' carbon footprint.

He said: "As the population increases, we urgently need to look at alternative protein sources to make the most of land available for food production."

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 16:06

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Ivanka Trump Cuts Asking Rent for Manhattan Condo to $13,000

Ivanka Trump has just cut the asking rent for one of her Manhattan apartments after struggling to find a buyer or tenant.

Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who serves as senior adviser to President Donald Trump, first put the condo at Trump Park Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on the market in December for $4.1 million.

At the same time they relisted it for rent, asking $15,000 per month. But while the sales price is unchanged, on Tuesday they reduced the rent to $13,000, according to the listing.

City property records show that Ms. Trump paid $1.52 million for the condo in 2004 and transferred ownership to an LLC that reportedly belongs to her in 2015.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom home features solid oak floors, beamed ceilings, a large corner living room/dining room area with oversized windows and a spacious master bedroom with an en-suite marble bath, according to the listing.

That home, however, isn’t believed to be the family’s main Manhattan residence. Ms. Trump, her husband and their three children lived in a four-bedroom penthouse in the same building before relocating to Washington, D.C., according to numerous media reports. That unit is not up for sale.

The Trump-branded building, located at 502 Park Ave., was purchased by President Trump, in 2001 for $115 million, according to the Real Deal. It has 24-hour hotel and valet services, daily maid/laundry service, a fitness center and a live-in resident manager.

The listing agent, Nitza Shafrir Zinbarg from Trump International Realty, and a spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 15:52

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South Africa World Cup winner Naka Drotske shot in attempted robbery

World Cup-winning hooker Naka Drotske is said to be in a stable condition after the former South Africa international was shot three times during an attempted robbery in Pretoria on Thursday.

Local media reported that the former Cheetahs player and coach had lost almost a third of his blood in the incident, was in intensive care at the city’s Montana Hospital, but was out of immediate danger.

“From what we hear he is stable and they think it is OK,” the Cheetahs Rugby CEO Harold Verster told the Sport24 online publication.

Drotske’s family and former Springbok team mate, the prop Os du Randt, had been socialising on a smallholding on the outskirts of Pretoria when three armed men attempted to rob them, according to reports.

The 47-year-old 1995 World Cup winner was shot in a tussle with one of the assailants, while Du Randt escaped harm. Drotske underwent surgery immediately upon arrival at the hospital and will require a further operation on an injured arm.

No arrests had yet been made, police captain Kay Makhubele told reporters.

Drotske played 26 times for South Africa from 1993-99 and was part of the squad that lifted the World Cup on home soil, though he only featured in one game against Samoa.

 Drotske, in scrum cap, during his playing days for South Africa in which he won 26 caps. Photograph: Richard Sellers / Sportsphoto/Sportsphoto Ltd.

He was the starting hooker for the 1999 tournament in which the Springboks lost to Australia in the semi-finals but beat New Zealand to finish third

He later spent three years with London Irish and was coach of South African Super Rugby side the Cheetahs from 2007-15.

Since you're here…

… we have a small favour to ask. Three years ago we set out to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The same technologies that connected us with a global audience had also shifted advertising revenues away from news publishers. We decided to seek an approach that would allow us to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.

More than one million readers have now supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, which has played such an important part in helping The Guardian overcome a perilous financial situation globally. We want to thank you for all of your support. But we have to maintain and build on that support for every year to come.

Sustained support from our readers enables us to continue pursuing difficult stories in challenging times of political upheaval, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Readers’ support means we can continue bringing The Guardian’s independent journalism to the world.

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 15:50

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Ian Wright: Ex-England striker on troubled childhood and becoming a pro

"That's my secret, Cap. I'm always angry."

Ian Wright can relate to that classic Bruce Banner line, the one uttered by the Marvel character as he's about to turn into the Hulk.

Not because the former England striker is a superhero in the eyes of many Arsenal and Crystal Palace fans, but because, in his words, "for a large part of my life, I was angry. I was always angry".

Wright is aware his story is traditionally told as one of those "never give up on your dreams" tales - not turning professional until he was 21, working as a labourer, spending a month in prison.

In reality, the 55-year-old says his road to professional football was "11 years of failure", crying himself to sleep, getting into fights in Sunday League and trying to deal with his stepfather's cruelty.

In an open and honest piece for The Players' Tribune, Wright explains how he wasn't born with that happy-go-lucky gold-toothed smile you see on Match of the Day on a Saturday night. He earned it the hard way.

Match of the Day - from torture to 'Graceland'

Wright was born in Woolwich, South London, before moving to a house share with his family in Brockley and then on to a home of their own.

But Wright would spend as much time as he could kicking a tennis ball against a wall outside, in part to avoid being bullied by his stepbrother and, in particular, his stepfather.

"He was a weed-smoking, gambling, coming-home-late kind of guy," said Wright.

"I don't know why, but he didn't like me in particular."

One of the things that got to football-mad Wright the most was being forced to stand and look the other way when Match of the Day came on.

"My stepdad used to take that away from us," he added. "Just because he could.

"Depending on what mood he was in, he'd come into the bedroom just before it started and he'd say, 'Turn around. Turn around to the wall'.

"We had to face the wall the whole time Match of the Day was on. And the really cruel thing was that we could still hear everything. It was awful. I would cry myself to sleep whenever he did it."

Wright says that stayed with him for years whenever the Match of the Day theme music would come on.

"I'll be honest with you, it still gets to me every now and again," he added.

"The first time I went on the show as a presenter, Des Lynam walked up to me and said, 'Ian Wright, welcome to Match of the Day'.

"I nearly broke down crying. I told Des, 'This is my Graceland'."

'I spent so much of my life angry and trying to catch up'

In his Players' Tribune piece, Wright talks about being rejected by Brighton after a six-week trial and almost blowing his chance at Crystal Palace, going to prison for not paying his driving fines and adopting Shaun Wright-Phillips after meeting his mother, Sharon, aged 19.

It was two years later the labourer got his professional break at Palace, despite turning the Eagles' first offer down, but when Wright scored twice after coming on as a substitute in the 1990 FA Cup final against Manchester United, it was the advice of former teacher Sydney Pigden that stuck in his mind.

Wright says the teacher was "the one man in particular who helped me through those dark times" as a child who could barely read or write: "He changed my life."

Mr Pigden taught him how to read and write, but also how to deal with his anger, how to have patience, be confident, communicate and take responsibility.

"He was the first man who showed me any kind of love," said Wright.

"When I played for England he called it the proudest moment of his life. Imagine that. This schoolteacher, who'd done stuff like been a pilot in the Second World War, who'd flown over Buckingham Palace… and he says his proudest moment was watching some kid who went to his school play football."

Mr Pigden passed away last year at the age of 95.

"He's still with me. He'll always be with me," said Wright.

Now, as a father and a grandfather, Wright says he is "working on giving back" and wants to see football easily accessible to those who enjoy it, both on and off the pitch.

"The truth is, I spent so much of my life angry and trying to catch up after a bad start," he added.

"Maybe now that you've read my story, you'll see me on the television flashing a smile and you'll really understand that I wasn't born with it. I earned it."

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 15:45

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A woman lost a third of her bodyweight after surgery to remove a 26kg ovarian cyst - the weight of seven newborn babies.

Despite multiple negative pregnancy tests, doctors insisted Keely Favell must be pregnant as her stomach grew in size.

When asked questions about baby due dates, she spared people's embarrassment by playing along.

But the 28-year-old believed herself to be "just fat".

Ms Favell, from Swansea, started gaining weight in 2014.

"I've always been chunky, but over the course of a couple of years, I gradually got this tummy," she said.

"It crept up so slowly that I didn't know anything was wrong - I just thought I was putting on timber.

"I've been with my partner Jamie Gibbins for 10 years and we did wonder a few times if I was pregnant - but we did home tests and they always ruled it out."

She said it was "so embarrassing" explaining she was not pregnant: "I'd go along with it to spare everyone the blushes."

After blacking out in her office admin job, Ms Favell plucked up the courage to see a GP in 2016, who said she must be pregnant despite blood negative tests.

What is an ovarian cyst?

  • It is a fluid-filled sac that develops on a woman's ovary. They are very common and do not usually cause any symptoms
  • Most ovarian cysts occur naturally and disappear in a few months without needing any treatment
  • Cysts may affect both ovaries at the same time, or they may only affect one
  • They only causes symptoms if it splits (ruptures), is very large, or blocks the blood supply to the ovaries
  • Some of the symptoms can include pelvic pain, pain during sex, needing to go to the toilet regularly, bloating and swollen stomach

"It wasn't the first time I'd been mistaken for an expectant mum... People had seen me waddling around, carrying this lump, and I'd been asked a few times when I was due."

Still believing Ms Favell to be pregnant, her GP referred her for an ultrasound scan in January last year.

"I was lying there with Jamie beside me as the radiologist moved the probe over my tummy. I saw her eyes widen in horror, but the screen was just blank.

"The look on her face said it all - something was wrong, and when she said she had to get a consultant I started to panic. Jamie did his best to reassure me but I felt paralysed with fear."

She was sent for an emergency CT scan which revealed a cyst surrounded by fluid.

"[The consultant] told me I wasn't fat all - I was actually quite thin."

Ms Favell was referred to a high-risk obstetrics consultant and examined in February last year.

"By this time, even walking was a struggle and I had difficulty breathing.

"I'll never forget the look of shock on his face when the consultant examined me. He said I had a large ovarian mass and the only option was surgery. He couldn't say what it was, exactly, or how big."

The cyst was finally removed in March last year, and was revealed to be 26kg the weight of a seven or eight-year-old child - or seven average-sized newborn babies.

"They explained how big this cyst was and showed me the pictures - I couldn't believe I'd been walking around for so long carrying this medical alien.

"It looked like a massive pile of ice cream so I called it Mr Whippy."

Ms Favell has been left with a large scar and stretch marks, but will still be able to have children.

"I lost sight of how difficult even simple things like driving a car or walking up the stairs had become. Losing my lump gave me my life back - I can't thank my surgeon enough."

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 15:35

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Trump's trade war: Stakes are high at G20 summit

The stakes are high at this week's G20 summit, where President Trump is due to meet China's President Xi Jinping.

Hopes that the meeting could open the way for a deal over trade between the two countries have been undermined by recent threats by the US president.

Only days before the summit in Argentina, President Trump said current tariff levels on $200bn (£157bn) of Chinese imports would rise as planned.

He also threatened tariffs on $267bn of other Chinese exports to the US.

Then, just before taking off for Argentina, President Trump told reporters at the White House that while China was interested in striking a deal, "I don't know if I want to do it" and "I like the deal we have now".

The stage could now be set for a possible escalation of the trade war between the two nations.

What is likely to come out of the meeting?

President Trump started the dispute with China earlier this year, accusing the Chinese of "unfair" trade practices and intellectual property theft.

The US has hit a total $250bn of Chinese goods with tariffs since July, and China has retaliated by imposing duties on $110bn of US products.


Media captionSo how does a G20 summit work?

China had already hit the US with $3bn of tariffs in April, in response to US tariffs on global steel and aluminium imports.

President Trump offered a glimmer of hope earlier this month, when he said he thought the US could strike a trade deal with China.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionTrump has long accused the Chinese of unfair trading practices

But only days before the summit, he poured cold water on such optimism.

President Trump told the Wall Street Journal he expected to go ahead with plans to raise tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods - first introduced in September - to 25% (up from 10%) starting in January 2019.

President Trump also said that if talks were unsuccessful, he would carry out a threat to hit the remaining $267bn of annual Chinese exports to the US with tariffs of 10-25%.

The Trump administration also recently accused China of not changing its "unfair" trade practices.

"I think the most likely scenario is that Xi Jinping doesn't offer big enough concessions to Trump, and so nothing much comes of the G20 meeting," says Julian Evans-Pritchard from Capital Economics.

Recent summits also do not bode well for any resolutions at the G20 level.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit recently ended without a formal leaders' statement because of US-China divisions over trade.

And a G7 summit in Canada in June ended in disarray as Trump retracted his endorsement of the joint statement.

"I think unfortunately, the US and China remain quite far apart in the issues behind the trade conflict, so we are not too optimistic," says Valerie Mercer-Blackman, senior economist at the Asia Development Bank.

"Failure to agree on the communique at the Apec meeting... also suggests that there is quite substantial distance between the two sides, and there doesn't seem to be a specific proposal on the table yet to end the impasse."

What's at stake?

The stakes are high.

"If the meeting fails to deliver a truce, then the US will almost certainly hike tariff rates [on $200bn of existing Chinese goods] in January, and a further expansion in tariffs is quite likely," says Mr Evans-Pritchard.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionUS tariffs on $200m worth of Chinese imports could go up from 10% to 25% in January

A rise in those tariffs would see many multinational firms accelerate their plans to move supply chains away from China, while tariffs on additional Chinese imports would pose "a significant political and economic risk for Trump", says Michael Hirson, Asia director at Eurasia Group.

"Remaining US imports from China are more heavily tilted towards consumer items. American households, especially those from lower income brackets, will feel the impact more than they have over tariffs on previous rounds," he adds.

What happens next?

If the US were to impose tariffs on additional Chinese goods, China could seek to retaliate, but would have limited room to do so via trade.

This is because China's existing $113bn tariffs on US goods are not far from the $130bn it imported from the US in 2017.

Instead of fighting back aggressively with more tariffs, China is more likely to defend its economy by easing fiscal and monetary policy, letting its currency fall and forging trade deals with other countries, analysts say.

Image captionChina has also been affected by the US's tariffs on global steel and aluminium imports

"China's strategy towards Trump will favour resilience over retaliation," Mr Hirson says.

If the conflict between China and the US continues to escalate, non-tariff barriers particularly in the technology sector are likely to become increasingly popular.

The US has already made moves in this direction. It recently restricted American firms from selling parts to a Chinese company over national security concerns.

"While tariffs draw most of the attention, non-tariff measures are just as important in this trade war and will probably be in play for much longer," says Mr Hirson.

"On the US side, this includes measures such as recently passed legislation that tightens investment restrictions and export controls... In China, it involves using regulatory tools such as anti-trust investigations to squeeze US tech firms and tip the advantage to domestic competitors."

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 15:31

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Liberia: Two Die in Nimba Prison

Sanniquellie, Nimba County – Two inmates who were sentenced to life imprisonment have been found dead at the Sanniquellie Center Prison (SCP), in Nimba County.

The two men, 23 and 28, respectively, were convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment by presiding Judge Yarmie Gbeisay of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court.

Defendant Josiah Quoi, 28, reportedly contacted his friend Yarlo Dahn, 23, of Duo Gorton town in District # 2, Nimba, to murder Cooper Baymie, who had travelled to Nimba to claim a cash crop farm.

Baymie, 56 lived in Monrovia. He had gone to ask his nephew (Quoi) to release his property but he was murdered on his farm by the two deceased inmates.

According to reports, Quoi contacted his friend Dahn to go after Baymie on the farm in order to kill him. By that means, he would retain ownership of the properties.

The men had been in prison for a year before they were sentenced to life.

Cllr. Robertson Mehn, Public Defender, attributed the death of the inmates to the over crowdedness of the prison.

He told our reporter that the facility was built as a quick impact project by the United National Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for 75 but currently hosts over 200 inmates.

Cllr. Mehn disclosed that the prison facility lacks basic facilities including foods, medicinal drugs, and mattresses for inmates.

Hector Quoiguah, Nimba County Attorney, confirmed the over crowdedness of Sanniquellie Central Prison.

He explained that the government is doing everything to address the problems.

Meanwhile, Prison Director Edward McGill has confirmed the death of the two inmates but told our correspondent that they were ill prior to their death.

He disclosed that they were taken to the G.W. Harley Hospital in Sanniquellie to seek medical treatment where they were pronounced dead.

Sources told FrontPageAfrica that the two men died at the prison but were taken to the hospital for doctor’s confirmation.

sarah Posted on November 30, 2018 15:21

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Ariana Grande: Manchester attack 'seems impossible to fully recover from'

Ariana Grande has described the Manchester Arena terror attack as something "that seems impossible to fully recover from".

The singer had just finished performing in the city for her Dangerous Woman world tour in May 2017 when suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device in the arena foyer, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds of others.

Grande, 25, was physically unharmed in the attack but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards.

In the fourth episode of her docu-series, Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman Diaries, the star shares a letter about the attack.

The letter says: "I'm writing to you this February 22, 2018. It's been eight months since the attack at our show at the Manchester Arena. It's impossible to know where to start or to know what to say about this part. May 22, 2017, will leave me speechless and filled with questions for the rest of my life.

"Music is an escape. Music is the safest thing I've ever known. Music - pop music, stan culture - is something that brings people together, introduces them to some of their best friends, and makes them feel like they can be themselves. It is comfort. It is fun. It is expression. It is happiness. It is the last thing that would ever harm someone. It is safe.

"When something so opposite and so poisonous takes place in your world that is supposed to be everything but that... it is shocking and heartbreaking in a way that seems impossible to fully recover from."

The docu-series gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at her life on tour.

It does not include any footage from the Manchester Arena bombing, but does give viewers a look at the One Love Manchester benefit concert Grande organised to raise money for victims and their families.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 11:56

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'It's been well worth it': Face transplant patient reveals incredible transformation

Less than a year after having a 25-hour face transplant operation, a US man is showing remarkable progress.

Cameron Underwood, from Yuba City, California, underwent the surgery in January after attempting to take his own life with a gun in June 2016.

The bullet wound left him without a nose and most of his lower jaw and teeth. It also badly damaged his eye sockets.

He first underwent conventional reconstruction surgery before having the transplant after his mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, read a magazine article about Dr Eduardo Rodriguez at the New York University Langone Medical Center.


The operation involved a 100-strong team, led by Dr Rodriguez, and since it was carried out, Mr Underwood has had monthly follow-up appointments and has continued with physical, occupational and speech therapy.

He has even gone sky-diving but will remain on anti-rejection drugs throughout his life.

Picture: A series of 10 images of Cameron’s healing progression from January 6, 2018 through November 26, 2018.The 26-year-old man remains positive and focused on his new life and is grateful to his 23-year-old donor Will Fisher and the Fisher family for what they have done for him.

He said: "Will and his family made an incredible sacrifice to give back to me what had been lost.

"I will never forget that. I'm also eternally grateful to Dr Rodriguez and his face transplant team. My family and I could not have made this journey without them.

"We hope my experience inspires others who have severe facial injuries to have hope, as I was inspired by others who came before me. The journey hasn't been easy, but it's been well worth it."

Mr Underwood's physical, emotional and psychological recovery was helped by the relatively short time between his injury and face transplant.

Dr Rodriguez, a professor of reconstructive plastic surgery, said: "Cameron has not lived with his injury for a decade or longer like most other face transplant recipients have.

"As a result, he has not had to deal with many of the long-term psycho-social issues which often lead to issues like severe depression, substance abuse, and other potentially harmful behaviours."

Mr Underwood also experienced one of the shortest wait times for a donor, the hospital said.

Once he was approved for a transplant and put on the list for organ donation, he waited only six months for the call that would change his life.

Mr Fisher was an aspiring filmmaker and writer, who registered as an organ donor when he was a teenager.

He did not just help Mr Underwood. He also gave his heart, kidneys, liver, eyes and other tissues.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 11:25

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Taron Egerton: I don't scream 'action hero'

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Taron Egerton insists he isn't a natural born action hero.

Although he's starred in all three instalments of comedy adventure film Kingsman (the next is due out next year), the Welshman says when he decided to become an actor, action roles never crossed his mind.

"I don't think I scream action hero," he tells Sky News.

"I certainly enjoy it, but it's very hard work, and I often think it can be more fun to watch than it is to do, just in the sense that it can be quite gruelling and physical.

"For me I have to alter my body shape because I don't keep myself in incredible shape all year round. Not that I'm in incredible shape now, but I'm okay."

Speaking about his latest role as Robin Hood, the 29-year-old explains that "there was a bit of gym time", before reassessing: "Well, a lot of gym time, actually."

Egerton bagged the part in the latest retelling of the mythical outlaw hero thanks to his casting as secret agent "Eggsy" Unwin in Kingsman.

"When they were considering people, they needed someone who had some experience of being physical as it's a very physical role," he says.

"I certainly felt that walking into this I had had some experience of action and stunt work, and it served me well… I've done my thousand hours of that now."

Action and stunts form a large part of the film, with director Otto Bathurst telling Sky News that the movie strives to "drag the Robin Hood myth into the 21st century".

Bathurst warns fans: "If you're going along to watch a traditional, classic Men In Tights version of Robin Hood you're going to be very disappointed.

"It's historically inaccurate, the clothes and set design are crazy. The point of it is to make a version of the movie that wakes you up and also make a movie that hopefully people relate to."

Like Egerton, he admits it wasn't all fun and games.

"We were in Hungary in the middle of winter and it's tough," Bathurst says.

"Making that kind of movie, it looks fun but actually you've got horses, you've got bows and arrows, you've got stuff going on, and it's a lot of moving pieces and you're always pushing the budget to the max and you're always stretched."

Jamie Foxx plays Little John in the film, alongside Egerton's Robin, and Bathurst credits the two with "creating a real chemistry" which "brought that dynamic alive".

Egerton believes Foxx is "one of the really exciting components (of the film), for me".

"Having had a couple of other on-screen mentors (in the form of Colin Firth and Hugh Jackman, both from the Kingsman franchise) they're hard acts to follow," he says.

"But I knew that Jamie and I would work well together."

And the pair got on well off set as well as on.

"One night we got on the mic in a club and I was not as cool as he was. I think there may even be video evidence... I'm not going to be able to bring myself to watch it," he laughs.

The film has been retold multiple times, with Robin Hood most notably portrayed by Errol Flynn (1938), Kevin Costner (1991) and Russell Crowe (2010).

But Bathurst says now is a timely moment for a remake.

"No matter what era we're in, there's always oppression, there's always governments or religions that are corrupting and oppressing people, and so there's always a call for anybody who's going to stand up and say no against that, stand up for truth.

"In the 21st century we need that more than ever."

Bathurst also says a modern-day Robin Hood would be using Instagram and Twitter to rally his followers.

"Imagine in the 13th century if you're trying to create a revolution, trying to create a buzz and trying to rally the troops, it's pretty hard," the director says.

"You can't tweet: 'Come on guys let's go and rob the rich! Let's burn down the church!'

"Whereas now, we've seen it in history over the last five, 10, 15 years, we've seen individuals cause major ripples in international governments, across religions, across all kinds of world issues."

Having only joined Instagram a week earlier, Egerton is not so sure.

"It's not very covert is it!" he says.

However, he seems to be enjoying his own foray into social media.

"It just seems to be the language now and everyone uses it, it's a great tool," he says.

"It's a business tool and that's how the world goes now in terms of marketing stuff. The reason it works is because it's personal and you're seeing something of the reality of someone's life."

He's certainly using it to effect despite his novice status.

Earlier this month, speculation over Egerton's sexuality was rife after he posted a photo of a male friend with the caption "Cutie. My boy" followed by a heart emoji.

He then "liked" a fan's comment asking: "Does that mean he's got a boyfriend now?"

The actor had recently split with his producer girlfriend of two years, Emily Thomas.

Egerton has since clarified, telling Radio Times: "One of the lads was at my London flat and I Instagrammed a picture of him... I'm not gay but two of my mates came out when I was 15 and it was a joy to support them because, as a group, we are all secure in who we are."

He went on: "I'm certainly not going to stop calling my mates cuties and gorgeous, because they are cuties and they are gorgeous."

Away from speculation about Egerton's sexuality and back to the film; despite it being male-led, Bathurst says it is actually a woman blazing the trail.

"Marian's doing the Robin Hood stuff way before Robin Hood turns up, which I love," he says. "She's actually the DNA of the whole story, she's the one who shows him, 'Get out of your selfish, revengeful space and see what's going on for everybody else here. See the big picture. Wake up and smell the coffee'.

"Maid Marian's always been the damsel in distress and I felt really strongly that it's Robin of Loxley plus Maid Marian equals Robin Hood. Without Marian there is no Robin Hood."

So despite it being a tale about a band of merry men fighting for justice at all costs, it seems a woman is in the driving seat.

A very modern outlook for a 13th century hero.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 10:48

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Quentin Tarantino marries Israeli singer Daniella Pick in 'intimate' LA ceremony

Quentin Tarantino has married his fiancee Daniella Pick in an "intimate" ceremony in Los Angeles attended by a "small group of family and friends".

The Reservoir Dogs director, 55, tied the knot with the Israeli singer and model, 35, at a private home on Wednesday, said People magazine, which got an official wedding photograph.

In the snap, the couple posed in front of a wall of white flowers, he wearing a black suit and the bride in a white Dana Harel gown with a sweetheart neckline, tiara and white veil and holding a bouquet of white roses.

Their reception, at Beverly Hills Chinese restaurant Mr Chow, will be followed by another party later on Thursday.

The writer-director met Ms Pick, who is the daughter of Israeli singer and songwriter Tzvika Pick, in 2009 while promoting Inglorious Basterds.

The pair got engaged in June 2017, after dating for about a year.

A few days before the wedding, Tarantino wrapped filming Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, his upcoming drama starring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie due for release next June.

Some of his long-time movie collaborators were invited to the ceremony, E! News reported, quoting an insider.

Image:Quentin Tarantino and Daniella Pick at the 'Reservoir Dogs' 25th Anniversary Screening in 2017

"The ceremony was inside in front of a small group of family and friends including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Eli Roth. There were only about 20 people and it was very intimate and private," the insider said.

The source said the ceremony last "about an hour".

Tarantino has never been married before, claiming he was too busy with work.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 10:32

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Here’s What Everyone Wore To Princess Eugenie’s Royal Wedding

Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank on Friday, October 12th, and the whole world stopped to watch their love — and by “their love,” we mean they stopped to watch what everyone was wearing. Let’s face it, weddings are as much about fashion as they are about the feelings. We’re thrilled for Jack and Eugenie, but we’re also thrilled we get to witness these gorgeous dresses and fascinators.

Keep reading to see what everyone wore to the royal wedding. You might even get some ideas about what to wear to your own fall celebrations this year.

Let’s start with this stunning wedding dress, shall we? Princess Eugenie looks like a classic princess in this simple ballgown with shoulder details. And we can’t forget her jaw-dropping tiara. She looks exactly how a princess should look.

Her new husband, Jack Brooksbank, is also looking pretty dapper. We especially love the the blue detailing in his tie and how his boutonnière ties in with his bride’s bouquet.

Queen Elizabeth II

The queen is known for her monochromatic head-to-toe suits. She wore a lime green suit to Meghan and Harry’s wedding, a yellow dress to Kate and William’s wedding, and now this lovely powder blue get-up to Eugenie and Jack’s wedding.

We especially love the off-white flower on her hat, which matches perfectly with the iridescent buttons on her top. How is the Queen so stylish?

Kate Middleton and Prince William

Kate opted for a solid crimson dress with a matching crimson fascinator. This dress is doing wonders for her body, cinching her waist and emphasizing her strong arms. We love the pleated details around the neckline, and that sapphire on her finger on full display.

Prince William isn’t looking too bad himself. He looks as royal as ever.

Meghan Markle

We’re continuing the solid color trend with Megan Markle’s lovely navy blue number. This look is blue on blue on blue, with a pop of black in the heels. Who ever said that black and navy don’t go together? Meghan is proving that when you’re a princess, anything goes.

Alright, Meghan is a duchess, not a princess, but she can still do whatever she wants.

Pippa Middleton

Yet another solid color. Pippa definitely got the jewel tone memo. She looks absolutely stunning in this forest green dress. Also, look at her adorable baby bump. We have to say, we can’t wait for another royal baby.

We know Pippa isn’t technically a royal, but she is the sister of a royal and that’s good enough for us.

Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and The Rest Of The Kiddos

These kids are just too cute for words. Look at little Charlotte’s royal wave. We can’t. It’s too cute. Prince George is looking spiffy in his white top, and all of the girls look amazing with their multi-colored sashes.

We also love that all the girls are rocking a half up half down hairstyle. Very cohesive.

Cara Delevingne

Cara Delevingne made headlines when she showed up to the royal wedding wearing tails and a top hat. The majority of people have been obsessing over her androgynous look and Twitter is aflame with users praising her break from tradition. We’re totally here for it.

Cara always looks gorgeous (she is a model after all), but this is how a supermodel shows up to a wedding.

Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding’s light blue dress is stunning, yet simple. It looks like something anyone could wear, and that makes us love this relatable queen even more. We mean, she is at a royal wedding, so she isn’t that relatable, but still.

We can pretend that we can relate to Ellie and we can pretend that we’re on the same level.

Demi Moore And Eric Buterbaugh

Demi Moore is in on the whole solid jewel tone thing. We guess it is super autumnal. Her dress is pretty similar to Kate’s, but it’s a bit more form fitting. She showed up to the royal shindig with her florist friend, Eric Buterbaugh.

Eric Buterbaugh holds his own next to the stunning starlet. Considering he’s a florist and perfumer, we wouldn’t expect anything less!

Sarah, Duchess of York and Princess Beatrice

We’re going to have to go out and look for some solid jewel tones to wear. We promise you, everybody is going to be out in the fall weather wearing some kind of solid blue or green or crimson outfit in the coming weeks.

And we’re not mad about it. While love a good pattern, solids are just so classic.

Kate Moss

Finally, someone who feels some kind of way about a pattern. This polka dot dress has a classic look, and is perfectly accented with navy blue detailing. Kate Moss is still on trend, but decided that she was going to do her own thing with her ensemble.

We absolutely love it, and those shoes are to die for.

Poppy Delevingne

Cara’s sister Poppy opted for a much more feminine look. But the real showstopper here is her fascinator, which is the most fascinating one we’ve seen yet — and the tallest one we’ve seen so far.

We’re swooning over this periwinkle blue color and the cutout details on her dress. That long periwinkle trench coat needs to get into our wardrobes ASAP.

Nicola and George Brooksbank

Meet the parents of the groom. Jack’s mom looks amazing in her floral dress and silver shoes, and his dad looks like a true gentleman (that red tie!).

Nicola’s hat looks super chic and we can definitely see where Jack gets his looks from. Do you think these two ever expected a royal wedding in their son’s future?

Stephen Fry and Elliott Spencer

Stephen Fry arrived to the royal wedding with his husband, Elliott Spencer. They both look super windswept in this photo, but still stylish in a very effortless kind of way. Both Stephen and Elliott opted for autumnal looking vests.

Yellow and orange may not be this wedding’s exact vibe (based on the other outfits we’ve seen), but it’s definitely this season’s vibe.

Cressida Bonas

Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend Cressida Bonas arrived to Eugenie and Jack’s wedding in this patterned blue and black dress. Unlike most of the other guests at this wedding, she’s chosen not to wear black shoes or match her shoes to her dress.

That pop of red on her feet really stands out against the rest of her outfit.

Chelsy Davy

Another one of Harry’s ex-lovers, Chelsy Davy, showed up in this sheer navy dress. We can’t see her shoes in this picture, but like Cressida, she’s incorporated some red into her look. Her nail polish is definitely popping.

We do think it’s ironic that Cressida, Chelsy, and Meghan all wore dark blue. It’s a little bit weird, right?

Pixie Geldof

Model Pixie Geldof arrived to the wedding in this caped pink gown. She went for a fascinator that’s not the same color as the rest of her outfit and we think that was a good choice. A pink fascinator with this dress would be too much pink.

Her shoes and her fascinator match, which is a nice touch.

Robbie Williams

Singer Robbie Williams showed up to the wedding in a classic three piece suit. We love that none of the pieces are the same color. It’s a cool way to get a masculine look that still has visual interest.

He came to the ceremony with his wife and his mother in law. Good lad.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 10:05

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Train ticket prices to rise by average of 3.1% in January

The price of train tickets will rise by an average of 3.1% in January, the rail industry has announced.

The new fares will come into force on 2 January.

Fares regulated by the government - around 40% - are set at July's RPI, which was 3.2%.

These include season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and flexible tickets for major cities.

Other fares are set by train operators.

The overall rise of 3.1% announced on Friday is just slightly less than the latest wage growth figure of 3.2% for the three months to September.

Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said: "Nobody wants to pay more to travel, especially those who experienced significant disruption earlier this year.

"Money from fares is underpinning the improvements to the railway that passengers want and which ultimately help boost the wider economy.

"That means more seats, extra services and better connections right across the country."

But the rise comes at a time of increasing dissatisfaction with the country's railways.

Fewer than half (45%) of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train tickets, according to a survey by watchdog Transport Focus.

And passengers in some parts of the country experienced weeks of chaos after new timetables were brought in earlier this year.

Train punctuality slipped to a 12-year low in the summer and 14% of services failed to meet the industry's punctuality target in the 12 months to 10 November.

On Thursday, rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road launched formal action against Network Rail, ordering the government-owned company to improve its management of the rail infrastructure or face the possibility of fines and being sued by train companies for lost revenue.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Until day-to-day reliability returns - with fewer significant delays and cancellations - passenger trust won't begin to recover.

"Passengers now pour over £10bn a year into the rail industry alongside significant government investment, so the rail industry cannot be short of funding.

"When will this translate into a more reliable railway and better value for money for passengers?

"It's also time for a fairer, clearer fares formula based on a calculation that uses the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Prices Index."

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 09:52

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All eyes on unpredictable Donald Trump at G20 summit

US President Donald Trump's meeting with President Putin was set to be the showstopper event in Buenos Aires.

But he has abruptly cancelled it, blaming Russia's refusal to release Ukraine's Navy ships and sailors.

The news came just hours after his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying about the president's business interests in Moscow.

President Trump tweeted: "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting... in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!"

The cancellation soothes concerns over more US cosying up with the Kremlin. The US and Russian leaders’ last meeting in Helsinki caused outrage when Mr Trump took Mr Putin's denials of election interference over the findings of his own intelligence agencies.

World leaders began landing in Argentina on the eve of the summit on Thursday night.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced delays after having to switch planes en route when her aircraft was forced to land shortly after taking off from Berlin after experiencing problems with the electronic systems.

French President Emmanuel Macron and President Xi Jinping of China were among some of the first to arrive.

Mr Trump’s working dinner meeting with the Chinese leader is now his priority.

There's little real hope of a trade war ceasefire - with neither Mr Xi nor Mr Trump wanting to blink first.

It's the first time the leaders of the world's two largest economies have met since Mr Trump imposed tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese imports to force concessions on greater access to Chinese markets and intellectual property theft.

Mr Trump is unlikely to bend until there's a decline in US economic numbers, although jittery American markets may add some pressure for an agreement.

These global jamborees are not the natural home of an "America First" president.

As that infamous Canada G7 image of a recalcitrant, arms crossed Mr Trump, shows - the president's isolationist foreign policy is never more stark than at these global summits.

Mr Trump's unpredictability means the US is no longer the steadying force at these events.

Former defence department official Michael Carpenter worked for the Obama administration at previous G20s.

He said: "A lot of the policymakers around Trump are going into these meetings themselves not sure what the president is going to say. Not sure what stance he's going to take on any particular issue and waiting to see what that meeting looks like in person when they are there in the room."

For all the security and months of planning and preparation - in the Trump era there's no great hope for consensus in Buenos Aires.

ruby Posted on November 30, 2018 09:47

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