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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pliskova keeps nerve in thrilling finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Sport tennis correspondent Russell Fuller at Melbourne Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 10:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Your girl is very good at football'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bright future for India's next generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claw hammer

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 23, 2019 09:22

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Peppa Pig: China falls for an unlikely UK brand ambassador

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

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

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

Pork scratching anyone?

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

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

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

And it worked.

Well, sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They nodded. It is a big garden after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soft power

But Peppa has survived this brush with subversion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And pigs, as they say, might fly.

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 17:22

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The battle on the frontline of climate change in Mali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gathering storm

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

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

But behind this danger, there is another gathering storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals died one after another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:42

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Lorry driver who dumped 100 tonnes of waste at school jailed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Extremely upset'

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:15

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Dambusters couple's funeral: Hundreds pay respects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:07

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Your chance'

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

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

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

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

'I cried all the way to the terminal'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No place like home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 16:01

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Gleneagles chef Andrew Fairlie dies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chef of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:54

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Emiliano Sala: Cardiff City FC player on missing plane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Last goodbye'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:49

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Jason Gardner killing: Father and son jailed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 15:22

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Why your new heart could be made in space one day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on January 22, 2019 14:57

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The horsemen making a living on Lagos beach Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Nevertheless Jack can still do tricks.

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

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

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

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

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

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

Image copyrightGRACE EKPU/BBC

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 10:18

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Body of drowned South African recovered in Mozambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tragedy struck on Monday.

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

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

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

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

Dirco is also providing support.

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 10:12

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Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure

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

Sugar and Salt

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

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

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

1. Canned Beans

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

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

2. Premade Soups

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

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

3. Cooked Tomato Products

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

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


Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure


4. Packaged and Processed Meats

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

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

5. Frozen Meals

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

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

6. Candy

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

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

7. Soft Drinks

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

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

8. Pastries

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

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

9. Sauces

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

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

10. Alcohol

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

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

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:34

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

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


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


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


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

1. Reduced risk of colon cancer

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

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

2. You’ll have quick, long lasting energy

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


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


2. You’ll have quick, long lasting energy

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


3. Your digestive health will improve 

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

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

4. You could be smarter

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

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

5. Treatment for hemorrhoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sarah Posted on January 18, 2019 09:17

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Put Garlic Under Your Pillow And See What Happens

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

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

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

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

1. You Will Breathe Better

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

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

2. You Will Get Sick Less Often

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

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

3. You’ll Get A Better Night’s Sleep

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

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

4. You’ll Naturally Repel Bugs

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

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

A Couple Words Of Caution

One thing to remember if you have dogs or cats is that garlic is toxic to them. If your pets get on your bed and are prone to swiping food, it’s best not to leave garlic under your pillow when you’re not there. A small amount of garlic in a meal will probably not sicken a pet, but an entire clove certainly will.

In any case, it’s better for the effectiveness of garlic as a sleep aid to use a fresh clove each night. We also recommend wrapping your clove in a washcloth, or alternately, keeping the skin on while you sleep. Garlic contains oil that can stain your sheets if it gets crushed.

Garlic is a fantastic boon to health, whether you sleep with it, eat it, or breathe it. There’s no reason not to do all three! But hundreds of years of use as a sleep aid certainly speaks to its unique ability to settle both body and brain and improve the quality of your slumber.

You should definitely try garlic under your pillow before resorting to dangerous chemical sleep aids, which have been shown to trap you into dependence on them. And even though you get “knocked out,” the quality of your sleep is not good under the influence of these drugs. Garlic is cheap, easy, and it works with zero side effects. Sweet dreams!

sarah Posted on January 17, 2019 18:47

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'Blockbuster' storm heads east, could drop 40 inches of snow. Then an Arctic blast will freeze 200 million

After hammering California with rain and snow, a 'blockbuster' winter storm is taking aim on the East, where as much as 40 inches of snow could fall over the weekend. Road travel may become "impossible" due to the heavy snow; flight delays and cancellations are also likely.

After the storm heads offshore on Sunday, the intense cold will be the main weather story as bitterly cold air straight from the Arctic will roar in, bringing below-freezing temperatures to 200 million Americans.

As for the storm, "freezing rain, heavy snow and heavy rain are expected through the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days," the National Weather Service warned.

On Friday, the heaviest snow will hit South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, AccuWeather said.

Then, the storm will wind up and roar into the Northeast and New England on Saturday and Sunday, where the heaviest snow will fall.

AccuWeather said 40 inches is possible in parts of northern New England, while close to 30 inches of snow may fall on parts of central and northern New York state and the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Snowfall rates could reach 2-3 inches per hour.

The storm "will be a blockbuster in terms of impact and dangerous conditions," said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Anibal Maceira, of Hagerstown, Md., cleans snow off the roof of his car Monday morning, Jan. 14, 2019, after a winter storm brought about six inches of snow to the Tri-State area over the weekend. (Photo: Colleen McGrath, AP)

Snowfall of 12-24 inches is likely to be more common in the heaviest band from the storm, AccuWeather forecasts. But blowing and drifting at the height and conclusion of the storm could cause the snow depth to vary by several feet.

"Plows are not likely to be able to keep up," Sosnowski warned. "As the storm strengthens, winds will cause major blowing and drifting of snow."

"Those who are on the road through the heart of the snow and ice area will be at risk for becoming stranded for many hours," Sosnowski said, adding that they "may have to face temperatures plummeting to dangerously low levels."

The combination of winds and heavy snow could lead to numerous power outages, particularly in the heaviest snow swath in the interior Northeast, according to the Weather Channel.

Boston should finally see its first inch of snow of the winter season. 

More: More snow! Airlines waive change fees as new storms approach

More: Series of storms to pummel California with rain, snow, wind

More: California mudslides shut down Pacific Coast Highway

The Weather Channel warned that a thin band of sleet and freezing rain is also possible in parts of the Ohio Valley eastward into the mid-Atlantic states. 

The Weather Channel has named the storm Winter Storm Harper. No other private weather company, nor the National Weather Service, is using that name

Following the storm, the coldest air of the season will roar across nearly the entire eastern half of the country by Monday: Some 200 million people will wake up to below-freezing temperatures on Monday morning, as far south as Florida, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue. Maue added that some 85 percent of the Lower 48 states will see temperatures at or below freezing.

A "flash freeze" could develop late Sunday, causing any standing water to quickly freeze, creating dangerous and slippery conditions. 

Lows will be below zero in the upper Midwest and northern Plains with wind chills approaching 40 degrees below zero. Although the cold blast is expected to only last a day or two in most spots, it will likely mark the beginning of what is expected to be a cold end to January east of the Rockies, the Weather Channel said.

In fact, forecasters say the brutal, punishing stretch of intense cold should last well into February. The cold is partly due to the fracturing of the polar vortex earlier this month, which has slowly pushed unspeakably frigid air from the Arctic into the United States. 

Truck drivers watch damaged semitrailers get removed from the scene of a multi-car collision in the Cajon Pass near Hesperia, Calif., on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019. ( (Photo: James Quigg, AP)

Western woes

On Thursday, California dealt with heavy rainfall, mountain snow and flooding that threatened to trigger mudslides in areas previously scarred by devastating wildfires.

In Northern California, trees and power lines toppled in some areas deluged by up to five inches of rain in recent days. The scenic Pacific Coast Highway was closed overnight near Big Sur due to mudslides and flooding.

Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox

In Southern California, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said 19 vehicles crashed and 35 people suffered "minor to modest injuries" in a crash in fog near mountainous Cajon Pass.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” the weather service said of the storm's rampage.

Areas under evacuation orders included parts of fire-scarred Malibu, where all public schools were closed Thursday. Several vital canyon roads in the area were closed due to rock fall danger.

Three feet of snow or more were forecast high in the Sierra Nevada, where blizzard warnings were in effect deep into Thursday, the weather service said.

At least five deaths have been reported during the week of stormy weather.

Precipitation in California will begin to wind down by Thursday night and into Friday morning as the storm heads east.

sarah Posted on January 17, 2019 18:33

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Russia to build rocket center in five years to send tourists into outer space

A space rocket center for sending tourists into outer space can be built in Russia already in five years

A space rocket center for sending tourists into outer space can be built in Russia already in five years

YEKATERINBURG, July 10. /TASS/. A space rocket center for sending tourists into outer space can be built in Russia already in five years, the Urals-based Automatics Research and Production Enterprise, which is developing the control system for this project, announced on Tuesday.

Enterprise Chief Andrei Misyura and Deputy CEO of Kosmotur Sergei Yakovlev signed an agreement at the Innoprom international industrial exhibition in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday on creating control systems for the compound designed to send tourists into outer space, TASS reports from the scene.

"We are planning to create a [rocket] compound in five years," Misyura said.

"This is a possibility to enter a new market," he said, without specifying the project’s details.

According to Kosmotur CEO Yakovlev, the agreement signed with the Automatics Research and Production Enterprise at the Innoprom exhibition will make it possible to create a space compound for sending tourists into the Earth’s orbit.

"I am confident that we will get the result, which everyone will see in several years and the Automatics Research and Production Enterprise will be able to expand its commercial market," Yakovlev added.

As was reported earlier, Kosmotur, which is developing a reusable spacecraft for suborbital flights, planned to submit the space vehicle’s preliminary design to Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos for an expert study in April-May.

Under the preliminary design, the company worked on various technical nuances. It was reported that the launch weight of the designed rocket would equal up to 80 tonnes while the spacecraft with humans would weigh 7 tonnes. Oxygen and alcohol are expected to be used as the basic components of fuel for the new rocket and nitrogen as the accompanying fuel.

The Innoprom international industrial exhibition runs in Yekaterinburg in the Urals on July 9-12. The exhibition has its focus on digital production. South Korea is a partner of Innoprom-2018 while Russia’s Industry and Trade Ministry is the exhibition’s organizer.

sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 11:46

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9 facial traits that make someone more attractive, according to science

  • Attraction is complicated.
  • But when it comes to someone's face, people are drawn to certain traits.
  • Symmetry, simplicity, and familiarity could all play a role.
  • Here are 9 traits that can make someone more attractive to us.

  • Attraction is complicated.
  • But when it comes to someone's face, people are drawn to certain traits.
  • Symmetry, simplicity, and familiarity could all play a role.
  • Here are 9 traits that can make someone more attractive to us.

It's sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that attracts us to someone. It might be their confidence, or their sense of humour, or you might just like the way they look.

A lot of research over the years has gone into trying to work out what it is that makes us fancy each other. Results have varied, showing women may like the smell of men who have a particular kind of diet, and men may find women in groups more attractive.

Some research has suggested we often go for people who share some of the same characteristics we do.

We've looked at a number of a studies to try and get to the bottom of what makes us like the look of one person over another.

Here are 9 face traits that can make someone more attractive to us, according to science.

1. Symmetry

Studies such as this one published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, and this one published in the Journal of Evolution & Human Behaviour, have shown that in experimental conditions, men and women both prefer faces that are more symmetrical.

A study on identical twins found that the twin with a more symmetrical face was considered more attractive. Even macaque monkeys have been observed gazing longer at symmetrical faces than asymmetrical ones.

One conclusion scientists have reached to explain this is that in evolutionary terms, we may consider a symmetrical face a result of good health. Having a face that developed in a symmetrical way could show you have "good genes," because you developed more successfully in the face of environmental pressures when you were in the womb.

However, in 2014, research from Brunel University in London compared facial symmetry of about 5,000 teenagers, and found there was no correlation between symmetry and overall health.

2. Asymmetry

It's not an absolute rule, though. In fact, you can probably think of many celebrities you fancy who don't have symmetrical faces at all. Sometimes, like in the case of Milo Ventimiglia, a crooked smile is what adds to someone's charm.

In fact, absolute symmetry can make people look pretty weird. When attractive celebrities' faces are made to look symmetrical, they don't look quite right.

3. Averageness

People tend to like faces that are distinctly average, or those that resemble others in the general population.

In 1878, a paper in Nature first noted that a bunch of faces blended together was considered more attractive than those on their own.

One study, published in the journal Human Nature, argued it could be because average faces represent a more diverse set of genes, which is often a genetic advantage in fighting off illnesses and parasites.

4. Looking older

A study in 2012, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, found that women prefer men who look older.

The more financially independent women became, the more they said they liked older guys, according to the study.

One explanation for what researchers have coined the "George Clooney Effect" could be that women are only fertile from puberty to menopause, while men can father a child until much later. Women may get a better offer by waiting until the man has more status and resources due to being older.

5. Facial hair

Heavy stubble is favoured. Joseph Gonzalez / Unsplash

Some people love a bushy beard, whereas others go for clean-shaven men. A study in 2013 recruited 177 men and 351 women to look at pictures of men who had no facial hair, light stubble, heavy stubble, or a full beard.

The results showed that women thought the most attractive beard length is heavy stubble, or about 10 days of growth.

Heavy beards, light stubble, and clean shaven were all equally less attractive than heavy stubble.

6. Facial scars

Scars give men an edge. Warner Bros.

This one depends on if you're attracted to men or women. One study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that men could be considered more attractive if they had a facial scar, whereas this wasn't found for women.

Researchers took photos of 24 male and 24 female students and manipulated them to look like they had scars on their faces. Then, another 200 students were asked to rate how attractive the photos were, and whether they thought the person would be good for a short or long-term relationship.

Men with scars were rated as more attractive for short-term relationships than men without scars. There was no difference in how attractive women were with or without scars.

7. Familiarity

We like what we know. Dani Vivanco / Unsplash

According to one study, published in Current Biology, genetics might not have much to do with it.

The researchers found that the types of faces we fancy are influenced more by our personal experiences in life than anything else.

The study found that identical twins had different ideas of who they thought was attractive, suggesting a genetic predisposition wasn't a factor. Overall, genetics explained just a fifth of the variation in people's preferences.

The authors concluded that these results could explain how models and celebrities can make money from their good looks, while friends constantly disagree about who is to their taste.

8. Simplicity

Having no distinguishing features is ideal. Getty Images

A study from 2016 found that rather than men having a preference for certain features like lips or eyes, they went for more of an overall look.

The researchers recruited 169 men in France and showed them two sets of random women's faces. They were asked to rate them on a scale of zero to 20 in terms of attractiveness.

Results showed that overall, the faces the men found most attractive were "sparsely coded" — that means the ones that were symmetrical, more plain, and had no distinguishing features.

9. Looking like your parents

We associate happy feelings with them. Hrecheniuk Oleksii/Shutterstock

Some research suggests that we tend to find people who look like our opposite sex parent attractive.

According to research from St Andrews, we are attracted to the features that our parents had when we were born, possibly because we see them as our first caregiver, and associate positive feelings with their features.

In one study from 2002, researchers asked participants to rate how attractive faces of different ages were.

"We found that women born to 'old' parents (over 30) were less impressed by youth, and more attracted to age cues in male faces than women with 'young' parents (under 30)," the authors wrote. "For men, preferences for female faces were influenced by their mother's age and not their father's age, but only for long-term relationships."

Also, in a follow up study, a sample of 697 men and women showed people were more likely to have romantic partners who had the same eye and hair colour as their opposite-sex parents.

sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 11:42

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Meet Ghanaian pilot Captain Quainoo who flies the biggest plane in the world

The recently built state-of-the-art Terminal 3 at the Kotoka International Airport continues to dominate the headlines.

Since its opening, the $250 million project has drawn praise from many Ghanaians and foreigners who have used the facility.

To commemorate its inauguration, Dubai carrier, Emirates, has scheduled a one-off flight of its much famous Airbus A380 flight to Accra

The Airbus A380, the biggest ever passenger airliner which can carry between 525 and 853 people depending on class configuration, is expected to test facilities and infrastructure at the new terminal.

Flying the Airbus A380 on this historic journey will be a Ghanaian pilot known as Captain Solomon Quianoo.

Captain Quainoo is an airline pilot and captain with over 10,000 flying hours and has worked for respected international airlines.

A holder of a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Physics and Geology from the University of Ghana, Quainoo proceeded to Kingston University in London for a Master of Engineering degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

He got a job with British Airways as a Material Agent/Design Engineer from where he enrolled at the Oxford Aviation Training for his pilot qualification course which he completed in 2003.

After obtaining his licence, he got his first pilot role with British Midland International before joining British Airways (IAG) where he flew the Boeing 737 and 300 400 and 500 series, among others in his six-year stay.

He has spent the last seven years with Emirates serving as a first officer for his first five years before being promoted to captain. Captain Quainoo is an inspiration and he is definitely worth celebrating.

Meanwhile, the world's most expensive shoes which is called the Passion Diamond has been put on sale.

Created by Jada Dubai the striking pair of heels is made from silk and gold patent leather embellished with 236 diamonds.

The recently built state-of-the-art Terminal 3 at the Kotoka International Airport continues to dominate the headlines.

Since its opening, the $250 million project has drawn praise from many Ghanaians and foreigners who have used the facility.

To commemorate its inauguration, Dubai carrier, Emirates, has scheduled a one-off flight of its much famous Airbus A380 flight to Accra.

The Airbus A380, the biggest ever passenger airliner which can carry between 525 and 853 people depending on class configuration, is expected to test facilities and infrastructure at the new terminal.

Flying the Airbus A380 on this historic journey will be a Ghanaian pilot known as Captain Solomon Quianoo.

Captain Quainoo is an airline pilot and captain with over 10,000 flying hours and has worked for respected international airlines.

A holder of a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Physics and Geology from the University of Ghana, Quainoo proceeded to Kingston University in London for a Master of Engineering degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

He got a job with British Airways as a Material Agent/Design Engineer from where he enrolled at the Oxford Aviation Training for his pilot qualification course which he completed in 2003.

After obtaining his licence, he got his first pilot role with British Midland International before joining British Airways (IAG) where he flew the Boeing 737 and 300 400 and 500 series, among others in his six-year stay.

He has spent the last seven years with Emirates serving as a first officer for his first five years before being promoted to captain. Captain Quainoo is an inspiration and he is definitely worth celebrating.

Meanwhile, the world's most expensive shoes which is called the Passion Diamond has been put on sale.

Created by Jada Dubai the striking pair of heels is made from silk and gold patent leather embellished with 236 diamonds.

sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 11:31

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Can your marriage survive impotence?

Women have different reactions to their men’s impotence, especially when the men refuse to openly discuss it.

Women have different reactions to their men’s impotence, especially when the men refuse to openly discuss it.

According to Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert, women internalize things; the first thing a woman thinks when her man becomes impotent is to blame herself thinking it is because she may have done something wrong or no longer attractive.

Some get frustrated and despaired and fear there is something seriously wrong with their men or their marriages. Some feel they are no longer attractive or sexy enough and get frustrated.

While some suspect their men are having affairs, others actually get into extramarital affairs because ‘body no be firewood’.

It is also known that some women see a man’s impotence as a relief because they never enjoyed sex and struggled with the sex ordeal.

This is not surprising if you appreciate that in Ghana, 75 percent of women never experience orgasm in their lives. They just give in and see a man’s impotence as a time for retirement.

The bottom line is that life can be especially galling to a wife whose husband is impotent.

An impotent man feels inadequate and sees every bad word, action and attitude of a wife as an attack on his inability to perform and pulls back from her.

A wife sees the pull back as a confirmation that she has done something wrong and retreats even further.

Increasing levels of anxiety sets in along with the suspicion about what is going on with him, as well as the continued belief there is something wrong with her.

The couple may stop communicating altogether not only in the bedroom but in all aspects of their marriage.

This makes problems worse for couples and may lead to divorce.

Will your marriage survive impotence?

Impotence is fast increasing in Ghana and everywhere.

The good news is that most cases of impotence can easily be treated because they are caused by poor state of mind.

A positive mental attitude and good lifestyle are important ways of treating impotence.

Seek counselling and medical treatment

What you must never do is self-medication.

Most of the herbal concoctions and medications on the local market are actually toxic and may worsen your condition and predispose you to many diseases.

A woman must be cooperative and understanding. Don’t nag your man or take it personally because you are not the cause.

Again, don’t feel rejected or withdraw from your man because it may spell distrust.

Also, avoid putting pressure on your man to perform ‘or else...’

You must also avoid ridicule because it is a murder weapon to the impotent. You must never discuss your man’s condition with friends and relatives.

Many impotent men worry that their women may seek satisfaction elsewhere but it is important for a wife to avoid extramarital affairs.

The suspicion of a wife in extramarital affairs because of her man’s non-performance has a great physiological impact and many men react violently.

Good sex is very important

Nothing increases intimacy and cements marriage better.

On the other hand, impotence breeds insecurity which relates directly to unsatisfying marriage.

Read: How humor can change your relationship

It is, therefore, advisable to have sex regularly to build your marriage.

If you can’t have penetrative sex, you may try VENIS (very erotic non-insertive sex) through massaging, manual and genital stimulation.

There are many ways to give each other pleasure without penetrative sex.

Do not lose hope

When everything fails, come to terms with your condition. There are about 35 million impotent men in the United States but life goes on.

Impotence can cause a huge strain on the marriage and be a marriage breaker but according to Denise Knowles, a sex expert, it does not have to be because sex is not everything in marriage and not necessarily equal to a healthy marriage.

Friendship, affection and shared history are enough to maintain a marriage in which sex is no longer possible.

Taking the pressure off your sexual relation may allow you to enjoy what you have instead of carrying the burden to create what you lack.

There are many aspects of marriage that are thriving and can unify the relationship.

Go out often.

Have fun.

Keep busy with what you enjoy doing.

Build on those aspects.

Sex and love are two different life forces, each capable of being sustained without the other.

A marriage without sex can survive but a marriage without love is bound to fail.

You may fall out of sex but never all out of love.

Your marriage can and must survive impotence.



sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 10:55

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Robot turns out to be man in suit

A robot on show at a Russian state-sponsored event has turned out to be a man dressed in a costume.

A robot on show at a Russian state-sponsored event has turned out to be a man dressed in a costume.

Robot Boris featured on Russian TV and was apparently able to walk, talk and dance.

But soon after its appearance journalists began to question the bot's authenticity.

In a picture published afterwards on social media, the neck of a person was clearly visible.

The robot is in fact a 250,000 rouble (£2,975) costume called Alyosha the Robot, made by a company called Show Robots.

While the organisers of the Proyektoria technology forum - which was aimed at youngsters - had not claimed the robot was real, the TV coverage on Russia-24 suggested it was.

Russian website TJournal raised concerns about the robot asking a series of questions:

  • why did the robot feature no sensors?
  • how did Russian scientists get the robot made so quickly, with no papers published about it beforehand?
  • why there has been no internet coverage of such an advanced robot?
  • why did robot make so many unnecessary movements during its dance?
  • why did it look like a man would fit perfectly inside it?
  • why offer a pre-recording of its voice rather than do it live?

On the website of the firm behind the Alyosha robot costume the product is described as being able to create "an almost complete illusion that you have a real robot".

sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 10:29

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Restaurant dishes 'contain more calories than fast-food meals'

The calorie content of meals in UK restaurants is "excessive" and sit-down restaurants are unhealthier than fast-food chains, BMJ research suggests.

The calorie content of meals in UK restaurants is "excessive" and sit-down restaurants are unhealthier than fast-food chains, BMJ research suggests.


Health experts say meals should not exceed 600 calories, but in this study they averaged 1,033 in restaurants and 751 in fast-food chains.

University of Liverpool researchers analysed thousands of meals from places like Hungry Horse and McDonald's.

They said their findings were a cause for concern.

The research team looked at more than 13,500 meals on the menus of 21 sit-down restaurants and six fast-food chains.

By using online company information on calorie content, only one in 10 meals was classed as healthy or fewer than 600kcal, as recommended by Public Health England.

And nearly half of the meals contained 1,000kcal or more.

Sit-down restaurants were five times more likely to offer high-calorie meals of 1,000kcal or more than fast-food restaurants, the research found.

Dr Eric Robinson, lead researcher from Liverpool's department of psychological science, said the results were "shocking" but probably underestimated the calories consumed in restaurants.

"We don't know about energy intake but 'plate clearing' is a common behaviour.

"Our analysis did not include drinks, starters, desserts or side orders."

Hungry Horse restaurants had the highest average meal calorie content of 1,358kcal.

Chains including Flaming Grill, Stone House and Sizzling Pubs were not far behind, with an average of 1,200kcal per meal.

KFC topped the fast-food list with an average of 987 calories per meal offered. Burger King, McDonald's and Subway were around 700kcal.

Even when the study compared similar meals, the energy content in restaurant meals was greater.

Burger meals in restaurants contained an average of 414kcal more than burger meals in fast-food chains, while salad meals in restaurants were slightly higher in calories on average than fast food salads.

Dr Robinson said portion size, the ingredients used and cooking methods could explain the difference, but he said the food industry had to make changes.

"It's really clear what the food industry need to do. They need to act more responsibly and reduce the number of calories that they're serving."

Hungry Horse said it offered something for everyone at good value.

A spokesperson for the chain said: "We have been working hard to increase the range of lower calorie options, including recently launching a dedicated Live Well range with dishes under 600 calories, and we are committed to further changes."

The government is currently consulting on a plan to introduce mandatory calorie labelling in restaurants, takeaways and cafes, which is likely to finish in the new year.

'Prices going up'

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade association UKHospitality, said restaurants, pubs and other hospitality businesses were already taking action to reduce calories and offer healthier dishes - but there were costs to consider too.

"Proposals to shrink the size of dishes or cap calories would be yet another burden for hard-pressed operators to absorb, resulting in prices going up and investment in businesses going down; inevitably negatively impacting the overall customer experience."

Dr Robinson said research showed that meals eaten out of the home contained more calories and with more people having restaurant food delivered to their homes using online services, the problem could be getting worse.

The study relied on information provided online by restaurant chains on calorie content. Very few provided calorie labelling on their menus.

The researchers said it was possible the fast-food sector was now offering more lower-energy meals and healthier options, after pressure from campaigners to do so.

sarah Posted on December 21, 2018 10:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

The significance of the moment was not lost on some.

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

So what exactly happened?

The handshakes and non-handshakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then along comes another president

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some VP history

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

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


ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 12:49

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The Christmas present that could tear your family apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there can be positives to DNA tests, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 09:30

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Yemeni mum arrives in US to visit dying son in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the US travel ban?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the family's situation?

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 20, 2018 09:01

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Tanzania's Diamond Platnumz banned from performing

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

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

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

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

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

The authorities accused him of behaving indecently.

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

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

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

Will Diamond Platnumz emigrate?

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

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

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

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

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

Five things about Diamond Platnumz

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 16:12

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Why football stars have DR Congo on their mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Complex subject'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'We want peace'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They need to have the courage.

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 16:04

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Mary Poppins Returns cast defend 'forgettable' songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Stern but generous'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 15:07

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Penny Marshall: US TV star and director dies aged 75

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Actor James Wood said he was devastated by her passing.

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:58

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Elon Musk unveils prototype high-speed LA transport tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will it work?

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

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

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

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

Feeling the bumps

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic solution?

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do gun advocate groups say?

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

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

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

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

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

Media captionThe American teachers armed against gun crime

What are bumpstocks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 14:06

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US Senate passes sweeping criminal justice reform bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the law actually do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:58

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

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

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

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

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

He also admitted lying to Congress and tax evasion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:54

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Vanuatu uses drones to deliver vaccines to remote island

A baby on a small Pacific island has become the first person given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone.

Unicef arranged for the drone to be flown some 40km (25 miles) across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross.

About 20% of children in Vanuatu don't receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult.

The UN children's organisation hopes that drone delivery will in future be of vital importance in remote areas.

"Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health," Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said.

"With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While drones have been used before to deliver medicine, Unicef says this was the first time globally that a country had contracted a commercial drone company to get vaccines to remote areas.

Two companies competed for the project on Vanuatu, and it was Australia's Swoop Aero that won the bid after successful trials earlier this month.

Its drone carried the vaccines in a styrofoam box with ice packs and a temperature logger to a remote village on the island of Erromango, from Dillon's Bay on the west of the island to Cook's Bay on the east.

The medicine was then used by local nurse Miriam Nampil to vaccinate 13 children and five pregnant women.

Without the drone, Cook's Bay is only accessible on foot or by boat - both those options take hours compared to the 25 minutes it took for the drone to reach the village.

Medical supplies also have to be kept at a cold temperature.

"It's extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges," Ms Nampil said.

"As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island."

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 13:49

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Wooden clothes on the recycled Christmas list?

If you're struggling for an original Christmas present - how about a wooden dress?

At a recent state gala, Finland's first lady wore a dress made from the country's birch trees.

But there was nothing frivolous about why she chose the dress - she wore it to support a new technology which could reduce the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry.

The dress worn by Jenni Haukio, a poet and wife of the president, was created by academics at Finland's Aalto University using a new sustainable technology called Ioncell.

The academics say the process is more environmentally-friendly than cotton and synthetic fibres and makes use of wood that would otherwise be wasted.

In eastern Finland's forests, there is a thinning process of removing some trees to make room for others to grow - and these smaller birch trees are now becoming the source for clothing.

Off the peg

This process creates textile fibres from materials like wood, recycled newspaper, cardboard and old cotton textiles, which can be turned into dresses, scarves, jackets and even iPad cases.

Prof Pirjo Kaariainen of Aalto University is pleased with the feedback on the dress.

"It was designed by a young fashion and design student here at Aalto who wanted to give respect to Finnish nature and to the country's tradition of strong women."

Prof Kaariainen says the fibre works well for clothing because it is "soft to touch, it has a lovely sheen and falls beautifully".

There are growing calls for the fashion industry to urgently reduce its damaging effects on the environment.

Sustainable fashion

The industry causes 10% of global carbon emissions and uses nearly 70 million barrels of oil each year to make polyester fibres, which can take more than 200 years to decompose.

Plastic microfibres from synthetic clothing are part of the problem of human-made materials that wash up along ocean shores.

Campaigners are calling for consumers to buy new clothes less often, but changing consumer behaviour is difficult when fashion companies promote new lines every season.

Making clothes from sustainable materials could be a more realistic alternative.

Although Ioncell was developed by chemists and engineers at Aalto and Helsinki universities, Prof Kaariainen says it was important that the dress was made by designers so that people would want to wear it.

"People want garments that look good and make them feel good, so there is no choice but for the design to be good," she says.

"We need to make a systemic change where sustainable materials are embedded in the system and people can easily buy beautiful and comfortable garments which don't cause environmental problems."

Re-thinking fashion

Finland's first lady is not the first famous wearer of Ioncell - France's President Macron wore a scarf made from recycled blue jeans when he visited Aalto in August.

Ana Portela, a fashion designer who promotes sustainable fabrics says consumers will be persuaded to try sustainable fashion if it is worn by influential people.

"This dress is not a high street design but it definitely fulfilled its purpose and it is important that people like the first lady advocate for more sustainable options and push new innovations," she says.

She says consumers must "lead the revolution" by using their purchasing power to incentivise companies to produce sustainable clothing lines.

"We need to take a different approach to our understanding of what is fashion," she says.

"This could be buying second hand-products, products with a certified origin, using more efficient natural fibres like hemp, buying a filter bag for your washing machine to stop microfibres entering the water system or pressuring companies to do better."

The Aalto team aim to have a pilot production line for the new fibre by 2020 and hope that such clothing, made from recycled birch trees, will be available to buy for Christmas shopping lists in 2025.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 10:48

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European Union diplomatic communications 'targeted by hackers'

Hackers successfully targeted the European Union's diplomatic communications over a period of several years, The New York Times reports.

Thousands of messages were intercepted in which diplomats referenced a range of subjects from US President Donald Trump to global trade.

The breach was reportedly discovered by the cyber-security company Area 1.

European officials say that information marked as confidential and secret was not affected by the three-year hack.

"After over a decade of experience countering Chinese cyber-operations... there is no doubt this campaign is connected to the Chinese government," he said.

The intercepted messages, known as diplomatic cables, reveal one exchange in which diplomats describe July's meeting between Mr Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as "successful (at least for Putin)".

Another message gives details of a private meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and European officials that took place earlier this year.

It quotes Mr Xi as saying China "would not submit to bullying" from Washington "even if a trade war hurt everybody".

These comments echo a speech he gave on Tuesday in which he said "no-one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done".

A number of other institutions, including the United Nations, were also reportedly affected by the breach and have since been alerted.

ruby Posted on December 19, 2018 09:18

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The uniquely spanish part of the meal

Spain is a country in love with food, renowned for everything from tapas to trailblazing chefs to simple, elegant recipes that have endured for generations. So it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps even heretical, to say that the most important thing about a Spanish lunch is not the food. But it’s true.

Before you spill your gazpacho, let me say that Spanish people don’t take the food part of lunch lightly; far from it. As a Spaniard in love with food in general, and lunch in particular, I for one approach the subject of where to eat with the same level of thought and research that some people put into buying a new car. Of course, I want to know whether the food is good – but I also want to know whether it’s going to be a comfortable place to spend a few hours. Steady yourselves foodies; but in Spain the purpose of going out for lunch isn’t just eating, it’s catching up with friends or family, telling stories and laughing away the stress caused by things that, with a little perspective, you come to realise don’t matter anyway. If all you want is food, you might as well stay at home and order in.

In Spain, the purpose of going out for lunch is catching up with friends or family.

Food matters a lot in Spain, but the social aspect of it matters even more. Lunch, for example, doesn’t end when people can’t eat another bite. That’s when the sobremesa starts. There is no equivalent word in English, though the concept is simple: sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating. Usually, there’s laughter involved, and almost always the kind of easy, convivial conversation that only the pleasures of a big meal can inspire.

The sobremesa can be magical

“On a personal level, the sobremesa is fundamental,” said Dani Carnero, chef at La Cosmopolita in Málaga, where Spain’s best chefs, including Ferran Adrià, Joan Roca, José Andrés and Andoni Luis Aduriz, go to eat when they’re in town.

“As a chef, when I see people spending time at the table after lunch, I feel that it’s a sign that everything has gone well, but oftentimes people enjoy themselves even more than during the meal itself. The sobremesa can be magical.”

Sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating (Credit: Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images)

When I moved to Madrid from Zaragoza, I got in touch with Ben Curtis, a British blogger who has lived in Spain for 20 years and has probably taught more people about Spanish customs than anyone else. We’d been emailing about things related to Spanish culture for some time, but we’d never met, so I suggested we go out for a beer. He wisely suggested we go out for lunch instead. It went so well that we’ve been having lunch more or less once a week for the past six years. And by lunch I don’t mean a sandwich at a food court or a fast-food burger, but a proper sit-down, three-course Spanish lunch. With wine, naturally. If there’s a better way to form a friendship than having long lunches on a regular basis, I’d like to know about it.

In my experience, avant-garde food doesn’t lend itself to a good sobremesa because too much attention gets devoted to the food itself. That’s why I prefer classic, unpretentious casas de comida, or family restaurants, where the food is home-style, made from well-cooked, simple ingredients. I know Ben feels the same way because we have often explored this important subject in leisurely chats after robust meals, the white tablecloth sprinkled with breadcrumbs and splotched with red-wine stains. My informal research suggests that the better the food, the better the sobremesa; but tellingly, you can eat mediocre food and still have a great lunch if you’re with the right company.

Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time you don’t want it to end.

There are only a few guidelines to sobremesa. Most important is that nobody gets up from the table ­– urgent necessities excluded, of course. You have to stay at the table where you ate, amid the post-lunch wreckage of crumpled napkins, stray packets of sugar and the last pieces of dessert that may or may not get eaten. Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time that you don’t want it to end; if you leave the table, the spell is broken.

If you leave the table, the spell is broken

The warm atmosphere of the sobremesa can often lead to conversations that you might not have otherwise, the ones that start like, “You’ve inspired me to…” or “I’ve been wanting to say how much it means to me that you…”. But it’s also the natural habitat of the comedian. Jokes never land better than when the listener is well fed and, ideally, a little bit tipsy. All you have to do is say something remotely funny, and even if you mess it up you’ll likely still get a laugh. Actually, especially if you mess it up. My mother has a habit of telling jokes and erupting into infectious, uncontainable laughter long before she gets to the punchline. The jokes aren’t always that funny, but her delivery absolutely kills every time.

The sobremesa often lasts as long as the meal itself – sometimes, if it’s going well, even longer. I was born in the south of Spain, where the blazing hot summers encourage particularly epic sobremesas. Going outside would be madness, so it’s best to stay put. In my family’s luncheon lore, my favourite story is about a lunch my father once had with a good friend where the sobremesa lasted so long they eventually got hungry again and stayed for dinner. I have yet to achieve the lunch-dinner double, a feat that I like to call the Legendary Enchainment, but one day, one day.

Dani Carnero: “Oftentimes people enjoy themselves even more than during the meal itself”.

Of course, the all-day lunch is not an everyday occurrence. The long sobremesa is a fixture on occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries and Sundays with the family. But even during the week, many people still take the time to have a big lunch, and when it’s finished nobody is in too much of a hurry to leave. While it’s not unheard of to have a sobremesa after dinner, it’s more of an afternoon event. They say that having a big lunch instead of a big dinner is healthier, but that’s probably just a happy coincidence. Lunch is just more fun.

I like a big lunch so much that, even when I don’t have the time for it, I like seeing people having a big lunch. I’ll be on some mundane errand and turn the corner and glance through the window of a neighbourhood restaurant, and there’s a table of four older ladies, laughing and gossiping as a waiter in a bow tie serves them their decaf coffees. Sometimes, especially on a holiday, you’ll see a table of 15 or 20 men, raucous and into their second round of sobremesa gin and tonics, singing songs and generally being too loud, but having such a good time you can’t help but smile. Children have pretty much free reign during the sobremesa since the parents are enjoying themselves too much to do any effective policing. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

You could look at lunch in Spain as just an excuse for a sobremesa. As excuses go, it’s a pretty good one. The food is almost always superb, which is, when you think about it, a nice bonus.


ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 19:00

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Tasty Tradition of Taiwan's midnight meal

It was dark and sopping wet at the Ningxia Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan. Yet even as the rain continued to seep into my socks, the narrow alleys were still jam-packed with people, elbow to elbow.

All we do is eat

They were jostling to place their order at Li Zhang Bo, a small stinky tofu stall run by Yiwen Wang and Qirong Li, Taiwan’s self-described queen and king of stink. Their signature dish – deep-fried fermented tofu on a bed of pickled vegetables – would make even the most pungent locker room smell like roses. But still, the line of loyal customers threaded around the block, stretching as far as the nose-wrinkling odour wafted into the world beyond. The secret to their success? Here, in Taiwan, it is “socially acceptable” to go hunting for stinky tofu in the middle of the night, said Wang.

Welcome to a foodie’s final resting place.

Stinky tofu is a popular option for ‘xiaoye’, or the midnight snack, in Taiwan.

While most countries only have three meals a day, Taiwan worships food so much that there's a fourth and final meal: the midnight snack, or xiaoye in ChineseThat means while most of the world is winding down after dinner and getting ready for bed, the wakeful people of Taiwan are gearing up for their late-night ritual – which is, bluntly put, to hit the open streets and nosh until their jeans are ripping at the seams. “All we do is eat,” Wang said.

Taiwan treats ‘snack time’ seriously. No need to hit the clubs; rather, Taiwan’s loud, messy nightlife heaves and breathes inside overflowing night markets; beer houses sizzling with stir-fried foods; and all-you-can-eat karaoke lounges. Taiwan’s family-run midnight snack stands don’t feature endless menus, though. Instead, they focus on mastering one signature item and serve that dish over and over again – ensuring ‘perfection’ every time, according to Li.

The flavours of good food come from the cook's heartfelt persistence

“Behind every night market snack is also the diligence of the cook and the preservation of continued traditions passed on from each generation. It can be said that the flavours of good food come from the cook's heartfelt persistence,” Li said, himself a third-generation midnight snack-stand owner.

Imagine freshly pressed sugarcane nectar, sizzling oyster pancakes, blow-torched steak, honey-sweet pearl milk tea and comically fat pork sausages – all cooked in the open and right in front of drooling customers for their viewing pleasure. With the nation’s historical and colonial Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese culinary influences, the sheer variety of late-night grub one can find in Taiwan is enough to hopscotch across continents. Not to mention, millions of post-Chinese civil war immigrants brought regional dishes from nearly every province in China in 1949.

Taiwan is perennially full of middle-of-the-night snacks to munch on, long after the sun has slipped beneath the horizon and well into the ungodly hours of the morning. So, if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Taiwan must be the island that never gets full.

Nightlife in Taiwan centres around night markets, where locals gather until the early morning hours to eat.

There are a few factors that compel the country’s hungry night owls to prowl the streets for food, said National Taiwan Normal University associate professor Yu-Jen Chen, who has the enviable job of researching the culture and history of cuisine in Taiwan. She explained that the word ‘xiaoye’ first appeared during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th Century to poetically describe the act of drinking wine to ‘kill’ the night, But the expression has taken on a whole new life and meaning since then. As the 1950s rolled in, Taiwan’s xiaoye scene evolved into a booming underground economy where merchants would informally get together and sell their wares and late-night food. “People took advantage of this thriving night-time economy to make more money and improve their lot in life,” Chen said.

Nowadays, the business of midnight snacking has turned into a more formal affair and an ingrained part of Taiwan’s mainstream culture. From the mass of 24-hour convenience stores to the constant clamour of scooters at all hours of the night, Taiwan is a sleepless society that’s been gradually shifting towards later hours over the years. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor, people work long hours that rival Japan’s and Korea’s record-long working days, averaging just under 170 hours per month in Taiwan, and young students often study well past 20:00 in cram schools (after-school tutoring centres).

For outsiders though, the restless and breathless culture of xiaoye is an off-script introduction to Taiwan's culinary scene, according to Chen. “If I were to describe Taiwan’s night markets, I would say renao,” she said. 

Taiwan’s historical and colonial Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese culinary influences have led to a wide variety of late-night meal options.

Renao, the untranslatable ‘hot and noisy’ aspect of life in Taiwan that is cherished by many, is a strongly rooted social phenomenon that resonates deep within Taiwan’s tight-knit community, according to a 2008 study from the Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics. The idea behind renao, which is used to describe a lively place that’s fizzling with excitement, is a holy grail of strong smells, bright lights and an endorphin-fuelled sense of social belonging that surges with big crowds. The idea is not unlike the feeling of lining up for the latest iPhone on Black Friday in the US. That same heightened collective sense of renao is what people feel when they take part in Taiwan’s traditional communal values, such as family or religion, according to the study.

That’s why most, if not all, night markets and late-night eats in Taiwan are centred around temples, Chen explained. After worship, people will often gather and eat their hearts out as a community. It's why even the smallest villages of Taiwan have bustling night markets. Plus, renao has long been expressed in ancient Chinese history to positively convey full-of-life activities like parties, festivals and large gatherings, where the crowd is so thick that there isn’t even a breeze to feel.

“People go out not just because of the food, but because the food also creates a lively, one-of-a-kind atmosphere,” said Leslie Liu, a popular Taipei food blogger.

Locals are also drawn to Taiwan’s night markets for their buzzing atmosphere, which is often described as ‘renao’, or ‘hot and noisy’.

Back at Li Zhang Bo, stinky tofu stall owner Li was like a walking exclamation mark. It was 23:00 but he showed no sign of slowing down. Neither did the line of people streaming out the door. Li was chatting the ears off waiting customers who have graced his tables over the decades. “It’s amazing,” said first-time customer Bu-Luo Hsin as she nibbled on the crispy, craggy, deep-fried tofu skin, describing it as melt-in-your-mouth “tender” on the inside and “crunchy and savoury” on the outside.

In Taiwan, there is no such thing as a full belly

The Li Zhang Bo stall is one of storied stinky tofu fame, with the restaurant owned and managed by the same family for three generations. It’s also what Hsin affectionately described to me as a ‘fly restaurant’ – the outside is bare bones, but what the eatery lacks in décor it makes up for in flavour that’s so irresistible that patrons buzz in like flies every evening.

Nightfall is no limiting factor here. After all, in Taiwan, there is no such thing as a full belly.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 15:46

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Mum finds missing son after spotting him in Bugzy Malone video

The neighbourhood, the crew, the expensive car - arguably all key ingredients in a grime video - however Bugzy Malone has revealed his visuals helped reunite a family.

In an interview with BBC 1Xtra's DJ Target, the grime rapper confirmed that the homeless characters in his Run video were not actors.

Bugzy Malone said: "We went out and got proper homeless people. We had a chance to chat to them and give them a little something.

"We got proper people off the streets of Manchester in there."

The video for the song which also features vocals from Rag'n'Bone Man was released in August.

The 27-year-old whose real name is Aaron Davis said that shortly after the video was released his management team received a message from a woman who recognised one of the men in it.

"We got an email off a mum of one of the guys, the guy had been missing for six months, to a year.

"He was on the missing list. And when she's seen him in my music video, it made her go out and find him."

Bugzy Malone told DJ Target that reuniting the man and his family was of the proudest moments of his career.

He said during a conversation he learned that the man had previously tried to take his own life.

"Long story short, he tried to commit suicide and that kind of thing, now he's back with his family," said Bugzy Malone.

The grime rapper also seemed to suggest he'd spoken to the man since shooting the video.

"He said when he was in his hospital bed after trying to commit suicide she [his mum] showed him my Instagram.

"A caption said, 'My guy was special regardless of his circumstances, you never know what people have been through.'

"When he's seen that I'd written nice things about him, it inspired him to get his life back on track.

"He's back home with his family and he's got a girlfriend," said the rapper.

Bugzy Malone was talking to DJ Target after the Manchester born rapper's B. Inspired album was selected as one of the albums of year.

Newsbeat are trying to speak to the family of the man in the video.



ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 12:15

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Are too many women being jailed in Wales?


Media captionMother "lost everything" to mental health

A woman jailed for two years for neglecting her children believes it could have been avoided had she got the mental health support she needed.

Her home was found to be knee-deep in rubbish, with cat and rodent droppings and no hot water or heating.

The Corston Report in 2007 said only high-risk women should be jailed.

But a majority of Welsh women in prison are there for non-violent offences, while ministers have accepted short sentences are not generally beneficial.

There are growing calls for assurances that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will fund at least one new women's centre in Wales, to give the courts more sentencing options.

The MoJ said it wants to see fewer women serving short custodial sentences "as evidence clearly shows that putting them into prison can do more harm than good for society".

'I've lost everything'

The mother, from south Wales, had suffered with depression for years but after an abusive relationship ended she was left isolated, struggling to cope alone and her mental health deteriorated.

"I hold my hands up, I did live like that and it was disgusting, but I also cleaned my act up, for the sake of making somewhere safe, happy and clean for [my children]," said Louise, whose name has been changed to protect her children's identities.

"I kept thinking to myself I know they can't live like this, but I physically could not pull myself out of it, to be able to sort everything else out. It still hurts now that I couldn't do it, it's something I'm very ashamed of."

In March 2018, she was given a two-year custodial sentence, which was later suspended by the Court of Appeal. By then she had already served 11 weeks in jail and had lost her council house.

"I've lost everything, I lost my house, all my possessions, I've self-harmed, I've cut myself to try and make myself feel nothing, just to go completely numb," she said.

"The help I'm getting now, if I'd got that four years ago I'd never have ended up in that situation."

In 2017, 87.4% of women given custodial sentences in Wales had committed non-violent offences - so offences other than violence, sexual offences, robbery, criminal damage, arson or possession of weapons; this figure compared to a rate of 74.7% for men. A breakdown for 2016, shown above, shows a similar pattern.

  • Between 2011 and 2016, the number of females given immediate custodial sentences in Wales increased by 18%.
  • Around three quarters of all women in Wales sentenced to immediate custody were handed sentences of less than six months.

Rhondda AM Leanne Wood, a former probation officer, said there needed to be as wide a number of sentencing options available as possible.

"I think we have to send fewer women to prison, generally, because when you look at the prison population you see people with chronic problems that need help and support," said the former Plaid Cymru leader.

"I accept some people need to be in a residential setting for their own safety - and perhaps for the safety of others - but we're talking about a tiny number among the female offending population."

Prof Kate Williams, from the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales, said judges need to be made more aware of the needs of women caught up in the criminal justice system.

"The punishment we typically give women is too harsh", she said. "Many of the problems that turn out to be criminal offending actually start because of issues they have to face and can't deal with, and we criminalise them for it, instead of trying to be a bit more understanding."

A MoJ spokesperson said: "We want to see fewer women serving short custodial sentences as evidence clearly shows that putting them into prison can do more harm than good for society, failing to cut the cycle of reoffending and often exacerbating already difficult family circumstances.

"Instead, we are shifting the focus to managing women in the community where they can access a wider range of support, for example helping them with substance misuse and mental health problems."

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 11:16

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Carly Ann Harris 'drowned child and tried to burn body'

A mother deliberately drowned her four-year-old daughter in the bath before setting fire to her body on a coffee table in the garden, a court has heard.

Carly Ann Harris believed she had to "sacrifice" Amelia on 8 June to prove her own faith to God.

The facts are not disputed and jurors were told to consider the defendant's "profound" mental health issues.

Ms Harris, 38, from Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taff, denies murder and manslaughter at Newport Crown Court.

Jurors were told they must decide if she is not guilty of murder by reason of insanity or guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The court heard Ms Harris described herself in police interviews as "a fallen angel and had to prove her strength", adding that Amelia would have to be "cold-washed and burned".

Jurors heard she told Amelia: "You're going to see the angels. See you in heaven."

Prosecutor Michael Jones QC said: "On that day, Carly Ann Harris placed Amelia in a bath full of water and deliberately drowned her."

He said the defendant then took the body out of the bath and outside wrapped in toilet paper and covered in a sheet.

He added: "She placed her body on a coffee table situated in the garden and then set fire to Amelia's body."

Mr Jones told the jury they would hear evidence about the injuries, the cause of death and the mental health issues, as the defendant was suffering from anxiety and believed people were stalking her.

"There is no dispute as to what Harris did that day. The evidence that you hear is not in dispute," he said.

"You will hear psychiatric evidence to the profound and overwhelming mental health issues that affect and continue to affect Harris."

Neighbours described hearing screaming coming from Harris' house in Trealaw and then going out into the street and seeing her children visibly upset.

The court heard at about 10:00, Ms Harris appeared outside the house and said: "Amelia has gone to heaven. Don't go out the back, she's gone to heaven."

Neighbour Darren Griffiths said in a statement: "Carly was saying, 'I would never harm my daughter but she was born for Jesus and she is with the angels now'."

'Jesus told me to do it'

The police were called and jurors heard she told police: "The angels told me to do it. Just arrest me, it's OK."

When she was cautioned, she said: "Jesus told me to do it. She will be OK. Trust me. I'm not crazy, I promise you.

"I promise you I wouldn't do that to my only girl if she wasn't returning."

But later at the police station, the court heard she also said: "I'm a monster."

The defendant told police she had been having "visions of angels" and was required to "sacrifice her daughter in order to prove my faith".

Mr Jones said Ms Harris had been taking "small amounts" of amphetamines leading up to the incident, but experts agreed she had not been suffering from drug-induced psychosis.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 11:12

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China's pre-Christmas church crackdown raises alarm

A recent surge of police action against churches in China has raised concerns the government is getting even tougher on unsanctioned Christian activity.

Among those arrested are a prominent pastor and his wife, of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan. Both have been charged with state subversion.

And on Saturday morning, dozens of police raided a children's Bible class at Rongguili Church in Guangzhou.

One Christian in Chengdu told the BBC: "I'm lucky they haven't found me yet."

China is officially atheist, though says it allows religious freedom.

But it has over the years repeatedly taken action against religious leaders it considers to be threatening to its authority or to the stability of the state, which, according to Human Rights Watch, "makes a mockery of the government's claim that it respects religious beliefs".

The government pressures Christians to join one of the Three-Self Patriotic churches, state-sanctioned bodies which toe the Communist Party line and are led by approved priests.

Silencing of a critic

Despite this, the Christian population has grown steadily in recent years. There are now an estimated 100 million Christians in China, many of them worshipping in so-called underground churches.

Wang Yi is the leader of one such church, the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of south-western Sichuan province.

The church is unusual in that it worships openly and regularly posts evangelical material online. The church says it has about 800 followers spread across the city. It also runs a small school.

Pastor Wang is also known for being outspoken - he has been fiercely critical of the state's control of religion and had organised a widely shared petition against new legislation brought in this year which allowed for tighter surveillance of churches and tougher sanctions on those deemed to have crossed the line.

On 9 December, police raided the church and arrested Pastor Wang and his wife Jiang Rong. Over the following two days, at least 100 church members, including Wang's assistant, were taken away.

One member of the church, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told the BBC that the lock on the church school had been broken, churchgoers' homes had been ransacked and some were "under house arrest or are followed all the time".

She said police and other officials had been going to congregants' homes to pressure them to sign documents pledging to leave the church and to take their children out of its school.

"On Sunday, some members tried to gather at other places for worship, but got taken away as well. The Church building has been manned with police and plain-clothes officers, not allowing anyone to enter to do worship service."

The church alleges that some of those detained and then released were mistreated in custody.

Forty-eight hours after he was arrested, Early Rain Covenant Church released a letter from Pastor Wang, which he had pre-written for release in case something like this ever happened to him.

In it, he said he respected the Chinese authorities and was "not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China".

But he said he was "filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime".

"As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God," he said.

Pastor Wang and his wife - who have an 11-year-old son - have been charged with inciting subversion of state power, one of the most serious crimes against the state and a charge which is often used to silence dissidents. It carries a potential jail term of 15 years. Several senior members of the church face similar charges.

Across the country in Guangzhou, the doors have also been sealed on the Rongguili Church, another un-sanctioned community.

On Saturday, a children's Bible class was interrupted by the arrival of dozens of police officers.

Witnesses said they declared the church an illegal gathering, confiscated Bibles and other materials and shut the doors.

Officers took names and addresses and ordered everyone present to hand over their phones.

In September, the Zion church, one of the largest unofficial churches in Beijing was abruptly shut down. It had recently refused a request from the government to install security cameras to monitor its activities.

"I fear that there is no way for us to resolve this issue with the authorities," Pastor Jin Mingri told Reuters news agency at the time.

There have also been a string of church demolitions, forced removal of crosses or other arrests over the year.

Human Rights Watch said the raids at Early Rain and at Rongguili Church were a further sign that under President Xi Jinping, China is seeking to tighten control over all aspects of society.

"As major holidays in many parts of the world - Christmas and New Year - are approaching, we call on the international community to continue to pay attention to the situation of China's independent churches and speak against the Chinese government's repression," said the group's Hong Kong-based researcher Yaqiu Wang.

The Early Rain member who did not want to be identified said the idea of the Three-Self Patriotic churches was "hilarious", saying they "don't spread genuine gospel, but spread the thoughts of loving the Party, loving the country".

Another Christian in Chengdu told the BBC such churches were "against Jesus, against gospel".

He described the scale of the operations against Early Rain as "unprecedented" but said more could be expected, adding: "I'm very lucky they haven't found me yet."

The Early Rain community would survive, he said, but would now go further underground.

"We will continue the gathering. The church is shut down so it's impossible to have a big gathering, but there will be small gatherings on Sunday and on Christmas Day."

Ultimately, he said, repression might even increase the profile of the faith in China.

"Without repression, people may doubt about our religion. But when repression occurs, pastors and members' reactions will make people who don't believe in Jesus realise the charm of Christianity."

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 10:57

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Xi Jinping says China 'will not seek to dominate'

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that his country will not develop at the expense of other nations, in a speech marking 40 years since China introduced major economic reforms.

However, he also said that the global superpower would not be told what to do by anyone.

Late leader Deng Xiaoping's campaign of "reform and opening up" began four decades ago.

The resulting growth has made China the second-largest economy in the world.

Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty but in recent years China has struggled with mounting debt and slowing economic growth.

Mr Xi said despite his country's economic achievements, China would "never seek global hegemony" and also highlighted its contributions towards a "shared future for mankind".

He did not mention the current trade dispute with the United States.

China continues to crack down on political dissent and is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in the western region of Xinjiang.

Its militarisation of islands in the South China Sea - home to vital shipping lanes - has sparked concerns among Asian neighbours that it seeks to dominate the region.

Critics also say that while China is helping to build much-needed infrastructure across Asia and Africa, it is saddling countries with billions in debt in a bid to gain strategic influen.

Mr Xi spent much of his lengthy speech listing examples of China's progress over the past decades, praising them as "epic achievements that moved heaven and Earth".

He said that given its success, "no-one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done".

At the same time, he stressed what he described as Chinese efforts to work towards the greater global good, saying Beijing was a "promoter of world peace", a "defender of international order" and holding "a leading role in dealing with climate change".

China's economic reform was initiated by then leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and the programme was ratified on 18 December that year.

The reform path turned the country away from the old-style communism of Mao Zedong when collectivisation had led to an impoverished and inefficient economy.

The transformation focussed on agricultural reform, private sector liberalisation, industry modernisation and opening to international trade.

Xi Jinping described the reforms as a "break from the shackles" of previous mistakes.

He said the last 40 years had been a "quantum leap for socialism with Chinese characteristics," driving China's "great rejuvenation in modern times".

The Chinese president made no direct mention of the current trade dispute with the US but stressed his country's contribution to economic globalisation and international order.

The row with the US has led to a spiral of tit-for-tat tariffs with potentially serious economic consequences for both China and the US should they fail to resolve the dispute.

In October US Vice-President Mike Pence accused China of a raft of illiberal economic policies, saying that "while Beijing still pays lip service to 'reform and opening', Deng Xiaoping's famous policy now rings hollow".

No political changes

Despite the economic reforms, the past decades have not brought change to China's rigid one-party system of communist rule.

China's president gave his speech on Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where calls for political reforms were brutally crushed by the military in 1989.

Media captionJohn Sudworth reports from Xinjiang, where all filming and reporting by foreign media is tightly controlled

Xi Jinping is widely seen as China's most influential leader since Mao Zedong. In 2017, he cemented his power, enshrining his political views in the constitution.

In his address, Mr Xi reiterated his belief in strengthening the party leadership and praised Beijing's crackdown on corruption.

Critics say the rule of Xi Jinping has been marked by an ever-intensifying crackdown on political dissent and any groups that the Communist Party sees as a threat to its authority, such as unofficial Christian churches and labour activists.

ruby Posted on December 18, 2018 10:49

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'Lost' new mother dies in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

Investigations are taking place into the death of a new mother who is thought to have collapsed after getting lost inside Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Amanda Cox, who was 34 and from Peebles in the Borders, was reported missing on Monday after failing to return to the maternity ward following a visit to see her son at the neonatal unit.

She was found collapsed at about 22:00 after a five-hour search.

Police said her death was being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious.

NHS Lothian said it was helping police with their inquiry into the death.

Wrong turn

Ms Cox's family were not available for comment about her death.

A family friend said Ms Cox had been suffering headaches since before the birth of her son, Murray, last Thursday.

"Apparently she was going back to her room for medication but took a wrong turning and came out of the neonatal ward into a disused ward," said the friend.

The friend added that Murray, who weighed just 3lb 7oz, had been transferred to Edinburgh following his birth in Borders General Hospital.

In a statement Police Scotland said: "We can confirm that missing woman Amanda Cox was discovered collapsed within the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary around 10pm on Monday December 10.

"She sadly passed away a short time later."

The statement added: "Our thoughts and sympathies are with Amanda's family and friends at this time."

Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive of NHS Lothian, said the health authority was assisting police with their inquiries.

He added: "My thoughts and sympathies are with the family of Amanda Cox at this sad time."

Local MSP Christine Grahame has sent her condolences to the Cox family and is seeking answers about why it took so long to find Amanda.

She said "This is appalling news. It's a tragedy for the family"

"How over many hours, not just minutes, many hours this mother went missing in a hospital.

"How there was a search outside the grounds but nobody located her within the hospital. It should never have happened. It's dreadful and it must never happen again."

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 16:37

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Pete Davidson checked on by police after suicide concerns

Police have checked in on Pete Davidson after the comedian posted a worrying message on Instagram.

Fans raised concerns about the 25-year-old following a now-deleted post in which he's widely reported as saying he didn't "want to be on this earth anymore".

New York City police told Radio 1 Newsbeat that Pete, who has borderline personality disorder, is safe.

Pete split from ex-fiance Ariana Grande earlier this year.

It's reported that he wrote: "I really don't want to be on this earth anymore.

"I'm doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don't know how much longer I can last.

"All I've ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so."

The Saturday Night Live star appears to have since deleted his entire Instagram account.

Hours after the post, Pete appeared in a sketch on the comedy show and introduced guest Miley Cyrus.

Fans and celebrities posted their support for him on social media.

Pete spoke about his borderline personality disorder, which affects mood and how you interact with others, earlier this month.

He wrote on Instagram: "I've spoken about BPD and being suicidal publicly only in the hopes that it will help bring awareness and help to kids like myself who don't want to be on this earth.

"No matter how hard the internet or anyone tries to make me kill myself. I won't. I'm upset I even have to say this."

Symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four areas, according to the NHS: emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour, and intense but unstable relationships.

Pete's ex-fiance Ariana Grande appears to have sent a message of support to the comedian in now-deleted tweets.

It appears she went to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, where Saturday Night Live is filmed, to support him.

"I'm downstairs and I'm not going anywhere if you need anyone or anything. I know you have everyone you need and that's not me, but I'm here too," she wrote.

Ariana's ex-boyfriend, the rapper Mac Miller, was found dead at his home in September after an accidental overdose involving cocaine, alcohol and an opioid drug called fentanyl.

Pete and Ariana started dating in May and got engaged in June, but split up in October.

Following their break-up, the native New Yorker said he'd been getting "online bullied and in public by people for nine months".

ruby Posted on December 17, 2018 16:06

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