Featured Threads

Instagram tightens eating disorder filters after BBC investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on this story

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

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

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

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

Bypassing filters

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

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

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

'Emaciated bodies'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing posts?

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:52

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 236
  • 0



After a good workout, your body needs to refuel, rehydrate and recover. These easy to make and easy to digest workout smoothies provide the protein you need to build muscle, the carbs you need to restore glycogen, and the powerful punch of antioxidants you need to fight inflammation and repair damaged cells. These nutritional powerhouses will replenish you after a tough workout so you can get back out there tomorrow.

Sparkling Wild Blueberry Citrus Smoothie»

Spicy Wild Blueberry Cacao Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Brunch Smoothie Bowl»

Wild Blueberry Spiced Chai Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Ginger Peach Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Winter Warming Smoothie»

Maine-ly Blueberry Smoothie Bowl with Wild Blueberry Tie-Dyed Apples»

Wild Blueberry Nice Cream Smoothie Bowl»

Wild Blueberry Edamame Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Açaí Protein Bowl»

Lemongrass Ginger Wild Blueberry Smoothie Bowl»

Wild Blueberry Cold Brew Recharge»

Wild Blueberry Frozen Hot Chocolate Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Lemon Coconut Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Muffin Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Vanilla Smoothie with Cashew Cream»

Wild Blue Refuel Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Agua Fresca Smoothie»

Toasted Coconut Wild Blueberry Smoothie Bowl»

Wild Blueberry Protein Power Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry & Chia Seed Smoothie»

Make Ahead Wild Blueberry Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Dream Team Smoothie»

Ginger & Mary Ann Wild Blueberry Smoothie»

Layered Wild Blueberry Green Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Purple Power Smoothie

Wild Blueberry Coconut Pie Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Chai Smoothie»

Wild Blueberry Mint Smoothie»


sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:24

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 299
  • 0

Fruits that Burn Fat Like Crazy

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

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

1. Tart Cherries

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

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

2. Berries of All Kinds

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

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

3. Watermelon

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

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

4. Ruby Red Grapefruit

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

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

5. Pink Lady Apples

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

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

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:16

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 249
  • 0

Spain warns Catalonia over region's Mossos police

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

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

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

Spain's ruling Socialists oppose the Catalan independence movement.

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

Hunger strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political pressures

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:13

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 228
  • 0

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

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

Matt and Laura Met at Preschool

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

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

Laura Thought Matt Was a Total Goofball

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

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

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

The Two Were Inseparable

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

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

Matt Always Tried to Impress Laura

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

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

Laura Taught Matt Lots of Things

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

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

Little Lovebirds

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

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

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

Preschool Pals

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

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

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

Matt and Laura Start Kindergarten

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

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

The Friends Went to Different Elementary Schools

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

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

They Hung Out Every Now and Then

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

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

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

sarah Posted on December 12, 2018 12:13

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 591
  • 0

Strasbourg shooting: France hunts gunman as alert level raised


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did he escape?

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

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

Residents in Neudorf have been urged to stay indoors.

What do we know about the gunman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the victims?

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

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

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

Why is Strasbourg a target?

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

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

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

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

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

Your contact detailsNameYour E-mail address (required)Town & CountryYour telephone numberComments (required).

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 12:06

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 241
  • 0

The Germans solving rising rents with people power

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

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

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

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

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

And in Munich, that's cheap.

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

How Ligsalz8 keeps its prices low

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

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

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

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

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

How they buy their buildings

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

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

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

It's not a co-operative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:58

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 213
  • 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biggest donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from inside Yemen

Nawal Al-Maghafi, Special Correspondent, BBC Arabic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

So why isn't the situation improving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famine warning

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:40

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 217
  • 0

Ian Paisley facing new questions over luxury Maldives holiday

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

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

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

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

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

  • Luxury resort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register of members' interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:10

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 237
  • 0

2018 'worst year for US school shootings'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never 'normal'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teenagers, guns and victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highest level

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

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

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

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

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

Killers typically 17 and male

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No consensus

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 11:07

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 234
  • 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Fear

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

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

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

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

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

The playing field is clearly not level.

2) No whip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Distracted by 'stomachs'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Grassroots 'apathy'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to share?

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

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

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

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

In the 2013 general election, when the devolved system of government was introduced for the first time, not a single woman was elected governor to lead any of Kenya's 47 county governments.

Today there are three women governors who successfully fought off strong competition from well-established male politicians.

From zero women senators in 2013, there are now three elected women senators. And in the national assembly, the number of elected women rose from 16 in 2013 to the current 22 elected in 2017.

In addition, the second-longest serving elected MP in Kenya is a woman. Naomi Shaban has been elected to parliament four times since 2002.

The boys in parliament may have taken their toys home for the holiday - but they should be prepared to share when they come back.


ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 10:50

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 237
  • 0

Meng Wanzhou: Trump could intervene in case of Huawei executive

Donald Trump says he could intervene in the case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou if it helps to avoid a further decline in US relations with China.

"Whatever's good for this country, I would do," the US president said.

Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant, was granted bail on Tuesday by a Canadian court.

She was arrested on 1 December and could be extradited to the US to face fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of sanctions on Iran.

Ms Meng, 46, denies any wrongdoing and has said she will contest the allegations.

She is the daughter of Huawei's founder and her detention, which comes amid an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, has angered China and soured its relations with both Canada and the US.

In an interview with Reuters news agency on Tuesday, Mr Trump said he would intervene in the US Justice Department's case against Ms Meng if it would serve national security interests or help achieve a trade deal with China.

"If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made - which is a very important thing - what's good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," he said.

What happened in the courtroom?

Justice William Ehrcke in Vancouver set bail for Ms Meng at C$10m (£6m; $7.4m).

Of that, C$7m must be provided in cash with C$3m in collateral.

The judge said that she would be under surveillance 24 hours a day and must wear an electronic ankle tag. She will be unable to go out between 2300 and 0600 and must surrender all passports and travel documents.

In the three-day bail hearing in Vancouver, Ms Meng's lawyers sought to provide guarantees that she would not pose a flight risk if released. The application was opposed by Canadian prosecutors.

US prosecutors say Ms Meng used a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom to evade sanctions on Iran between 2009 and 2014. They allege she had publicly misrepresented Skycom as being a separate company from Huawei. It is also alleged she deceived banks about the true relationship between the two companies.

Applause broke out in the courtroom when Justice Ehrcke granted bail. Ms Meng cried and hugged her lawyers.

The judge ordered her to reappear in court on 6 February.

After the ruling, Huawei issued a statement, saying: "We have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach a just conclusion."

How has China reacted to Ms Meng's arrest?

China, which insists that Ms Meng has not violated any laws, had threatened severe consequences unless Canada released the Huawei executive.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng earlier summoned both the US and Canadian ambassadors and lodged a "strong protest" urging her release.

The ministry described Ms Meng's arrest as "extremely nasty".

Separately on Tuesday, it emerged that a Canadian former diplomat had been detained in China.

Michael Kovrig's current employer, the International Crisis Group, said it was working for his prompt release. There has been no official word from China about his whereabouts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was in direct contact with Chinese authorities concerning the case.

Mr Kovrig previously worked as a diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the UN in New York.

Canadian officials said there was no "explicit indication" of any link between Mr Kovrig's reported detention and the arrest of Ms Meng.

Who is Meng Wanzhou?

Meng Wanzhou joined Huawei as early as 1993, when she began a career at her father's company as a receptionist.

After she graduated with a master's degree in accountancy from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1999, she joined the finance department of Huawei.

She became the company's chief finance officer in 2011 and was promoted to vice-chair a few months before her arrest.

Ms Meng's links to her father, Ren Zhengfei, were not public knowledge until a few years ago.

In a practice highly unusual in Chinese tradition, she adopted her family name not from her father but her mother, Meng Jun, who was Mr Ren's first wife.

ruby Posted on December 12, 2018 10:41

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 230
  • 0

Man held by armed police at UK Parliament


Media captionThe BBC's Laura Kuenssberg witnessed the man being pinned to the ground by police

A man has been arrested by armed police officers after it is believed he broke into the grounds of Parliament.

An eyewitness told the BBC the man jumped over railings before being Tasered by police.

The man was held within the parliamentary courtyard but has now been taken away in a police van.

Police say he has been arrested on suspicion of trespassing at a protected site and is not being investigated by the Met's counter terrorism command.

The Metropolitan Police said the man ran towards officers and a Taser was used when he did not comply with their requests to stop.

He is to undergo a mental health assessment, police said.

They would not say whether the man was armed.

Parliamentary authorities say the incident, which happened just before midday on Tuesday, is contained.

Christopher Hope, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, told BBC News: "I heard a scream and then looked out the window, and then about half a dozen police officers who appeared not to be armed were running towards a man.

"And then it appears the man was Tasered.

"It appears to be contained now. There are armed police patrolling downstairs by the Christmas tree."

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who also witnessed the disturbance, says she saw the man on the ground, arguing and shouting at police.

Police gathered up his belongings, including what looked like a passport, before bundling him into the back of a police van, she added.

The incident, which is still in the very early stages of being investigated, happened in the same area inside Parliament's grounds as last year's terror attack.

PC Keith Palmer, who was guarding the gates, was stabbed and killed by Khalid Masood, moments after he had knocked down pedestrians indiscriminately on Westminster Bridge, killing four people. Masood was shot dead by armed officers.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 18:23

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 214
  • 0

South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls out ‘boring man with no plan’ in feminist hit

A man named Gatluak is probably feeling a bit embarrassed as South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls him out for being a “boring man with no plan” in a hit song shared widely since its release in June 2018. Or, rather several Gatluaks — the name is common in South Sudan and “all know a Gatluak [who behaves this way]”, Nyaruach says.

With fierce feminist messaging, Nyaruach's playful song reclaims a woman's dignity after getting burned in love. It also reminds the world that vibrant music and art emerge out of Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, one of the largest refugee camps in the region.

Nyaruach, a single mother of two who lives in Kakuma, told Global Voices during a Skype interview:

South Sudanese men fail women with the wrong kind of love. So, my message is to the young girls of the new generation … Love is killing the new generation.

The catchy song and music video, which features some of Nyaruach's Kakuma co-residents, released in November 2018, caught the world's attention for its hypnotic Afro-beats and bold lyrics.

Gatluak bought her cold drinks, they went on long walks, and then ghosted her! “You refuse to pick my phone after you get what you want. You are such a bastard guy, I just want to say goodbye! May God bless you where you are. You boring man — with no plan. With no plan!” sings Nyaruach.

“Gatluak” is the second release on the album NAATH (“humans” in Nuer) produced by Nyaruach and her brother Emmanuel Jal, a hip-hop artist who gained notoriety after his autobiography, “War Child: A Child Soldier's Story”, was published in 2009. As children, the siblings were forced apart through extreme circumstances.

The two draw on Nuer traditional folk and love songs and interlace them with addictive dance beats. “We can’t forget our culture”, Nyaruach said. “We have to remind the new generation about the past — and music makes people happy.”

Nyaruach and Jal named the album NAATH after the “glorious Kingdom of Kush” of the Nile as an antidote to images of war and poverty that have characterized South Sudan.

A long road to music

Nyaruach was born in 1983 in Tonj, Sudan and separated from her family at the age of four when her mother died. Her brother Jal was taken as a child by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and forced to fight. He was then taken to Kenya at the age of 11 with the help of a British aid worker who was married to then-senior SPLA commander Riek Machar. There he discovered hip-hop, which he used to encourage peace.

Nyaruach's life took a different turn. She spent several tumultuous years with relatives and ran away from an abusive father at the age of 10, surviving several arduous escapes from Sudan, first to Ethiopia and later, to Kenya.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, after a 22-year long civil war (1983-2005). The peace did not last long despite major investments in South Sudan's development. In 2013, armed conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This spread to other areas of the country, gradually turning into an inter-ethnic conflict between the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Dinka, represented by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the Nuer, represented by then-Vice President Riek Machar.

Nyaruach did not reunite with Jal until they met in Nairobi. They collaborated on a song called Gua, or “peace” in the Nuer language. She was 22. The song was a hit in Kenya in 2005 and a breakthrough song for Jal, who went on to become an award-winning musician and peace activist.

Jal also faced criticism for contradicting his role model status with using social media to air divisive views that stoked ethnic tensions when conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013.

In 2015, Nyaruach traveled to South Sudan for a short visit. Upon her return, she spoke out against the violence she witnessed. Pregnant with her second child, she decided to shift to Kakuma, seeking security.

Kakuma Refugee Camp was originally established by the UNHCR in 1992 to host 20,000 Sudanese children and youth known later as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” fleeing violence during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

Today, over 56 percent of the population of Kakuma and neighboring Kalobeyei settlement are from South Sudan. At the end of January 2018, the camps hosted a total of 185,449 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

Nyaruach said that living in a refugee camp is especially hard on women with children.

They give us firewood for a month, it finishes after seven days. We need to eat our meal, we wake up at 4 a.m. to steal. Yes, we have to steal it — and it's very dangerous. They rape us, they can even shoot and kill us. But we can't report. Who is going to report? We have no voice or authority.

Enduring years of hardship has taken at toll on Nyaruach's spirit. Reuniting and making music with Jal has felt like salvation. “I have a heart of singing”, says Nyaruach. “Jal taught me how to rhyme.”

‘Woman have no rights’

Nyaruach's song uplifts women and girls in South Sudan who she says have “no rights, no matter how young you are” in a recent interview with Kenya's The Star.

South Sudanese women are among the most marginalized, and the conflict has made conditions untenable. More than 80 percent of those who have fled the violence in South Sudan are women and children.

outh Sudan has gone through several rounds of failed and fragile peace negotiations, but data shows that women have been far less involved than men in the peace process, despite research that suggests including women at higher levels would improve stability.

Machar returned to South Sudan in October 2018 after two years in exile in South Africa to work with Kiir, but many are wary of the peace deal after five years of protracted conflict.

“Women in South Sudan have been treated by government soldiers and armed actors, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict”, UN investigators said in September 2018. “The plight of South Sudan’s women and girls should no longer be ignored”, they said — referring to disturbing testimonies of rape victims.

According to a 2017 survey issued by the International Rescue Committee and Global Women’s Institute, 65 percent of South Sudanese women interviewed had experienced physical or sexual violence.

Nyaruach has her own testimony.

[South Sudanese] men's ideas are changing about love. They get married to many wives and then destroy our lives. They fail to take care of their children properly. They rape us, use young girls, get us pregnant and leave us.”

Nyaruach says music is her calling. “If I hide what is killing me in my heart, what can I do to make a change?” she asks. No wonder “Gatluak” is a hit. This is Nyaruach's chance to demand the men in her life to do better, not just in love but war — and peace.

sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 15:42

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 227
  • 0

Aylesbury goalkeeper, 14, dies after match injury

A 14-year-old goalkeeper has died after he was injured in a "collision" with another player at a youth football match.

Luca Campanaro, a Bedgrove Dynamos FC player from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was hurt at an away match in Hillingdon, west London on Sunday.

He was airlifted to the Royal London Hospital where he died on Monday.

His stepfather Adam Keedle described Luca as an "amazing young man and a real loss to the world".

'Minute's applause'

A statement released by the club on Monday said: "We are deeply saddened to have to announce that a young player from the club sadly passed away this afternoon after being involved in a collision during a youth match on Sunday 9th December.

"Our thoughts are with Luca's family and loved ones at this distressing time.

"We also offer our heartfelt condolences to his team mates and all associated with the club as we now try to come to terms with the tragic loss of our friend and teammate.

"With the family's approval we will be honouring our weekend fixtures with a minute's applause to celebrate the life of this fantastic young man."

Mr Keedle said he could not offer "enough" praise to the medical staff who treated Luca at the scene and in hospital.

Close family friend Dave Garricks confirmed the goalkeeper died "doing what he loved".

Mr Garricks has set up a JustGiving page to raise funds of the family. It currently stands at more than £13,000.

"I am shocked. It's no life at 14 to be taken," he said.

He described The Mandeville School pupil as a dedicated footballer who loved the game and was an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 14:32

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 230
  • 0

the world's rarest

    • The world’s most expensive ham

      A tiny organic farm in south-western Spain produces unconventional ham that sells for €4,100 (£3,600) a leg, and is recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s most expensive.

    • The land covered in sacred gold

      In Myanmar, gold is so sacred that it can be found in anything from traditional medicine to face creams, and it’s sometimes even added to drinks or food.

    • One of India’s best-kept secrets

      One of the rarest flowers in the world, the Neelakurinji blooms just once every 12 years in India’s south-western state of Kerala, when it covers the hills in a violet hue.

    • A scent worth more than €50,000 a kilo

      A scent with few natural analogues, orris is exceedingly rare; the fact that people continue to seek out this fragrance despite its high cost speaks to its enduring appeal.

    • A duvet that costs $15,000

      Just south of the Arctic Circle, a few dedicated Norwegians are keeping the tradition of sustainable eiderdown farming alive – and are making some of the world’s most coveted duvets.

    • The mystical tea that fetches $1,850/kg

      On the slopes of the Himalayas, workers at the world’s first biodynamic tea farm wait patiently until the planets align to pick India’s most expensive tea.

    • The rarest fabric on Earth

      The once-endangered vicuna is thriving in the Peruvian Andes, thanks to a bold plan to sustainably gather and sell its valuable fleece – and give locals a stake in its survival.


ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 12:17

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 233
  • 0

Iran's fascinating way to tell fortunes

I was sauntering about the foothills of the mountains in Tehran with my friend Jamshid, and Shirin, a girl he was courting. A friend of Shirin’s had just been diagnosed with cancer, and Jamshid and I were trying to console her, insisting that everything would turn out fine – but to no avail. As we were walking towards one of my haunts for chai and ghalyan (water pipes), we came across a wizened old man with a canary perched on a little box of coloured cards.

“Wait,” Shirin told us, walking towards him while drawing money from her purse. She handed him a note, closed her eyes and clasped her hands together while the little bird hopped about and pulled out a card at random with its beak. As she read the poem written on the back, a smile broke out on her face.

“What does it say?” Jamshid asked her.

“Thank God,” Shirin replied with a sigh, reading the opening line: “‘Joseph the lost shall return to Canaan – grieve not.’ It means she’s going to be OK.”

While in Tehran, Iran, writer Joobin Bekhrad’s acquaintance was reassured by a fortune picked at random by a bird .Of love and wine

Poetry occupies a particularly hallowed space in Iranian culture. Far from merely appreciating poetry as an art form, we Iranians – of all backgrounds and socio-economic classes – live and breathe it. A street sweeper will quote Khayyám on the transience of life, just as a taxi driver will recite the mystic verse of Rumi and a politician will invoke the patriotism of Ferdowsi. On the other hand, my great-uncle, just like Voltaire, loved the instructive Sa’di to the point that he chose our family name (Bekhrad, meaning ‘wise’) from a line in one of his poems. However, when it comes to Persian belles-lettres, it is Hafez who unquestionably reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of Iranians.

A 14th-Century poet, Hafez spent most of his life in his native Shiraz, now popularly known as the ‘City of Poets’. He is best known for his ghazals (love poems), which constitute the bulk of his compendium, Divan. In his poems, he writes chiefly of love and wine, as well as the brazen hypocrisy of holy men and religious authorities. Never one for putting up appearances, Hafez preferred to engage in what some called ‘sin’ rather than pass himself off as a paragon of virtue. Written in a florid, yet lucid and highly readable, style, the collected works of his Divan represent what many believe to be the glittering zenith of Persian poetry.

As beloved as Hafez’s poetry is, it is perhaps just as controversial as it was when it was written – a fact that might account for its immense popularity throughout the centuries. In modern-day Iran, Hafez is peerless, adored as an almost godlike figure. His poetry is often sung and set to classical Persian music. His tomb in Shiraz incessantly bustles with devotees, admirers and tourists from around the world.

Most interesting, however, is the popular Iranian tradition of using Hafez’s poems for divination; in other words, what Shirin did that day in Tehran.

The collected works of Hafez’s Divan represent what many believe to be the glittering zenith of Persian poetry.

The ‘Tongue of the Unseen.

Known as fal-e Hafez (which roughly translates to ‘divination via Hafez’), the tradition involves consulting the poet – known as Lesan ol Gheyb (‘Tongue of the Unseen’) – for questions about the future, as well as guidance regarding difficult decisions and dilemmas.

The tradition of fal-e Hafez has been practised in Iran (and elsewhere in the Persian-speaking world, such as Afghanistan) for centuries. According to a well-known story, it originated upon the death of the poet. In a 1768 letter to the Orientalist Sir William Jones, the Hungarian nobleman Count Károly Reviczky, who had ‘read [the story] somewhere’, wrote that some holy men were unsure what to do with Hafez’s corpse on account of ‘the licentiousness of his poetry’. A dispute ensued as to whether or not they should bury him, after which, Reviczky writes, ‘they left the decision to a divination in use amongst them, by opening his book at random, and taking the first couplet which occurred’.

It was Hafez’s lucky day, for these were the words that were chanced upon:

Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz, Iran, incessantly bustles with devotees, admirers and tourists from around the world.

Just as it’s little wonder that Hafez’s poetry is so adored amongst Iranians, so too is the custom of fal-e Hafez. Since time immemorial, Iranians have been a deeply inquisitive people, ever looking to uncover hidden meaning and mystery in the world around them. According to Columbia University’s Encyclopaedia Iranicathe Byzantine historian Agathias, for instance, wrote of Zoroastrian priests who saw the future in flames. In Iran’s national epic, the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), Ferdowsi tells (in just one of the book’s many accounts of divination) how the monarch Khosrow Parviz interpreted the accidental falling of a quince from the top of his throne as an omen of his impending death and the demise of the Sassanian dynasty. In more modern times, as Persian literature scholar Mahmoud Omidsalar writes in the Encyclopaedia, Iranians have used playing cards – and even chickpeas – to tell their fortunes; and, while some also use other books of Persian verse (such as Rumi’s Masnavi), as well as the Koran, Omidsalar posits that Hafez’s Divan is undoubtedly the most popular medium when it comes to bibliomancy in Iran.

Fal-e Hafez can be done anywhere, as long as the Divan is at hand

Today, you can have your fortune told by the bard of Shiraz just about anywhere in Iran. Men with trained birds proffer their cards of poetry on busy streets as well as at popular recreational spots for locals and tourists, such as Darband in Tehran where Shirin had hers told, and Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz. In major cities like Tehran, which are notorious for their often near-stagnant traffic, children (sans the gimmicky birds) gather at bustling intersections to do the rounds at lengthy red lights, letting curious passengers pick out poetry cards at random to (hopefully) set their hearts at ease.

While vendors of Hafez poem-cards abound throughout Iran, fal-e Hafez can be done anywhere, as long as the Divan is at hand. Just think of a question (never to be divulged to anyone) and turn to a page in the book at random for the response. Should I take that trip to Venice? Is my lover cheating on me? Will I get the job? As says the proverb, only God and Hafez of Shiraz know the answer – which will chiefly lie in the first couplet that one sees. Iranians consult the poet any time they so desire, although major Iranian festivities marking turning points – such as Norooz (the Iranian New Year) and Shab-e Yalda (the Winter Solstice) – are particularly popular occasions.

The practice of fal-e Hafez involves consulting Hafez for questions about the future and guidance regarding difficult decisions.

Shirin was fortunate to receive a positive response from Hafez, who doesn’t always have good news in store. That same year, I, too, closed my eyes, asked a question in my mind and reverently opened the Divan at random. Iran was to play Argentina the following day in the 2014 World Cup, and I wanted to know if our boys would send Lionel Messi off the field with his tail between his legs. It was with much dismay that my eyes fell on the following lines:

As I soon found out, it wasn’t only wine that Hafez knew a thing or two about, but the World Cup, too. As sure as he’d put it, it was Messi who sent us packing, and not the other way around.

A poet for all seasons

I have Sa’di as my namesake and Khayyám as my hero – but it is with Hafez that I, like the overwhelming majority of my compatriots, live. As a child, I could never understand my paternal grandmother’s fascination with Hafez, or why my maternal grandfather used to quote the poet day and night, and keep a threadbare copy of his Divan on his living-room table, like some sort of permanent fixture (it’s still there).

Today, you can have your fortune told by the bard of Shiraz just about anywhere in Iran.

Least of all could I appreciate how, on Shab-e Yalda, my aunt would close her eyes, whisper something to herself, and open that same threadbare Divan to see what ‘dissolute old Hafez’ (as Friedrich Engels once described the poet in a letter to Karl Marx) had to say in response to her questions.

With time, I have come not only to obsess over the beauty of Hafez’s poetry and consider him a kindred spirit, but also to develop a penchant for fal-e Hafez. I don’t believe in fate or predestination, and in no way vouch for the efficacy of the poet as an all-round problem solver. Yet, in true Iranian spirit, I constantly find myself turning to him whenever I have a burning question or need advice on a sensitive issue.

Sure, it was quite a downer when Hafez told me Iran wouldn’t beat Argentina; but there’s an indescribable joy and comfort I feel when the poet assures (and sometimes, reassures) me that everything’s going to be OK. And isn’t that what we all, Iranian or otherwise, want to know – or at least believe.


ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 12:01

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 266
  • 0

How safe are probiotics?

Amid the increasing rise of probiotic use in Western society, a recent journal article asks whether we should evaluate the products' safety with a little more scrutiny.

Probiotics are popular, but what does the evidence say?

For millennia, humans have consumed foods rich with live bacteria.

Yogurt, for instance, dates back to at least 5000 B.C., and in Korea, kimchi — fermented vegetables — has also been consumed for thousands of years.

Today, however, live microorganisms are added to a range of products advertised as providing a wide array of medical benefits.

Creative marketing and a general fascination for gut bacteria have combined to create a huge market for probiotics.

Perhaps surprisingly, to sell a product that contains live microorganisms there is no legal requirement to provide evidence that it works or, importantly, that it is safe.

An article published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine argues that this is a dangerous state of affairs. The piece was written by Dr. Pieter A. Cohen from the Cambridge Health Alliance at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

The state of the evidence

Dr. Cohen begins by outlining the proven benefits of probiotics. For instance, Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to help treat some types of diarrhea in children and reduce recurrence of Clostridium difficile infections in adults.

In spite of the specific cases mentioned, he argues that the strains used in foods and supplements have not been proven to benefit health and neither have they been shown to be safe.

Manufacturers claim that probiotics help maintain respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, and psychological health. However, Dr. Cohen writes that "[d]espite the advertised indications, there are no large, long-term clinical trials proving that probiotics offer clinical benefits for people who are already healthy." He continues:

For instance, a comprehensive review of relevant literature published earlier this year concluded that "[t]he feasibility of probiotics consumption to provide benefits in healthy adults requires further investigation."

In other words, there may be benefits, but the evidence simply does not exist to definitively say either way.

Despite this, manufacturers are legally permitted to tell consumers that their products "support the immune system" or "boost digestive health." Perhaps even more worryingly, they are not required to add information regarding potential adverse effects.

What are the possible dangers?

Over the years, dozens of case reports have underscored the potential hazards of probiotic supplementation. Risks include fungemia and bacteremia — the presence of fungi or bacteria in the blood, respectively.

Individuals with compromised immune systems are most at risk, including the very young and old. These organisms have evolved to infect, after all.

Because many probiotic trials do not report adverse events sufficiently, the exact scope of this problem is not known.

Aside from the risk of opportunistic infections sparked by probiotic consumption, there is the potential threat of low quality and contaminated products.

Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stringent safety rules for the manufacturing of supplements, these are not always followed.

According to Dr. Cohen, an inspection of 656 facilities in 2017 found "violations in more than half." He continues:

"These violations were not trivial: Most commonly, companies had failed to establish the identity, purity, strength, or composition of their final product."

This potential threat is brought into stark focus by the case of an 8-day-old infant who developed a fatal fungal infection following the use of a probiotic supplement that had been contaminated with fungi.

As Dr. Cohen notes, although following FDA regulations more closely would help reduce the risk of product contamination, it would still not ensure that the probiotic itself was entirely safe.

The author ends his article by calling for more stringent controls from the FDA. He writes:

"The agency should [...] require manufacturers, as Canadian authorities already do, to provide the specific strain or strains, and the number of live microorganisms per serving, on every bottle of probiotic supplements."

He also urges them to introduce extra safety testing, focusing especially on "potentially transferable antibiotic resistance genes." As it stands, we do not know how consuming bacteria with an array of new genes might impact antibiotic resistance now or in the future.

Dr. Cohen's take-home message is clear and concise:

sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 11:28

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 265
  • 0

the 'flower man' of Suadi Arabia

It’s a perfect selfie opportunity in the most unlikely of settings. Four-wheelers wind precariously up the sides of lush mountains, their backseats filled with Saudi families and tourists from other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. As the vehicles make their way through the cool mist, the passengers intermittently pull over to dig for cameras and wallets. Jeep doors are flung open as they approach stalls selling honey, fruit and – the most coveted good – dazzling flower crowns of red and orange blooms. Visitors pose for cameras with the wreaths atop their heads, their best smiles on show for social media.

The flower crowns for sale at sites across ‘Asir province aren’t merely bait for cash-flush tourists seeking to show off to their friends back home. These intricately constructed headpieces are the traditional garb of the so-called ‘Flower Men’: members of the Qahtan tribe who maintain the practice of donning flowers and greenery for the sake of both beauty and health, and now sell these traditional crowns to visitors to the region.

Today, mostly concentrated in the southern Arabian Peninsula, Qahtanis are said to be the oldest social formations in the area, claiming to be the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham, of the Hebrew Bible. Their floral nickname comes from the fact that many Qahtani men traditionally crown their heads with intricate arrangements of herbs, flowers and grasses.  

Male members of Saudi Arabia’s Qahtan tribe are known as ‘Flower Men’ for their intricately constructed floral headpieces.

According to the late researcher Thierry Mauger, the construction of these flower crowns is approached by the tribe’s younger men as a friendly beauty competition: they incorporate as many colourful additions, like marigold and jasmine, as possible. Men of middle age and above, conversely, take a more sombre approach, constructing their wreaths with greenery like wild basil. Some wear them daily for aesthetic purposes, while others adorn themselves on special occasions like major Muslim holidays. Others still wear them when sick, choosing herbs and greenery specifically for their medicinal properties.

But floral crowns are not the only element that sets this tribal group apart from the dominant Saudi culture, popularised by the government elite, most of whom are originally from the Najd and Hijaz regions.

The Flower Men’s home region, ‘Asir, is located atop a plateau that receives more rainfall than any other area of the kingdom. In May and June, temperatures in the country’s interior cities can top 30C, but ‘Asir province, some 900km south-west of the capital Riyadh, greets unprepared tourists with chilly winds and the occasional rainstorm. Its peaks, the highest in the country, host agricultural terraces carved into the mountainside by its inhabitants who subsist on small-scale farming of wheat, coffee and fruit.

The headpieces are donned for the sake of both beauty and health – some are made from flora believed to fend off headaches or sinus maladies.

The Qahtan tribal group has had a trying history. In Arabic, ‘Asir translates to ‘difficult’, and it is this challenging remoteness of ‘Asir’s jagged cliffs, according to local folklore, that led a handful of Qahtani families to flee here from the surrounding lowlands to escape the invading armies of the Ottoman Empire more than 350 years ago. Following the occupation of ‘Asir by forces loyal to the House of Saud, the region was incorporated into the Saudi nation in 1932.

Living in small, self-governing groups in the mountains, the Qahtani villages were barely accessible – for both protection from surrounding tribes and political autonomy – until the late 20th Century. The settlement of Habala (derived from the Arabic word for ‘rope’), for example, was only reachable by a network of handrails and rope ladders. The construction of a cable car in the 1990s by the Saudi government increased access to the remote area, but also highlighted issues concerning the integration of tribes into the national identity and whether these unique cultures can withstand modernisation.

The mountainous province of ‘Asir, meaning ‘difficult’ in Arabic, appealed to the Qahtan as it provided autonomy and protection from invasion.

But, despite the odds, many of the Flower Men’s customs have indeed survived. In fact, the practices that risked being forgotten now serve to attract tourists to the region. In small eateries dotting the winding runs of Jabal Sawda, Saudi Arabia’s tallest peak, Qahtani servers festooned with bright blooms bring hot plates of goat and rice to locals and visitors. Guides at Habala greet visitors wearing colourful striped cloths draped at the waist. In comparison to the austere garments worn by women in the drier, hotter regions of the country, the Qahtani women traditionally wear closer-cut styles that keep them warm when temperatures drop. Although they don’t wear the flower-laden headpieces, headscarves and cloaks display intricate geometric embroidery and tassels are festive in bright yellow, blue and red.

Travelling in the region, one can’t help but marvel at the mud and stone buildings, dating back more than 200 years, that look like earthen mini-skyscrapers. These homes were constructed in close arrangement in tribally grouped communities, reminiscent of dwellings found in the Yemeni cities of Sana’a or Shibam, demonstrating that a common culture between the two states precedes the establishment of modern borders.

‘Asir province’s mud and stone buildings are similar to those seen in Yemeni cities like Sana’a, demonstrating a common culture between the states.

Curious visitors crane their necks to get a good look at the watchtowers, which, though no longer in use, rise above the residential quarters. The buildings boast complex architectural details that allow the homes to withstand the realities of ‘Asir’s climate: drainage systems that prevent rainfall from accumulating on roofs; a density of bricks to promote thermal retention and acoustics; and the homes’ few, small windows and bright-blue borders, two elements said to keep both mosquitoes and evil spirits at bay.

The inside of these homes are a visual treat all unto themselves. Interior walls – particularly in the majlis, the room designated for receiving guests – are painted in an array of bright blue, green, red and yellow, the geometric designs reflecting the patterns that have come to define an essential element of ‘Asir’s identity (and were inscribed on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017).

Today, these murals take their inspiration from the architectural symbols that, in the past, told visitors about the inhabitants of the house: patterns, shapes and shades informed others of the age, gender and make-up of each family. Repainted each year during the hajj season, a month dictated by the lunar calendar when Muslims make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, these decorations are the work of local women who transmit the art form inter-generationally by inviting relatives of all ages to aid in the annual upkeep.

But most of the tiny, isolated villages atop the highest peaks are empty.

Government projects, like a cable car to the settlement of Habala, have increased access to the remote ‘Asir region.

As part of a project to make the region more accessible to tourists, in the last half of the 20th Century the Saudi government forcibly relocated residents of villages like Habala, settling them in newly constructed developments with access to better infrastructure, services and schools. Their villages now operate as sites for tourists to explore ‘Asiri culture; the Flower Men only return temporarily to their ancestral villages to give tours, perform staged demonstrations of traditional regional dances and build their businesses around the tourist economy.

Herein lies the paradox of this underrepresented region: the slow trickle of modernisation chips away at indigenous ways of life, but an increased interest from the outside brings with it the possibility of safekeeping customs at risk of disappearing. Habala, due to its picturesque landscape and history of near-total isolation, has received particular attention from tourists.

But this doesn’t mean Qahtani culture is being completely eroded. Though many Flower Men now depend on the tourist economy to support their families, interest in the province has led to opportunities for locals to engage in their own cultural preservation. After many years of a national economy made wealthy by its oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which aims to lessen dependence on oil revenue in the decades ahead, includes plans to strengthen cultural programmes and the tourism sector. An allocation of nearly $1 billion dollars has been set aside to restore heritage sites, including those in ‘Asir.

Many Qahtani customs have survived contact with the outside world, including the colourful murals painted by women on the walls of their homes.

While many top-down initiatives like those of Vision 2030 focus on simply preserving the past, other projects are concerned with incorporating local knowledge with cultural and economic production.

In 2017, the organisation Art Jameel taught local artists the skills necessary for digitally recording traditional ‘Asiri mural paintings, with the goal of developing producers at the community level who will support traditional arts and crafts. Similarly, Dar Al-Hekma University in Jeddah spearheaded a project in 2014 entitled Reinventing ‘Asir that uses media, science, art and technology to encourage the preservation of architecture in tandem with supporting contemporary art, sustainable local development and agriculture.

“Since the ‘Asiris always proudly lived off the land and built their houses in a self-sustained manner,” explains the project’s mission statement, “they are in fact again at the forefront of what are considered globally cutting-edge trends.”

Today, the Flower Men only return to their ancestral villages to build their businesses around the tourist economy.

When night falls and the tour buses make their way to nearby hotels, the mountain villages like Habala again sit empty. It’s difficult to preserve your flower crown once you’ve left ‘Asir: after a few days, the blooms dry and flake with even the lightest touch, and the basil and jasmine lose their scent. Though much of ‘Asir’s recent economic success has focussed solely on the preservation of local history, hopefully these new initiatives that aim to bring locals into the decision-making process will allow ‘Asir to be a culturally unique place of the past, as well as have a blossoming future. 

“[The] fact is that any true identity emerges from both: the past and the future, memory and invention,” said Anna Klingmann, head of the architecture department at Dar Al-Hekma University. “If we prioritise one over the other, neglecting either memory or invention, the future or the past, part of our identity suffers.”

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 11:12

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 278
  • 0

Muckamore Abbey seclusion room was 'dark dungeon'

The mother of a severely-disabled man who is a patient at Muckamore Abbey Hospital described a seclusion room her son was placed in as "a dark dungeon".

The woman said she was horrified that in 2017 the room was being used for people with learning disabilities.

Families want a public inquiry to investigate allegations of physical and mental abuse at the hospital.

The Belfast Trust said it "apologised sincerely" for behaviour it said fell below professional standards.

In July, it emerged that 13 members of staff at the County Antrim hospital had been suspended by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust following allegations of ill treatment.

At the time it said: "This regrettable and unacceptable situation in no way reflects the work of our 500 dedicated and professional staff who provide excellent care every day to the 80 patients in Muckamore."

Padded walls


Media captionMuckamore seclusion room was 'a dark dungeon'

The man who was secluded at the hospital's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) last year has complex disabilities including autism and epilepsy and cannot speak or feed himself.

His family says he has the mental capacity of a two year old, and was locked in the room for up to two hours more than once.

His mother, who has asked for her identity to be protected, said alarm bells started ringing as soon as she saw the room.

"I saw a room 12 by eight, with padded walls, and a leather chair sitting in the middle of it," she told BBC News NI.

"There was nothing to look at, no stimulation whatsoever.

"The room had no toilet, nor drinking facilities.

"All I thought of was my poor boy was in there with not even a drink," said the mother.

"In 2017 this was happening in our country."

'Knuckles rubbed on head'

CCTV footage from the PICU unit shows her son being punched in the stomach by a nurse.

The footage, taken over a three-month period, also shows patients being pulled, hit, punched, flicked and verbally abused by nursing staff.

Sources have told the BBC the CCTV footage shows some of the most degrading and cruel behaviour against vulnerable adults ever captured in the UK.

A father was visibly upset as he described what he had been told about his son's treatment.

"They swung him round by the arm for over a minute and then let him go and he fell. He has epilepsy, he's on medication," he said.

"They tipped him out of his chair. Knuckles were rubbed against his head and various other incidents that I still don't know about but that is on the CCTV footage.

"I only know a short resumé of the allegations. I have been advised they are horrendous.

"I feel so guilty for putting him in, but as a parent you thought you were doing the best thing for him.

"He was let down so badly by the system and so were others.

"It is deeply distressing for a parent to be aware that you have entrusted your son into care and it went so miserably wrong."

Under review

The Belfast Trust said the seclusion room was still used in emergencies, but its use was being reviewed.

An adult safeguarding investigation began in September 2017 following reports of inappropriate behaviour and the alleged physical abuse of patients by staff in the PICU and another ward in the hospital.

Each family affected will receive a report about the care and treatment of their child, and the BBC understands families are being offered the opportunity to view some of the CCTV footage from Muckamore.

A Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) report is due to be published, which the BBC understands will outline "catastrophic and systemic failures" involving senior management and nursing staff.

Its author, Margaret Flynn, headed up the review into the Winterbourne View abuse scandal in England.

The level of abuse at Muckamore Abbey is on a similar scale, sources say.

The PSNI confirmed last week it was investigating 132 potential criminal cases, but that figure is expected to rise: The BBC understands the scale of the investigation is unprecedented.

A specially commissioned panel is reviewing more than 90,000 hours of CCTV footage, which may trigger more investigative actions.

Since November 2017, 13 staff members have been placed on "precautionary suspension" after ill-treatment allegations.

They remain off duty, on full pay.

One senior manager is understood to have offered to retire early after allegations were made, and is currently off sick.

A senior nurse is also on long-term sick leave.

'She was black and blue'

One County Down mother, whose daughter was an in-patient at Muckamore, said she repeatedly voiced her concerns to management and the regulatory body the RQIA, but was ignored.

"I felt powerless that no matter what I did or who I spoke to, including the RQIA and health trust management, the same things kept happening over and over again," she said.

"I raised concerns about the continuous incidents. She was black and blue, being hit by other patients.

"She was trailed up the corridor by her hair but no one listened. She was failed, I was failed."

The woman raised her own concerns about the seclusion room after her daughter appeared traumatised and said she had been "put in jail".

The Belfast Health and Social Trust said it took the concerns raised by relatives extremely seriously, and had arranged to meet one of the families.

The RQIA said it followed up each case raised "in line with our powers".

"We are constantly working to improve out accessibility, so as people can bring their concerns to us in the knowledge action will be taken.

"The abuse, by its very nature, was hidden from management at this service, from visiting professional staff such as psychiatrists who were present on a daily basis."

Due to the complexity and scale of the investigation, the National Crime Agency has been asked to provide advice to the PSNI if requested, but has not been asked to play an active role.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:52

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 252
  • 0

Toast of the town all the world's a stage

The modern gastronomic landscape is an intricate and competitive space, led by the world’s culinary superstars. While rock star chefs are certainly not a new concept, their prevalence and reach has never been more prominent than over the past decade – and it has changed the way we eat. TV cooking shows such as MasterChef and Top Chef have propelled the most lively of culinary maestros and their respective cuisines to worldwide audiences, who further spread the foodie message on social media, posting images of everything from street-side snacks to Michelin-star meals.

At the same time, travel has become simpler and more affordable for many people, meaning ingredients and dishes have become increasingly exotic as chefs and gastronomes scour the globe for the next quinoa or bibimbap. Meanwhile, the standards and expectations of diners – who are eating outside the home more often – are at an all-time high. Chefs, like never before, must perform small gastronomic miracles for their guests. And this same pressure is being applied to mixologists, whose libations must all but have transformative powers.

While the food and beverage industry is meeting these new demands in myriad ways, few seem to be as effective as specialising in something, and then working to perfect the experience – as one hotel group is keenly aware of. “The Peninsula Hotels is known as a specialist in Cantonese fine dining, with renowned Chinese restaurants in the majority of our hotels,” says James Overbaugh, the Director of Global Food and Beverage Operations for the hotel group. “We are perhaps most famous for creating XO sauce at Spring Moon restaurant at The Peninsula Hong Kong.”

A relatively recent addition to Cantonese cooking, the history of this intensely garlicky chilli paste is shrouded in mystery, but the sauce is believed to have been developed in the 1980s. A dollop of XO sauce enlivens dishes, whether mixed in with tender braised beef or tossed through mussels and clams.

While the sauce has become one of Spring Moon’s signatures and is now served in the hotel group’s Chinese restaurants – and countless other eateries – worldwide, a superlative dining experience requires more than good food in today’s competitive climate. Ambience and service also play a vital role, while a storied history adds further incentive, particularly for travellers in search of something extraordinary. 

Marble floors pave the entrance to The Lobby at The Peninsula Hong Kong – one of Hong Kong’s most elegant meeting places, since 1928 – where soaring gilded columns are topped with the faces of gargoyles, all of which have been restored to their former glory. In between potted palms, guests dine on exquisite finger sandwiches to the sound of string instruments. The refined surrounds, coupled with excellent food and service, make the hotel’s daily afternoon tea one of the city’s iconic foodie experiences. And upstairs, Swiss restaurant Chesa has been one of the finest places in Hong Kong to order veal Zurichoise for more than 50 years.

Yet even in the world’s more traditional restaurants, a new benchmark exists: An emphasis on locally sourced produce and ingredients and increasing demand for more ethical practices. “Sustainably farmed, caught or produced products are a top priority,” says Overbaugh. “Whether Fairtrade-certified coffees and chocolate, pesticide-free produce or wild-caught fish, our chefs are always looking for the best the market has to offer.” In addition to crafting dishes infused with local flavour, many restaurants are elevating their offerings by ensuring a holistic experience, which encompasses a design aesthetic that speaks to what is being offered on the plate.

Celebrating farm-to-table-style cuisine, Jing restaurant in Beijing was redesigned with a contemporary aesthetic reminiscent of a secret Chinese garden, complete with lush floral table arrangements, and artworks by leading Chinese artists. “The design needs to reflect the theme and experiential aspects of the restaurant,” says Overbaugh, “and be constructed and finished in a manner consistent with the highest level of quality.”

At The Belvedere in Beverly Hills, that meant an elegant and understated décor of cream-coloured walls and pastel blue furnishings, to allow modern art to stand out. Now, guests of the newly refurbished 25-year-old restaurant can enjoy Mediterranean fare such as wild Alaskan turbot and filet mignon while admiring artworks by the likes of Japanese icon Yayoi Kusama and American pop art hero Robert Indiana. Details like these ensure a restaurant not only stays relevant, but also becomes a must-visit destination.

“Foodie tourism is on the rise,” says Overbaugh. “For many travellers, culinary experiences and exciting, quality restaurants and bars are a critical factor in choosing a destination or hotel. Even luxury travellers who aren’t on a culinary pilgrimage are influenced by the perceived quality of a hotel’s food and beverage offerings.” As such, the Peninsula team delivers a stage-like performance that is both considered and measured, to ensure their dining options are not only worthy of best restaurant accolades but are also considered among a city’s defining visitor experiences.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:38

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 238
  • 0

Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?

Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting.

Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's leaders are considering a referendum on what their approach should be.

As public opinion - and that of governments - changes, it seems increasingly likely that other countries will follow, raising questions about how they work together to manage the use and supply of cannabis.

What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation?

War on drugs

It was only in 2012 that Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.

Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use.

Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives.

Eight more states and Washington DC have since supported the legalisation of recreational cannabis and penalties are softening elsewhere. The use of the drug for medical reasons is allowed in 33 of the 50 states.

In many ways the jury is still out on the effects of legalisation on society and individuals' health, but there is no question that public opinion and government policy has softened.

The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.

That Mexico will legalise marijuana seems a virtual certainty. The new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has introduced a bill that would legalise its medical and recreational use, while the country's supreme court recently ruled an absolute ban on recreational use unconstitutional.

Other countries are pushing ahead. Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal. In Spain it is legal to use cannabis in private, while the drug is sold openly in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Still more countries allow the use of medicinal cannabis.

Sick children

In many countries, the move towards legalisation started with a softening of public attitudes.

In the US and Canada, images of sick children being denied potentially life-changing medicines had a tremendous impact on public opinion - a concern that brought forward legalisation for medical purposes.

A similar softening of attitudes has been seen in the UK.

In June, 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who has severe epilepsy, was admitted to hospital after his medical cannabis oil was confiscated. A month later, a special licence to use cannabis oil was granted to seven-year-old Alfie Dingley, who has a rare form of epilepsy.

Following high-profile campaigns, the UK government changed the law to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products.

As US states such as California found in the 1990s and 2000s, familiarity with medical cannabis can soften attitudes towards recreational use.

But in the UK, the Home Office says the recreational use of cannabis will remain banned, although senior figures, including former Conservative leader William Hague, have suggested a rethink.

Mexico has also had cases of children being denied medical cannabis, but it has also been motivated by the extraordinary violence of its drugs war.

Although marijuana makes up a relatively small share of drug cartel revenues, continuing to ban it is seen as increasingly at odds with reality.

Mexican diplomats warned the US it was difficult to enforce the fight against cannabis when the neighbouring American state of California legalised recreational use.

The cannabis market

With countries worldwide moving towards some form of legalisation, others are rushing to catch up.

Often, as in many parts of Latin America, governments want their farmers to have access to the potentially lucrative medicinal cannabis markets that are developing.

Corporations have also expressed interest. For example, Altria, which owns cigarette brands including Marlboro, has made a $1.86bn (£1.46bn) investment in a Canadian cannabis company.

Over time, as the US demonstrates, it is quite possible that the medical trade could quite easily morph into recreational sales - potentially opening up an even bigger market.

One immediate obstacle is that cannabis for recreational purposes cannot be traded across borders. Countries can only import and export medicinal cannabis under a licensing system supervised by the International Narcotics Control Board.

Farmers in countries such as Morocco and Jamaica may have a reputation for producing cannabis, but they can't access markets that domestic producers sometimes struggle to supply - as happened in Canada following legalisation.

The effects of cannabis

  • Can cause confusion, anxiety and paranoia
  • If smoked with tobacco, can increase the risk of diseases like lung cancer
  • Regular use has been linked to an increased risk of psychotic illness
  • Used in some places to treat side effects of multiple sclerosis and cancer
  • Trials under way to look at how it might be used to treat other conditions including epilepsy and HIV/Aids

Developing rules

While there are some rumblings of change within the international legal system, as yet this seems far off.

Governments that want to move towards legalisation face a challenge: steering a course between uncontrolled legalisation and hard prohibition.

Poorly-regulated industry and mind-altering substances are not a combination about which many societies would feel comfortable.

But it seems a virtual certainty that more countries will change their approach to cannabis in the coming decades.

As such, domestic and international rules will need to catch up.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:12

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 235
  • 0

Is it possible to reverse 'chemo brain?'

Chemotherapy can affect a person's brain for years after coming to an end. How does it actually change the brain, and is there anything that scientists can do to reverse these effects?

Researchers are looking into ways of reversing the 'chemo brain' effect.

Many people who undergo chemotherapy will notice cognitive impairment and behavioral changes. This might include difficulty with movement.

Some people refer to this effect as "chemo brain."

It can last for months or years, impacting people's quality of life following cancertreatment.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California recently conducted a study to find out exactly how and why chemotherapy agents affect the brain, and to see whether or not there is any way to block or reverse that effect.

The results — which appear in the journal Cell — appear to indicate that methotrexate, a common chemotherapy drug, affects the normal functioning of three important types of cell present in the brain's white matter.

Chemo brain's impact

The scientists also report learning that a drug currently undergoing clinical trials for other uses can address these ill effects in a mouse model.

"It's wonderful that [people who have undergone chemotherapy are] alive, but their quality of life is really suffering," claims lead study author Erin Gibson. "If we can do anything to improve that, there is a huge population that could benefit," she notes.

"Cognitive dysfunction after cancer therapy," explains senior study author Dr. Michelle Monje, "is a real and recognized syndrome."

"There [is] real hope that we can intervene, induce regeneration, and prevent damage in the brain," she adds.

Specifically, chemo brain tends to severely affect children who have undergone cancer treatment. Dr. Monje and team believe that finding a way to address this problem could truly improve these children's lives.

The chemo drug that disrupts brain cells

In the recent study, the researchers focused on three important types of cell that are present in the brain's white matter. These are:

  • Oligodendrocytes. These generate and protect myelin, which is the substance that insulates axons. Axons are the fibers through which nerve cells communicate with one another.
  • Astrocytes. These help keep the neurons well-irrigated, and they maintain a healthy environment for these cells, allowing them to communicate properly.
  • Microglia. These are specialized immune cells that normally destroy any foreign agents that may be harmful to the brain.

When the scientists compared frontal lobe brain tissue collected postmortem from children who had received chemotherapy with tissue from children who had not, they saw that the former presented significantly fewer oligodendrocyte lineage cells.

To understand why oligodendrocytes were not doing well in the chemotherapy-exposed brain, the researchers turned to young mouse models that they injected with methotrexate.

They aimed to replicate the dosage and practice performed in human cancer treatment, so they gave the mice three doses of the drug once per week.

After a period of 4 weeks, the mice that received methotrexate had sustained damage to their oligodendrocyte precursor cells, which are the fresh cells that normally develop to replace oligodendrocytes that can no longer function.

Following exposure to methotrexate, more precursor cells began to start the maturation process, but they remained stuck in an undeveloped state, unable to actually reach maturity. This was the case even 6 months after the mice's treatment with the chemotherapy drug.

This also impacted the thickness of myelin, and the mice even faced the same behavioral problems as people who undergo chemotherapy often do. These include motor impairment, anxiety, and problems with attention and memory.

Some of these effects also persisted for 6 months following treatment with methotrexate.

The importance of 'intercellular crosstalk'

When they tried injecting oligodendrocyte precursor cells from the brains of healthy mice into those of the experimental mice, the investigators noticed that these cells also started the maturation process at higher rates, but they did not get stuck midway through this process.

This, the team suggests, meant that there were problems in the cells' environment following treatment, which stopped them from completing their normal process.

The researchers next turned to study the microglia and found that these were abnormally active for at least 6 months following the chemotherapy treatment, thus interfering with the normal functioning of astrocytes and disrupting the healthy nutrition of neurons.

However, when the researchers gave the experimental mice a drug whose effect was to selectively deplete microglia, this allowed the oligodendrocyte precursor cells to resume their normal process of maturation; it stopped astrocyte disruption and renewed normal myelin thickness.

Also, this approach reversed numerous cognitive impairment symptoms in the mice that received the new drug.

"The biology of this disease really underscores how important intercellular crosstalk is," says Dr. Monje, adding, "Every major neural cell type is affected in this pathophysiology."

"If we understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to cognitive dysfunction after cancer therapy, that will help us develop strategies for effective treatment. It's an exciting moment," she concludes.



sarah Posted on December 11, 2018 10:10

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 236
  • 0

Roger the kangaroo: Enormous roo dies aged 12

Roger, a kangaroo who won global fame for his enormous size and impressive physique, has died at the age of 12.

The roo was rescued as a joey after his mother was killed in a car accident, and grew up at the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs in Australia.

And he grew up a lot - ending up more than 2m (6ft 7) tall and weighing 89kg (196lbs).

The sanctuary announced his death from old age at the weekend, saying they had lost their "beautiful boy".

"He was still a baby when I saved him from his mother's pouch after she'd gotten killed on the highway," Chris "Brolga" Barns told the BBC.

Mr Barns set up the sanctuary as a place to raise him. The marsupial soon became the alpha, and had 12 partners. There are currently more than 50 kangaroos at the site.

"At the beginning, there was a close bond but soon he looked at me as competition and wanted to fight me," said Mr Barns.

Roger first came to the world's attention in 2015 when images of him crushing a metal bucket in his hands using his huge muscles went viral.

"Roger was as muscular as they come," Mr Barns said, pointing out that while his size and strength were not entirely unusual, they still set him apart from many other male kangaroos.

"Ever since he was featured on TV and clips went viral, there's been a lot of love and attention for him," Mr Barns said.

"Now that he passed away, we are again getting a lot of attention and have received condolences from people around the world."

In his later years, Roger had struggled with arthritis and fading vision, but was "loving his retirement", Mr Barns said in 2016.

Kangaroos can live for as long as 14 years but rarely make it to that age when in the wild.

"Life is much harder in the wild for an older kangaroo," Mr Barns told the BBC.

"When they get sick, the dingos, our wild dogs, will attack and eat them."

He said Roger had been buried in the sanctuary so "he will always be here".

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 10:04

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 234
  • 0

Somalia piracy: How foreign powers are tackling it

Foreign navies have played a key role in curbing piracy off Somalia's coast, writes the BBC's Anne Soy.

On a beach in Hordeia on the northern coast of Somalia, I asked a former pirate what attracted him to piracy in the first place.

The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me he was originally a fisherman and that was his main source of income but things changed when an illegal trawler destroyed his net.

"I had a boat and a net on it, then a trawler cut our fishing nets and pulled them away. I was left with an empty boat," he recalled.

He and a fellow fisherman tried to shout and call the trawler crew, but it was in vain. It angered them.

"They passed over our nets and pulled them away. Our fishing equipment was destroyed."

The former pirate's story was not unusual.

In the second half of the last decade what began as a defensive act against big trawlers, quickly morphed into a lucrative illegal business that raised global concern.

As he and other fishermen lost their trade, they turned to piracy, hijacking ships and passengers for ransom.

Dramatic cliff

It also drew in former militiamen who fought with warlords during Somalia's long civil war.

I wanted to know more about his days as a pirate but he became unsettled and ended the interview abruptly.

What appeared to make him uneasy was a Spanish Special Forces soldier who had wandered over.

Security around the beach was tight as a helicopter hovered in the sky. The helicopter was part of the European Union Naval Force (EUNavfor).

It gave a clue as to what has changed in recent years that has dramatically reduced the threat from piracy.

A decade ago, pirates operated freely and there were plenty of hideouts for them along the coastline, like Eyl, a small, scenic port town in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

As I approached Eyl, I saw the town by the beach right in front of a high, dramatic golden-brown cliff. The cliff seemingly shelters the town from wind and dust blowing from the mainland.

Dangerous sea passage

Locals told me about the time years ago when pirates flooded the market with money, causing the cost of living to rise sharply.

Armed, they also terrorised the local community, but they rarely killed anyone.

They also held some of the sailors they captured hostage as they demanded huge ransoms, sometimes of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The possibility of huge riches seemed to have been the main driver of piracy off the Somali coast.

But it was the lack of an effective central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, and the subsequent disbandment of the Somali navy, that enabled it to happen.

Somali territorial waters saw a rise in smuggling, illegal fishing by foreign trawlers, illegal dumping and later piracy.

The route through the Indian Ocean past the Somali coast became known as one of the most dangerous sea passages in the world.

But 10 years ago, the European Union, Nato and others began to deploy naval forces to the region shortly after the UN Security Council allowed warships to enter Somali territorial waters.

Pirate attacks have now all but stopped, after reaching a peak in 2011.

I wanted to see how this change had come about and spent seven days on the ESPS Castilla, a Spanish naval ship that is part of EUNavfor.

On the second day onboard, breakfast was cut short and we were guided to the ship's bridge. A boat had been spotted in the distance.

"We don't think it's anything suspicious but we carry out 'friendly approaches' as part of patrolling the sea," explained an officer.

After a quick briefing, five or so marines geared up and descended from the warship onto a waiting boat. We followed on a second boat, keeping our distance.

Rich fish stocks

As soon as the Spanish boat had pulled alongside the fishermen, a quick search was conducted.

"The vessel is from Yemen but the crew are mostly from Somalia," the officer on our boat explained after listening to the radio communication.

Finally, we were allowed to board the fishing boat.

The fishermen, about eight of them, were by then relaxed and making jokes as they drank water from bottles given to them by the special forces.

"There's a good market for fish in Yemen that's why we sell our catch there," explained Osman Ali.

He said he used to fish off the coast of Tanzania, but was attracted further north because of the rich fish stocks in Somali waters.

"But I have not seen pirates," he said nervously and quickly changed the subject.

All the fishermen operating here know each other and if there is a security problem they quickly alert their colleagues and move to safer waters, he added.

"Sometimes we meet bad people who steal our tools and fish, but the presence of the warship has made things better," Mr Ali said.

Boat blown up

On another day, news came through that a freight ship came under attack 300 nautical miles east of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

A small boat, or skiff, got within 50m (164ft) of the ship and fired. But the onboard security returned fire, scaring off the small boat.

The Castilla was too far away to intervene, but the next day the skiff was traced to a bay that is a known pirate base, just off the Somali coast.

Spanish forces towed the skiff into sea and later blew it up.

It was only the second incident reported in 2018. Both attacks were unsuccessful.

As for the town of Eyl, a revolt had forced the pirates out.

Back to fishing

Eyl Police Commissioner Mohammed Dahir Yusuf exuded confidence about the town's ability to deal with any resurgence.

"Any illegal boats are dealt with by the marine forces who catch them and bring them here, where they are dealt with."

He was referring to the Puntland Maritime Police Force, around 800 men strong, and the largest such unit in the country.

But its abilities are limited.

"We don't have enough boats to take to sea," Mr Yusuf said.

He added that the force only had two small boats, hardly enough to adequately patrol the vast sea and apprehend suspects.This is not the only challenge.

Marco Hekkens, an adviser on maritime security to the EU's civilian mission in Somalia, said illegal fishing is continuing.

EUNavfor can report suspicious fishing vessels to the authorities, but given Somalia's limited capacity to deal with them, hardly anything is done.

Rear Admiral Alfonso Perez de Nanclares is also cautious despite the success in quelling piracy.

"When the mission started we had about 40 hijacked ships, and more than 700 hostages," he told me.

"Piracy has been contained but I really think the intention of going back to this business is still there. I think by working together [with the authorities] we'll be able to su and eradicate it."

Back in Hordeia, before the reformed pirate got cold feet, he told me that he had gone back to fishing.

But there continues to be a danger that the piracy cycle could be repeated.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 09:35

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 256
  • 0

Huawei arrest puts 'bullseye' on Apple

You don't need to look hard to see how the Global Times - the state-backed Chinese newspaper - is interpreting the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.

"Washington's move to stifle Huawei will undermine itself," reads a headline. "Banning Chinese companies like Huawei will isolate US from digital economy of the future," reads another.

It's that second headline, the threat of isolation, that should give US technology companies considerable pause as we head into Ms Meng’s 12th day of detainment in a Canadian jail.

The fallout from her arrest will surely mean, at the very least, an even more difficult relationship for the handful of US tech giants that have found great fortune in China.

In particular, Apple, the poster child for US tech success, and a company that relied on China for 20% of its revenues this past year.

The Global Times said: "Some Western countries are resorting to political means to resist Huawei's attempts to enter into their markets.

"Failure to provide reciprocal opening-up means their companies won't get any benefits from China's digital economy.”

Blocked sales

“Look,” said analyst Dan Ives from investment firm Wedbush, “the Huawei CFO situation... it’s the straw that could break the camel’s back.”

China has long felt that the US is unfair to its big tech firms - in particular Huawei, which is the closest thing the country has to a true Apple competitor. While it doesn’t (yet) come close in terms of yearly revenue - $266bn for Apple against an expected $100bn or so for Huawei - the firm did manage to leapfrog Apple in global smartphone sales earlier this year. Huawei is now second only to Samsung.

On Tuesday, a Chinese court banned the sale of older iPhone models as part of a long-running patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Qualcomm. Most legal observers had expected China to reject Qualcomm’s request for an injunction.

There is no direct link between this action and the Huawei row. But taken against the backdrop of Ms Meng’s arrest, and ongoing tariff disputes, it’s being seen as a muscle-flexing display on the part of the Chinese.

But the real success story for Huawei won’t come from smartphones, but the equipment that makes them worth having. Huawei is positioning itself as the vendor of choice for rolling out 5G technology, the next generation of mobile network.

Put simply, if China thinks the US is unfairly hobbling the opportunity for Huawei to be a major player in 5G, it may retaliate and Apple could feel the brunt.

"The last thing tech investors wanted to see was this news about the CFO of Huawei,” Mr Ives said.

"It fuels the flames of further retaliation.”

A mild protest

Mr Ives said Apple must feel like it has a “bullseye” on its back.

Wedbush estimates 350m iPhones in use around the world are approaching the point when most people would want an upgrade, with around 70m of them in China.

"You’re talking about a quarter of the incremental growth over the next three to four years is going to come from China.”

Even without official intervention, the publicity hit Apple could suffer might make a dent in their Chinese revenues. Outside court in Vancouver, members of the city’s Chinese community have made their feelings clear, holding “Free Meng” signs and telling reporters they feel the US is bullying Huawei and, by extension, China.

And according to internal memos obtained by Yahoo News, a number of Chinese companies have taken steps to promote their employees use Huawei products instead of Apple.

“The news of Huawei CFO Ms Meng Wanzhou’s arrest by Canadian authorities has shocked the Chinese people,” a memo to staff at Jiangxi Ruike Refrigeration Technology is reported to have said, encouraging employees to trade in their iPhones for a Huawei device (in return for a healthy subsidy).


But there is one aspect of Apple’s success in China that could mean it's spared Beijing’s wrath - even if Ms Meng finds herself extradited and even jailed.

Apple of course doesn’t just sell products to China, it makes them there. In 2017, Apple estimated that between manufacture, retail, distribution - not to mention those developing for its software - it was responsible for 4.8m jobs in China.

Further, the company has opened research centres that are providing a home in China for the country’s brightest graduates.

"They have relationships with the Chinese government because they’ve been a massive employer,” Mr Ives said, suggesting Beijing might be limited in what action it could take as result.

"By hurting Apple, it would to some extent be almost like burning down your own house."

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

ruby Posted on December 11, 2018 09:22

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 236
  • 0

Are millennials on track to become the richest generation

With matters of money, millennials have an uphill climb.

That is the story we hear: millennials digging out from record student loan debt – expected to soar above £1tn ($1.27tn) in the UK over the next 25 years alone – and scrambling to pay rent with globally rising living costs and lower wages. And the numbers corroborate the story. Generation-on-generation wealth is declining, and millennials are financially worse off than those before them.

None of this is exactly surprising, however. We have known for years that the 2008 global financial crisis hit millennials hard, with many graduating directly into a troubled global economy – from which some countries are still struggling to rebound entirely. Slow wage growth, high living costs and a lack of retirement savings mean millennials will be playing catch-up well into retirement.

When baby boomers pass on their assets to younger family members, analysts expect them to leave $4tn of wealth to millennials within the UK and North America alone

That’s if they can afford to quit working at all. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, when millennials in the world’s eight largest pension markets start to retire, the retirement savings gap will be $427tn. That’s more than six times the 2015 figure of $67tn. Driving this shortfall are things like longer life expectancy, the deceleration of a long-term growth environment and poor savings rates, coupled with low levels of financial literacy.

This doesn’t paint a hopeful picture for the future – but maybe there is a scenario that is not so bleak. Could a windfall from the richest generation – baby boomers – reverse the fortunes for millennials?

Shelter from the storm

Unlike millennials, baby boomers are the wealthiest generation in history – and will remain that way until roughly 2030.

According to a wealth transfer report by the Royal Bank of Canada, when this group passes on their assets to younger family members, analysts expect them to leave $4tn of wealth to millennials within the UK and North America alone. This ‘inheritance boom’ will position millennials who have baby boomers in their families to receive record sums of inheritance.

As baby boomers are living longer, they are spending more of their savings. For many millennials, some family assets might not be retained to be passed on.

Is the solution to millennials’ money woes, then, to wait for the wealthier baby boomer generation to die out and inherit their assets?

It’s an argument made by Paul Donovan, UBS Wealth Management’s chief global economist, who earlier this year predicted that millennials will actually become history’s wealthiest generation. Speaking to Business Insider, he argued that wealth doesn’t evaporate from the economy. And, since baby boomers are a larger generation than millennials, wealth will consolidate as it is passed down through the generations. Simply: fewer people, the same amount of wealth distributed among them.

All in the family

It’s not that simple, says Moritz Schularick, professor of economics at the University of Bonn in Germany. He says that the intergenerational wealth transfer model in which millennials become the wealthiest generation on record is a “global top 1% model”.

“It applies to people who have so much they can never spend their wealth,” he says. “Normal people – and standard economic models – assume that people save for old age and then use their savings [and] wealth to pay for things when they have no income. At the end of their lives there is some inheritance, but not that much.”

Between 1995 and 2016, only 2% of bequests equaled $1,000,000 or more – yet this money comprised upwards of 40% of wealth transferred

Lowell R. Ricketts, lead analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s Center for Household Financial Stability, agrees. He says that only a minority of baby boomer families will pass on “significant wealth”. (June 2018 figures from the US Federal Reserve confirm this: between 1995 and 2016, only 2% of bequests equaled $1,000,000 or more – yet this money comprised upwards of 40% of wealth transferred.)

Although some assets by nature do retain value or even appreciate, Ricketts says, we cannot assume that baby boomers will hold onto assets until bequest. “A home and the property it’s built on may need to be liquidated in retirement to maintain a standard of living. Therefore, even if those assets don’t disappear from the economy, they might not be retained and passed on.”

Tried-and-true plan B

Even if the transfer of assets occurred and it also significantly impacted millennial wealth, says Ricketts, timing is a crucial factor.

In the St. Louis Fed’s Demographics of Wealth summary, researchers write that American wealth accumulation for households headed by someone born in the 1980s are 34% percent below expectations. “These families are approaching important financial milestones (homeownership, raising children, saving for retirement) with diminished wealth accumulation,” says Ricketts. “A windfall in the future won’t help these families meet their current financial obligations. In other words, the promise of a transfer in the future won’t help meet the down payment required for a mortgage.”

Even if you think you might be in line for an inheritance, it's possible that you might not get it in time to help you afford milestones like buying real estate.

If you are among the millennials crossing your fingers for surprise cash infusion, then Donovan’s model likely doesn’t apply to you. Waiting on a windfall can’t be your plan A – and, even then, you might be waiting too long.

As elder generations continue to struggle with retirement savings and live longer on less, millennials looking to save for retirement might want to keep courting the tried-and-true option: socking away money with lower-volatility vehicles. The silver lining of higher interest rates in the economy is not nearly as thrilling as found wealth, sure. But aren’t millennials used to taking what they can get?

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 14:18

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 275
  • 0

the cost of bridge between two nations

Swedes call it Öresundsbron. Danes use the spelling Øresundsbroen. Around the world many know it simply as The Bridge, the name of the multi award-winning Nordic Noir drama screened in more than 100 countries that uses the connection as its brooding backdrop.

It is huge. With a mass of 82,000 tonnes, held up by two 204m-long metal pylons and stretching for 16km, including its underground tunnel section, it is one of the longest bridges in Europe. It connects Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö with Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, scrapping the need to take a lengthy ferry or flight across the Oresund strait.

Pontus T. Pagler, a 31-year-old actor from a rural town north of Malmö who appeared in Season Four of The Bridge, recalls how tricky it was to make the journey before it was built. “We travelled to Malmö, but not to Denmark as you do was too far and too long of a ride,” he remembers.

As a teenager raised in the 1990s, he was aware that investment in infrastructure was more focused around the larger Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg. “Growing up, I think we felt neglected in a certain way. It’s just a feeling you had.”

But the opening of the Oresund bridge in 2000 represented a major economic shift, dramatically improving cross-border access and cutting journey times. Instead of queuing for weather-dependent ferries that took around an hour, passengers could drive over the bridge in just 10 minutes or travel between central Malmö and central Copenhagen in just 34 minutes by train. The landmark quickly became one of the best-known symbols of European cross-border collaboration.

“It’s really fast, and you can go there and back in the same day. That’s the biggest impact, I think. And if you want to stay there a weekend or something it’s very, very easy,” says Pagler.


Click or pinch to zoom on mobile.

The body count

In 2017 a record average of 20,361 vehicles passed over the bridge each day and approximately 14,000 commuters took the train, despite temporary identity checks lengthening journey times during the first half of the year. Prior to the bridge opening, around 6,000 people a day commuted by ferry.

“I think my career would have been much slower if we didn’t have the bridge,” says 43-year-old Nichole Friberg, a managing director for an IT company who lives in Malmö but has been working in Copenhagen for 12 years.

“It’s more dynamic and all the companies I have joined have been quite international, and that is quite important to me since I am multicultural myself - half Peruvian, half Swedish,” she explains. “You have the opportunity to spend your day in a larger city that is a little bit more chaotic than Malmö. Then you get to come home to a little bit of peace and quiet.”

While the vast majority of commuters come from Sweden, the bridge also makes it easier for Danish residents to network with their Swedish counterparts.

In Malmö city centre, Neil Murray, 34, who lives in Copenhagen and invests in start-ups across the Nordics, is grabbing a latte in between meetings on both sides of the Oresund strait.

“I can’t really think of any other place in the world where two strong tech ecosystems exist within half an hour of each other, so for me I see it as a competitive advantage that I can see start-ups in two different countries, because of a bridge,” he says.


Keeping up with the pace

Nichole Friberg, a managing director for an IT company lives in Malmö but works in Copenhagen - she feels her "career would have been much slower" without the bridge.(Credit: Jan Søndergaard)

Worth the wait?

But while the bridge has clearly transformed transport in the area, the project was a long time coming and has faced numerous challenges.

Engineers had been putting forward proposals for a bridge or a tunnel to the Swedish and Danish governments since 1936. They finally signed an agreement to build a bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen in 1991. Sweden’s goal of boosting cooperation with the rest of Europe (it joined the European Union in 1995) was a key catalyst, alongside Denmark’s desire to increase air traffic from Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport.

Both nations supported a stronger regional identity for the Oresund area (home to more than 3.5 million people at that time) by encouraging closer ties between businesses and educational institutions. Locally, there was an urgent need for Malmö to evolve following the collapse of traditional industries such as textiles and shipbuilding.

“Malmö was regarded as a very dull and grey city and there were lots of pessimistic views among politicians, the business community and also among ordinary people,” remembers Christer Persson, who was director of strategic development in the city between 1989 and 2003 and is currently writing a book about the impact of the Oresund bridge.

“The government made an investigation and they came to the conclusion that ‘this is the time to build a bridge’, because that could make a change,” he explains from a student lounge at Malmö university, where he is a guest lecturer.

“They hoped to accelerate the transformation process of the city, from being a traditional old industrial town to a modern city with small and medium-sized companies in the new modern branches like IT, design, biotechnology for example.”

Two strong tech ecosystems within 30 minutes of each other

Neil Murray, lives in Copenhagen and invests in start-ups across the Nordics. He regularly travels to both sides of the Oresund strait and sees 'a competitive advantage' in accessing two zones for start-ups in two different countries. (Credit: Jan Søndergaard)


‘A fantastic adventure’

These were ambitious goals that came with a price tag. The cost of building the bridge and related essential infrastructure like roads and stations was 30bn Danish krone ($4.3bn; £3bn).

But both governments sought to secure public engagement by minimising the impact for taxpayers. The main bridge structure was paid for by loans shared between the Swedish and Danish states, to be paid back over 30 years using toll fees.

For Kim Smedegaard Andersson, a Danish engineer fresh out of university who was hired by an engineering firm working on the assignment, the excitement was palpable. “It was a fantastic adventure to go into a project like this,” he says.


People crossing the Oresund Fixed Link Bridge at the opening in 2000.

But he also remembers his whole team feeling the weight of responsibility. They had to overcome logistical issues like making sure the bridge wasn’t too high to pose a threat to landing planes or too low, which could have blocked shipping.

“No-one had constructed a project like this before, in such close proximity to an airport and a busy navigation channel, and in-between two Scandinavian countries.”

There were unexpected setbacks too, including the discovery of 16 unexploded World War Two bombs and two unusually icy winters which made it difficult to transport materials.

Sustainability was also controversial: green campaigners protested and Sweden’s Environment Minister Olof Johansson resigned because of his concerns.

“The whole ecobalance in the Baltics was debated,” remembers Smedegaard Andersson. “There were challenges to solve every day.”

Detailed efforts were made to satisfy critics, including a campaign to encourage travellers to use the train rather than their cars. Motorway lights were positioned to avoid disturbing eels and pylon lighting switched off in fog to limit bird collisions.

The construction ended up being completed with stereotypical Scandinavian efficiency in just five years, several months ahead of schedule.

There were celebratory activities such as special runs and cycle rides for members of the public and an inauguration ceremony attended by the Swedish and Danish royal families.

Smedegaard Andersson recalls being asked to provide commentary for Danish television network TV2. “I was speaking when the first cars and motorcyclists were using the link. That was an amazing experience,” he smiles.

No overnight success

To encourage more traffic the cost of a single car trip, originally priced at 255 Swedish kronor was temporarily cut by almost half to 140 kronor to encourage more people to try the journey. 

Not enough traffic

Early on, Christer Persson remembers, there were concerns that “there just wasn’t enough traffic” and that this could hamper debt repayment by the two governments.

During the autumn of 2000 there was a daily flow of between 7,000 and 10,000 vehicles compared to a peak of around 14,000 during the summer holiday season.

“Some of us said: ‘If you are investing in such a large project that is going to stand for like 100 years, do you really have to have a payback time of 30 years?’ Because if you choose to have a longer payback time, you can of course lower the prices,” he says.

The bridge has a mass of 82,000 tonnes, is held up by two 204m-long metal pylons and stretches for 19 miles, including its underground tunnel section .

Later that year the cost of a single car trip, then priced at 255 Swedish kronor (around £17 at the time) was temporarily cut by almost half to 140 kronor to encourage more people to try the journey.

Prices rose again as public interest increased. The current cost of a single trip is 515 kronor per car (£45.78; $56.88) although there are major discounts for frequent travellers and advance online purchase. Earlier this year Oresundsbro Konsortiet, the Danish-Swedish organisation that owns and runs the bridge, predicted that all debts would be to be repaid by 2033, four years ahead of earlier estimates. Train prices today start from 111 kronor (£9.60; $12.28).

Border scuffles

By far the biggest challenge since the bridge opened has been the Swedish government’s temporary reintroduction of photo identity checks for travellers between January 2016 and May 2017, as Sweden sought to limit the flow of asylum seekers. More than 163,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in 2015, falling to 29,000 in 2016.

The additional controls increased journey times by around 30 minutes and led to service cuts. The number of rail passengers dropped by 13% in 2016, according to Danish train operating company DSB.

Sweden’s transport authority Länsstyrelsen released a survey suggesting two out of three Swedish commuters were experiencing higher levels of stress and had considered either changing jobs or moving to Denmark.

“It was impossible not knowing what time you were going to get to work or what time you were going to get back from work,” laments Nichole Friberg.

She initiated sharing a minibus with colleagues so they could drive to work in Copenhagen instead of going by train, a system which they still use despite the abolition of the ID checks in May 2017.

But the latest ticket sales statistics from Swedish regional rail company Skånetraffiken suggest that most passengers who sought alternative transport have now returned to the tracks. By October 2018, the number of rail commuters had rebounded to 2015 levels.

A transformational build

Kim Smedegaard Andersson was a Danish engineer fresh out of university when he was hired by an engineering firm to work on the bridge, he says there was a lot of excitment and a buzz around the project (Credit: Jan Søndergaard)


Swede success?

Economic geographer Magnus Andersson says the impressive commuting figures are largely a result of Swedes helping to “plug gaps in the Danish service sector” as well as professional roles in niche industries.

He says there are two other key indicators that highlight the huge economic impact of the bridge.

Firstly, more than 60 companies from a wide range of industries have moved their Nordic headquarters or specialist offices to Malmö since 2000, helping to fulfil the city transformationgoals that Swedish government set in the 1990s.

It was impossible not knowing what time you were going to get to work or what time you were going to get back from work - Friberg

Secondly, he says that the bridge has “improved individual livelihoods” by offering locals subtle changes. Danes can access more affordable housing in southern Sweden, cheaper shopping due to currency differences and can enjoy southern Sweden’s coastline and forests.

Swedes have the chance to experience the food and design industries that the Danish capital is globally famous for and make the most of Copenhagen’s large international airport, Kastrup.

“Malmö is not only linking up to Copenhagen, but it also links (Sweden) to a global network of cities. When I think about the future for Malmö, that link is of utmost importance,” Andersson says.

Tourism groups now use the slogan ‘one trip – two countries’ indicating The Bridge series has had an impact .

Nordic Noir tourism

From a global perspective, both the bridge and the airport have been instrumental in foreign visitors to the region too. In Copenhagen there were around 3.6m overnight stays from international visitors in 2000, the year the bridge was completed, rising to 7m 2017, according to figures shared by Oresundsinstitutet, a Danish-Swedish regional research hub. Malmö has also experienced a boost, especially in more recent years. There were 480,000 overnight visits from foreigners in 2008, increasing to 820,000 in 2017.

It’s weird when people exotify your own culture or your own environment - Pagler

Jonas Løvschall-Wedel, a spokesperson for the Danish capital’s official tourist board, Wonderful Copenhagen, says it is hard to quantify how much of this tourism is connected to the popularity of The Bridge television series. However the emergence of Nordic Noir day tours and the fact that Wonderful Copenhagen now uses the slogan ‘one trip – two countries’ in its branding are clear signs that it has had an impact.

“It’s weird when people exotify your own culture or your own environment,” laughs The Bridge actor Pontus T. Pagler, who says he was shocked to meet fans from as far away as Australia at the Scandinavian premiere of the fourth season.

“But I think it’s cool...The southern part of Sweden has gotten a boost now, which we haven’t had before.”

The Oresund bridge has also offered inspiration for similar engineering projects in South Korea and China as well as plans for the so-called Femern tunnel, designed to connect the Danish island of Lolland with the German island of Fehmarn by 2028, pending German approval.

Kim Smedegaard Andersson, no longer a fresh-faced engineer, is deputy technical director for the tunnel, and is one of several senior managers who previously worked on the Oresund link or the Great Belt Bridge that connects the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen.

“We know what it takes to get approval, because we have learnt the lessons from the Great Belt and the Oresund project,” he says. “We have a good understanding of what happens with the environment and we have utilised that in the development of our project.”

The Turning Torso tower is a 54-floor residential block that over looks the bridge it was built to symbolise Malmo's new thriving economy.

Identity crisis

But despite its inspirational economic success, many observers agree that the Oresund bridge has had a much more limited impact in terms of forging a new regional identity.

Christer Persson argues that it was a case of “too much, too soon” when it came to initiating cross-border projects between companies and institutions after the bridge opened, many of which “faded out” after a couple of years.

These included plans for closer links between Malmö and Copenhagen universities, allowing students to study on both sides of the strait.

“The expectations were very big, but it was difficult to fulfil them,” he says, citing differences between the education systems alongside the rapid pace of globalisation.

“It became less interesting for many to collaborate across the border instead of with actors in other parts of the world.”

More recent initiatives have involved controversial efforts to rebrand the whole Oresund region as Greater Copenhagen, which marketeers have argued is an easier identity for international visitors to grasp.

But Magnus Andersson says it’s been challenging to get residents to think beyond their existing labels.

“Copenhagen people are very proud of being Danish and living in a capital, and on the Swedish side people have quite a strong regional identity, so merging these two identities has not proven to be easy.”

That said, he believes you’d struggle to find anyone in the region who doesn’t feel closer to their Scandinavian neighbours than they did before the bridge was built.

“In senior high school some of my friends were actually demonstrating against the bridge and today we are making fun of them… We laugh because today we cannot imagine life without the bridge”.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 14:11

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 343
  • 0

ten films to watch in december

Oscars ahoy! Ben is Back was written and directed by Peter Hedges (Oscar-nominated for his About a Boy screenplay), and it co-stars his own son, Lucas Hedges (Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in Manchester by the Sea). But the person who’s most likely to win awards for this powerful indie drama is Julia Roberts: audiences at the Toronto Film Festival were applauding her intense performance well before the end credits rolled. Roberts plays a suburban mother of four whose 19-year-old son sneaks out of rehab and returns to the family home for Christmas. Not everyone is pleased to see him. His relatives doubt that he’ll stay clean while he’s in town, and the local drug dealers have scores to settle. According to Variety’s reviewer, “the entire film is that rarest of gifts for its cast, providing virtually every character with a chance to play not only the present moment, but the complicated history they’ve established with Ben in the past, as well as whatever chance they see in the troubled young man’s future”.

If your favourite bits of the Mission: Impossible films are when Tom Cruise is dangling one-handed from somewhere high, then don’t miss Free Solo, a nerve-racking documentary that follows Alex Honnold, a Californian rock climber, as he trains to be the first ever person to scale the El Capitan Wall in Yosemite – “3200 feet of sheer granite” – with no ropes or harnesses. The film won three prizes in the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, including one for its cinematography, and you can see why: Jimmy Chin, who co-directs with his wife E Chai Vasarhelyi, had to wield a camera while climbing El Capital himself – although he had the benefit of safety gear. Side note: as James Berardinelli notes in his review, Captain Kirk attempted the same insanely difficult feat in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. He failed.

Alfonso Cuarón, the virtuoso director of Children of Men and Gravity, gets back to his roots with Roma, a sensitive semi-autobiographical tribute to the maid who helped raise him. Set in Mexico City in the early 1970s, the drama is shot in lustrous black-and-white, using Cuarón’s signature long takes and recreating the period in loving detail. No wonder if it has received such sky-high acclaim at festivals. In her five-star review for BBC Culture, Caryn James called Roma “simply the most exquisite and artistic film of the year”. As for Cuarón, “he has taken his own memories, turned them into a dazzling fiction, and handed them to viewers like a gift”.

Adam McKay made his name as a director of knockabout comedies (Anchorman, Step Brothers), but he switched to political comedy docudramas for 2015’s The Big Short, and his new film is in the same postmodern, satirical vein. Vice is a biopic of Dick Cheney, the US Vice President who is believed to have done much of George W Bush’s work for him, and who spoke out in favour of waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation”. Christian Bale piled on more than three stone to play the lead role, and spent four hours in the make-up chair every morning, so don’t be surprised if his commitment earns him a fourth Oscar nomination. But in a stellar cast that includes Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, it could well be Sam Rockwell’s mischievous impersonation of “Dubya” that steals the show.

Jean-Luc Godard directed three of BBC Culture’s 100 greatest foreign-language films. All three of them were released in the 1960s, but Godard, who turns 88 on 3 December, hasn’t been resting on his laurels since the glory days of the French New Wave. His challenging new film, The Image Book, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the first ever ‘Special Palme d’Or’ – which is not to say that everyone knew what to make of it. A kaleidoscopic mash-up of clips from news reports and classic movies (including the director’s own), the film is a comment on cinema’s failure to process the horrors of the last century – maybe. Whatever it means, writes Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice, “you can lose yourself in the dexterity and texture of Godard’s editing, in the way he matches compositions, gestures, subject matter”.

Over half a century after the release of Mary Poppins, PL Travers’ magical nanny is floating down to 17 Cherry Tree Lane once more. Julie Andrews has passed her carpetbag and parrot-headed umbrella to Emily Blunt, and Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer co-star as Michael and Jane, the grown-up versions of the children Mary looked after last time. Given that the original film was practically perfect in every way, its sequel’s director, Rob Marshall (Chicago), has a near-impossible task. But at least Dick Van Dyke – now 92 – makes an appearance. Will his cockney accent have improved? And will Andrews herself join him?

Which actor will be remembered as the 21st Century’s definitive Sherlock Holmes? Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr, Jonny Lee Miller or... errrr... Will Ferrell? Yes, Ferrell puts on a silly English accent for a spoof written and directed by Etan Cohen (definitely not to be confused with Ethan Coen), the maker of Get Hard. With just four days to foil a plot to murder Queen Victoria, the world’s greatest detective is aided by John C Reilly’s Dr Watson. If the trailer is anything to go by, the humour could be, well, elementary, but fans of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights will be pleased to see Ferrell and Reilly bumbling around together again. And the British supporting actors – Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Laurie, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald, Steve Coogan – deserve to be in a serious Holmes adaptation all of their own.

Released 21 December in the US, 26 December in the UK and Australia, 28 December in Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 14:00

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 256
  • 0

what is our science fiction says about us

The sun has cooled down and Earth has become uninhabitable. Only one solution remains for humanity: flee beyond the solar system. This is the premise for The Wandering Earth, and the movie could easily be a Hollywood blockbuster. The trailer even has Inception-esque foghorns. Yet this isn’t a US movie with an all-white cast, it’s the Chinese adaptation of a science fiction book of the same name by star writer Cixin Liu. It’s the Chinese who are saving humanity here, not the Americans.Well-known artistic depictions of the future have traditionally been regarded as the preserve of the West, and have shown a marked lack of diversity. Yet new regions and authors are depicting the future from their perspectives. Chinese science fiction has boomed in recent years, with stand-out books like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. And Afrofuturism is on the rise since the release of the blockbuster Black Panther. Around the world, science fiction is blossoming.

Black Panther was the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast.

“Science fiction is now a global phenomenon,” says Mingwei Song, Associate Professor at Wellesley College, specialising in Chinese sci-fi and literature. “This has been one of the most remarkable developments of the genre because it transcends this Western and particularly Anglo-American domination of the genre.”

And the new movement is wide-ranging, including everything from Russian science fiction – with a history reaching back into the 19th Century – to Afrofuturism, a movement rooted in experiences of black oppression. It covers Chinese books dealing with revolutionary history and aliens, to futurist Mexican movies about migration and free trade.

“Right now the most interesting science fiction is produced in all sorts of non-traditional places,” says Anindita Banerjee, Associate Professor at Cornell University, whose research focuses on global sci-fi. “But this phenomenon, which is now making its voice heard from areas like China or Africa, also has a much longer history that precedes today’s boom.”

Subversive fiction

Currently, Chinese science fiction is becoming increasingly popular in the West, thanks to English translations of writers like Cixin Liu and Hao Jingfang. Nevertheless, there was a long history of sci-fi preceding them.


Cixin Liu became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, for his 2007 novel The Three-Body Problem (Credit: Alamy)


The genre went through three waves in the country: one after the fall of Imperial China in 1902; one after the Chinese revolution in 1949; and the current ‘new wave’ which started in the 1990s, when the country pushed forward in its rapid pattern of development. “In the 1990s a new generation of writers began to emerge, and among this generation, Liu Cixin is the most important author,” says Mingwei.

First released in 2006, Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem is credited with pushing Chinese science fiction into the mainstream. In 2014 it was translated into English and a year later it won a Hugo Award, the Oscars of science fiction. The story deals with an astrophysicist who gets involved with secret government research during the Cultural Revolution, inadvertently inviting aliens to earth.

Due to be released in February 2019, The Wandering Earth follows astronauts looking for a new planet for humans after scientists discover the sun is going to incinerate Earth.

Chinese science fiction is seen as a reflection on the narrative of a rising and rapidly modernising China, which is also becoming increasingly prevalent in the West. But the genre also deals with repression of free speech, often showing dark, unseen sides of reality. In the case of Cixin Liu, this often means parallel realities and challenging physics. But, in turn, the book Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang shows a tightly hierarchical future Beijing in which the Earth spins around to give three social classes variable amounts of Sun.

“This new wave of science fiction has a dark and subversive side that speaks either to the invisible dimensions of reality, or simply the impossibility of representing a reality dictated by the discourse of a national dream,” says Mingwei.

The Three-Body Problem and Chinese science fiction in general often feature controversial subjects. The opening scene of The Three-Body Problem, for example, depicts the lead character’s father being lynched in a collective struggle session at the height of the Cultural Revolution.

“I’m always amazed by the continued prosperity of the genre,” says Mingwei. “Some of it is very subversive and provocative. But so far they haven’t been censored. My theory for why it continues to grow is that it isn’t protest literature. It’s a literary genre that uses the imagination to explore unseen realities. But it doesn’t directly challenge the Chinese government.” And these unseen realities are key. “Science fiction depicts the invisible part of Chinese reality that is hidden behind the glorious image of China on the rise,” he says.

Making the invisible visible

Another artform looking at unseen realities is Afrofuturism. “If you look at depictions of the future, from Blade Runner to The Jetsons, the future is often very white, and people of colour are often missing,” says Susana Morris, Associate Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology specialising in Afrofuturism. “Afrofuturism re-imagines what a futurist landscape would look like with blacks at the centre.”

W E B Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909.

Afrofuturism reaches back to when W E B Du Bois wrote his 1920 short story The Comet, in which the entire human population is killed, except for a black man and a white woman. The best-known example of Afrofuturism is 2018 superhero movie Black Panther, depicting Wakanda, a non-colonised African country that has been able to develop on its own terms, and which owns the world’s most powerful resource: Vibranium. This background provides the canvas on which a futurist, black society is depicted in the movie and the accompanying comic books written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Yet Afrofuturism reaches beyond superheroes. “People often think Afrofuturism is a genre, while really it’s a cultural movement. It isn’t just black science fiction. It’s a way for black folks across the diaspora to think about our past and future,” says Morris. As such, Afrofuturism includes substreams like fiction, movies, art and fashion – Morris notes how Beyoncé occasionally uses Afrofuturist imagery.

Nnedi Okorafor has written a Marvel story set in Lagos, and HBO is adapting her 2010 novel Who Fears Death with George R R Martin as executive producer.

In the realm of written fiction, the Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor's Binti stands out. The 2015 book depicts an African tribe modelled on the Namibian Himba people, 1,000 years into the future. They are an advanced yet isolated community, and in the book one of their experts in advanced mathematics gets sent to an interstellar university where the story unfolds. “It’s a great story that mixes tradition and innovation,” says Morris.

Afrofuturism is a genre that isn’t necessarily associated with one country or region, but is practised by black people from all across the world, a diaspora in Morris’s terms. For this diaspora, the interaction with tradition is key: Morris refers here to Sanfoka, a symbol from the Akan people in Ghana, generally stylised as a bird that looks backwards while moving forwards. “Afrofuturism reveals a dynamic relationship between innovation and tradition that is at the heart of the diaspora”, says Morris. “It looks back while moving forward.”

Bolsheviks in space

Russian and Eastern-European sci-fi has a long history stretching back to the 19th Century: it produced key writers in the canon like Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, who wrote the 1924 novel We, and the Polish Stanislaw Lem, who was a key influence on US science-fiction. Even early Bolsheviks like Alexander Bogdanov wrote science-fiction (in his 1908 novel Red Star he notably depicted a Mars inhabited by socialists).

Alexander Bogdanov (pictured with Vladimir Lenin) wrote Red Star, about a Russian Bolshevik revolutionary who visits a communist society on Mars.

The experience of Sputnik was crucial. When, in 1957, the Soviets were the first to send a satellite around the Earth, it launched an explosion of science fiction and led to the re-discovery of older sci-fi works. Previously repressed by socialist realism, Soviet society was catapulted by the launch of Sputnik into a futurist perspective. Citing sci-fi expert Istvan Csicsery-Ronay from DePauw University, Banerjee claims this caused a “science-fictionality of daily life” in the country.

This even stretched into movies. The 1972 film Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky was hailed as a counterpart to 2001: A Space Odyssey, while Stalker, another movie by Tarkovsky and an adaption of 1971 novel The Roadside Picnic, depicted the crossing of a mysterious nuclear wasteland. Interestingly, decades later it inspired the present-day Ukrainian videogame series S.T.A.L.K.E.R.


We is the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopian genre: George Orwell was reported as saying it was the model for his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Russian experience, particularly under the Soviet Union, ties back into the current rise of non-Western science fiction. For Banerjee, this relates to her personal story. “I grew up in eastern India, in coal-mining country,” she says. “This place was not very culturally rich, but one set of books that were accessible and cheap were translated Russian books. And the Space Race saw a renaissance of science fiction writing in the Soviet Union, which, together with their classic science-fiction, was translated and disseminated into the Global South. Even into rural India.”

Russian sci-fi in this way served as an incubator for a new, global science fiction. “In the works of Cixin Liu, you can for example see references to Soviet science fiction,” says Banerjee.

From the West to the rest?

This rise of global science fiction questions how we think about the evolution of the genre. In the past, it was seen as spreading from Western centres to the rest of the world. “The traditional view of science fiction was that it expanded parallel to the spread of industrial capitalism around the globe,” says Banerjee. “So it supposedly went from the West to the rest, because that’s where industrial capitalism first took hold. Now this perspective is being challenged, and we are thinking about what happened outside the West.”

In Sleep Dealer, Mexican workers are plugged into a network, controlling robots doing unskilled labour in the US: once they are depleted, they are discarded.

Although not all non-Western science fiction is political, imagining alternative futures can serve as a tool for mobilisation and activism. “What we find in some science fiction from the global South is a recognition that a universalised, neoliberal model of society and culture are unsustainable,” says Banerjee. She refers for example to Sleep Dealer, a 2008 Mexican sci-fi movie that depicts a future where the US has closed its Mexican border, but in which Mexicans remotely control the robots that replaced their labour inside the US. The movie reflects on issues like free trade and migration in a futurist fashion.

But beyond a global reflection on resistance, non-Western science fiction also taps into a worldwide consciousness – helping it conquer audiences beyond their respective home markets. “Chinese science fiction doesn’t just appeal to Chinese people,” says Mingwei. “Because it touches upon questions that are shared by humanity, for example the survival of the human race and how to be a moral person in extreme circumstances. Which are fundamental questions every human needs to think about in our contemporary world.”

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 12:47

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 293
  • 0

why some like it hot isthe greatest comedy ever made

In 1958, Tony Curtis was at a Hollywood party when Billy Wilder took him aside. Wilder was planning a film about two musicians who dress up as women to join an all-girl band, and he asked Curtis to play one of the musicians. Curtis was overjoyed, but he wasn’t sure why such an illustrious writer-director would want to use him. “You’re the handsomest kid in this town,” said Wilder. “Who else am I going to use?”

Faced with the question of why Some Like It Hot has topped BBC Culture’s poll of the best ever big-screen comedies, it’s tempting to say something similar. Wilder’s glittering masterpiece doesn’t just use the handsomest kid in town (and a terrific actor, to boot), but its most radiant sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, and one of its most dexterous comedians, Jack Lemmon. It also has a bevy of bathing beauties, a crowd of sinister mafiosi, a glamorous seaside setting in the roaring ‘20s, and a sizzling selection of songs.It’s an anthem in praise of tolerance, acceptance, and the possibility of transformation. It’s an anthem that we need to hear now more than ever

It is structured so meticulously that it glides from moment to moment with the elegance of an Olympic figure skater, and the consummate screwball dialogue, by Wilder and IAL Diamond, is so polished that every line includes either a joke, a double meaning, or an allusion to a line elsewhere in the film. To quote one character, it’s a riot of “spills, thrills, laughs and games”. To quote another, it deserves to be “the biggest thing since the Graf Zeppelin”. So why was it chosen as the best comedy ever made? Simple. What else were we going to choose?

Desperate to elude Chicago’s most ruthless gangster, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) disguise themselves as Josephine and Daphne .

There’s more to Some Like It Hot than its sparkling surface, though. As well as being a romantic comedy, a buddy movie, a crime caper, and a musical, the film is an anthem in praise of tolerance, acceptance, and the possibility of transformation. It’s an anthem that we need to hear now more than ever.

Wilder borrowed the basic set-up from a French farce, Fanfare d’amour (1935), and a remake, Fanfaren der Liebe (1951), which he dismissed as “a very low-budget, very third-class German picture”. Its heroes are Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon), a saxophonist and a bassist who are scraping a living in freezing Chicago when they witness 1929’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre – or a version of that legendary event at least.

The pair join a female jazz orchestra, Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators, in order to hide out in a Florida hotel for three weeks.

Desperate to elude the city’s most ruthless gangster, Spats Colombo (George Raft), they disguise themselves as Josephine and Daphne (“I’ve never liked the name Geraldine,” explains Jerry), so that they can hide in a Florida hotel for three weeks with a female jazz orchestra, Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators. On the southbound sleeper train, they are both smitten by the band’s voluptuous ukulele player, Sugar Kane (Monroe). She tells Joe/Josephine that she is hoping to seduce a millionaire in Florida, so when the band arrives at the Seminole-Ritz Hotel (actually the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego), he switches to another disguise. Stealing some clothes from the band’s manager, and stealing his accent from Cary Grant, he styles himself as Junior, heir to the Shell Oil fortune.

One of the film’s many twists is that when Sugar meets Junior on the beach, he doesn’t throw himself at her. He plays hard to get. Sugar tells him that her band specialises in hot jazz, but he sniffs, “Well, I guess some like it hot. But personally, I prefer classical music.” Sugar doesn’t miss a beat. She claims to have “spent three years at the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music” - a claim she overheard Joe/Josephine making the previous night. “Good school,” murmurs Joe/Junior. Sugar, he realises, is just as adept at lying as he is.

Stealing his accent from Cary Grant, Joe styles himself as Junior, heir to the Shell Oil fortune, in order to woo Sugar (Monroe).

Meanwhile, Jerry/Daphne has been inveigled into going out with an elderly - and presumably short-sighted - tycoon, Osgood (Joe E Brown), and their enchanted evening ends with another twist: in the morning, an elated Jerry tells Joe that he and Osgood are engaged. Joe protests that there are “laws, conventions” that have to be observed. But when Jerry finally admits to his fiancé that he is a man, Osgood responds with the film’s exemplary last line, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

‘Sweet’ or ‘hot’

In summary, Some Like It Hot is the story of people who lie and cheat in order to con other people into bed or out of their cash. Wilder has a reputation for dark, cynical films (see also Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity), and Some Like It Hot could be categorised as one of them. But it has so much warmth that it carries the viewer upwards like a hot-air balloon. Rather than condemning its unscrupulous anti-heroes, it respects them and sympathises with them in a way which must have seemed radical in 1959, and which seems more radical nearly six decades later.

After an enchanted evening, Daphne (Lemmon) becomes engaged to elderly tycoon Osgood (Joe E Brown).

The message is that there is nothing wrong with faking it until you make it. Experimenting with a new identity can help you become a better, happier person

Just imagine how the film’s scenario would be treated in a Hollywood comedy today. Joe and Jerry would be punished for their deceit. Sugar would have to catch Joe out, and he would have to apologise, and the viewer would have to sit through a montage of their shared misery before she forgave him. He and Jerry would then use their talent for duplicity to extract a confession from Spats Colombo. And, of course, Jerry and Osgood’s heterosexuality would be vigorously reaffirmed. Think of Judd Apatow’s comedies, for example. They all conclude that it’s amusing for “laws, conventions” to be flouted for a while, just as long as they’re put firmly back in place before the end credits roll.

Several of those involved in the film, such as Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe, had reinvented themselves, just as the characters do.

Some Like It Hot is too buoyant to be brought down to earth by such prissiness. When Sugar learns that Joe has been tricking her, she runs straight into his arms. When Osgood learns that Jerry has been tricking him, he doesn’t bat an eyelid. The message is that there is nothing wrong with faking it until you make it. Experimenting with a new identity can help you become a better, happier person. It can help you survive. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who accepts you for whomever you want to be - perfect or otherwise.

It’s a boldly inclusive message, but it’s one that must have been close to the film-makers’ hearts. After all, several of them had reinvented themselves, just as the characters do: emigrating from Germany (in Wilder’s case) and Romania (in Diamond’s), distancing themselves from their hardscrabble pasts in Californian foster homes (in Monroe’s case) and on the streets of the Bronx (in Curtis’s). For a frantic farce about two cross-dressers on the run from prohibition-era mobsters, Some Like It Hot is a strikingly personal, even semi-autobiographical film.

Its final line, “Well, nobody’s perfect”, highlights the film’s inclusive message.

Not even Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest had such elaborate fun with its characters’ identities

Look again at the beach scene with Joe and Sugar. It was written by two men who were once called Samuel Wilder and Itec Domnici, and acted by a man and a woman who were once called Bernie Schwartz and Norma Jeane Mortenson. Schwartz, who renamed himself Tony Curtis, is playing Joe, who is pretending to be Junior, using the mid-Atlantic vowels of Cary Grant, who was once called Archibald Leach. Mortenson, who renamed herself Marilyn Monroe, is playing Sugar Kowalczyk, who renamed herself Sugar Kane, and who is using lines which Joe used when he was pretending to be Josephine. Not even Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest had such elaborate fun with its characters’ identities. Names, genders, social standings ... they can all change in Some Like It Hot. It’s the American way.

In Curtis’s memoir about the making of the film, he confirms that Wilder and Diamond embedded this theme in its title. People, he argues, can be as fluid as the pop songs of the 1920s, which were performed in different styles - either “sweet” or “hot” - according to the audience’s preference. “The concept was important to our movie,” writes Curtis. “A person can be more than one thing, depending on the time, the place, whatever. Sweet or hot.”

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 12:07

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 320
  • 0

MBS: My strange experience of teaching the Saudi crown prince

Saudi Arabia's controversial Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was little known to the outside world before becoming its attention-grabbing de facto leader. Here, BBC Arabic's Rachid Sekkai, who taught Mohammed Bin Salman English as a child, gives a rare glimpse of life in the royal court.

I was teaching in the prestigious Al-Anjal school in Jeddah when I got the call in early 1996. The governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, had temporarily moved with his family to the Red Sea port city, and needed an English teacher for his children.

The man who would later become king contacted the school and I was swiftly whisked off to the royal palace to become a private tutor to some of the children from his first marriage: Prince Turki, Prince Nayef, Prince Khalid, and of course, Prince Mohammed.

I lived in a flat in an up and coming area of the city. A chauffeur would pick me up at 07:00 to take me to Al-Anjal school and once lessons were over in the mid-afternoon, the driver would take me to the palace.

Once through the heavily guarded gates, the car would wind past a series of jaw-dropping villas with immaculate gardens maintained by workers in white uniforms. There was a car park filled with a fleet of exclusive luxury cars. It was the first time I saw what looked like a pink Cadillac.

On arrival at the royal fortress, I would be ushered in by the palace director, Mansoor El-Shahry - a middle-aged man whom the 11-year-old Prince Mohammed was close to and fond of.


Mohammed also seemed more interested in spending time with palace guards instead of following my lessons. As the oldest of his siblings, he seemed to be allowed to do as he pleased.

My ability to command the younger princes' attention would only last until Mohammed would turn up.

I still have a memory of him using a walkie-talkie in our classes, borrowed from one of the guards. He would use it to make cheeky remarks about me and crack jokes between his brothers and the guards on the other end.

Today, the 33-year-old prince is the minister of defence and heir to the Saudi throne.

Since becoming Saudi Arabia's de facto leader last year, MBS has tried to position himself as the kingdom's moderniser. In the face of opposition from conservative clerics, he spearheaded much-needed economic reforms and embarked on a programme of liberalisation in the staunchly conservative country.

Praised for some of his measures, he has also been criticised over Saudi Arabia's record on human rights, its seemingly endless war in Yemen and the recent murder of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Turkey in October.

Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people with the murder and denies the crown prince had any involvement.On one occasion, I was taken aback when Mohammed told me that his mother, the princess, had said I seemed like "a true gentleman". I had no recollection of meeting her - Saudi women royalty don't appear in front of strangers - and the only female I came across was a nanny from the Philippines.

I was oblivious to the fact that I was being watched, until the future heir to the throne pointed to some CCTV cameras on the wall. From that point onwards I would always feel self-conscious in my lessons.

Within a short time, I become fond of Mohammed and his younger siblings. Though I was teaching princes in a world of privilege, my palace pupils were, very much like my school students, curious to learn but keen to play around.

Faux pas

One day, the palace director Mansoor El-Shahry asked me to meet the future king, who wanted to find out about his children's academic progress. I thought this might be a good opportunity to address Prince Mohammed's mischief.

I waited outside Prince Salman's office, next to the princes' other tutors who seemed familiar with royal court protocol.

When he appeared before us, the teachers instinctively rose up and I watched in awe as they approached the Riyadh governor one by one, bowed, kissed his hand, hastily conferred about the children and moved on.

When my turn came, I couldn't, for the life of me bend like they did. I had never done it before. And before I froze completely, I reached out to take the future king's hand and I shook it firmly.

I remember a faint grin of amazement on his face; however, he made no fuss about my faux pas.

I didn't mention what Prince Mohammed had been up to in my lessons because by then I had decided to give it all up and return to the UK.

Soon after, Mr El-Shahry gave me a scathing telling off for failing to follow royal etiquette.

Apart from Prince Khaled, who went on to become Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, the other royal siblings I taught have mainly chosen to stay away from the public eye.

Now I look back at my brief tenure as a remarkable episode in my life and watch my former young charge as he bestrides the world stage.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 11:32

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 272
  • 0

Ayodhya: Thousands rally in Delhi over disputed religious site

Tens of thousands of Hindus have marched in the Indian capital, Delhi, to call for a temple to be built on a hotly contested religious site.

Organisers say they will not relent until a grand temple is constructed in the northern city of Ayodhya.

The area has been a longstanding point of tension between Hindus and Muslims.

Hindus believe the religious site is the birthplace of their revered deity Lord Ram, but Muslims say they have worshipped there for generations.

It was home to a medieval mosque for more than 450 years until Hindu mobs tore it down in 1992, provoking widespread riots that left thousands dead.

More than 50,000 people filled a large parade ground on Sunday to watch speakers from a hardline Hindu nationalist organisation call for a temple to be built.

Thousands more demonstrators, some carrying banners and others dressed as Hindu gods, lined nearby streets amid tight security.

"The gathering here is telling you that Hindus won't sit back until the temple is built, and our wishes are respected," said Champat Rai, leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) group that organised the protest.

Other speakers called on the government to intervene in a lengthy court case and issue its own order on the site.

"The government and the Supreme Court must realise that it is a matter of religious sentiment for Hindus," one monk told the gathered crowd.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a batch of pleas on the subject and has deferred its next hearing until January.

India's Muslim minority, which claims the right to worship at the site, say they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949 when some Hindus placed idols of Ram inside and began to worship them.

Over the decades since, the two religious groups have gone to court many times over who should control the site.

The call for the construction of a Hindu temple there has grown particularly loud in the last few months and has mostly come from members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It comes ahead of a general election which is due next May, and correspondents say the BJP appears to be attempting to galvanise Hindus ahead of this vote.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 11:27

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 221
  • 0

Formula 1: Seven key issues facing the sport's bosses for the 2019 season

Formula 1's bosses are heading into 2019 facing a critical period as they try to impose their vision on the sport.

Liberty Media's stewardship has produced mixed results since the US group took over in January 2017.

There is a more open atmosphere in F1, and a new race in Vietnam in 2020,but a number of historic events are under threat and teams' prize money has consistently dropped over the past 18 months.

Rule changes planned for 2021 have not yet been revealed, F1 has already lost one battle with the teams, and there is no agreement in other key areas.

And 2020, when all but one of the teams' contracts with F1 end, looms ever closer.

High-profile races under threat

Monza is one of the most well-attended races on the F1 calendar

Perhaps the biggest single issue facing F1 is the fact the contracts of five races expire next season.

Along with the British Grand Prix, which exercised a break clause in its contract after 2019, the races in Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico are also heading into the last year of their contracts.

The concern for F1/Liberty is all will want to renew at a lower rate than they are paying. And insiders say the circuits are working together on the matter to strengthen their hands.

Silverstone said it ended its contract because it could not afford to carry on at the escalating rates stipulated in the agreement it made with former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone in 2009.

It wants to continue, but it and F1 are some way apart on their ideas of an acceptable fee.

Losing any of these races would be bad news - Liberty is trying to expand F1, not shrink it. The absence of Britain, Italy and/or Germany would be an especially awkward look when Liberty has said it values the classic European historic races and is determined to preserve them.

And, even if none of these events is among F1's biggest earners, any race that drops off the calendar means a significant loss of income - Silverstone is paying more than £18m next year; Italy €24m (£21.4m) and Mexico a reported $25m (£19.7m).

A defeat on engines; what of the other rules?

A side-by-side comparison of what changes to the cars fans can expect to see in the new season

Liberty took over F1 with plans to make it more competitive and increase its appeal to spectators, restructure prize money so it is distributed more equitably, and impose a budget cap.

It has already lost one battle - F1 has been forced to backtrack on plans to simplify the turbo hybrid engines from 2021 following opposition from the car manufacturers.

Against F1's original wishes, the heat-energy recovery unit at the heart of both the engines' remarkable efficiency and their complexity will stay. And it's quite possible plans to loosen fuel limits will also be dropped on the same basis - why incur the cost of changing the engines, the manufacturers say, when no-one else is interested in entering?

At least on engines people generally know where things are going. On other issues, the water is muddier.

There has been no sign of the new technical rules for 2021, with which F1 plans to change aerodynamics to make it easier for cars to follow each other closely, thereby improving the racing.

Technically, the rules are the responsibility of the FIA. But F1 has set up a significant department under sporting boss Ross Brawn to research the issue. The two are said to be working together.

Why the delay? F1 says it's deliberate - it doesn't want to give the teams too much notice, to try to prevent the better-resourced stealing a march.

But a truncated time period also favours the bigger teams - because they can put more people on it, and learn more at a faster rate.

What about money?

Ferrari received the largest share of F1's prize money despite finishing behind Mercedes in the drivers' and constructors' championships

Back in April, F1 presented the teams with a plan to change income distribution and introduce a budget cap from 2021.

F1 wants to reform a prize-money system which disproportionately rewards the top teams - the legacy of one of Ecclestone's myriad divide-and-conquer strategies back in 2011.

Money will still be distributed on a performance-related basis, but the disparity between first and last will be significantly reduced.

The exact prize-money structure has not been revealed. But sources say that, in essence, the teams have been offered a protected level of income - but little chance for it to go up significantly, even if F1's profits increase.

The bonuses that rewarded Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams and Mercedes will go. In their place, engine manufacturers will be given a $10m (£7.9m) bonus, and Ferrari an additional $40m (£31.5m) because of their status.

For many months, no further talks took place on this, and teams were beginning to get nervous and edgy. In late October, F1 boss Chase Carey moved to calm them by instigating a series of regular meetings, and discussions have started to inch forward.

Publicly, the teams say talks are going in the right direction. However, privately not all have the same position - and Mercedes and Ferrari, in particular, are said to be steadfast in their unwillingness to accept the proposal presented by F1 so far.

And the budget cap?

Williams deputy team boss Claire Williams has said the team "will close" if F1 doesn't introduce a budget cap

Liberty proposed a budget cap of $150m (£118m) in 2021, the idea being to reduce the performance gap between the top three teams - who are all spending close to double that amount - and the rest.

Now, it is proposed there is a glide path down to it, with the first year set at $200m (£157.3m), then $175m (£137.6), before settling on $150m (£118m). There is also talk of delaying the start of it until 2022 or even 2023.

The problem is, every year that goes by before the cap is introduced is more time for the big teams to invest in resources and equipment that will entrench their advantage for years to come.

There is also the issue of satellite teams. Some argue a budget cap will simply increase the likelihood of big teams 'buddying up' with smaller outfits to spread resources, increase economies of scale, and make it impossible for the authorities to work out who is doing what work for which team.

This presents an existential threat to teams such as Renault, McLaren and Williams, who are not involved and believe this runs counter to the fundamental tenets of F1. They have been told it will be stopped - but not how.

Broadcasting - especially in the UK

Channel 4's coverage of the British Grand Prix averaged 2.39 million viewers

For the first time since the mid-1970s, live broadcasting of F1 will be almost non-existent on free-to-air television in the UK next year.

lucrative new contract with Sky, signed by Ecclestone in 2016, kicks in. It dictates only the British Grand Prix must be live on free-to-air, along with highlights of all the other races. Channel 4 will broadcast this in 2019.

Sky paid handsomely to own the rights to show live F1 in the UK - the contract, until 2024, is said to be worth £1.2bn.

But what effect could it have on F1's public appeal? Will it prosper, as football has? Or suffer, in the manner of cricket? Many feel they already know the likely answer to that.

Beyond 2019, there is another question. The C4 deal is for only one year. Will Sky, which owns the rights, extend it, or switch free-to-air coverage to one of its own channels?

The latter would meet the requirements of the Sky contract that the free-to-air coverage must have "90% technical availability" to the public. But it would risk diminishing the audience even further.

Sources say Sky's plan as things stand is to promote its Pick channel through 2019 as a place people will be able to see F1, and then use it to meet its free-to-air obligations in 2020.

If so, how does that fit with F1's desire to grow the audience? And will the sport's bosses try to pressure Sky to think again?

Is F1 meeting its own targets?

Empty grandstands, particularly during practice sessions, have been a problem for F1 in recent years

Liberty bought F1 professing its plans to grow both its audience and its income.

On-track audiences are up, TV audiences have increased by about 3% from 2017 to 2018, and its social media following has ballooned.

But the teams' payments have decreased slowly but consistently for the past 18 months - largely because of greatly increased overheads at F1, which has new central London offices, and significantly more staff.

In terms of TV, it is hard to discern a clear strategy behind F1's oft-repeated mantra that it wants a split between free-to-air, pay and what is known as OTT, or selling direct to the audience.

In Europe, F1's main market, Liberty has negotiated two new deals since it took over. One, in Italy, saw it move predominantly to pay-per-view, in an effective mirror of the new UK deal. Another, in Germany, extended its relationship with free-to-air on RTL, with pay TV dropped.

So, of the sport's three biggest European markets, live coverage is now almost exclusively on pay TV in two, and free-to-air survives substantially in only one.

The thorny issue of tyres

Pirelli's new tyre supply contract comes amid pressure from drivers for less sensitive tyres that allow them to push harder in races

To improve the racing, Liberty says it is addressing aerodynamics, and its effect on the ability of a car to closely follow another, in the 2021 rules.

Yet the drivers have been saying for some years that one of the key problems preventing them racing harder and closer is the tyres.

The Pirelli tyres are prone to overheating, and this restricts how hard drivers can push in races. In effect, although the car could go faster, in a race stint there is a maximum optimum lap time before the tyres are pushed over the edge.

Drivers have to keep the tyre below its surface-temperature limit for the average of the lap or stint. Push harder, and the tyres overheat and lose performance.

This is why race lap times are so much further off qualifying pace than can be accounted for by fuel load or engine modes - by a number of seconds - and why drivers spend most races trying to make a one-stop strategy work.

Doing more pit stops is counter-productive - because the tyres won't let the driver push harder to make up the lost time, despite the car going much slower than it is capable of.

The result is "the races aren't fun," as Haas driver and Grand Prix Drivers' Association director Romain Grosjean puts it. Not only that, he says, but if drivers aren't on the limit, they aren't going to make a mistake - and errors liven up races.

Try to question Brawn on this, and he simply refuses to engage.

In recent weeks, the drivers have started a renewed push for what in unguarded moments they would call better tyres.

Not all racing tyres behave like this, and one possible way of enabling drivers to race harder - as Liberty says it wants them to - would have been to explore the idea of another supplier during the recent tyre tender period.

F1 dismissed Michelin, whose tyres are driven flat out by the leading cars in the World Endurance Championship, because it felt its philosophy did not fit.

Korea's Hankook, which supplies the DTM German touring car championship, was a rival for Pirelli but in the end the Italian company secured a new contract until 2023.

Did Liberty do this deal because it genuinely believed Pirelli could produce the tyres the drivers want, even though their characteristics have been fundamentally the same since its debut in 2011? Or because fiscal issues trumped sporting ones, and the lucrative Pirelli deal was needed at a time when finances are under pressure? Or both?

Some team bosses admit F1 needs to end the era of excessive tyre management. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says it is "completely the wrong direction - we need robust tyres, that Pirelli is perfectly able to produce. They just need to be given the right objectives."

It's too late to change the tyres for 2019, but if Pirelli does not make significant changes for 2020, what then?

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 10:34

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 253
  • 0

India's richest family caps year of big fat weddings

India is still recovering from two back-to-back celebrity weddings but it's already time for the next one. This time it's the children of two Indian billionaires, who are all set for what promises to be the next level of big fat Indian weddings.

Isha Ambani, the daughter of India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, will marry Anand Piramal, the son of another billionaire industrialist on 12 December. Celebrations kick off this weekend in Udaipur, a royal city that is now a coveted wedding destination.

The last time a wedding of an Indian businessman's family got this much attention was in 2004.

Indian-born but London-based steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal hosted his daughter's wedding at France's historic Palace of Versailles and a grand chateau. The bill, which included gifts for family friends, ran up to $55m at the time.

The wedding ceremony of Ms Ambani and Mr Piramal is not quite on that scale, but "leaked" details are still greatly exciting Indians - and it caps a year of Instagram-fuelled celebrity wedding fever.

The platform's Indian universe is as driven by celebrities and influencers as anywhere else, but weddings provide it with its fashion oxygen.

Indian fashion - and increasingly photography - on the platform is dominated by brides, grooms and their parties.

And 2018, which has been a year quite unlike any other in terms of wedding bashes, will be capped off by the Ambani-Piramal wedding.

Celebrity bloggers, entertainment writers and lifestyle magazines have been scouring Instagram to keep up with the pre-wedding festivities, which will stretch over at least three days.

The wedding invites - sent in fancy mini-chests with gifts tucked inside - have their own share of Instagram videos.

The families have kept most details under wraps but rumours are rife.

India's biggest national newspaper has claimed that Beyoncé will perform at the sangeet, an evening of music and dance that typically precedes the wedding. The tradition originally involved friends and family putting on impromptu performances at intimate gatherings - but now it's far more common to see a few hours worth of choreographed dances as the latest Bollywood songs are belted out.

Several Bollywood stars themselves are expected to perform at Ms Ambani's sangeet, according to local media reports. Actors are sometimes hired to perform at sangeets or other private events by those who can afford it.

But many of Bollywood's biggest stars are personal friends of the Ambanis and are often seen attending parties hosted by the family.

The Ambanis themselves attended the recent wedding reception of Bollywood actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh; and Isha Ambani was a bridesmaid at the wedding of actress Priyanka Chopra, which took place in Jodhpur, also in Rajasthan state, last weekend.

And the couple's outfits were co-ordinated - if they didn't match colours, which they often did, they opted for starkly different ones.

Bollywood star Sonam Kapoor's wedding to businessman Anand Ahuja in May was also almost exclusively documented on Instagram. Sonam, who is considered a fashion icon, sometimes switched outfits multiple times in a single evening - and her sartorial sense became a popular topic.

Those who attended her star-studded reception also uploaded candid videos of actors and celebrities dancing with one another and singing (very badly), which quickly went viral.

Over the last year, Instagram has redefined the way Indians get information about celebrity weddings.

It's where photos are first released and where much of the media also gets news of what has occurred behind closed doors.

And on the celebrities' side, posting to Instagram is a carefully co-ordinated affair.

As Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh and even Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and Bollywood star Anushka Sharma showed, the done thing is to upload the exact same, carefully filtered couple photograph onto each person's Instagram feed at the same time.

Padukone and Singh upped the ante a little by also only posting pictures of each other on their feeds.

And with the pressure on to post beautiful pictures, everyone seems willing to go that extra mile - with emphasis on extra.

"The biggest victim of the Instagram show-off is Bollywood," says Shefalee Vasudev, who edits digital magazine The Voice of Fashion. The social media curation exhibits the "latent competition to prove who is the most different," she says.

That may be so, but Indians are not exactly complaining.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 10:18

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 238
  • 0

Why women in South Korea are cutting 'the corset'

South Korean YouTube star Lina Bae expected some negative comments when she switched from posting make-up tutorials to stripping her face bare.

What she didn't expect were death threats.

The 21-year-old thought hard about her decision. She was worried that it would be duplicitous for someone who usually gives beauty tips to upload a video promoting the idea of going without it.

But her overwhelming thought was that it was time to take a stand.

"I think lot of Korean women are wearing an 'appearance-corset'," she told the BBC.

"They have this immense fear of the face they show to others. I heard that women feel especially shameful when they hear that they are ugly. I was like that as well."


Over five million people have viewed her video as she peels off her fake eyelashes and wipes away her cherry-red lipstick. Thousands offered their support. But others launched personal attacks.

"Certain people said stuff like, 'you're not even trying anyway' and 'a corset wouldn't even fit you'. There were even death threats saying that they will come find me and kill me," she said.

"For a while after I received that death threat, I was afraid of leaving the house."

'The best version of myself'

Bae is part of a growing movement of young women in South Korea who are challenging long-held beauty ideals. They call themselves the "escape the corset" movement.

Many shave off their long hair and go without make-up then post the results on social media.

These are acts of rebellion against the constraints they feel society has imposed upon them.

From a young age in South Korea, women are bombarded with adverts telling them they need to be thin with dewy pale skin, a flawless complexion and the perfect oval face.

The beauty industry is one of the world's largest and generates around $13bn (£10bn) a year in sales. South Korea also has the world's highest rate of cosmetic surgery per capita.

Success here can often be synonymous with looks. A survey last year found that 88% of job seekers thought looks mattered when it came to finding a job and half of those questioned said they would consider plastic surgery to gain employment.

I met 23-year-old Kim Chu-hui at a professional studio where she was getting her hair and make up done. Like thousands of other graduates she is paying for the perfect photo for her job applications.

"The people who hire me don't know who I am," she said. "They have to judge me based on how I look on the photo. So I wanted give them the best version of myself to make a good impression on them."The photographer helps her to get it right. "We can fix the shoulder symmetry later. But your facial expression is the most important," he advises.

These photos will go to boardrooms across Seoul which are still dominated by men who have the power to hire and fire.

Breaking free of beauty standards

Even the smallest change in appearance can prompt the loudest outcry.

South Korean news outlet MBC's presenter Hyun-ju Yim, has made what in South Korea is a bold decision. She became the first female news anchor to wear her glasses on air after years of struggling with contact lenses and false eyelashes.

She was worried that viewers would think she wasn't making an effort. Instead she received thousands of emails of support.

"I asked myself, is it really wrong to wear glasses? Surely if it's a lighting problem then male anchors shouldn't wear glasses as well. But they do it without thinking. So why haven't female anchors worn glasses?"

She found herself being more comfortable on air and with herself.

"I think these glasses brought a lot of change in me. I no longer wear uncomfortable clothes and I wear shirts and trousers that I like. I became more free. I think these glasses gave me wings called freedom."

That is why this "escape the corset" movement in South Korea is about more than going without make-up. It is about women in this deeply conservative country finding the freedom to express themselves.

It is rare to see and hear such voices in this once conformist society. However some believe the "escape the corset" women are going a little too far.

At a feminist book café in Seoul, we talked to several women in their twenties who felt they were being pressured to join in.

"Some are saying that "if you wear makeup, you are not a feminist. Even though you might like makeup, you might feel the need to conform," Chacha told the BBC. "In some cases it feels like the free corset movement is becoming the new corset."

Another woman, Ms Bang, added that she had agonised over calling herself a feminist because of the movement.

"I like long hair, I like putting up on makeup, I like tight dresses. Could I be a feminist? It is reassuring to hear from my friends that I am a feminist because of my interests in society, my eagerness to promote women's rights, and my belief in the equality of men and women."

The "escape the corset" movement has managed to grab headlines and focus attention on women in a patriarchal society who continue to face discrimination at home, in the workplace and on the streets. The gender pay gap remains the highest among OECD countries.

Those who are brave enough to make a stand by altering their appearance have even tougher challenges ahead if they are to make progress on these other gender equality issues across the country.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 10:10

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 282
  • 0

I'm A Celebrity: Harry Redknapp wins ITV series

Harry Redknapp has been crowned King of the Jungle in the final of ITV's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

The football manager beat fellow finalists Emily Atack, who came second, and John Barrowman to take the crown, saying it was "so surreal" to win.

Ten celebrities headed into the Australian jungle in November, where they were later joined by Noel Edmonds.

In the absence of his normal partner Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly hosted the show with Holly Willoughby.

'Unbelievable experience'

More than 11 million votes were cast in the final, Willoughby said.

Redknapp, who follows in the footsteps of previous winners such as Gino D'Acampo and Georgia Toffolo, said: "My grandkids will be jumping around the living room now. They'll be so excited."

He said he didn't think he would survive so long in the show, and praised his former camp mates for being "amazing" and pulling him through.

He said while he has a "very happy home life", football can be a "lonely business" and that the show had "taught me how to laugh again".

But he admitted he had struggled with the meagre rations - and unusual foods - and that he thought the contestants would get well-fed with a "nice bit of grub" every night.

"Harry was the favourite all the way though," TV critic Emma Bullimore told BBC Radio 5 Live. With all of his little idiosyncrasies and little catchphrases, he was absolutely brilliant entertainment value and a very worthy winner.

"There was no game plan, there was no pretence, he was just himself. He came across as such a genuinely nice man."

Atack said she was "honoured" to be in the final two with Redknapp.

She said she had met "so many amazing souls" on the show, and discovered a new-found love and respect for herself.

The Inbetweeners star said: "It's changed my life in so many ways. I came into this with a bit of a difficult start to the year.

"I didn't really know what I was doing and where I wanted to go and this place has just given me so me so much self-acceptance."

Willoughby made the actress promise to never cover up her freckles again, after Atack said: "This is my skin, this is my hair - this is what I look like."

Barrowman came in third place, and said I'm a Celebrity had been one of the best experiences of his life.

The actor and singer appeared emotional as he told Willoughby and Donnelly: "I can't tell you how happy I am."

This year's contestants have been put through a series of Bushtucker trials involving snakes, cockroaches and other creatures.

They've also had to negotiate assault courses blindfolded, bake cakes while plastered in treacle and climb through "sickening sewers" in order to win food and other necessities.

The trio had to each carry out a final trial in order to win treats for their last supper together, after 23 days in the jungle.

'Great show'

Barrowman had to eat a range of gruesome items like worms, a dead spider, goats' eyes and a bull's penis.

Atack had to wear a helmet filled with insects while Redknapp's trial saw him trapped in an underground chamber while rats and bugs ran over him in the pitch black.

The former football manager was the bookies' favourite to win this year's series, despite having never watched the show before.

After leaving the show and being shown his highlights, he said: "Great show, innit?"

Many viewers agreed. Lots thought it was one of the best series in the show's 16-year history, and Redknapp was one of the most popular winners.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 09:56

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 255
  • 0

Why women have less power than you think

The discovery that more men than women hold positions of power rarely comes as a surprise. What may be more unexpected is that things are not always as they seem when women appear to have equality.

Countries can sometimes stand out for their efforts at getting women into positions of power.

Take, for example, Rwanda's appointment of a cabinet in which half of the posts went to women. Its move came just days after a gender-balanced cabinet was named in Ethiopia.

Elsewhere in the world, there are many striking examples of women having equality with men, or even outperforming them, in other jobs that offer power and influence.

Walk into a courtroom in Slovenia and the judge is four times more likely to be a woman than a man. In journalism, Namibia stands out: half of its top newsroom posts are held by women.

It is not difficult to find other countries which buck the trend for a particular job. Half of IT professionals in Malaysia are female, along with six out of 10 medical researchers in New Zealand and five out of 10 engineers in Oman.

That women hold these posts, which are so often dominated by men, is to be welcomed. Yet while it may seem obvious that other countries could learn from these examples, it is often worth asking ourselves where influence really lies.

The power of judges

Fresh in many people's minds will be the controversy surrounding the confirmation of judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, despite allegations of sexual assault - which he denied. The Supreme Court - in which three of the nine judges are women - is an example of a system in which top judges wield considerable power.

As in the UK, the legal system is based on common law. Judges are often appointed late on in their careers - sometimes through male-dominated networks - and the law is based on their decisions and precedent.

By contrast, in other countries such as France and Slovenia, judges' power is far more constrained. In these civil law systems - which are based on written rules - judges have less discretion to make their own interpretations.

And the way in is different too. Law graduates become judges by passing a competitive exam to enter training straight after graduating.

The fact that positions are allocated on academic merit rather than via a tap on the shoulder makes a big difference.More than six out of 10 judges in France are female, but the position comes with a loss of pay. Lawyers can often earn more working in private practice.

Some of the highest percentages of female judges are found in post-Soviet societies. Like Slovenia, seven out of 10 judges in Romania and Latvia are women.

Under communism the role of the judge was not only poorly paid but much constrained by ideological factors - the real power lay elsewhere. The judiciary in these countries still has a relatively low reputation and earning power.

After the upheaval

In other professions, it is often the case that women have gained power following a period of change, or upheaval.

For example, in communist-era Bulgaria, journalism was primarily a function of the state. But after 1989, press freedom grew and many well-educated and entrepreneurial women changed their career path and now have parity in top-level newsroom jobs.

In Rwanda, parliamentary gender quotas were introduced in 2003. The move came after the the destruction of government institutions during the genocide of 1994.

That six out of 10 parliamentarians is now female puts it ahead of every other country worldwide.

But here too there are questions over what real power looks like.

Rwanda's male leader, President Paul Kagame, has been accused of being authoritarian. Some have argued that having large numbers of female MPs offers little in the way of concrete power.

On the other hand, others have pointed to the wider social effects of women's presence in parliaments.

This may include increased respect for women from family and community members, and greater ability for women to influence decisions.

So what does all this tell us?

The relationship between women and power is complex and it's difficult to draw strong conclusions from looking at any one statistic - it's important to always look at the bigger picture.

While we may still have a long way to go, we know that having more women in top positions - even if they're not perfect - can be symbolically powerful, increasing people's acceptance of female leaders.

Nonetheless, one thing does seem clear: when things are done the way they've always been done, change happens very slowly - if at all.

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Laura Jones is a research associate at the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, at King's College London.

The Global Institute for Women's Leadership carries out research to better understand and address the causes of women's underrepresentation in leadership positions.



ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 09:51

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 222
  • 0

Ambani-Piramal wedding: Beyoncé sings at A-list Indian event

US singer Beyoncé has performed as part of the lavish festivities at the latest extravagant Indian celebrity wedding.

Isha Ambani, the daughter of India's richest man, is tying the knot with Anand Piramal, son of another Indian billionaire, this week.

Beyoncé was one of many celebrities flown in, along with Bollywood stars and guests like Hillary Clinton.

It comes on the heels of several recent Indian weddings competing for glamour, excess and attention.

The Ambanis themselves recently attended the wedding reception of Bollywood actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.

And last weekend, Isha Ambani was a bridesmaid at the wedding of actress Priyanka Chopra to US singer Nick Jonas.

The actual wedding of the daughter of business tycoon Mukesh Ambani is on Wednesday but the festivities leading up to it kicked off over the weekend.

It is likely to be one of India's richest and most glamorous weddings, and the many guests include former US First Lady and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, media giant Arianna Huffington, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.

According to media reports, guests had been flown in on 100 chartered flights.

Celebrity bloggers, entertainment writers and lifestyle magazines have been scouring Instagram to keep up with festivities. Videos of Bollywood celebrities, including Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, dancing along with the wedding party have already begun to make the rounds, and are going viral on social media.

Beyoncé took to the stage on Sunday night for the sangeet, an evening of music and dance that typically precedes the wedding.

She shared photos on her Instagram account of her jewel-studded outfit and elaborate gold jewellery.

Her fee hasn't been made public, but would likely not have been a problem for the Ambanis. Mukesh Ambani, managing director of Reliance Industries, has a personal fortune of around $47bn (£37bn)

  • Mukesh Ambani, the father of the bride, Isha, is Asia's richest man and also the 19th wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes
  • Ajay Piramal, the father of the groom, Anand, is the head of the Piramal family, which is valued at $5.4bn
  • Mr Ambani is the chairman of Reliance Industries Limited, one of India's richest companies. It has a wide presence across many industries, including oil and gas, petrochemicals, telecom, retail and media
  • Mr Piramal has guided his family company into industries such as real estate, pharmaceuticals and packaging. It rose to prominence in the 1930s in the textile industry
  • In 2016, Mr Ambani formally launched his telecom network, Jio, which offers high speed data at very low costs. Within two years, it has become India's largest network and is widely credited with getting more Indians online in a very short period of time
  • Mr Piramal is a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Council for Trade and Industry and is widely considered to be one of India's most important business personalities
  • The Ambani family lives in a 27-storey home in Mumbai city named Antilia. It is the world's most expensive home, costing more than $1bn, boasting features such as multi-level gardens and three helipads.

ruby Posted on December 10, 2018 09:19

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 272
  • 0

National Best farmer awardee dies in Tamale

One of the awardees for this year's National Best Farmers Day from the Volta Region has died, whilst attending the awards ceremony in Tamale.

The deceased, Issah Nayawu, aged 46, was one of the award winners from the Volta Region who are to receive awards at the national event at the Aliu Mahama Sports Stadium in Tamale on Friday December 7, 2018

His sudden death occurred on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 in Tamale after a short illness.

He has since been buried in line with Islamic custom and tradition.

The deceased is from Jasikan in the Volta Region and died six days after arriving in Tamale for the awards ceremony.

For today's latest Ghana news, visit Graphic Online headlines page Ghana news headlines.

The Chairman of the National Farmers Awards Winners, Mr. Davies Narh Korboe confirmed the death to the media in Tamale on Thursday, December 6, 2018

He expressed his condolence to the bereaved family and added that Mr. Nayawu would be awarded posthumously.

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 13:15

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 279
  • 0

South Africa mob kills suspected arsonist

A man suspected of starting a fire in South Africa's Alexandra township has been killed by a mob.

He died of his injuries after being taken to hospital following the blaze that broke out on Thursday afternoon.

The fire destroyed more than 500 shacks, leaving hundreds homeless. Police are yet to determine the cause.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani says vigilante killings are common in poor areas where crime is often high and communities feel frustrated with the police.

The densely populated township of Alexandra is north of the city of Johannesburg

Although it right by the affluent Sandton neighbourhood, which is known as Africa's richest square mile, poverty and unemployment are high there, our reporter says.

One eyewitness, who posted a video of the inferno on social media, shared a theory that the fire had broken out because of a fight.

Many people were at work when the blaze started out on Thursday. No other deaths or injuries have been reported.

Fire fighters attended the scene but struggled to contain the blaze. Johannesburg Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Nana Radebe told eNCA TV channel, "We don't have hydrants in this area."

Water in fire engines only lasts four minutes, so access to water hydrants was essential, she said, adding that residents had built over those installed for factories that were once in the area.

The water pressure in one available hydrant was so low it could not be used and a water tanker had to be brought in, Ms Radebe said.

Image copyrightEYEWITNESS NEWS

An aid worker told South Africa's TimesLIVE that 690 shacks had been destroyed, affecting 2,000 people, including a woman who had given birth on Thursday.

"We found her sitting on the side of the road. She lost everything," Emily Thomas of Gift for Givers was quoted as saying.

Image copyrightEYEWITNESS NEWS

Many people slept outside on Thursday night. As the clean-up operation continues, police are investigating the cause of the fire.

Image copyrightEYEWITNESS NEWS

Alexandra has bricks and mortar houses, but many people live in shacks made of corrugated iron and wood. They are often insulated with cardboard and plastic bags, making them highly combustible.

Image copyrightEYEWITNESS NEWS

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 11:07

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 252
  • 0

Danger that hides in make-up


They may be reluctant to leave home without it, but make-up is putting women at risk of deadly diseases, say experts.

According to a new book, cosmetics and beauty products often contain toxic ingredients that can cause cancer and other fatal illnesses

Loopholes in Government regulations are being exploited by manufacturers to allow banned chemicals into over-the-counter products, it claims.

Authors Kim Erickson and Samuel Epstein say many ingredients in make-up have been shown to cause cancer in animals and should never be used as part of a beauty routine.

Coal tar colours, phenylenediamine, benzene and even formaldehyde are some of the toxins commonly found in shampoos, skin creams and blushers, they say.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals, which could lower immunity to disease and cause neurological and reproductive damage, may also lurk in everyday cosmetics.

In their book, Drop Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics, to be published next month, they claim the adverse effects of cosmetics build up over years of use.

Miss Erickson said: 'Modern cosmetics contain a host of dubious ingredients which would be more at home in a test tube than on our faces.

'These synthetic ingredients are inexpensive, stable and have a long shelf-life. Manufacturers love them, but the results from long-term use could be deadly.'

She said the same poisons that pollute the environment, from dioxins to petrochemicals, can be found in the average bathroom cabinet.

'Many of the same ingredients have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals,' she added.

      The UK cosmetics industry is worth £4.5billion a year and employs more than 20,000 people. It is controlled by the Department of Trade and Industry's 1996 Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations. The regulations approve about 3,000 ingredients for cosmetic use, but many more find their way into the finished products.One loophole in the regulations allows cosmetics to contain banned substances if they cannot 'reasonably' be removed.

The authors say chemicals get into the bloodstream in a number of ways. Hair sprays, perfumes and powders are inhaled; lipstick is swallowed; eye make-up absorbed by sensitive mucous membranes and others taken in through the skin.

Allergy specialist Dr Jean Munro, medical director of the Breakspear Hospital in Hertfordshire, supports the claims.

In the last 20 years she has treated 8,000 women, nearly all of whom were found to have a sensitivity to beauty products

Dr Munro said: 'There is no question that people are being damaged by their cosmetics.

'So many things are put into cosmetics now that are carcinogenic, and it is allowed because cosmetics are not considered to be as serious as drugs or food.

'One of the most extreme cases I have seen was a woman whose bone marrow was affected by chemicals used in hair dye.

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 11:01

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 300
  • 0



Soft cornbread, as well as sweet cornbread, are my absolute favourites for the winter time. With fresh cottage cheese and eggs, this is a fancier version of a well-known quick bread, proja. These lovely muffins can be served instead of dinner rolls, breakfast rolls, and they can even be grilled and toasted. Although they could be slathered with soft butter, and some tangy jam for a fantastic snack, my favourite way to serve these is with sauerkraut and soured cream.

200 grams cottage cheese
2 eggs
200 grams finely ground cornmeal
100 grams soft bread flour
100 ml oil
300 ml sparkling mineral water (carbonated water)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt


Sift together the cornmeal, bread flour, baking powder and baking soda, add salt and whisk well, then set it aside. Break up the cheese with a fork, add the eggs and cream the mixture using an electric mixture, until smooth; add the oil and blend it on low, until creamy. Add the flour mixture and half of the water and mix it in on low, then continue mixing while pouring the rest of the water in a thin stream. Finally, mix the batter on high for about a minute, to make it completely smooth and creamy. Line a 12-count standard size muffin pan with muffin liners, divide the batter evenly and bake immediately in a preheated oven, at 200?C (400?F), for 18-20 minutes. Serve warm


Since early age, we are taught to associate baking and pastry with feelings of comfort and cosiness. With the much colder weather approaching, what better way to keep the chill away, then with a batch of crispy, golden Mozzarella rolls.

They do not take a lot of time, and they are very easy to put together – start to finish they take about an hour of your time. If you are so inclined, feel free to lightly sprinkle them with minced pepperoncini right before rolling up the dough.


200 grams Feta cheese
200 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
300 grams Graham flour
½ teaspoon salt
250 grams Mozzarella cheese, grated


Place the softened butter into a large bowl, and use an electronic whisk on a medium setting to cream the butter until it becomes smooth and lighter in colour. Add in the Feta cheese, along with the salt, and blend on a lower setting until just combined. When blended, increase the speed and whisk until completely creamy. Start gradually adding in the sifted flour, blending with the whisk at first, then with a wooden spoon or a sturdy, reliable spatula, until you get a very soft and pliable dough. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, so the butter can firm up slightly, making the further rolling and slicing easier.

Lightly flour the work surface, either with Graham or plain flour, and quickly roll out the dough to about 5 millimetres thick, then lavishly cover the whole surface with freshly grated Mozzarella cheese, making sure you leave one end of the dough bare, so the dough rolls could be sealed properly. Brush a small amount of cold water on the bare edge of the dough, and starting from the opposite side, roll it into a tight log, just as you would a Swiss roll.

Using a very sharp knife, carefully divide the dough into 16 equal rolls, and arrange them on a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment, cut side down. Although these rolls have no leavening agent in them, do space them apart generously, as they will bake crispier on the edges that way. Bake them in a preheated oven, at 200°C (400°F), for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Serve them immediately, either with tomato sauce or plain. Yields 16 rolls, 8 servings.

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 10:52

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 310
  • 0

Cohen spoke with Russian to set up Trump-Putin meeting, Mueller reveals

Trump implicated in campaign finance law violations as prosecutors allege he directed lawyer to pay off two women

One of Donald Trump’s closest advisers spoke during the 2016 election campaign with a Russian offering help from Moscow and a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the special counsel Robert Mueller revealed on Friday.

Federal prosecutors also alleged that Trump directed the adviser, Michael Cohen, to make illegal payoffs to two women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump, implicating the president in the violation of campaign finance laws. They recommended that Cohen receive a prison sentence of about four years.

The disclosures heaped new pressure on Trump, whose presidency has come under siege from Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and a spinoff inquiry into Cohen, his lawyer and legal fixer for more than a decade.

They were swiftly followed by new revelations in the criminal prosecution of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was accused by Mueller of repeatedly lying about his relationship with an alleged former Russian intelligence operative and about his recent communications with Trump’s White House.

Following a week of increasingly frenzied attacks against Mueller, Trump falsely stated on Friday evening that the latest development “totally clears”him. In fact, investigations appeared to be edging ever closer to the door of the Oval Office.

Mueller said in a court filing that Cohen had provided him “useful information” on matters at the core of the Trump-Russia investigation. He also recounted details of communications with people “connected to the White House” this year and last, Mueller said, hinting Cohen may have implicated Trump and aides in additional wrongdoing.

The special counsel’s filing said Cohen’s November 2015 conversation with a Russian national was among other “contacts with Russian interests” he had while the Kremlin was interfering in the election to help Trump.

Cohen also told investigators he made efforts to contact the Russian government to propose a meeting between Trump and Putin in New York in September 2015, after discussing this with Trump.

In a separate filing, federal prosecutors in New York said Cohen “acted in coordination and at the direction of” Trump when setting up payments to buy the silence of Karen McDougal, a former model, and Stormy Daniels, a pornographic actor, who were considering making public their allegations of affairs with Trump.

Cohen and Trump paid the women to suppress their damaging stories and “to influence the 2016 presidential election”, the filing said.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told reporters the filings contained “nothing of value that wasn’t already known”, saying Cohen had “repeatedly lied” and was “no hero”.

Mueller separately alleged that Manafort falsely claimed he had had no contact with anyone in Trump’s administration since they entered office. In fact, Mueller said, he was in communication with a senior official until February this year, and asked an intermediary to talk to an official on his behalf as recently as late May.

The contacts will be of great interest to investigators. Whether Manafort’s ties to pro-Kremlin figures in eastern Europe are connected to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election remains the central unanswered question in the Trump-Russia inquiry.

While Mueller said Cohen provided significant help to his investigation, prosecutors said Cohen had overstated his overall cooperation with the government and had shown a “rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes”.

        Cohen was motivated by greed and “repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends”, the prosecutors said in a court filing. “After cheating the [Internal Revenue Service] for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero.”

           Despite his wrongdoing, Mueller said, Cohen disclosed “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters” at the core of his investigation. US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia’s interference was aimed at helping Trump and harming the campaign of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.

        Cohen previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s plans to develop a building in Russia. He admitted the project continued well into Trump’s campaign for the presidency – contradicting Trump’s account – and that Cohen spoke with a Kremlin official about securing Russian government support.


On Friday, Mueller disclosed that in November 2015, Cohen separately spoke with a Russian “who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation” and offered Trump’s campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”.

The Russian repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, according to Mueller, and told Cohen the meeting “could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well’”, because there was “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of Putin”.

Mueller said Cohen chose not to pursue the offer of assistance in part because he was working on the project with someone else he “understood to have his own connections to the Russian government”, a likely reference to Felix Sater, a developer who was working on the Trump Tower Moscow plans.

Cohen previously pleaded guilty in August to violating election campaign finance laws by arranging the payments to the two women. He also pleaded guilty to several financial crimes relating to his business and tax affairs.

Last week, Mueller tore up a plea deal with Manafort and told a judge he repeatedly lied to investigators even after agreeing to cooperate with the Trump-Russia investigation.



In his submission on Friday, Mueller said Manafort had continued lying about five areas of the inquiry, including his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm. Kilimnik is alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence services, which he denies. Manafort and Kilimnik are accused of asking business associates early this year to lie about their past lobbying work.

Since you're here…

… we have a small favour to ask. Three years ago we set out to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The same technologies that connected us with a global audience had also shifted advertising revenues away from news publishers. We decided to seek an approach that would allow us to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.

More than one million readers have now supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, which has played such an important part in helping The Guardian overcome a perilous financial situation globally. We want to thank you for all of your support. But we have to maintain and build on that support for every year to come.

Sustained support from our readers enables us to continue pursuing difficult stories in challenging times of political upheaval, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Readers’ support means we can continue bringing The Guardian’s independent journalism to the world.

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $1, you can support the Guardian – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 10:47

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 249
  • 0

Trump wrongly claims Cohen memos 'clear the president' – as it happened

The week has come to a close with a number of major developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. We’re ending our live coverage for the day – thanks for following along. Here’s what you need to know about the day’s news:

  • Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and legal fixer, spoke with a Russian offering help from Moscow during the 2016 campaign, according to Mueller.
  • Cohen told investigators he made efforts to contact the Russian government to propose a meeting between Trump and Putin in 2015, after discussing this with Trump.
  • Prosecutors recommended Cohen receive a prison sentence of about four years.
  • The government for the first time implicated the president in Cohen’s campaign finance violations, saying the attorney “acted in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump.
  • Paul Manafort lied to the FBI and to the special counsel’s office, according to a separate filing by Mueller on Friday.
  • The former campaign chairman tried to conceal his contact with an “administration official” inside the White House as late as May 2018, the filing said.
  • Mueller wrote: “Manafort told multiple discernible lies – these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”
  • James Comey, the former FBI director, testified before the House judiciary and oversight committees on Friday, and later criticized the process.
  • Trump tweeted attacks on Comey and also wrongly claimed the sentencing memo “clears the president”.
  • John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has been interviewed by Mueller’s team and is expected to quit, CNN reported.
  • George Papadopoulos, former aide to Trump’s campaign, was released from prison on Friday after serving 12 days for lying to the federal government about his contacts with the Russians.
  • Trump nominated William Barr as the next attorney general, selecting a man who served in the role under George HW Bush.

Since you’re here … we have a small favour to ask. Three years ago we set out to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. We decided to seek an approach that would allow us to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.

More than one million readers have now supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions. We want to thank you for all of your support. But we have to maintain and build on that support for every year to come.

The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion.If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as $1, you can support the Guardian – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Make a contribution - The Guardian

James Comey calls House hearing 'desperate'

James Comey, the former FBI director who was called to Capitol Hill today to privately testify before the House judiciary and oversight committees, has called his hearing a “desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president”:

Some Republicans have suggested that the former FBI chief should have been more cooperative in the private questioning. Democrats, however, have criticized the investigation. Via AP:

“He answered the questions he had to answer,” said Rep Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. But he added that he was left with the impression that “we got nowhere today”.

Florida Rep Ted Deutsch said the Republican majority “wishes to only ask questions still about Hillary Clinton’s emails, all to distract from the big news today, which is what’s happening in court”.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the judiciary panel, said he would end the investigation when Democrats take over in January.

White House: 'the media is trying to create a story'

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, has responded to the Friday night filings. On Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman accused of lying “in multiple ways and on multiple occasions”, Sanders sought to distance the claims from Trump:

The government’s filing in Mr Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the president. It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”

Sanders meanwhile attacked the credibility of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, who is potentially facing four years in prison:

The government’s filings in Mr Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr Cohen is no hero.”

The Cohen filings directly implicate Trump. Cohen, who was Trump’s legal fixer, told investigators he made efforts to contact the Russian government to propose a meeting between Trump and Putin in New York in September 2015, after discussing this with Trump. More details here:

Here is some helpful analysis from the Washington Post about the implications of the special counsel’s claim that Michael Cohen’s campaign finance law violations were done “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump:

This filing marks the first time that federal prosecutors have directly implicated Trump in the violations. That could mean serious consequences. Here’s how Lawrence Noble, the former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, explained it to the Post:

Noble further said, “This is something that very clearly would have to be considered for criminal prosecution” of Trump – were he not president. The Post noted that DOJ guidelines suggest that a sitting president can’t be indicted. More from the anaylsis:

In order for Trump to be charged – if he weren’t president – it would need to be a ‘knowing and willful violation,’ Noble said. This doesn’t mean, though, that Trump would need to know the specific statutes that his actions were violating. It would be enough for Trump to know that campaign contributions needed to be reported and were subject to limits, which he clearly did, and that the payments were being made in order to influence the election.

Cohen sentencing memo: key quotes

Some key quotes from the Cohen sentencing memo, filed by federal prosecutors in New York:

  • “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life (and was evidently hidden from the friends and family members who wrote on his behalf).”
  • “He was motivated ... by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends. Now he seeks extraordinary leniency – a sentence of no jail time – based principally on his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes; his claims to a sympathetic personal history; and his provision of certain information to law enforcement.”
  • “While Cohen – as his own submission makes clear – already enjoyed a privileged life, his desire for even greater wealth and influence precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct.”
  • “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1 [Trump].”
  • “Cohen clouded a process that Congress has painstakingly sought to keep transparent. The sentence imposed should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
  • “Cohen’s submission suggests that this was but a brief error in judgment. Not so. Cohen knew exactly where the line was, and he chose deliberately and repeatedly to cross it.”
  •  “After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero.”

One critical detail from the latest Mueller filing is the claim that in November 2015, Cohen spoke with a Russian national “who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation” and offered the Trump campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”.

Trump is now tweeting about James Comey – and has not yet commented on the newly released sentencing memos about his former personal attorney. Comey was on Capitol Hill today to privately testify before the House judiciary and oversight committees.

sarah Posted on December 08, 2018 10:35

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 253
  • 0

I'm a Celebrity: Nick Knowles' kids love dad's budgie smugglers

Nick Knowles has, for many, been the unexpected star of this year's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

He's spent his time in the jungle walking round in a pair of rather revealing red pants, endlessly playing the guitar - and bizarrely claiming the moon landings were faked.

All things you might expect his kids to find pretty cringey - but sons TJ and Charles have told Newsbeat he's "doing them proud".

And, contrary to what you might expect - they especially love those now-infamous budgie smugglers.

"Who knows where he got them from, I think he picked them up on his way into the jungle," TJ laughs. "When he left he never had them!"

Charles is equally confused.

"We're loving the budgie smugglers - shout out to them. They're going through some serious stuff right now.

"We didn't see him packing them. But dad's just one of those people - he's proud about it, he loves it."

The DIY SOS host has also raised eyebrows by controversially claiming no human "has ever landed on the moon".

But his sons are behind him on that too - well, sort of.

"The moon thing was hilarious to me," Charles says, "me and dad both do this thing where we like throwing a bit of a curve ball out there.

"It's not that we actually believe it ourselves, but if you throw a controversial subject out and then just let anarchy take over it's actually hilarious to watch."

As well as being a TV presenter, Nick is also a musician and put out his debut album last year.

It's been a big talking point on the show - so much so that a campaign was launched to push his version of the song To Make You Feel My Love to the top of the iTunes chart.

And it worked.

"He's an unbelievable guitarist," Charles says. "We're all taken aback by it. It's a bit crazy.

"We're very shocked but we're feeling the love and so is dad right now - so shout out to anyone who did buy it."

But despite all the success, Charles admits he didn't actually want his dad to go on the show.

"Dad is a gentleman but when you put yourself on a platform that is viewed by so many, and you're just yourself, no matter how much of a gentleman you are you're always going to get negative feedback.

"As a family we're strong enough to deal with it, but it's never nice to see someone say something about your dad.

"I'm very close with dad and protective about him - but we're getting used to it and we're getting a lot of love."

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 13:01

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 236
  • 0

France protests: Footage of students 'humiliated' by police

Footage of school students being forced to kneel with their hands behind their heads by French riot police has sparked outrage on social media.

The students were demonstrating outside a school in Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris, which ended in clashes with police and more than 140 arrests.

Students are angry at plans to reform the exam system, which they say will limit opportunity and breed inequality.

It comes at France prepares for further violence from "yellow vest" protesters.

Police said that those arrested at the Saint-Exupery school were suspected of taking part in an "armed gathering", adding that officers had wanted to break up a situation that was getting "out-of-control", Le Monde newspaper reported.

However, Paris Communist councillor Clémentine Autain said the images of students forced to kneel in dirt while facing brick walls were "frightening", "humiliating" and "unacceptable".

Frédérique Rolet, of France's education union the SNES-FSU, said she found the footage "unbearable", according to French radio station Europe 1.

The head of Oxfam France, Cécile Duflot, tweeted that she felt the scenes from the Mantes-la-Jolie school were "simply intolerable".

Ms Duflot also shared a report produced by former French high school students who participated in demonstrations dating back to the 1960s.

In it they state that the actions taken by authorities in response to the recent protests have been "disproportionate".

"We blocked our high schools, occupied the streets," the report reads, adding: "None of us have ever been taken into custody... we were not gassed at close range in front of our schools."Students across the country have been angered by President Emmanuel Macron's plans to change the end-of-school exam, which is known as the baccalaureate and is required for entrance to university, as well as the university admissions platform Parcoursup.

Student Louis Benzerrouk said on Thursday that he was demonstrating because young people "are not listened to".

"We are despised by [Macron and his government] ... we really have the impression that they are going in the opposite direction," he said.

Another student, Milena Arvois, said the planned reform will "kill the vocational schools", adding that she was also against an increase in fees for foreign students "because that will be a disaster".

Dozens of schools were blockaded in cities across France this week, including in Marseille, Nantes and Paris.

The "gilets jaunes" ("yellow vest") protesters, so-called because they take to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing required to be carried in every vehicle by French law, initially complained at a sharp increase in diesel taxes but the demonstrations have now widened to include other sources of discontent.

Mr Macron said his motivation for the increase was environmental, but protesters accused him of being out of touch.

The government later scrapped the plan but the yellow vest protesters have since issued more than 40 demands to government, including a minimum pension and widespread changes to the tax system.

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 12:42

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 283
  • 0

Strictly Come Dancing: Is Ashley Roberts too good to be a contestant?

There are some things you can depend on happening every Christmas.

Mariah Carey on the radio. The Queen's speech on the TV. A chocolate orange in your stocking.

And, like clockwork, a Strictly contestant being accused of having too much dance experience.

But this year, the celebrity in the firing line arguably has a more notable dance background than any before her.

Singer Ashley Roberts is paired with Strictly pro Pasha Kovalev, but many viewers say she might as well be one of the show's professionals herself.

"There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Ashley was announced as part of this year's line-up," TV critic Emma Bullimore tells BBC News.

"Unlike previous contestants with dance experience, Ashley actually worked as a judge on another dance programme, and her role in the Pussycat Dolls was to dance more than it was to sing."

It's true that the 37-year-old has previously been a judge on ITV's Dancing On Ice.

It's true that The Pussycat Dolls were used to performing complex dance routines while Nicole Scherzinger took care of the lead vocals.

But, some have argued, it doesn't necessarily follow that she would have an advantage on Strictly.

"I'm sure Ashley's never done the Viennese waltz in her career with The Pussycat Dolls," said host Tess Daly last week, an argument anyone who's seen the video for Buttons could confirm.

"I think cut her a little slack... she hasn't necessarily danced in ballroom before."

Speaking to BBC News in September, Ashley herself argued Latin and ballroom was "just so foreign to what my body has done".

But, she acknowledged: "I do have rhythm so it might be a little bit easier for me to possibly pick up a step, but it is still a new skill that I don't know that I am going to have to learn."

Nonetheless, Ashley and Pasha's quickstep last weekend saw her end up in the bottom two (again) despite receiving high scores from the judges (again).

It was the second time in as many weeks the star had found herself in the dance-off.

Given the algorithm Strictly uses to calculate the bottom two, with judges' scores balanced against the public, it's fair to assume Ashley is receiving very few viewer votes indeed.

"It's perhaps a sign that the public feel that she may be too good and has slightly lost interest in her," suggested Ben Dowell in The Radio Times.

"It's important to have good dancers in the early stages of each series so there's something nice to watch while everyone's finding their dancing feet. But I would be quite pleased if she didn't win."

Viewers seem to agree. Throughout the series, complaints and jokes about Ashley's involvement have become commonplace on social media.

There's little doubt that, if Strictly was judged solely on dancing, Ashley would be very likely to win this year.

"She's one of the best dancers I think we've ever seen on the show," admitted judge Craig Revel Horwood last month, a point which could be made on either side of the argument.

Ashley was the first contestant to get a perfect score of 40, during the Blackpool special, with a jive that Bruno Tonioli said would go down in the show's history.

But Strictly has never really been about that.

Far more important is the "journey".

Take a look at some of the show's previous winners, like Ore Oduba, Joe McFadden, Abbey Clancey or Louis Smith.

They are celebrities from a wide range of backgrounds who had a much lower skill level on which to improve when their respective series started.

Viewers, therefore, felt they had grown with the contestants. Seen them work hard at a new discipline, and improve dramatically.

One contestant who has made it to the final five this year, Paralympian Lauren Steadman, is perhaps one of 2018's most improved celebrities.

"People want to see someone who's not brilliant to start with, and then has a bit of a breakthrough moment and gets better and better," says Bullimore.

"Lauren is inspiring a lot of people with disabilities, and without disabilities, and you forget AJ has had to adapt the choreography, because he's used to having someone with two arms.

"So it's pretty amazing to watch, and what they've achieved is incredible."

Ashley isn't the first contestant to find herself the subject of the "professional" criticism.

Denise Van Outen and Alexandra Burke have faced similar accusations in the past on account of their West End experience, while another of this year's contestants, Danny John Jules, has been dancing professionally since the 1990s.

"You'd be very, very hard pushed to find anybody who has no dance experience [to take part in Strictly]," pointed out Steps singer Claire Richards when she defended the casting of her bandmate Faye Tozer in this year's series.

Bullimore says she's "sympathetic" to viewers who object to Ashley's casting, but adds: "I don't get too het up about it because nobody with previous dance experience ever goes on to win.

"I don't think there are that many people who are furious that Ashley was booked for the show. But do I think there are a lot of people who don't want her to win? Yes."

Aside from dance experience, another reason Ashley would be unlikely to lift the glitterball trophy is that Strictly has never been won by a non-British contestant.

End of Youtube post by BBC Strictly Come Dancing

But, like Alexandra before her, she's made it this far thanks to the judges repeatedly saving her in the dance-off - as they are obliged to vote for the stronger dance on a technical level.

Whether Ashley makes it through this weekend or not, there's no doubt next week's final is going to be close.

As this year's series reaches its climax, there's only one thing we can be truly certain of - having this debate all over again about a different celebrity next year.

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 10:33

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 243
  • 0

France protests: Tourist sites to close on Saturday amid Paris riot fears

Tourist sites in Paris are to close on Saturday amid fears of further street violence from "yellow vest" anti-government protests.

Across France, 89,000 police officers will be on duty and armoured vehicles will be deployed in the capital, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced.

Police have urged shops and restaurants on Paris's Champs-Elysees to shut and some museums will also be closed.

Paris endured some of the worst rioting in decades last Saturday.

The government has said it is scrapping unpopular fuel tax increases in its budget - the original trigger for the protests.

But broader discontent with the government has spread and protests have erupted over other issues.

What has the government said?

An official with the interior ministry told AFP news agency authorities were braced for "significant violence" on Saturday, with activists from both the far right and far left planning to converge on the capital.

In an interview with TV channel TF1, Mr Philippe said 8,000 police would be deployed in Paris as well as a dozen armoured vehicles.

He repeated an appeal for calm but added: "We are facing people who are not here to protest, but to smash and we want to have the means to not give them a free rein."

Earlier, Mr Philippe suggested further concessions to protesters, telling the Senate that the government was open to new measures to help the lowest-paid workers.

How will Paris be affected?

The operator of the Eiffel Tower said the threat of violent protests on Saturday made it impossible to ensure "adequate security conditions".

City authorities say they are stepping up protection for famous landmarks after the Arc de Triomphe was damaged last week.

Culture Minister Franck Riester said the Louvre and Orsay museums, opera houses and the Grand Palais complex were among sites that would be closed.

"We cannot take the risk when we know the threat," he told RTL radio.

Police have asked stores and restaurants along the Champs-Elysees and other major shopping streets to stay closed and to remove any outdoor items such as tables and chairs.

A series of football matches have also been postponed on Saturday. They include those between Paris and Montpellier, Monaco and Nice, Toulouse and Lyon, and Saint-Etienne and Marseille.

What other protests have there been?

On Thursday young people took to the streets, protesting over education reforms.

More than 140 people were arrested when a protest outside a school in Mantes-la-Jolie to the west of Paris ended in clashes with police. Pictures of the arrests, in which the students are made to kneel and put their hands behind their heads, sparked outrage on social media.

"Now there's a well-behaved class," a police office is heard saying.

The town's police chief told Le Monde newspaper that those arrested were suspected of taking part in an "armed gathering", adding that officers had wanted to break up a situation that was getting "out-of-control."

Dozens of other schools were blockaded in cities including Marseille, Nantes and Paris. Students have been angered by President Emmanuel Macron's plans to change the end-of-school exam, known as the baccalaureate, which is required for entrance to university.

Critics fear the reforms will limit opportunity and breed inequality.

Who are the protesters?

The "gilets jaunes" protesters, so-called because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law, initially complained at a sharp increase in diesel taxes.

Mr Macron said his motivation for the increase was environmental, but protesters accused him of being out of touch.

The government later scrapped the plan but the yellow vest protesters were not placated. Last week, the movement - despite a lack of central leadership - issued more than 40 demands to government.

Among them were a minimum pension, widespread changes to the tax system, and a reduction in the retirement age.

The protest movement has gained momentum via social media, encompassing a whole range of participants from the anarchist far left to the nationalist far right, and moderates in between.

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 10:03

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 240
  • 0

MSF ship Aquarius ends migrant rescues in Mediterranean

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has been forced to end migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean carried out by the vessel Aquarius.

The medical charity blamed "sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states".

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini welcomed MSF's move. "Fewer sailings, fewer landings, fewer deaths. That's good," he tweeted.

Aquarius has been stuck in Marseille since its registration was revoked.

It has helped save migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe from Libya and elsewhere, but has faced strong opposition, particularly from Italy.

Mr Salvini accused charities running rescue ships of collaborating with people-traffickers operating out of Libya to run a "taxi service" to Italian ports.

Italian policy is that migrants picked up at sea should be returned to Libya by that country's coastguard.

But charities and human rights groups say migrants face appalling conditions in Libya, where abuses at the hands of people-trafficking gangs are rife.

Aquarius had been the last charity rescue ship still operating.

Announcing the decision to end its operations, MSF said EU countries, spearheaded by Italy, had failed to provide enough dedicated rescue capacity of their own, then had actively sabotaged the efforts of others trying to save lives in the Mediterranean, the BBC's Europe correspondent, Damian Grammaticas reports.

In a tweet, MSF Sea said "sustained attacks" by European nations "will mean more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed".

Aquarius has been laid up in Marseille for months, after Panama revoked its registration - citing intense political pressure from Italian authorities

A de-flagged vessel cannot legally set sail.

Italy has kept up the pressure. Last month, prosecutors called for the seizure of the Aquarius over the alleged dumping of potentially toxic waste in its ports. MSF called the move "unfounded and sinister".

Migrant numbers reaching Italy have fallen significantly this year amid moves to dismantle smuggling networks in Libya and increase coastguard patrols.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) data says more than 2,000 people have died or gone missing making crossings this year, compared to more than 3,000 last year.

The Aquarius began operations in 2015 and came to worldwide attention over the summer as Italy closed its ports to migrant rescue ships, leaving the ship stranded at sea with people rescued from the water.

Hundreds of migrants were eventually allowed to disembark in the Spanish port of Valencia in June, after being turned away by Italy and Malta.

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 09:54

  • 0 Paxex
  • 0
  • 232
  • 0