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Stair test may predict your risk of dying of heart disease, cancer, study finds

If you can do this simple test, it's a good sign of your exercise capacity. If not, you may need to exercise more.

For a glimpse into the state of your health and longevity, just head for some stairs.

How people perform on an exercise test that requires them to move very briskly can predict their risk of premature death from heart disease, cancer and other causes, a study presented Thursday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology found.

Those with good exercise capacity — capable of high levels of physical exertion, say, on a treadmill — had less chance of dying early of any cause.

The participants in the study underwent an exercise echocardiogram, but there’s a much easier method to check your exercise capacity in a similar way: See if you can climb four flights of stairs at a fast pace — in under a minute — without having to stop, said Dr. Jesús Peteiro, the study author and a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña in A Coruña, Spain.

If you can do it, you have good functional capacity. If not, it’s a sign you need more exercise, he noted. Peteiro wasn’t surprised by his study’s findings.

“Physical activity has positive effect on blood pressure and lipids, reduces inflammation and improves the body`s immune response to tumors,” Peteiro told TODAY.


For simple advice to improve your health and fitness, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter

For the study, 12,615 participants with known or suspected coronary artery disease underwent treadmill exercise echocardiography — a medical test to see how well a person’s heart tolerates activity.


Their effort levels were measured in metabolic equivalents, or METs. One MET is equal to the energy it takes to sit quietly. Walking briskly requires about 3 METs, while jogging takes more than 6. This study defined good functional capacity as achieving a maximum workload of 10 METs.

Being able to climb four flights of stairs in about 45-55 seconds would be equivalent to 10 METs, Peteiro, estimated.

When the study participants were followed up over the next five years or so, each MET they achieved during the exercise test was associated with a 9 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death, a 9 percent lower risk of cancer death and 4 percent lower risk of other causes of death, the European Society of Cardiology noted.

In people with poor functional capacity, the death rate from heart disease was almost three times higher and cancer deaths were almost double compared to participants who had good exercise capacity.


Cardiologists already know a patient who has a significantly abnormal heart stress test, but shows very good exercise capacity, has a better prognosis, said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, and a member of the American College of Cardiology’s Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Section Leadership Council.


The latest exercise guidelines for Americans say adults need at least 2 ½ hours to five hours a week of moderate intensity exercise; or 1 hour, 15 minutes to 2 ½ hours of intense activity every week.

As for stairs offering clues to a person’s heart health, doctors already ask patients whether they can go up a flight of stairs without symptoms before clearing them for major surgery, Freeman noted. Other tests found to predict longevity include being able to get back up without support after sitting on the floor.

Try walking, running, bicycling and swimming to boost your exercise capacity, Peteiro advised. Freeman just wanted people to pick an activity they enjoyed that would make them breathless.

“We know that in some ways exercise is a medicine and it has a dose response, where typically more exercise is better,” he said.

sarah Posted on December 07, 2018 09:37

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Infections and cancer: The link could be stronger than we think

Bacteria could have a bigger involvement in cancer than scientists may have realized, according to recent research.

A viral infection may be the cause of up to 20 percent of cancer cases.

A study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore has uncovered a type of bacterial infection that can disrupt DNA repair in cells, which is a known cause of cancer.

The same type of infection could also weaken the effect of some anticancer drugs, says the PNAS report on the findings.

"Currently," comments senior study author Robert C. Gallo, who is a professor of medicine and director of the university's Institute of Human Virology, "approximately 20 percent of cancers are thought to be caused by infection, most are known to be due to viruses."

The team began by investigating infections by a family of tiny bacteria that go by the name of mycoplasmas.

These bacteria "are associated with cancers, especially in people with HIV," explains Prof. Gallo, who was one of the scientists who discovered that HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Mycoplasmas, DnaK, and cancer

Mycoplasmas are among the smallest "free-living microorganisms." They do not have a cell wall and, for a long time, scientists thought that they were viruses.

The tiny bacteria contain a protein called DnaK that the researchers decided to focus on "because of its ability to interact with proteins."

DnaK is a "chaperone protein" that protects other proteins from damage and ensures that they function properly by helping them to fold.

The team's efforts uncovered two main links between DnaK and cancer.

They revealed that DnaK from mycoplasmas "interacts with and reduces the activities of human proteins" that are important for DNA repair.

Also, it appears that DnaK weakens the effect of certain drugs that aim to boost the activity of the natural anticancer protein p53.

DnaK reduces p53 by binding to an enzyme called USP10 that helps to regulate p53.

Infected mice developed cancer more quickly

In their investigations, the researchers observed how quickly lymphoma developed in two groups of mice with compromised immune systems.

They infected one group of mice with a mycoplasma strain from a person with HIV.

The results showed that lymphoma developed more quickly in the mycoplasma-infected immune-compromised mice than their non-infected counterparts.

In addition, some of the cancer cells, but not all of them, contained DNA from the bacteria.

The researchers suggest that this means that the infection does not have to persist to be able to trigger cancer.

It seems that mycoplasma release DnaK and that this can enter uninfected cells that are nearby and trigger events that can lead to cancer in those cells.

Infection-cancer link may need a rethink

Finally, an analysis of amino acid composition revealed differences between DnaK proteins from cancer-associated bacteria and bacteria that researchers have not associated with cancer.

This could mean that there are other bacteria with a similar ability to promote cancer.

Prof. Gallo suggests that their research "changes how we need to think about infection and at least some cancers."

sarah Posted on December 07, 2018 09:27

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Consecrated virgins: 'I got married to Christ'

Jessica Hayes bought herself a wedding gown, a veil and a ring. But when she stood at the altar facing the bishop during a solemn religious ceremony, there was no groom by her side.

She was getting married to Jesus Christ.

Ms Hayes, 41, is a consecrated virgin - a vocation taken by women within the Catholic Church who wish to give themselves as brides to God.

Even within Catholicism, consecrated virgins are little-known - partly because the vocation was only publicly sanctioned by the Church less than 50 years ago.

During the consecration ceremony, the candidate - who wears a bride-like, white dress- makes life-long chastity vows and promises never to engage in sexual or romantic relationships.

The women also wear a wedding ring - a symbol of their betrothal to Christ.

"I often get asked: 'So, are you married?'" says Ms Hayes. "I usually just reply with a really brief explanation that I am similar to a religious sister, that there's a total commitment to Christ, but that I live out in the world."

She is one of 254 "brides of Christ" in the US, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV) - whose day jobs range from nurses and psychologists to accountants, business women and fire fighters.

There are at least 4,000 consecrated virgins in the world, according to a 2015 survey, and the Vatican says there has been an upsurge of vocations "in very diverse geographic areas and cultural contexts".

Unlike nuns, consecrated virgins do not live in enclosed communities or wear special clothes; they lead a secular life, have jobs and support themselves.

There is no such male equivalent in the Catholic Church.


A little-known vocation in Catholicism


consecrated virgins in 78 countries, according to a 2015 survey

  • 1,220 of them live in France and Italy, the countries with the largest numbers of consecrated virgins

  • US, Mexico, Romania, Poland, Spain, Germany and Argentina also have high numbers

  • 5,000 is the number of consecrated virgins projected for 2020

Source: Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) and USACV

"I have been a teacher for 18 years, I'm actually teaching at the same high school that I went to," says Ms Hayes, who lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, US.

"[Before my consecration] I realised I didn't share a call to [the] community life nuns live, in a religious congregation or with a specific apostolate [a form of evangelistic activity or work] that each of these communities would have."

When she is not teaching, most of her time is devoted to private prayer and penance. She reports to a bishop and keeps regular meetings with her spiritual adviser.

"I live in a neighbourhood, I belong to the parish that's just two miles away from my home, I am available to help family and friends. And then I teach, so I am surrounded by people during the day, but still accommodate a special consecration to the Lord around that."

She has been in romantic relationships in the past but says they never made her feel complete.

"I thought I was called to married life, [which] is a very natural desire for the human person. So I did date… but never seriously."

Virgins have been part of the Church since early Christian times. In the first three centuries AD, many died as martyrs as a result.

Among them was Agnes of Rome, who was reportedly killed as a result of her devotion to religious chastity.

The practice then declined in medieval times as the popularity of monastic religious life grew, only to be revived by the 1971 Ordo consecrationis virginum, the document through which the Vatican recognised female perpetual virginity as a voluntary state of life within the Church.

Ms Hayes says she had not thought of becoming a consecrated virgin until she met a spiritual adviser who, she says, "started asking the right questions".

She made the decision in 2013, and her consecration took place two years later at the age of 36.

"Even though I have a lot of the same duties that I had before [the consecration], it's still different because to relate to the Lord as spouse is entirely different to relating to him as friend."

The choice of celibacy is a means of drawing even more closely to the following of the Lord. What I do is a gift of my body to Him"

Jessica Hayes, American consecrated virgin

Living in a society where sexuality is held in high regard can be challenging for virgins, who choose to eschew physical relationships forever.

"I think the hardest thing is being misunderstood, as our choice is seen as counter-cultural," says Ms Hayes.

"I get a lot of, 'Oh, so you're like a single person.' I have to explain that the Lord is my primary relationship, that what I do is a giving of my body to Him."

Physical virgins?

Last July, a new set of guidelines published by the Vatican caused a stir among consecrated virgins.

The issue at stake was whether women choosing this vocation needed to have remained a virgin up to the point of the ceremony.

Unlike nuns, who may take a vow of celibacy from the day they enter a religious order, these brides of Christ have been expected to be life-long virgins.

In the controversial section 88 of the document, the Vatican stated that "to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way" is important, but not an "essential" prerequisite.

In other words, it may no longer be necessary to be a virgin.

The USACV, of which Ms Hayes is a member, found the guidelines "disappointing".

In a statement, the association said it was "shocking to hear from Mother Church that physical virginity may no longer be considered an essential prerequisite for consecration to a life of virginity."

Ms Hayes says she wishes there was "some more clarity" in the document, yet is happy that the head of the Catholic Church has focused attention on the virgins' vocation.

"And the document still says that [candidates] must not have been either married, or in public or flagrant violation of chastity," she says.

"Maybe there's one indiscriminate act in the past as a young person, or maybe a woman who was raped and so is not a virgin, but not out of choice."

Ultimately, she says, it is about encouraging this particular vocation among Catholic women.

"And maybe vocations are growing because there's a need for people living in such a radical commitment to God - that may be what the Church needs right now."

ruby Posted on December 07, 2018 09:17

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XFL, USFL, other pro football leagues that took on the NFL

Vince McMahon’s rebooted XFL is attempting to streamline the game of football ahead of its 2020 launch, marking the latest effort by an upstart league to shake the NFL’s monopoly on the sport.

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said the league is actively market testing potential rule changes to develop a faster, safer on-field product compared to the traditional football the NFL has played for decades. Games will use a shorter game clock than the NFL and conclude in under three hours, he added.

McMahon tried to challenge the NFL once before. The original XFL, which arose as a joint partnership between his WWE (then called WWF) and NBC, folded in 2001 after just one season. This time, XFL officials say there is a long-term financial commitment to the league.

The rebooted entity will kick off its debut season in Feb. 2020, one week after the NFL season ends, with eight teams. While Luck said the league will “complement,” not directly challenge, the NFL, the U.S. marketplace has struggled to sustain more than one major professional football league in the past.


Here’s a look at other upstart pro football leagues that have tried – and often failed – to reinvent the sport.

United States Football League (1983-1986)

Walt Michaels (L) shakes hands with New Jersey’s Generals’ owner Donald Trump at Giants Stadium 1220 after Trump named him as the USFL team’s coach. Michaels, who was turned loose by the New York Jets only two weeks after leading they to the brink of


Arguably the most successful challenge to the NFL, the USFL succeeded in luring several stars to its rosters, including future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jim Kelly and Reggie White and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. President Trump was one of the league’s team owners, purchasing the short-lived New Jersey Generals.

The USFL famously filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. A jury ruled that the NFL was in violation of some antitrust laws, but awarded a judgement of just $3 against the league. The USFL folded in 1986, shortly before it was set to play a fall season in direct competition with the NFL.

XFL (1999-2001)

Founded by WWE’s McMahon and NBC Sports, the original XFL sought to unseat the NFL by offering a rougher version of traditional football. Promoted as football with fewer rules and bigger hits, the league featured such gimmicks as scantily clad cheerleaders and nicknames on the back of player jerseys.

Initially drawing widespread publicity, the XFL’s ratings quickly plummeted and the league folded after just one season, having reportedly lost $70 million.

United Football League (2009-2012)

The UFL launched with just four teams comprised primarily of players and coaches who had spent time in the NFL. The league chose to play its schedule in the fall, competing directly with NFL and NCAA football broadcasts. The UFL’s backers reportedly hoped to capitalize on the possibility that NFL owners and players would fail to reach terms on a new labor agreement in 2011, potentially setting the upstart league up as the public’s only source of football.

Beset by financial issues almost from the start, the UFL collapsed after its 2012 seasons amid lawsuits from players and coaches who alleged they were owed back salary.

Arena Football League (1987-2008, 2010-)

Pregame celebrations during ArenaBowl XX at the Thomas

Played entirely indoors, the AFL uses a shorter field, narrower goalposts and other rule tweaks designed to create a high-scoring, fast style of play. The league enjoyed marginal success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, securing media rights contracts and producing Kurt Warner, a quarterback who later won two Super Bowls with the St. Louis Rams.

The AFL began facing financial problems in the late 2000s, ultimately canceling its 2009 season and declaring bankruptcy. Featuring as many as 19 franchises at its peak, the league currently has four active teams.

Alliance of American Football (2019-)

The AAF is set to begin play in 2019, narrowly beating the XFL to market. The league’s season will begin in February, which would place it in direct competition with McMahon’s new venture.

Featuring eight teams, a 10-week regular season and a gambling partnership with MGM, the AAF counts tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group among its early investors. CBS has already secured television rights to the league.

XFL reboot (2020-)

The new XFL will feature eight teams in the following cities: New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. Executives say the league will focus on creating a fast-paced, family-friendly game with cheaper game tickets and fewer commercials.

Luke Posted on December 06, 2018 21:00

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House Democrats could revoke rule allowing lawmakers to have guns on Capitol grounds

Democrats could do away with a rule that allows lawmakers to bring firearms onto Capitol grounds – including in their offices – as they prepare to take control of the House next year.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., has long wanted the rule changed, but now he said he has the support of potential House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he told The Washington Post.

“I don’t think we can just keep looking the other way or sweep this issue under the rug,” Huffman told the publication. “Our political climate is too volatile and there are too many warning signs that we need to address things like this.”

According to The Washington Post, it’s up to the Capitol Police Board to determine regulation surrounding firearms on Capitol grounds. It previously established “nothing . . . shall prohibit any Member of Congress from maintaining firearms within the confines of his office or any Member of Congress or any employee or agent of any Member of Congress from transporting within the Capitol Grounds firearms unloaded and securely wrapped.”

Rep. Jared Huffman said he's concerned about what would happen if someone nefarious got their hands on a gun that was legally in the U.S. Capitol. (Official photo)

Citing the politically-motivated 2017 shooting attack on Republican lawmakers and their staff – which left Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., seriously wounded – Huffman told the newspaper he has concerns someone would be able to gain access to a firearm legally kept in the Capitol and use it for a nefarious act.


“I hesitate to even put in print some of the scenarios that I worry the most about, because the truth is, the House chamber is a place where we occasionally have all of the most powerful government officials in the country gathered in one place,” he said.

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, who chairs Second Amendment Caucus, chalked the proposed changes up to “theatrics.”

“It’s proposing to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” he told The Washington Post. “[Pelosi’s] worried that members aren’t responsible enough to handle a firearm?”

In 2015, two Republican congressmen were criticized for posting a photo of the pair holding an AR-15 rifle while in the House.

Rep. Trey Gowdy said fellow Rep. Ken Buck had permission to have the “inoperable gun” in Buck’s office.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

Luke Posted on December 06, 2018 20:50

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Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s arrest may prompt China to retaliate, 'take hostages,' expert says

China could 'take hostages' and is almost certain to retaliate against the United States, experts say, after the stunning arrest of a top Chinese tech executive for allegedly trying to skirt sanctions on Iran.

Huawei Technologies' chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested Saturday in Canada and faces extradition to the U.S. Meng was taken into custody on behalf of the U.S. while she was transferring flights in Vancouver, the tech company said.


Chinese officials on Thursday blasted Meng's arrest — but experts warn more forceful actions, including the possibility of tit-for-tat detentions of high-profile citizens, could be coming.

James Lewis, the director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Axios the U.S. should be prepared for a backlash and warned American tech executives to steer clear of China for now.



"If I was an American tech executive, I wouldn't travel to China this week," warned Lewis, who labeled Huawei "one of the Chinese government's pet companies" and charged the communist country's leaders wouldn't be afraid to "take hostages."

China on Thursday demanded Canada release a Huawei Technologies executive who was arrested in a case that adds to technology tensions with Washington and threatens to complicate trade talks. (AP)

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called Meng’s arrest a violation of human rights and demanded the “immediate release” of the 46-year-old executive, who also goes by the name Sabrina.

“Detaining a person without providing an explanation has undoubtedly violated her human rights,” Geng said, adding the Chinese government “has made clear our solemn positions to the U.S. and Canada.”

Geng said the U.S. and Canada haven’t provided reasons for Meng's detention. But the Wall Street Journal reported in April that U.S. authorities were investigating whether Huawei violated sanctions on Iran, leading the Chinese government to appeal to Washington to avoid any steps that might have damaged business confidence.

Meng is the deputy chairman of the company’s board and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese military engineer. Her stature in Chinese culture has been compared to American tech giants such as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.


An editorial in the pro-government Global Times accused the U.S. of “maliciously finding fault” with Huawei.

“Washington is attempting to damage Huawei's international reputation and taking aim at the tech giant's global market in the name of law,” the editorial stated. “The Chinese government should seriously mull over the U.S. tendency to abuse legal procedures to suppress China's high-tech enterprises. It should increase interaction with the U.S. and exert pressure when necessary. China has been exercising restraint, but the U.S. cannot act recklessly. U.S. President Donald Trump should rein in the hostile activities of some Americans who may imperil Sino-U.S. relations.”

Canadian authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested Meng for possible extradition to the United States. (AP)

Meng’s arrest and detention have only amplified the already-tense state of U.S.-China relations. Though Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a temporary truce in a tariffs war -- with Trump agreeing to suspend U.S. tariff hikes for a period -- a more permanent resolution is nowhere in sight. Trump and Xi have dug in on their respective positions and have mostly been waiting for the other party to blink. Neither has.

Huawei Technologies Ltd., the biggest global supplier of network gear used by phone and Internet companies, has previously been the target of U.S. security concerns. Under Trump and his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, Washington has pressured European countries and other allies to limit their business with Huawei, alleging the company's technology aids China's spy operations.

Huawei said in a statement Wednesday it has not been provided many details about Meng's arrest.

"The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng," the statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam

Luke Posted on December 06, 2018 20:47

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How Do Antibiotics Work? Many more to learn about it...lets take a look

Antibiotics are medications used to fight infections caused by bacteria. They’re also called antibacterials. They treat infections by killing or decreasing the growth of bacteria.

The first modern-day antibiotic was used in 1936. Before antibiotics, 30 percent of all deaths were caused by bacterial infections. Thanks to antibiotics, previously fatal infections are curable.

Today, antibiotics are still powerful, life-saving medications for people with certain serious infections. They can also prevent less-serious infections from becoming serious.

There are many classes of antibiotics. Certain types of antibiotics work best for specific types of bacterial infections.

Antibiotics come in many forms, including:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • liquids
  • creams
  • ointments

Most antibiotics are only available with a prescription from your doctor. Some antibiotic creams and ointments are available over the counter

Antibiotics fight bacterial infections either by killing bacteria or slowing and suspending its growth. They do this by:

  • attacking the wall or coating surrounding bacteria
  • interfering with bacteria reproduction
  • blocking protein production in bacteria

Antibiotics begin to work right after you start taking them. However, you might not feel better for two to three days.

How quickly you get better after antibiotic treatment varies. It also depends on the type of infection you’re treating.

Most antibiotics should be taken for 7 to 14 days. In some cases, shorter treatments work just as well. Your doctor will decide the best length of treatment and correct antibiotic type for you.

Even though you might feel better after a few days of treatment, it’s best to finish the entire antibiotic regimen in order to fully resolve your infection. This can also help prevent antibiotic resistance. Don’t stop your antibiotic early without first talking with your healthcare provider.

The first beta-lactam antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered by accident. It was growing from a blob of mold on a petri dish. Scientists found that a certain type of fungus naturally produced penicillin. Eventually, penicillin was produced in large quantities in a laboratory through fermentation using the fungus.

Some other early antibiotics were produced by bacteria found in ground soil.

Today, all antibiotic medications are produced in a lab. Some are made through a series of chemical reactions that produce the substance used in the medication.

Other antibiotics are at least partially made through a natural but controlled process. This process is often enhanced with certain chemical reactions that can alter the original substance to create a different medication.

Antibiotics are powerful medications that work very well for certain types of illnesses. However, some antibiotics are now less useful than they once were due to an increase in antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria can no longer be controlled or killed by certain antibiotics. In some cases, this can mean there are no effective treatments for certain conditions.

Each year, 2 million people are infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths.

When you take an antibiotic, the sensitive bacteria are eliminated. The bacteria that survive during antibiotic treatment are often resistant to that antibiotic. These bacteria often have unique characteristics that prevent antibiotics from working on them.

Some serious antibiotic-resistant infections include:

Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

The overgrowth of this type of bacteria causes infection in both your small and large intestines. This often occurs after someone’s treated with antibiotics for a different bacterial infection. C. diff is naturally resistant to many antibiotics.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE)

These bacteria often infect your bloodstream, urinary tract, or surgical wounds. This infection typically occurs in people who are hospitalized. Enterococci infections may be treated with the antibiotic vancomycin, but VRE is resistant to this treatment.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

This type of infection is resistant to traditional staph infection antibiotics. MRSA infectionstypically occur on your skin. It’s most common in people in hospitals and those with weakened immune systems.

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)

This class of bacteria are resistant to a lot of other antibiotics. CRE infections typically occur in people in hospitals and who are on a mechanical ventilator or have indwelling catheters.

The most important cause of antibiotic resistance is inappropriate use or overuse of antibiotics. As much as 30 percent of antibiotic use is thought to be unnecessary. This is because antibiotics are often prescribed when they aren’t needed.

Several important steps can be taken to decrease inappropriate antibiotic use:

  • Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections. Don’t use antibiotics for conditions caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu, cough, or sore throat.
  • Take antibiotics as directed by your healthcare provider. Using the wrong dose, skipping doses, or taking it longer or shorter than directed might contribute to bacteria resistance. Even if you feel better after a few days, talk with your healthcare provider before discontinuing an antibiotic.
  • Take the right antibiotic. Using the wrong antibiotic for an infection might lead to resistance. Don’t take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Also, don’t take antibiotics left over from a previous treatment. Your healthcare provider will be able to select the most appropriate antibiotic for your specific type of infection.

Antibiotics are used for treating infections caused by bacteria. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if your infection is caused by bacteria or a virus because the symptoms are often very similar.

Your healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms and conduct a physical exam to determine the cause of your infection. In some cases, they may request a blood or urine test to confirm the cause of infection.

Some common bacterial infections include:

Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, such as the common cold or flu. They also don’t work on infections caused by fungi, such as:

These are treated with a different group of medications called antifungals.

Most antibiotics have similar side effects. Perhaps the most common side effect is gastrointestinal (GI) upset, including:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • cramps

In some cases, these side effects can be reduced if you take the antibiotic with food. However, some antibiotics must be taken on an empty stomach. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the best way to take your antibiotic.

GI upset usually goes away after you stop treatment. If it doesn’t, you should call your doctor. Also, call your doctor if you develop:

  • severe diarrhea
  • stomach pain and cramping
  • blood in your stool
  • fever

Antibiotics are most effective when used appropriately. This starts with ensuring that you really need the antibiotic. Only use antibiotics prescribed by your doctor for a bacterial infection.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the best way to take your antibiotic. Some should be taken with food to reduce side effects but others need to be taken on an empty stomach.

Antibiotics should also be taken in the prescribed amount and for the directed length of treatment. You might feel better within a few days after starting the antibiotic but you should talk with your healthcare provider before stopping your treatment early.

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 17:27

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Fortnite makers sued for 'stealing' Milly Rock dance move

A US rapper has taken legal action against the creators of popular video game Fortnite, claiming it uses a dance move he created without his permission.

Rapper 2 Milly - aka Terrence Ferguson - says the Milly Rock dance he created in 2011 is recreated in Fortnite as an "emote" called Swipe It.

"Emotes" are upgrades players can buy to personalise their online avatars.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday 2 Milly accuses Fortnite developer Epic Games of "unauthorised misappropriation".

He claims the company has "unfairly profited from exploiting [his] creative expression" and has "consistently sought to exploit African-American talent... by copying their dances and movements."

The suit follows numerous claims that Fortnite has replicated dance moves previously associated with stars like Snoop Dogg, Michael Jackson and others.Earlier this year, Chance the Rapper called on the makers of the game to recompense "black creatives" by using "the actual rap songs behind the dances".

Epic Games declined to comment on 2 Milly's legal action, which seeks unspecified damages and a restraining order.

US copyright law covers "choreographic works... fixed in some tangible medium of expression" but does not currently extend to individual dance steps.

"Individual movements or dance steps by themselves are not copyrightable... even if a routine is novel or distinctive," states the US Copyright Office in its official guidance material.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 14:31

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Lady Gaga up for best actress Golden Globe

Lady Gaga's performance in A Star is Born has landed her a best actress nomination at the Golden Globes.

Bradley Cooper is also nominated for his direction of and performance in the musical remake.

Olivia Colman is also up for a best actress award for The Favourite, for which Rachel Weisz is also recognised.

Rosamund Pike is nominated for best actress in a film drama, alongside Lady Gaga, for her role in the Marie Colvin biopic A Private War.

Colman, meanwhile, will compete for the best actress in a film musical or comedy award with Emily Blunt, shortlisted for playing the title role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Claire Foy is up for a supporting acting award for the film First Man, as is Richard E Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Other British talents in the running include Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw, nominated for their roles in BBC political drama A Very English Scandal.

There are also TV nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch (for Patrick Melrose), Westworld's Thandie Newton and Sacha Baron Cohen, in contention for his satirical series Who is America?

Bodyguard star Richard Madden is up for best actor in a TV drama for his role in the BBC One thriller, which is up for best TV drama.

Vice, a film biopic of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, has the most nominations in all, with six citations including one for lead actor Christian Bale.

A Star is Born, The Favourite and Green Book have five nominations each, while Mary Poppins Returns and Spike Lee's Black Klansman have four apiece.

Comic book blockbuster Black Panther, Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest film from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, will compete with A Star is Born and Black Klansman for the best film drama prize.

Vice, The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns are joined in the best film musical or comedy category by Green Book and Crazy Rich Asians.

Rami Malek is nominated alongside Cooper for playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story has the most TV nominations, getting four mentions in all.

Sandra Oh - nominated herself for Killing Eve - and Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andy Samberg will co-host the 76th Golden Globe Awards, to be held in Los Angeles on 6 January.

This year's event saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri named best film drama and Lady Bird win the award for best film comedy or musical.

The Golden Globes will be the first main film and TV awards of 2019 and are considered a reliable indicator of which films and performances will go on to enjoy success at the Oscars.

Idris Elba's daughter Isan has been named 2019's Golden Globe ambassador by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which organises the annual ceremony.

Lady Gaga - real name Stefani Germanotta - previously won a Golden Globe in 2016 for her role in TV's American Horror Story.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 14:28

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France protests: Government fears 'major violence' in coming days

The French government says it fears "major violence" in Paris on Saturday as the national "yellow vests" protest movement shows little sign of easing.

The government said it was scrapping fuel tax increases in the budget - the original spark for the protests.

But the movement has since grown into a wider expression of anger about rising living costs, and Saturday's planned rally looks set to go ahead.

Recent protests have turned violent, causing millions of euros in damage.

The government appealed for calm after making its political concessions - but on Thursday, protests continued in pockets around France as discontent spread beyond the core movement. What is the government worried about?

The protest on Saturday 1 December descended into the worst rioting seen in decades, with hundreds of injuries and arrests.

Many protesters are law-abiding French citizens, engaged in a street protest that has huge public support and is widely seen as a legitimate democratic action.

However, without any central structure or official leaders, extremists and "troublemakers" are suspected of joining the rallies and inciting violence, the interior minister said earlier this week.

Sources at the presidential palace expressed the government's concern about continued violence on Wednesday night.

French health minister Agnès Buzyn, speaking to RTL Radio on Thursday morning, said: "There is a concern about this violence, and some who do not want to find a solution."

The government is considering mobilising the military to protect important national monuments, French broadcaster BFMTV reported, after the world-famous Arc de Triomphe was damaged last week.

How are the protests spreading?

The yellow vests protests have moved beyond the initial anger about fuel taxes. 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 government has already acknowledged some of the concerns, suggesting it may review the "wealth tax" it abolished after taking power.

An analysis of its original budget plans for 2018-2019 showed it benefited the very wealthy rather than the very poor.

Other groups, bolstered by the success of the national movement, have also begun separate actions.

Thursday saw young people take to the streets, protesting over educational reforms - including changes to exams.

In Nantes, young demonstrators overturned vehicles and bins, and set fires. On Wednesday, similar demonstrations in Bordeaux and Toulouse led to arrests.

But most of the protests have been peaceful.

Hundreds of schools were blockaded this week, but the young participants did not wear the distinctive yellow vests of the wider protest movement.

French daily Le Monde, however, drew a line between the two groups, suggesting that long-standing discontent over the proposed education reforms had been given a boost by the success of the "yellow vests".

The Union Nationale Lycéenne, representing secondary school students, has called for a "great mobilisation" of schools on Friday.

Two road transport unions, the CGT and FO, have called for a strike among its 700,000 members on Sunday, Le Monde reported, over the buying power of its members.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 12:06

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Spanish pigeon relocation: Cádiz to relocate 5,000 birds

Authorities in the Spanish city of Cádiz have come up with a plan for their booming pigeon population - relocating some 5,000 birds.

The city is plagued by thousands of the birds and their associated waste - but officials did not want to poison them.

Instead, the plan is to capture thousands of pigeons and relocate them hundreds of miles away in a different region - and hope they do not return.

Local officials said it was a "more respectful and sustainable" solution.

Speaking to local newspaper Diario de Cádiz, councillor Álvaro de la Fuente said "managing the population of existing pigeons does not imply the eradication of them within the urban area."

Instead, he said a "logical balance" between the birds, humans, and other city-dwelling species was the goal.

The common pigeon is known for its location awareness - the famous homing pigeon used to carry war-time messages is a variant of the species.

But unlike their trained counterparts, the wild birds are often happy to settle in one local area - and officials in Cádiz hope that will be the case when all 5,000 pigeons are placed in their new home.The thousands of birds to be relocated will be trapped, catalogued, and tested before being carried at least 170 miles (275km) away for release. Every bird will also get a health check along the way.

But pigeons breed quickly - so the city plans to print thousands of leaflets reminding the public not to overfeed the remaining flock, which helps to inflate the population.

In London's Trafalgar Square, where the tradition of deliberately feeding the birds was immortalised in Disney's Mary Poppins film, the birds flocked in great numbers until the early 2000s.

A combination of banning the feed sellers and a hefty fine on those who feed the flock anyway was part of the solution - while the introduction of hawks was another.

Today, a professional falconer accompanies a Harris hawk or peregrine falcon to Trafalgar Square several times a week - a natural predator which warns off the less welcome, smaller bird.

The same technique is used at a number of other London landmarks including BBC Broadcasting House and the Wimbledon tennis complex. It scares the birds away from one area and disperses them more widely - but does not affect the actual population much.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 12:02

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Port Vale v Stoke under-21s: Fans filmed smashing toilets

Police investigating "despicable disorder" at a football derby have released a video of suspects destroying a toilet block.

The footage shows men chanting, damaging sinks and smashing windows at the match between Port Vale and Stoke City Under-21s at Vale Park on Tuesday night.

More than 150 officers were deployed to the stadium and 11 people arrested.

Police said "a large section" of Stoke fans had been disruptive.

Port Vale won the Checkatrade Trophy match 4-0 and almost 4,000 Stoke fans were in a crowd of 7,940.

Staffordshire Police called the video "shocking" and appealed for information on the identity of the men.

Det Ch Insp Rob Taylor said: "We have a duty to the local community and the loyal supporters of both clubs to act swiftly.

"We will ensure that all opportunities will be taken to identify those suspected of being involved in this despicable disorder and bring them to justice."

Previously, Ch Supt Wayne Jones said his officers faced "shocking levels of hostility" on the night.

"The toilet block in the away stand was damaged badly," he said. "The cisterns and urinals were smashed off the wall, windows were damaged and there was an attempt to set fire to the toilet block."

It comes after two men were charged with using threatening or abusive language.

Six other men were released pending further inquiries.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 11:35

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Stonehenge site 'damaged' by engineers working on tunnel

Road workers have been accused of damaging a 6,000-year-old site near Stonehenge as part of preparations for a controversial tunnel.

Highways England engineers monitoring water levels dug the 3.5 metre deep bore hole through the prehistoric platform.

The Blick Mead site is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Stonehenge and believed to date from around 4,000 BC.

Lead archaeologist at the site David Jacques described it as "a travesty".

He said engineers did not consult him before carrying out the work.

But Highways England said no archaeological damage had been caused and its engineers "adhered to guidelines".

The proposed tunnel is part of a £1.6bn programme to upgrade the A303, which links the M3 from London to the M5 in the south west.

The government wants to build the 1.9-mile (3km) tunnel past Stonehenge to hide the busy A303, but campaigners claim it could destroy archaeological treasures.

Perfectly preserved hoof prints of wild cattle known as aurochs have recently been found at the Blick Mead encampment.

The prints found under the platform were preserved in what appears to be a ritualistic manner, Prof Jacques said.

Construction on the tunnel and linking flyover would lower the water table, drying out the peat and silt conditions which preserve archaeological remains, he added.

Prof Jacques, from the University of Buckingham, said: "This is a travesty. We took great care to excavate this platform and the auroch's hoofprints

"It the tunnel goes ahead the water table will drop and all the organic remains will be destroyed. If the remains aren't preserved we may never be able to understand why Stonehenge was built."A Highways England spokesman said its water table monitoring scheme "will have no significant effects on the Blick Mead area".

Inspectors are to meet Prof Jacques later to assess the work.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 11:22

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Grindr cheat pharmacist jailed for wife's murder

A pharmacist who murdered his wife with a Tesco carrier bag so he could start a new life with his boyfriend has been jailed for a minimum of 30 years.

Mitesh Patel, 37, strangled and suffocated Jessica, 34, and then staged a burglary at the couple's home in Middlesbrough on 14 May.

Jurors heard he had planned to claim a £2m life insurance payout and move to Australia with his lover Dr Amit Patel.

Patel was sentenced to life and told he would serve a minimum of 30 years.

Sentencing Patel, Mr Justice Goss told him: "You have no remorse for your actions. Any pity you have is for yourself."

He told the defendant that Mrs Patel "clearly loved you and was a dutiful wife" of nine years, adding: "She wanted nothing more than to have children and live a normal family life.

"The difficulty is that you had no sexual attraction to her; you were attracted to men."

He said Mrs Patel was to some extent aware of her husband's sexuality and was "lonely, often upset and controlled by you".

The judge said Patel's messages revealed him to be "needy and callous" and he used Mrs Patel "whilst indulging your own desires and whims".

Media captionGrindr cheat Mitesh Patel calls 999 after wife murder

The two-week trial at Teesside Crown Court heard Patel, who ran a pharmacy on Roman Road with his 34-year-old wife, had a series of affairs with men he met via the dating app Grindr.

Patel, who claimed his wife was his "best mate", injected her with insulin before strangling and suffocating her with the bag at their home on The Avenue.

'Rot in hell'

He then bound her with duct tape and ransacked the house in an attempt to blame burglars for her death.

Prosecutor Nicholas Campbell QC said: "The prosecution case was that a plastic shopping bag, ironically a Tesco Bag For Life, was used both as a ligature and to suffocate her."

Media captionMitesh Patel tried to hide this CCTV footage which showed him after he killed his wife

Reading a statement on behalf of Mrs Patel's sisters and cousins, her younger sister Divya told the court: "The one thing we hope and prayed for above anything else was that in her final moments she did not suffer.

"The cruel reality is that she did in fact suffer, she knew exactly who her killer was, and he mercilessly ignored her attempts to fight for her own life as he ended it.

"We can only imagine the fear and panic she must have felt knowing herself this was it. Thinking of that moment makes our hearts so heavy."Ms Patel also addressed her brother-in-law in the dock, saying: "We do not just pray, we know, she will be free from you for ever. As will she rest in heaven, you will rot in hell."

She added: "He could've divorced her, taken everything he wanted - he did not need to take her life, he had no right to take this evil, cruel and malicious step."

Patel told his boyfriend he married Mrs Patel because she was in love with him and would provide a cover for his true sexuality.

He wanted to move to Australia to be with Dr Patel and the pair had planned to raise a child conceived by Mrs Patel through IVF.

She had undergone three courses of IVF and the last cycle resulted in three embryos being created, but she was murdered before they could be implanted.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 11:19

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The Indian restaurants that serve only half a glass of water

While many parts of India are going through a sustained water crisis, the western city of Pune is trying to deal with the problem in a rather unusual way, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey.

The dystopian future we worried about is already here.

Many restaurants in the city of Pune have begun serving only half glasses of water to guests.

At the pure vegetarian Kalinga restaurant, a couple have just been seated when a waiter approaches their table and asks if they want water.

"I said yes and he gave me half a glass of water," says Gauripuja Mangeshkar. "I was wondering if I was being singled out, but then I saw that he had only poured half a glass for my husband too."

For a moment, Ms Mangeshkar did wonder whether her glass was half full or half empty, but the reason why she was served less water was not really existential.

Nearly 400 restaurants in Pune have adopted this measure to reduce water use, ever since the civic authorities announced cuts in supply a month ago.

Pune Restaurant and Hoteliers' Association president Ganesh Shetty, who owns Kalinga, told the BBC that they have worked out an extensive plan to save water.

"We serve only half glasses of water and we don't refill unless asked, the leftover water is recycled and used for watering plants and cleaning the floor," Mr Shetty explained. "Many places have put in new toilets which use less water, we have put in water harvesting plants and the staff are briefed on minimising water use."

Kalinga gets about 800 customers a day and by serving only half glasses, he says the restaurant is able to save nearly 800 litres (1,691 pints) of water a day.

"Every drop is precious and we have to act now if we want to save the future."

Owner of 83-year-old Poona Guest House, Kishor Sarpotdar, shows the shorter steel tumblers he's bought to replace the earlier taller ones. His restaurant is not only serving half glasses of water, he says, they are serving them in smaller ones too.

Pune is next door to India's financial capital, Mumbai. An educational and cultural hub, it was famously described as the "Oxford and Cambridge of India" by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

This city of four million people has been well served by the Khadakwasala dam built in 1878, and water shortages are new here.

Mr Shetty says the first major water crisis the city faced was two years ago.

"For two months in February and March, our water supply was reduced by half. We got water once in two days."

Strict guidelines were issued about what fresh water supplied by the civic authorities could - or couldn't - be used for. And people were encouraged to install bore wells to pump out ground water to meet additional requirements.

All construction in the city was stopped for two months, car garages were allowed to do only dry servicing, the city celebrated a dry Holi, clubs and water resorts were barred from holding popular rain dance events and swimming pools were ordered shut.

All misuse was checked and those who erred were made to pay hefty fines.

"It was very serious," says Col Shashikant Dalvi, Pune-based water conservation expert.

This year, he says, the situation is "worse". "Panic buttons have been pressed in October itself. How will we face the challenge in the summer months?" he asks.

According to a government report earlier this year, India is facing its worst-ever water crisis, with some 600 million people affected. The report said the crisis was "only going to get worse" in the coming years and warned that 21 cities were likely to run out of groundwater by 2020.

In May, the popular Indian tourist town of Shimla ran out of water, while last year it was reported that the city of Bangalore was drying up.

Large parts of the western state of Maharashtra, where Pune is located, are water deficient and every year, at the onset of the summer season, the state makes the news for "water wars" between districts - farmers, villagers, city residents, slum dwellers, the hospitality industry and businesses all clamouring for their share of water.

This year, that talk has already started. And it's just the beginning of winter. Many areas are already staring at drought and acute water distress.

And this time, Pune too is affected. In October, the Pune Municipal Corporation announced 10% cuts in supply for everyone.

"The crisis two years ago," he says, "was because of deficient rainfall. But this year, Pune had excessive rainfall until the end of July. The dams were full. So where has the water gone?"

The monsoon rains will not come before June and eight months can be a long time. "It'll be a nightmare for the city unless we get some rains in the winter," he says.

Experts blame climate change, deforestation and the rapidly growing city population as the main reasons for the water shortage. And the fact that the Khadakwasala dam reservoir has never been de-silted, which means its capacity to hold water is reducing daily.

Col Dalvi offers a prescription to deal with the water shortage in Pune and the rest of the country, because by "2025 India will be most populous country in the world".

"Leakages must be plugged, unsustainable over-extraction of ground water must stop, rooftop rain water harvesting and recycling of water must be made mandatory, otherwise shortages would get more critical," he says.

What about restaurants serving half glasses of water to patrons? Is it just a gimmick, I ask.

"Not at all," he says. "It's not a gimmick. It's an excellent idea. A drop saved is a drop gained."

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 11:06

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Tennessee inmate chooses electric chair over lethal injection

An inmate in the US state of Tennessee is to be executed by electric chair after arguing that a lethal injection would involve suffering.

David Earl Miller, who has spent 36 years on death row, is among an increasing number of inmates attempting to avoid lethal injection following several botched executions.

Another Tennessee inmate, Edmund Zagorski, was electrocuted last month.

Lethal injection is the state's main method of execution.

However, inmates in the state whose crimes were committed before 1999 are allowed to choose electrocution instead.

In court, both Miller and Zagorski had cited the August execution of Billy Ray Irick, who turned purple and took 20 minutes to die, AP reported.

Zagorski's execution was the second time the state's electric chair had been used since 1960.

Miller, who is due to be executed on Thursday, was found guilty of killing a 23-year-old mentally ill woman in 1981.

Why is lethal injection controversial?

Miller, 61, and Zagorski, 63, argued that the midazolam-based lethal injection used by Tennessee would lead to a prolonged and painful death.

It follows a series of executions using a variety of drug combinations where prisoners have appeared to suffer. The US constitution bans cruel and unusual punishments.

In September a doctor told a court in Tennessee that Irick felt pain akin to torture during his execution, The Tennessean reported.

Dr David Lubarsky argued that the midazolam sedated Irick but did not prevent him from feeling the effects of the other two drugs injected as part of the execution.

Proponents of lethal injection argue that the process is painless.

Miller is also one of four death row inmates who have brought a federal caseasking Tennessee to use a firing squad instead of either lethal injection or electrocution, the Tennessean reported.

In neighbouring Alabama, more than 50 inmates have chosen to be killed in the nitrogen gas chamber rather than be given a lethal injection after being given the option earlier this year, Vox reported.

Which states use the electric chair?

Electrocution is no longer the main method of execution in any US state.

Courts in Georgia and Nebraska have said the electric chair is unconstitutional.

Media captionThe five ways the US executes - in 45 secs

However, Miller has been told he cannot argue that the electric chair is unconstitutional because he himself has chosen it, AP reported.

Hanging was the most common form of capital punishment in the US until the 1890s. Then, the electric chair became the most widespread method.

In 1982, the first execution by lethal injection was carried out by the state of Texas, after which it gradually replaced the electric chair across the nation.

More on the US death penalty

Media captionExecution of Clayton Lockett (pictured): Journalist and witness Courtney Francisco describes what she saw - some may find this audio distressing.


ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 10:55

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20 Things All Couples Should Do Before Getting Pregnant

Everything In This Slideshow

Have a parenting talk

Most of the experts and real moms we spoke with agreed that it's important to chat with your partner about some of the biggie parenting issues -- like how you'll share childcare, working vs. staying home, religious traditions -- before you start trying. "But before you start freaking out over differing opinions on circumcision, public vs. private schools, or other things that are way down the road, remember that you can and will change your mind about a lot of these issues as you go along," say Odes and Morris. "The important thing is for couples to start talking about their priorities, expectations, and fears throughout the entire process, especially before you get pregnant."

If you're thinking about getting pregnant, here are 8 things you can do now to start to prepare for pregnancy.


Go off the pill

Stop your birth control a couple of months before you plan to start trying, says Robert A. Greene, MD, co-author of Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility. This gives you a bit of time to see what your natural menstrual cycle is like -- 27 days? 32? -- so you can figure out when you're ovulating, the time of the month when you're most fertile. If you've been taking the pill for a while, your cycle could be different from what it was before you started. It can take a while for hormone levels to get back on track after you ditch the pill, but if your period's still MIA after three months, you should see your doctor.

Cut back on partying

Drinking and smoking during pregnancy? We don't need to tell you they're major don'ts. If you indulge in either, start scaling back now, says Jennifer Wider, MD, author of The New Mom's Survival Guide and medical advisor to the Society for Women's Health Research. "If you're a moderate drinker -- you have a couple of drinks on a Thursday night or over the weekend, you probably don't need to change anything, as long as you're sure you're not pregnant yet," she says. "But drinking most nights of the week or downing five cocktails in a sitting can be more of a problem." That goes for your partner, too. Excess alcohol intake has been shown to interfere with your fertility and can also lower sperm count in men. Smoking cigarettes, even socially, can affect your egg quality and your hubby's sperm -- not to mention increase your risk of birth defects, miscarriage, preterm labor, and other conditions after you become pregnant. It's estimated that up to 13 percent of fertility problems may be caused by tobacco use, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine -- and no level of smoking or exposure to smoke is safe. In fact, research shows that even women exposed to secondhand smoke have more problems getting pregnant than those who aren't. Bottom line: There's never been a better time to kick butt, and insist your partner does too.

What's more, quitting smoking or drinking cold turkey after you do become pregnant can be a shock to your system, say Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris, authors of From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent. "Psychologically speaking, if you feel that pregnancy made you 'give up' all these things you loved, you can pile on some resentment right out of the gate," they say. "Quitting smoking or your multiple margarita habit is a great achievement, so start now and let it be something you're proud of, rather than pushed into."

Limit caffeine

If the Starbucks barista knows your order as soon as you step up the counter or you can't get through the workday without four cups of French roast, "do yourself a favor and cut back your caffeine intake now," says Dr. Wider. "Not only because studies show that too much caffeine can trigger miscarriage, but because you want to avoid withdrawal after you're pregnant."

FYI: Doctors are mixed about how much caffeine is safe once you are expecting. Most condone the equivalent in a small cup of java a day -- about 100 milligrams -- though some may recommend forgoing it entirely, especially in the first trimester. And don't forget to tally other common sources of caffeine, like soda, tea, energy drinks, and even certain pain medications. A 12-ounce can of soda or 8-ounce cup of green or black tea can pack anywhere from 30 to 60 milligrams of caffeine; two tablets of extra-strength Excedrin have 130 milligrams. If you're worried, start reading labels to see how much caffeine is in your diet.

Something magical is about to happen! Watch as the ovulation process occurs, and then millions of sperm swim upstream on a quest to fertilize an egg.

How conception really happens

Something magical is about to happen! Watch as the ovulation process occurs, and then millions of sperm swim upstream on a quest to fertilize an egg.

Step on the scale

If you can stand to shed a few pounds, now is the time to go for it. "Not only can trimming 10 to 15 pounds from your frame make it easier for overweight women to get pregnant," says Dr. Greene, "but it will help you have a healthier pregnancy and delivery with fewer risks and complications." Working an exercise regimen into your routine now -- whether it's walking a few times a week or penciling in a Pilates class -- increases the likelihood you'll stick with it during and after pregnancy, making it easier to get your body back after baby arrives. And if you're on the skinny side, check with your doctor about whether you should bulk up a bit. Being too thin -- especially if it throws your periods out of whack -- is a known fertility meddler. The get-pregnant ideal is a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 24.

Go to the movies

Catch as many flicks on the big screen as you can. Once you're pregnant, sitting still in the same position for a couple of hours -- combined with having to pee constantly -- can get uncomfortable. And if you tend to fall asleep at the movies, it'll be that much harder to stay awake once pregnancy exhaustion kicks in.

Set up a slush fund

You know you'll have to start socking money away for college, diapers, and all that baby stuff eventually, and once you're pregnant, you definitely should. "But even pregnancy itself can be more costly than you'd anticipate," says Katina Z. Jones, author of The Everything Get Ready for Baby Book, between all those doctor's co-pays, new maternity clothes, etc. "Even if you do a little at a time, just $20 a paycheck, you'll feel better knowing you have some type of nest egg set up before you begin trying to conceive. And if you have money left over you can always spend it on nursery furniture or other baby expenses."

Pop a prenatal supplement

"Any woman thinking about getting pregnant in the next three to six months should start taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid," says Dr. Wider. According to the March of Dimes, getting enough of this B vitamin before and early on in pregnancy can reduce brain and spine birth defects by up to 70 percent. And the multivitamin itself is packed with other nutrients crucial for a healthy pregnancy, like iron to prevent anemia and calcium for strong teeth and bones. Pop the pill after you brush your teeth in the morning or stash a jar at work and set an e-mail reminder to take it when you first get in. If you hate swallowing pills, they come in chewable form too. Starting the habit now will make it easier to remember once you're expecting.

Stock up on sleep

Bank those zzz's now, recommends Jackie Rose, co-author of The Newly Non-Drinking Girl's Guide to Pregnancy. "Sleep in with your husband on the weekends, nap whenever you can," she says. Most of us anticipate sleepless nights once baby arrives, but many women don't realize that it can be tough to get a decent night's rest during pregnancy -- when things like heartburn, getting up to pee, and adjusting to side-snoozing can keep some expectant moms tossing and turning. It may even help you get pregnant faster -- women who get too little sleep tend to have more problems ovulating regularly than those who don't, studies show.

Feeling the tick of that notorious biological clock is enough to turn the most patient woman into Veruca Salt -- "But I want it now!" Fortunately, there are easy steps to speeding along conception, no matter how long you've been trying.

Get pregnant faster

Dr. Alexandra Sowa suggests 6 ways to boost fertility and get pregnant faster.

Find your surefire stress remedy

Some research shows that having crazy-high stress levels can delay your ability to get pregnant (by making ovulation wacky, or by interfering with an embryo's ability to implant in the uterus). If you're an uber-Type A personality to begin with, your stress may ramp up once you're pregnant and dealing with getting your home and life ready for baby. "Take an emotional gut-check now, make sure you feel calm and prepared for this next phase of your life, and figure out what helps you relax best," says Dr. Wider. "Maybe it's sipping tea and watching old episodes of Sex and the City, going out for a three-mile run, or just unloading on your best friend. Whatever it is, if it works for you now, it will help you when you're pregnant or a new mom." Don't have a go-to stress reliever? Dr. Greene recommends keeping a journal on top of your nightstand, and scribbling down 15 minutes' worth of thoughts before bed. Studies show that writing in a journal regularly can help you feel more optimistic and less worried.

Get snap-happy

If the last time you whipped out the camera was on the honeymoon, it's time to start taking more photos now -- not just of you and your hubs, but also of your house, the place you met, and anything else that reminds you of your pre-pregnancy, pre-baby existence. "This is such a magical time in your life, when you can really be all about the two of you with no one else to take care of, and one day you'll appreciate having documented it," says Jones. "Plus, your kids will love to see the photos down the road. They'll wonder 'What was life like before I was born?' and this gives you a way to show them."

Make a restaurant checklist

Chances are you and your partner have a few local eateries you've been dying to try, so start keeping a list of your favorites, and spend your Saturday nights crossing them off. Obviously you'll still be able to dine out when you're pregnant, but meals may be a little different. For one thing, dinners just don't feel as splurgy when you can't linger over a bottle of wine. You may find some of your menu favorites off-limits -- no Caesar salad (raw eggs); swordfish (too much mercury); or unpasteurized soft cheeses, to name a few. And pregnancy issues like morning sickness, heartburn, or even weird cravings or aversions can throw your palate off-kilter. Plan on at least a few decadent dinners on the town now -- and order whatever you want without thinking twice about it!

Deal with where you want to live

Do you need to move for more space, a better location, or any other reason? Our advice: Do it soon. Getting settled -- ideally, somewhere you want to be for at least a couple of years -- and feeling good about your home will help you feel more prepared for pregnancy. It's nice not to have to deal with moves, renovations, lawyers, and closings once you're pregnant (no one wants to be packing at 8 months along).

On the other hand, if you're happy where live, don't feel like you have to move now that you're family-planning either -- you don't need a huge, multi-bedroom house in suburbia to raise a baby. Remember that many infants sleep in a bassinet or co-sleeper in their parents' bedroom for the first few months, and a baby won't be any happier just because he has his own nursery and playroom. You'll have plenty of time to make the big move later if you're satisfied with apartment-dwelling now.

Deal with your job

Though there's no law that says you can't job-hunt while you're pregnant (and in fact, it's illegal not to hire someone based only on the fact that she's expecting), now's a better time to switch jobs if you're unhappy. For one thing, you need to have been working somewhere at least 12 months to qualify for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act -- the federal law that stipulates companies of 50 or more employees must provide 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave). But more than that, it's important to take a 10,000-foot look at your career, says Cathy Stahl, co-author of Twin Set, and ask yourself the following questions: Are your hours okay? Is there enough flexibility for childcare after baby arrives? Can you handle the commute? Do other new parents seem happy working at your company? If you find yourself answering no, you may want to look for a new gig or see if your boss is willing to work with you to tweak your job description. Perhaps you can take on smaller clients to cut back on your hours, say, or clock in from home a couple of days a week if you have a particularly hellish ride in.

Ask your mom about her pregnancy

And your sisters, aunts, and grandmas, if you can. Did it take them a long time to conceive? Were there any complications, like preterm labor or having a breech delivery? Certain health conditions tend to run in families, and it's a smart idea to brush up on your history and share any relevant information with your doctor. But don't worry too much. Just because it took your sister a year to get pregnant doesn't mean you'll necessarily have a hard time too. Many common fertility problems, like poor egg quality (due to age) or blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, are not hereditary, but some, like fibroids or ovarian cysts, can be. Your doctor can help you understand which, if any, family issues can affect your fertility or pregnancy so you'll be better prepared to deal with them later.

Pay your doc a visit

Many experts recommend booking a pre-pregnancy checkup at your ob-gyn at least three months before you plan to start trying, says Dr. Greene, especially if you don't see the doctor regularly. You'll want to make sure you're up-to-date on vaccinations, checked for STDs, tested for heart-health issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, and make sure that any chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or thyroid problems, are in check. (It's a good idea to send your husband to visit an internist too -- most men see doctors far less regularly than women. A regular physical can help ensure he has no chronic conditions or is taking medications that may affect sperm count or cause other fertility problems.) Depending on your ethnic background, your doctor may also recommend genetic testing. This visit is a good opportunity to make sure any medications you take are safe to use while trying to conceive, and to ask your doctor anything on your mind about getting pregnant or pregnancy.
Finally, use this visit to assess your relationship with your doc and make sure he or she is someone you'll want to continue seeing once you're pregnant. Make sure your doctor takes pregnant patients. You may be surprised to learn that your gynecologist may not be an obstetrician. Does she take the time to address your questions fully and carefully, or do you get brushed off with eye-rolls or phrases like "You don't need to worry about that"? Remember, you'll be seeing a lot of this person once you're expecting, and you'll need to be able to trust her advice during one of the most important times of your life -- make sure it's someone you totally feel comfortable with.

Don't forget the dentist

It may seem totally unrelated to fertility, but getting your teeth and gums checked out before pregnancy is another wise move, says Dr. Greene. More and more research links oral health to a healthy pregnancy; women with unchecked gum disease are more prone to miscarriage, preterm birth, and preeclampsia. "In fact, brushing, flossing, and seeing the dentist regularly can cut your miscarriage risk by up to 70 percent," he says. Having your teeth examined now gives you time to get gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) under control and get x-rays (which should be avoided during pregnancy) if you need them. If your oral health is less than stellar, your dentist may recommend you come in for cleanings every few months.

Book a girlfriend getaway

Travel, travel, travel -- we heard this tip from virtually every expert and real mom we polled. And not just with your husband on your dream vacay (African safari, Amalfi Coast, Australia, whatever), but also with your girls -- especially ones you don't see very often or who couldn't be further from the marriage-pregnancy-baby thing. "Don't forget that you need your friends' support during pregnancy as much as your husband's," says Jones. "Having one totally carefree trip is a great way to celebrate those relationships and create memories you'll savor forever."



Go back to your roots

If you've been hiding your true hair color under those honey-blond (and totally high-maintenance) locks, now's the time to reconsider your hair hue. "You don't want to be getting touch-ups every few weeks while you're pregnant," says Dr. Wider. Though there's no conclusive research that proves hair coloring is unsafe during pregnancy, most experts recommend trying to minimize your exposure to the chemicals, especially in the first trimester when your baby's major organ growth takes place. If you're concerned, talk to your colorist about how to scale back -- perhaps you can phase into highlights, which are usually less upkeep and may be safer.

Stop buying clothes

You'll grow out of those fitted tops and skinny jeans within a couple of months of pregnancy, so anything you buy now you'll get to wear only for a few months before they get packed away until after baby comes. Plus, you'll want to start stocking up on maternity clothes by your second trimester. Instead, direct your urge to splurge now on classic things like bags, shoes, and other accessories that'll fit no matter your pregnancy or postpartum stage.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:49

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Russia will build missiles if US leaves treaty, Putin warns

Russia will develop missiles banned under a Cold War agreement if the US exits the pact, President Vladimir Putin has warned.

His comments follow Nato's accusation on Tuesday that Russia has already broken the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Signed in 1987 by the US and USSR, it banned both countries' use of all short and medium-range missiles.

But Mr Putin says the accusation is a pretext for the US to leave the pact.

In televised comments, the Russian leader said many other countries had developed weapons banned under the INF treaty.

"Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that [they] must also have such a weapon," he said.

"What's our response? It's simple - in that case we will also do this."US President Donald Trump has previously said the country would leave the treaty because of Russian actions.

Analysts say Russia sees the weapons as a cheaper alternative to conventional forces.

Arriving for talks with Nato foreign ministers, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini urged the two countries to save the treaty, saying it had "guaranteed peace and security in European territory for 30 years now".

What has Nato said?

On Tuesday, the Western military alliance formally accused Russia of breaking the treaty.

"Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security," the Nato foreign ministers' statement read.

The statement said the member nations "strongly support" the US claim that Russia is in breach of the pact, and called on Moscow to "return urgently to full and verifiable compliance".

Speaking after the release of Nato's statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia had 60 days to return to compliance with the treaty, after which time the US would suspend its own compliance.

"During this 60 days we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we'll see what happens during this 60-day period," he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied breaking the Cold War treaty.

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty?

  • Signed by the US and the USSR in 1987, the arms control deal banned all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges, except sea-launched weapons
  • The US had been concerned by the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile system and responded by placing Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe - sparking widespread protests
  • By 1991, nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed
  • Both countries were allowed to inspect the other's installations
  • In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the treaty no longer served Russia's interests
  • The move came after the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.

In 2014, then US President Barack Obama accused Russia of breaching the INF Treaty after it allegedly tested a ground-launched cruise missile.

He reportedly chose not to withdraw from the treaty under pressure from European leaders, who said such a move could restart an arms race.

The last time the US withdrew from a major arms treaty was in 2002, when President George W Bush pulled the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned weapons designed to counter ballistic nuclear missiles.

His administration's move to set up a missile shield in Europe alarmed the Kremlin, and was scrapped by the Obama administration in 2009. It was replaced by a modified defence system in 2016.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 10:49

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German CDU: End of era as race to succeed Merkel hits climax

There is an air of finality in Germany. A sense that, as the year begins to draw to its close, so too does the era of Angela Merkel.

She will step down on Friday as leader of her CDU party and has confirmed that she won't stand again as chancellor when her fourth term ends in 2021.

There's a famous German saying: "Everything has an end - only sausages have two." It comes to mind now, as the smell of frying meat drifts from Berlin's Christmas markets and mingles with the spicy aroma of mulled wine.

Wandering through one market, a couple of pensioners disagree about her legacy.

"I must say I'm sorry to see her leave," says Ingrid. "It was bad luck for her with the refugee policy, but for me she was the chancellor."

"She's been in the job too long," Heinz argues. It would be better to have a two-term limit like they do in the US."

Can Merkel complete her term?

The race to replace Mrs Merkel as CDU leader is particularly charged. The person who's chosen to lead the party could emerge as the next German chancellor.

"Unlike the UK, the party leader does not automatically become the prime minister candidate too, but traditionally it's always been good for a chancellor to be chairperson of his or her party," says Jan Techau of the German Marshall fund.

He says that Mrs Merkel's decision to step down as CDU leader but stay on as chancellor creates friction in the system.

"The moment you announce your resignation as party chairperson, everyone's waiting for the moment when you also resign as chancellor."And so, as Germans rush about preparing for Christmas, three candidates have feverishly toured the country, holding hustings for the party faithful.

It all comes to a head at the party conference on Friday, when just 1,001 delegates will have the chance to vote.

Who wants Merkel's job?

At a hustings in Berlin, the rank and file crowd in to meet and question the three people who, whilst relatively unknown outside Germany, have become household names here.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - known as AKK - is the Merkel choice

The 56-year-old former prime minister of the state of Saarland was appointed general secretary of the CDU earlier this year and is the party favourite, polls suggest. Popular in Saarland and Berlin, she has an unpretentious style and a reputation for calm analysis as well as political acumen.

Her greatest strength is also her greatest weakness; she's a Merkel loyalist who's perceived as someone who will replicate much of the chancellor's style and policy.

Friedrich Merz - former top party figure, sidelined by Merkel

The millionaire businessman was a powerful player in the CDU in the early 2000s but left politics when he fell out with the chancellor.

Since then the 63-year-old lawyer - who has strong links to America - has built a career in the private sector and works for US company Blackrock. He appeals to the more conservative and business-minded wing of the party and has the official backing of ex-finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Jens Spahn - young and energetic but unlikely to win

Mrs Merkel's health minister is ambitious and, aged 38, the youngest of the three candidates.

The former banker was once described by Mr Schäuble as "one of the great hopes for the future of our party".

But Mr Spahn has ruffled feathers in the party and in the cabinet. Sharply conservative, Catholic and gay, he is a divisive figure for many.

Why the candidates have one key challenge

After nearly 20 years as party leader, Mrs Merkel still commands extraordinary respect within the CDU. The candidates have to somehow embody change whilst also representing continuity.

Watching in the audience, CDU supporter Michael says he would like AKK to take over: "We are looking for someone who can keep the party together, who will encourage lively debate but who can also achieve results. And someone who will - in the medium term - be able to replace Mrs Merkel as chancellor."

Another supporter, Elke, worries that Angela Merkel is leaving a big gap. "We might need all three of them to fill that gap," she says.

Is this the beginning of the end?

What no-one is addressing openly here is the question which produces acres of speculative newspaper columns.

Those who would write Mrs Merkel's political obituary are often premature.

She says she intends to stay as chancellor and work alongside the new party chairperson until 2021.

Much depends on who that person is. But few now think that's likely - including Jan Techau.

"The moment the new chairperson is in the conservative party, her power base will erode even further, the authority will diminish and, depending on who it is, that person will seek the stand-off and will seek the decision rather sooner than later. So, sitting it out is unlikely."

In a country where leaderships last and change tends to be slow, the political season is beginning to turn.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 10:39

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What Are Hemorrhoids? Things to know about it

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the lowest part of your rectum and anus. Sometimes the walls of these blood vessels stretch so thin that the veins bulge and get irritated, especially when you poop.

Swollen hemorrhoids are also called piles

Hemorrhoids are one of the most common causes of rectal bleeding. They're rarely dangerous and usually clear up in a couple of weeks. But you should see your doctor to make sure it's not a more serious condition. He can also remove hemorrhoids that won't go away or are very painful.

Internal and External Hemorrhoids

Internal hemorrhoids are far enough inside the rectum that you can't usually see or feel them. They don't generally hurt because you have few pain-sensing nerves there. Bleeding may be the only sign of them.

External hemorrhoids are under the skin around the anus, where there are many more pain-sensing nerves, so they tend to hurt as well as bleed.

Sometimes hemorrhoids prolapse, or get bigger and bulge outside the anal sphincter. Then you may be able to see them as moist bumps that are pinker than the surrounding area. And they're more likely to hurt, often when you poop.

Prolapsed hemorrhoids usually go back inside on their own. Even if they don't, they can often be gently pushed back into place.

blood clot can form in an external hemorrhoid, turning it purple or blue. This is called a thrombosis. It can hurt and itch a lot and could bleed. When the clot dissolves, you may still have a bit of skin left over, which could get irritated.

What Causes Them?

Some people may be more likely to get hemorrhoids if other family members, like their parents, had them.

A buildup of pressure in your lower rectum can affect blood flow and make the veins there swell. That may happen from extra weight, when you're obese or pregnant. Or it could come from:

  • Pushing during bowel movements
  • Straining when you do something that's physically hard, like lifting something heavy

People who stand or sit for long stretches of time are at greater risk, too.

You may get them when you have constipation or diarrhea that doesn't clear up. Coughing, sneezing, and vomiting could make them worse.

How to Prevent Them

Eat fiber. A good way to get it is from plant foods -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.

Drink water. It will help you avoid hard stools and constipation, so you strain less during bowel movements. Fruits and vegetables, which have fiber, also have water in them.

Exercise. Physical activity, like walking a half-hour every day, is another way to keep your blood and your bowels moving.

Don't wait to go. Use the toilet as soon as you feel the urge.

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:29

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Global alliance helping start-ups inject innovation into vaccine delivery

What do drones, smart fridges and wearable tech have in common? Apart from perhaps making your Christmas list this year, they are part of a global strategy to save millions of lives through immunisation. In Tanzania, tech start-up Nexleaf Analyticsworks with the government to combine the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics for the monitoring of thousands of connected fridges, ensuring vaccines are kept at an optimum temperature for viability.

Nexleaf is part of a cohort of healthcare-oriented tech start-ups that are incubated and accelerated within Infuse, an innovation hub created by global non-profit organisation Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, with the express purpose of improving vaccine delivery systems in developing countries.

Gavi, created in 2000, has helped developing countries to prevent more than 10 million potential deaths through its support for immunisation programmes and vaccination campaigns. Since 2017, 65 million children in more than 60 countries have been immunised with Gavi-supported vaccines. Part of the challenge, however, is in getting vaccines to the hardest-to-reach areas of developing countries, and ensuring that these vaccines survive extreme weather conditions.

New technologies such as drones or smart fridges can meet these challenges but they cannot be power-hungry, rely on expensive-to-replace parts, or require overly specialist technicians to regularly maintain them because – although they may be developed at cutting-edge start-ups – they must be robust enough to operate in low-income countries. Lives depend upon it.

This is why Gavi launched Infuse (Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunisation) at Davos in 2016: it is a beacon for tech start-ups looking to scale while helping the Vaccine Alliance tackle global health priorities. Moz Siddiqui, senior manager of strategic innovation and partnerships at Gavi, says that in conversations he has had with private investors, they say Infuse is a bit like a venture capitalist itself: “When we explain what we do they say: ‘So, you’re basically a VC for global health’, except we’re not taking equity from any of these companies; we’re providing them with mentoring, exposure and the right connections to certain organisations such as ministries of health and others that can help them navigate this space.”


Drone delivery

One of the first companies that Infuse worked with is Zipline, a drone delivery start-up. Zipline and Infuse partnered with UPS to ship blood and medication to inaccessible regions of Rwanda, where healthcare workers previously made the journey by bike, donkey or on foot in all kinds of extreme weather. Trips that had taken days and hours were cut down to hours and minutes and Zipline now delivers two-fifths of the country’s blood supply outside the capital.

“We’re paring start-ups with the private sector so there is a learning process from large corporate to start-up and, similarly, there is a value add for large corporates to be working with a start-up. We’re also looking at how to inject them with capital to get them to the point of being able to scale. So if you think about what venture capitalists do: while they take strategic bets we are making strategic decisions, already knowing what specific use cases we have in mind,” Siddiqui says.

Zipline is one of Infuse’s flagship start-ups or what is known, in Infuse vernacular, as a “pacesetter”: they create a path and set the pace for others to follow. The pacesetters set the tone and, in Nexleaf’s case, have stimulated an entire market.

“This ensures we are always getting the next iteration of that particular technology,” says Siddiqui. “We want to know if there are even more innovative sets of technologies out there because the end result is to provide countries with technology they can use to improve their own vaccine delivery systems.


“Stimulating an entire market helps reduce the time between supply and demand of vaccines. We know, given the scale, that we probably can’t find just one technology; we need to find a whole range of them. It defuses the risk but it also defuses a potential market monopoly that we might be inadvertently creating,” he explains.

Last year, Gavi took its fight for global immunisation directly to Silicon Valley. It convened a meeting in the valley with Y CombinatorSalesforce, and alongside the philanthropic community, venture funds and academia on how best to tap into the tech sector to improve vaccine delivery while benefitting the companies that come on board. is already part of this and has teamed up with Gavi and Nexleaf Analytics to help scale the start-up’s data-driven “cold chain” equipment; this is that system of thousands of connected smart fridges that ensure storage of safe and potent vaccines.

“The challenge that we face is that vaccines need to be kept between two to eight Celsius and the current method for doing that isn’t the most optimised. Nexleaf have created a sensor that allows it to get real-time data from fridges,” says Siddiqui.

“This is important because if you’re a country with around 1,000 fridges out there you want to know which of your fridges are working. When they’re not working you end up deploying your technicians, knowing that it’s quite costly, so you need to be more precise. In terms of IoT, organisations like understand how to use this data quite carefully and they are interested in asking: how do we build this out?”

Siddiqui says it is about limiting the rate of vaccine wastage to help governments save money and because the cold chain is critical, especially in hot countries, predictive data analytics, given enough sensor data, can start to make educated guesses about what fridges will fail, and when, and prevent this from happening.

Nexleaf’s ColdTrace sensor technology is attracting attention beyond Tanzania and proves that technological innovation doesn’t always have to begin in developed countries, as chief executive Keller Rinaudo has said, explaining that the combination of a readily available market and low regulatory compliance can get a product to market more quickly than in Europe or the United States.

Nevertheless, big US tech companies have left their mark: invested US$2 million in Nexleaf, as did the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been a driving force throughout Gavi’s development. The foundation’s initial pledge of $750 million in 1999 provided the seed money to launch Gavi in the first place, with more than $1.5 billion in donor contributions and pledges to date.

Bill Gates has, in the past, said of Gavi’s importance: “One of the highest priorities of the Gates Foundation is to increase access to life-saving vaccines for children in the world’s poorest countries.”

Robust system

In terms of Gavi’s future goals, the aim is to immunise 300 million children by 2020 and, as Siddiqui says, “also leave behind a really robust system that countries can then own and operate. That is the driver of all of this innovation.”

In order to do this the Vaccine Alliance must push past global immunisation coverage, which they say has stalled at about 80 per cent for several years. Part of this problem lies in the “last mile”: lack of infrastructure or inaccessible, remote locations can stymie vaccine delivery and solving this is what led to high-tech solutions such as drones.

But drones alone don’t solve the problem. When the last mile involves ensuring vaccination is a core part of antenatal care, healthcare workers need a more human touch. Another Gavi pacesetter is Khushi Baby, an Indian company that made its debut on Kickstarter back in 2014 and has created an inexpensive digital necklace that allows the owner to wear their medical records.

When a nurse visits a rural village, equipped with an NFC-enabled mobile phone, they simply hold it close to the necklace to check if the infant’s vaccinations are up to date. The reason for designing this tech as a necklace is that Khushi Baby’s founders noticed many mothers placing amulets on a black thread around their child’s neck in order to ward off disease. Now, in conjunction with 80 healthcare workers, they have 12,000 mothers and infants in 375 villages in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan, India, wearing these devices.

“Our superpower within the vaccine ecosystem is scale. We now work across 68 countries and we purchase vaccines for 60 per cent of the world’s birth cohort,” says Siddiqui.

“We are always thinking about how to make sure we are finding some really interesting, applicable, potentially game-changing technologies that are not just disrupting industry for the better but which we can adapt to our context.”

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:19

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How AI is improving the lives of children with challenges

AI is helping children with autism, deaf children and newborns suffering seizures

         For many people living with autism, social interactions can be like being in a country where you don’t speak the language. What neurotypical people take for granted – interpreting cues from body language, tones and facial expressions, establishing a rapport with eye contact – can be a challenge for people on the autism spectrum. It’s a varied thing, of course, but for those who do experience these challenges, it can be isolating.

Dr Ned Sahin may have a solution that could help with at least some of these issues, and artificial intelligence plays a large role.

“You might have a tremendous amount of power in your brain, but not be able to communicate with others. Imagine if you didn’t speak the language, everyone was yelling at you, facing backwards, you didn’t know who to listen to, and everything about you felt just a little bit off,” he said.

“Just imagine if I could give you an AI that would outsource or near source some of the complex challenges such as determining when someone is angry or bored, or help look towards someone, pay attention when they are speaking and get the right information.”

Clinical trials

It’s not a theoretical device; Dr Sahin has built one using Google Glass. The wearable device has been through clinical trials and is now on sale in schools. It uses facial detection and analysis to detect emotions and turns into a video game: the wearer gets points for making eye contact with a teacher, or for guessing correctly if someone is happy or angry.

“We’re using facial detection and analysis to decode facial emotions and turn that into a video game. We have about 10 different apps at different stages, commercialised and under development that are a wearable life coach on your shoulder, on your head, interposed between you and the rest of reality, but not blocking you from actually being part of reality,” he said.

“AI is doing the heavy lifting. When it feels like a video game, it taps into natural motivational structures that children have and teaches them the skills that will get them through the biggest two gateways in life, which is a romantic partnership and a job.”

      While Google provides the hardware, the computing behind the scenes comes through Amazon Web Services (AWS). The global giant has been doubling down on machine learning and artificial intelligence, opening up powerful tools to smaller companies and organisations at a more competitive cost than in the past. At its annual Re:Invent conference, the company announced everything from a custom designed chip to technology that can speed up the training of AI models. The end result? Amazon is hoping that it will democratise the technology, accelerating its rollout throughout every industry as it becomes easier and cheaper for companies and organisations to use the technology in their products.

       In the meantime, the movement for AI for good continues. Phone maker Huawei has also dipped its toe into the water with a new app that signs a select number of story books for deaf children, helping to teach them to read. Announced at the start of December, the app will translate a book into sign language through the the Mate 20 Pro’s camera, using an onscreen avatar to sign the story as the printed words are highlighted.

“We created StorySign to help make it possible for families with deaf children to enjoy an enriched story time,” said Andrew Garrihy, chief marketing officer, Huawei western Europe. “We hope that by raising awareness of deaf literacy issues, people will be encouraged to donate to or support one of the fantastic charity partners we are working with across Europe.”


      Closer to home, Cork’s INFANT Research Centre has been using AI to help improve outcomes for newborn babies. Researchers in the centre developed an algorithm that helps detect seizures in newborns, interpreting EEG readings at the same level as a human expert. The software can be integrated into existing bedside monitors, limiting the amount of equipment necessary around a child’s bedside and providing doctors with valuable clinical data. It has been a major win for the treatment of newborns, and looks set to be rolled out globally once the clinical trials have been published. The project won an AI award last month, one of several Irish activities in artificial intelligence that were honoured.

Careful consideration

       However, while AI has enormous potential for good, there are issues ahead and there needs to be some careful consideration about its impact.

Vasi Philomin, director of software engineering with AWS, said knowing the limitations of the services is important for effective use.

“You’ve got to understand what the capabilities of the service actually is and then try to use it appropriately in those cases,” he said.

In the case of AWS’s services that use facial recognition, for example, the results are given a confidence score that indicates the probability. The higher the score, the higher the probability.

        “In the real world when you see how these things are used,” he explained. “These services are used as sort of a filter to handle the massive amounts of data out there and narrow the field down for a human to take a look and make a decision in the end. We shouldn’t forget there’s a human in the loop, especially for things that are serious.”

AWS’s approach is to keep the models for AI and machine learning in the cloud, something Philomin said would improve them over time and perhaps even work out some of the biases that could creep in to data.


             “It’s important to have good-quality diverse data for training and that’s something we strive to do with our services,” he said. “We continuously improve the services, and customers who are using them see the improvements without having to do anything on their side.”

But requiring businesses and the tech industry to police their own actions may be a step too far in trust for some. The tech industry is littered with cases where the limitations of services were not taken into account, and there is the fear that society will bear the brunt of this.

          According to Microsoft Ireland managing director Cathriona Hallahan, AI can be a force for good – but governments need to take a hand in steering its course. “It should be a partnership between man and machine and not one or the other. Humans need to stay in control of who gets to define how that technology should be used,” she said. “It should be a coalition with industry, between public and private sectors and government to come together and say ‘how should we regulate this and who should have control?’ It shouldn’t be left in the hands of industry to do that alone.”

       Dr Sahin has a clear view of the impending impact of AI. “Every useful technology will be used for evil and for good. It’s desperately important for those of us who are doing good, unassailably, to push forward. That doesn’t mean ignore the concerns around ethics; it means take them as seriously as possible,” he said. “Consider it do good, and know what that means. If we worry about the sky falling in, about the data we give off now being used against us in the future, we won’t make progress forwards.”

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:15

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Brian O’Driscoll opens up about use of legal painkillers when he was playing

The prescription painkillers Difene and co-codamol were regularly handed out  to Leinster and Ireland rugby players so they could ‘play their best game’, former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has revealed.

“I’d have been part of teams where the doctor would have walked down the bus on the way to games inquiring who wanted what in advance [of kick-off],” said O’Driscoll on Off The Ball. “For me, for the last couple of seasons, part of my match prep would have been a Difene and couple of co-codamol.”

O’Driscoll was speaking in the context of a International Rugby Players’ survey that revealed 45 per cent of players feel pressured by coaches and staff to play while injured.

He never felt such pressure.

“In the Leinster and Irish set-ups you could get your hands on difene. You got to fight your case a bit more now, and prove their necessity. Drug cabinets that might have been open once upon a time are very much shut and inaccessible.

“It used to be for sleepers as well. Diazepam [valium] to try and counteract what would happen with the caffeine [tablets] because they couldn’t sleep.

“I’m not saying it was the culture but it happened.”

Asked to explain the value of such drugs, by OTB presenter Joe Molloy, he replied, “Just a painkiller if I was carrying something. You know what? It almost became like habit, where it gave me a fighting chance if I wasn’t feeling 100 percent that it might have levelled it up.”

‘Perfectly legal’

“Which might have been most of the time?” asked Molloy.

“Which was probably a lot of the time. That is the reality of it. I wouldn’t have been the only one doing that. It was usually the older players, just to get you to balance the equilibrium, almost of feeling okay.


“I’m sure at times in my subconscious I would have taken it where maybe I could have done without it,” O’Driscoll continued. “If it is perfectly legal there is no need for TUEs [Therapeutic Use Exemptions] , give yourself a chance of playing your best game.

“I also had caffeine before games. I’d have three little tablets of caffeine, like chewing gum. You’d get into a routine where I knew exactly what I was doing, I had it down to the final seconds. As soon as I ran out on the pitch I’d bash it away and do my pre-warm up before we got together with the team.

“That was part and parcel of the last four or five years of my career.”

Difene, co-codamol and Diazepam all require prescriptions to purchase in a pharmacy.

On the related issue of player welfare, O’Driscoll added: “This definitely comes into the realms of player welfare where they won’t protect [players] from themselves, from taking these things.

“You play games, you make money, you’ve a better quality of life. It’s a simple pyramid; you’ve more chance of success the more you play.

No adverse effects

“I wouldn’t change a whole lot, now . . . I haven’t felt any adverse effects. Ask me at 75 and see what the state of my insides are like. I didn’t take so many Difene that I’m concerned but there would be players out there taking them every single day, that can’t be good for you. “

Also during the interview on Wednesday Night Rugby concerns were raised about the damage Difene does to a person’s insides.

“I’d never take Difene on an empty stomach. That would absolutely pull your stomach apart. I was always very conscious not to take it with orange juice or a cup of coffee. You’d need to eat and make sure you’ve a full stomach and I never had an issue.”

O’Driscoll, Ireland’s most capped player and record try scorer, retired from rugby in 2014.

“It’s always something that stayed with me,” said the 39 year old. “I’d have some Difene in my golf bag now. Might not take one before I tee off but stiffen up on the round I might take a Difene.”

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:08

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Will Opec defy Trump's call for low oil prices?

Initially it is difficult see what President Donald Trump and Usman Ahsan, a taxi driver in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, have in common.

One is the leader of the US, with an estimated personal fortune of $3.1bn (£2.4bn), the other is struggling to support his wife and eight-month-old daughter.

Yet both are this week hoping that the Opec oil producers' cartel doesn't decide to cut production in an attempt to increase global crude prices.

Representatives of Opec's current 15 member states meet at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria on Thursday, 6 December, for their latest biannual meeting, where they will set production levels for the next six months.

The expectations are that at the urging of Opec's de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, output will indeed be cut to help boost prices, which fell to their lowest levels in more than a year at the end of November

Saudi Arabia argues that output needs to be trimmed because it fears that otherwise prices could fall further next year due to a predicted slowing in demand for oil.

Both Mr Ahsan and President Trump will not be happy if Opec - which accounts for more than a third of oil supplies - does indeed cut production.

"The price of petrol is already way too high," Mr Ahsan, 28, tells the BBC over the telephone. "I sometimes have to work 16 hours a day, for 30 days in a row, to provide for my family."

Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted last month: "Hopefully, Saudi Arabia and Opec will not be cutting oil production." In another tweet in November in response to falling oil prices he wrote: "Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let's go lower!"

Like the rest of us Mr Ahsan doesn't have any clout with Opec, but President Trump certainly does. And he wants petrol prices to stay low to help US drivers and the country's economy.

So what exactly should we expect to be announced following the Opec meeting and why?

And what are the other issues that Saudi Arabia and Opec have to consider?

If we look at the current oil prices and how they compare with the past decade, they are undeniably low. Brent Crude, widely used as a benchmark for global oil prices, fell to $58.76 a barrel on 28 November, its lowest level since October 2017.

Even though the price has subsequently risen above $63, on growing agreement among analysts that Opec will announce some production cuts, this is still less than half the highs reached in March 2012 of more than $128. Prices soared then due to fears over supplies from Iraq because of continuing instability in the country.

Opec wants to cut production because it forecasts that the rate of growth in the worldwide demand for oil will slow in 2019 as the global economy cools slightly.

It said last month it now expects worldwide demand for crude will increase by an average 1.29 million barrels per day in 2019, compared with 2018, to a total of 100 million barrels a day. Earlier, in July it was predicting an increase of 1.45 million barrels a day.

Ann-Louise Hittle, vice president in charge of oil at research group Wood Mackenzie, agrees demand will cool next year. Like many she predicts that Opec will announce production cuts, but only modest ones due to pressure from President Trump.

"We expect a production restraint agreement to emerge from the meeting and have had this in our base case 2019 forecast. We have expected this for some months because without it, there will be a large scale oversupply."

But by how much is Opec likely to cut supplies? Ms Hittle suggests around 800,000 barrels a day, that would "stabilise prices and prevent further declines". She adds that a cut of one million barrels a day would mean price rises of "several dollars a barrel".

Fellow oil industry analyst Rachel Ziemba from the Center for a New American Security predicts a cut of "up to 500,000 barrels a day".

However, she cautions that "this meeting is still tricky to call". She says that as the US and China now appear to be trying to patch up their trade dispute, the global economy may actually be stronger than previously predicted next year.

Other commentators speculate that Saudi Arabia may be more willing than usual to pay heed to President Trump's call, after the reputational damage it suffered following the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the country's consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia has actually already increased its production slightly since the summer, in response to urging from Mr Trump.

This was to make up for a fall in global supply following the US reinstating sanctions on Iran, and led to the recent yearly lows.

Jim Krane, energy research fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston, says that an Opec production cut is "looking likely" despite the pressure from President Trump.

"A lot of producers need $60-80 [per barrel of] oil to balance their national budgets," he says. "When oil falls much below $60, they get nervous."

He adds that what has strengthened Opec's hand is the organisation's close ties with Russia, and that if Opec trims production, Russia will probably do the same.

What has brought Opec and Russia together in recent years has been their mutual concern at the vast group wth of the US shale oil industry. The resulting rise in its oil production means the US is now the world's largest oil producer, according to some estimates. This puts it ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia in second and third place.

So despite President Trump's tweets, Opec is widely predicted to announce a production cut, if only a small one, to try to raise global oil prices.

For Mr Ahsan, in Islamabad, it won't be welcome news. "Life is tough, if I try to do normal hours of driving, like eight hours, I don't make a profit because of the cost of fuel," he says.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 10:07

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Believe in dreams: step inside Wonderland with Tiffany & Co. this Christmas

A gift from Tiffany & Co. is cherished at any time of year, but there is something particularly magical about receiving the Tiffany blue box at Christmas. Classic, elegant and truly special, a gift from Tiffany & Co. is one to fall in love with forever.

The New York jewellers, Tiffany & Co. - made famous by the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly gazes longingly inside the Fifth Avenue store - has an inspiring range of extraordinary gifts for your loved ones.

This festive season, to showcase the many treasures to be found at Tiffany & Co., the jewellers have launched a new chapter in their “Believe in Dreams” campaign, with a delightful film filled with magic, fashion icons and even a Mad Hatter style tea party.


Viewers go behind the scenes of a Tiffany workshop for a journey into dazzling, madcap adventures, a whimsical tea party and all with a star-studded cast. It begins at Tiffany & Co.’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, where musician, actress and style icon Zoë Kravitz plays a Tiffany sales person working late into the evening.

Kravitz drifts into a spectacular daydream and leaves reality for a Tiffany Blue dreamscape which is alive with bursts of neon colour. She enters a creative wonderland where she finds an underground holiday workshop with model Xiao Wen Ju as the quirky manager of the craftspeople. She sees the exquisite workmanship and artistry of Tiffany & Co. brought to life in a series of joyous, witty vignettes featuring cameos from models including Karen Elson (pictured below) and Maye Musk.

Kravitz’s journey culminates in a “madcap tea party” hosted by Naomi Campbell where guests dine on delicious pastries from The Blue Box Cafe and crockery and table settings from the Home & Accessories collection.

At the end of the film, Kravitz discovers the magic of Tiffany & Co. is where creativity and craftsmanship come together.

The “Believe in Dreams” campaign showcases both Tiffany & Co.’s classic and new collections, including Tiffany Paper Flowers and Tiffany T, as well as their classic diamonds and gems. There is magic and beauty in every single Tiffany piece and there is nothing quite like a Tiffany Blue Box under the tree, to make your beloved’s Christmas perfect this year.

Tiffany T

Tiffany T Square Bracelet in 18k gold, €6,050

The magic of the Tiffany T collection is in its unapologetic modern and bold look as well as its timeless sophistication. The Tiffany T jewellery is an arresting collection with graphic T shapes and is inspired by New York’s energy, architecture and endearing honesty. Its graphic angles and clean lines combine beautifully to makes confident, unique pieces of jewellery. This collection's bracelets, necklaces, rings and cuffs all have a distinctive minimalist look and come in rose, white and yellow gold and sterling silver. The pieces work beautifully on their own, or stacked together. You will find some pieces with a sprinkle of diamonds to represent the twinkle of lights in the city that never sleeps.

Tiffany Paper Flowers

Tiffany Paper Flowers Diamond and Tanzanite Open Cluster Necklace, €8,650

The Tiffany Paper Flowers collection is inspired by the iris flower and full of feminine, romantic, beautiful jewellery. Designed by chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff, it honours the extraordinary craftsmanship of Tiffany & Co. with a little playfulness in the design. Krakoff wanted these pieces to dismantle the rulebook that fine jewellery is only for special occasions and this collection can easily become part of what you wear everyday. Krakoff’s inspiration came from an 1881 watercolour of an iris which he found in the Tiffany & Co. archives. He wanted to capture the romance and poetry of flowers, and botanical motifs feature throughout this stunning collection. Mirror-polished platinum is set with exquisite diamonds and the collection features rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces that would be a joy to receive on Christmas morning.

Classic diamonds and gems

There is nothing quite like a Tiffany & Co. stone. As well as their classic diamond, they have a stone to suit every heart’s desire including everything from emerald to aquamarine, amethyst to yellow sapphire. To make it even more personal, Tiffany & Co. offers a personalisation and engraving service, too.

The inspiration for the Tiffany Victoria collection, which is distinguished by a flower made from four hand-cut diamond petals, was from the fire of the diamonds they source.

Tiffany Victoria Alternating Ring, €16,700

These romantic, feminine pieces are handcrafted with a delicate intricacy and a unique combination of cuts.

If you are seeking something sensual, feminine and utterly wearable, go for a piece from Elsa Peretti’s Diamonds by the Yard collection.

Tiffany Elsa Peretti Diamonds by the Yard earrings, €1,300

Florence-born Peretti is a jewellery designer, style icon and philanthropist as well as a former fashion model. Her understated approach to diamonds revolutionised the way gemstones are worn.

In the Tiffany Metro collection you will find a delicate but dazzling brilliance as its key feature is its extensive use of diamonds.

Tiffany Metro Five-row Hinged Bangle, €16,400

There is a unique shimmer to this sleek, modern collection as the diamonds seem to go on forever. Initially, this collection featured pavé diamonds set in a single row, but soon after it was expanded to include pieces with multiple rows of elegant, sparkling gems to give more options to customers.

The very essence of the Tiffany Soleste collection comes from its name taken from “sol,” the Spanish word for sun.

Tiffany Soleste Ring, €8,650

At the heart of each piece from this collection is a magnificent gemstone. You will find violet-hued tanzanites, stunning sapphires and coloured diamonds encricled by two bead-set halos of diamonds. Light is gathered and mirrored throughout the design, and it makes for a spectacular engagement ring. The collection features pendants, earrings and rings.

The Tiffany Blue Box

No gift would be complete without the signature Tiffany Blue Box that wraps each piece. It is as much a part of Tiffany’s legendary style as the jewels that come within it. Its characteristic blue hue is synonymous with luxury and is sure to be the perfect gift for anyone to find under the tree this Christmas.

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 10:00

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Boy dies after allergic reaction to cheese ‘forced’ on him at school

A 13-year-old boy with a dairy allergy has died in London after suffering a severe reaction to a piece of cheese allegedly forced on him, prompting a murder investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service.

Karanbir Cheema was taken to hospital in a life-threatening condition on June 28th after becoming unwell during a school break. He died on Sunday after 10 days at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, devastating his family and school friends.

Officers from Ealing borough police, in the west of the British capital, were initially called to the school after it “became apparent that an incident had occurred which led to the boy coming into contact with the allergen”, the Met said in a statement.

Another 13-year-old boy was arrested and released on bail pending further inquiries, and the case has been passed to homicide officers.

Karanbir’s father, Amarjeet, told the London Evening Standard newspaper he was heartbroken. “We were in hospital. I had to watch him die. No parent should have to go through that. While he was in hospital we were fully concentrated on his condition. Now we want answers. How could this have happened?” he said.

“My son had allergies, but he was very careful. He had an allergy to dairy products but was good at avoiding them. I don’t see how a piece of cheese hitting him could have killed him. It doesn’t make any sense. We have been told very little.”

A postmortem has been scheduled for Wednesday to establish the cause of what the Met described as “an unexplained death”.

The head of William Perkin C of E High School, where Karanbir was a pupil, said he was treated immediately in the school before paramedics arrived. “He had a full care plan, and all the normal steps you would expect with a child with an allergy were in place. We provided these medications, and they were delivered,” Alice Hudson, executive head teacher, told the Evening Standard. “Everything that should have been done was done. Very, very tragically in this situation this was not effective.”


She told the Daily Mirror that Karanbir, known as Karan, had come to tell staff he was having a bad reaction. “He was able to come to the school office to indicate that he thought he was having an extreme reaction, and they were able to immediately administer the normal treatment, which was kept in the office for his care.”

Hudson added: “He had many friends, who are devastated at his death, as are the staff. He was a bright and keen student who excelled in maths. Our thoughts and prayers are with Karan’s family.”

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 09:54

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Anger over pork sausages at Germany Islam event

Germany's Interior Ministry has said it regrets serving pork sausage at a conference on Islam in Berlin earlier this week.

The ministry said the food selection had been designed for the "diverse religious attendance" at the German Islam Conference in Berlin.

But it apologised "if individuals felt offended in their religious feelings".

The event was led by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who in March said Islam "does not belong in Germany".

Most of the attendees at the Islam conference were Muslims, local media reported. Under Islamic law, Muslims are forbidden to eat pork.The type of sausage on offer was blutwurst - or "blood sausage" - which is made of ingredients including pig's blood, pork and bacon.

German journalist Tuncay Özdamar wrote on Twitter: "What signal does Seehofer's interior ministry want to send? A little respect for Muslims, who don't eat pork, is needed."

At the start of the conference, Mr Seehofer reportedly said that he wanted to see a "German Islam".

But Özdamar added that Mr Seehofer's "elephant in a china shop" behaviour "would never gain the support of a majority of Muslims in Germany".

In its response the Interior Ministry added that it had served 13 dishes, including halal, vegetarian, meat and fish dishes and said that all food in the buffet had been clearly marked.

Some German media reported that pork in the form of ham had been served at the first German Islam Conference in 2006.

In his March comments, which were seen as an attempt to win back voters from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, M Seehofer said Islam did not belong to Germany because "Germany is shaped by Christianity".

"The Muslims who live among us naturally belong to Germany... That of course does not mean that we should, out of a false consideration for others, give up our traditions and customs," he said.

However last month Mr Seehofer's Christian Social Union (CSU) party suffered big losses in the Bavarian elections, with the BBC's Germany Correspondent Jenny Hill saying its attempt to harden its tone and policies on immigration appeared to have backfired.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 09:44

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Merkel plane technical failure leaves German leader late for G20

German Chancellor Angela Merkel missed the opening of the G20 summit in Argentina after her plane was forced to land shortly after leaving Berlin.

The plane carrying Mrs Merkel's team turned back while flying over the Netherlands late on Thursday, because of a communications failure.

The Airbus made a safe but unscheduled landing in Cologne.

Mrs Merkel flew to Madrid on Friday then boarded a scheduled Iberia airlines flight to Buenos Aires.

Among her fellow passengers on board the Iberia flight was Agustín Agüero, who tweeted a picture of the chancellor on board.

On Thursday evening the captain of Mrs Merkel's plane told those on board that he had decided to turn back after the "malfunction of several electronic systems".

The plane's communications system went down and the crew had to use a satellite phone to contact air traffic controllers, Germany's Spiegel website reported.

The problem is thought to have been with an electronic distribution box, which controls both the radio and discharge of aviation fuel. At no time was there any risk to the lives of passengers, a spokeswoman for Mrs Merkel stressed.

The German air force denied suggestions that the plane's electronics could have been sabotaged. "There's is absolutely no indication of a criminal background," a spokesman said.

'Overheated braking system'

An added problem for the plane was that Cologne airport's longer runway was unavailable, Spiegel added. As the A340 had to slow down quickly and it was still fully laden with fuel, its braking system overheated and the fire brigade met the plane on the tarmac.

The German delegation was kept on the plane for some time before officials decided to travel by bus to a hotel in Bonn.

The chancellor and a smaller delegation including the finance minister travelled to Madrid on an air force plane on Friday morning before leaving for Argentina on an Iberia plane, a spokesman said.

Mrs Merkel's husband was among those on the initial flight who remained in Germany.

Although there is a standby government plane for long-haul flights, no crew was available to fly it, German media report.

Organising an alternative route proved a headache for the German government, as Mrs Merkel's entourage had to include several security officials.

Merkel misses key talks

The chancellor missed the "family photo" at the start of the G20 summit and officials were trying to reschedule planned bilateral meetings with national leaders.

German TV's satirical Heute Show tweeted an image showing three other G20 leaders arriving alongside an airport baggage hall, with the caption: "Merkel decided on an alternative arrival."

The chancellor had been due to have talks on Friday with President Donald Trump and China's Xi Jinping but was due to arrive in Buenos Aires only by early evening.

Amid the continuing crisis over Russia's seizure of 24 Ukrainian sailors, a spokeswoman in Berlin said the chancellor's meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin on Saturday would go ahead as planned. President Trump has cancelled a meeting with the Russian leader.

The Airbus A340-300 hit by technical failure is named Konrad Adenauer after West Germany's first post-war chancellor.

For finance minister Olaf Scholz, the plane's technical problems are nothing new.

In October he was on a trip to Indonesia when the plane was grounded because rodents had gnawed through electrical cables during an annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Last month, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived late for a trip to South Africa because one of the plane's engines would not start.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 09:01

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‘Today’ Third Hour Leaving NBC Studio That Housed Megyn Kelly’s Broadcast

NBC News is taking another step to make the third hour of its venerable “Today” look more like the first two in the wake of Megyn Kelly’s exit from the franchise.

The third hour of “Today,” which has been broadcast from Studio 6A since Kelly began hosting the time slot in the fall of 2017, is moving to Studio 1A, the facility from which the program’s flagship two hours originate,  NBC News confirmed. The move is being made to streamline the production process and make the division between the two broadcasts more seamless, the spokeswoman said. The last broadcast of “Today” from Studio 6A will take place on January 4, NBC News said, and the show will hold forth from Studio 1A starting January 7.

The maneuver is the latest from the network as it works on the fly to recalibrate the 9 a.m. broadcast of the program in the wake of the cancellation of Kelly’s tenure. Kelly left the third hour of the broadcast in October after a controversy erupted when she held an on-air discussion about the use of blackface in Halloween costumes. Her broadcast was a bet on something different for the storied NBC A.M. mainstay – a live audience and a more opinionated host.

Since her departure, NBC News has presented a more buttoned-down version of the program, led by “Today” anchors including Craig MelvinAl Roker Sheinelle Jones, and Dylan Dreier. On some days, Savannah Guthrie or Hoda Kotb, the lead anchors of the first two hours, take part. And on other days, there are surprises: an appearance by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, for instance, or even a cameo by Natalie Morales, the former “Today” newsreader who once played a more prominent role in the 9 a.m. broadcast.

While Kelly’s hour relied on a studio filled with a live audience, the new third hour will make use of smaller in-studio crowd, NBC News said.

Editorial and tech staffers assigned to the 9 a.m. broadcast will remain with the hour, NBC News said. Some freelancers who worked on the broadcast could be affected, though the news unit is working to find these employees other duties.

NBC News is likely eyeing new “Today” changes with some degree of caution. Ratings for both the third hour and the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. broadcast have been on the rise in recent weeks. The show’s first two hours have long generated the most viewers among people between 25 and 54 – the demographic most coveted by advertisers. But for the past six weeks, the have also scored more morning viewers overall, allowing for victories over the show’s main rival, ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The studio change will bring another benefit: easier logistics.  When Guthrie and Kotb take part in the third hour, they won’t have very far to travel. Studios 1A and 6A are not situated close to each other, and the two co-anchors often have to do updates after signing off at 9 a.m. for viewers on the U.S. west coast.

sarah Posted on December 06, 2018 08:59

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Cuba offers 3G mobile internet access to citizens

Cuba's population is to be offered internet access via a 3G mobile network from later this week.

Telecom provider Etecsa said citizens would be able to start subscribing to the service from Thursday.

Until now, locals have mostly relied on wi-fi hotspots and internet cafes and the 3G service has been restricted to state-employed journalists and foreign businesses among others.

This will change - but many will still be unable to afford the new contracts.

Etecsa's packages range from a month's use of 600MB of data for 7CUC ($7; £5.50) to 4GB for 30CUC.

Users get a bonus 300MB use of local .cu domain websites.

But the average state wage for the island's 11.2 million residents is the equivalent of about $30 per month.

Looser limits

The launch marks a further relaxation of the government's restrictions on online activity.

Until five years ago, access was largely limited to tourist hotels and state-operated clubs.

But in 2013, the authorities began opening internet cafes.

In 2014, they began allowing mobile phone owners access to the state's Nauta email service at a charge of 1CUC per megabyte - the price has since fallen to the same charge for 50MB.

In 2015, the first wi-fi hotspot opened at a cultural centre. Hundreds of other public spaces then followed.

And then in 2017, Etecsa began offering a limited number of home connections.

Access to the new 3G service will be rolled out over a three-day period in order to reduce the risk of it being overwhelmed with demand.

The order in which existing subscribers will be invited to join will be determined by the first two digits of their mobile phone number.

However, Etecsa has not ruled out the possibility of glitches.

"Incidents could be experienced in certain areas," it has warned.

"If customers experience any problems, they should inform the company."

Nearly half of Cuba's population own a mobile phone although not all are compatible with the radio frequency the service will use.

Analysis: Will Grant, Cuba correspondent

Cubans have long wanted to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to internet access.

Since Raul Castro stood down and was replaced as president by Miguel Diaz-Canel, that has looked increasingly likely - at least on their mobile phones.

The new president has an active Twitter account and several members of the Council of State followed his lead recently.

Still, based on their experience, most Cubans are distrustful of major announcements and unveilings until they can see real change for themselves.

The last time a 24-hour pilot for 3G was run, for example, other mobile services such as SMS messaging went down.

They will want to see that mobile internet works well and is dependable before deciding whether they can afford the packages.

Still the desire is there, especially among young people who never considered it fair that they lagged so far behind their cousins elsewhere in the world.

One electrical engineer told me he was exhausted with having to sit in hot public squares to get online.

"Why did we have to be the offline island?" he said.

Internet censorship

To date, Cuba has generally allowed users to interact with most of the internet if they could gain access.

A report by the US think tank Freedom House last year noted that the US government-backed news site Marti Noticias and local blog 14ymedio were blocked.

However, it added that foreign news sites - including the BBC and Spain's El Pais - were available, as were social networks including Facebook and Twitter.

Citizens can also use video chat services that allow them to keep in touch with family members who have emigrated abroad.

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 08:55

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Huawei finance chief Meng Wanzhou arrested in Canada

The daughter of the founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has been arrested in Canada and faces extradition to the United States.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and deputy chair, was arrested in Vancouver on 1 December.

Details of the arrest have not been released but the US has been investigating Huawei over possible violation of sanctions against Iran.

China's embassy in Canada protested at the arrest and demanded her release.

Huawei said it had little information about the charges and was "not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng".The arrest comes at a sensitive time for US-China relations. The nations are engaged in a trade war that has seen both impose duties of billions of dollars on one another's goods.

The arrest will not help the 90-day tariff truce the nations agreed after President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met at the G20.

It also coincides with moves to restrict the use of Huawei technology in Western countries. The US, Australia and New Zealand have blocked the use of the Chinese firm's equipment in infrastructure for new faster 5G mobile networks.

The UK has not blocked firms from using Huawei, although BT, which dominates the UK's telecoms network, said this week it would not use the Chinese firm's equipment in its "core" 5G infrastructure.

What has Canada said about the arrest?

Canada's ministry of justice confirmed the date and place of Ms Meng's arrest and added: "She is sought for extradition by the United States, and a bail hearing has been set for Friday."

It said it could not say more as Ms Meng had sought a ban on the publication of details and this had been ordered by the courts.

A spokesman for the US justice department in the Eastern District of New York - which Huawei said had brought the charges - declined to comment.

What could be behind it?

US media have reported that Huawei is under investigation for potential violations of US sanctions against Iran.

One report in the New York Times said the US commerce and treasury departments had subpoenaed the firm over suspected violation of sanctions against both Iran and North Korea.

US lawmakers have repeatedly accused the company of being a threat to US national security, arguing that its technology could be used for spying by the Chinese government.

Reacting to the arrest, US Senator Ben Sasse told Associated Press that China was aggressively engaged in undermining US national security interests, often "using private sector entities".

"Americans are grateful that our Canadian partners have arrested the chief financial officer," he added.

How have China and Huawei responded?

Huawei said Ms Meng, the daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, was detained while transferring between flights.

In a statement, it said it had complied with "all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.

"The company believes the Canadian and US legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion."

A statement from the Chinese embassy in Canada was far angrier.

It said that Canada, at the request of the US, had arrested a Chinese citizen "not violating any American or Canadian law".

"The Chinese side has lodged stern representations with the US and Canadian side, and urged them to immediately correct the wrongdoing and restore the personal freedom of Ms Meng Wanzhou."

Why is Huawei a concern to the West?

The company is one of the largest telecommunications equipment and services providers in the world, recently passing Apple to become the second-biggest smartphone maker after Samsung.

Some Western governments fear Beijing will gain access to fifth-generation (5G) mobile and other communications networks through Huawei and expand its spying ability, although the firm insists there is no government control.

Security concerns recently led BT to bar Huawei equipment from the heart of the 5G network it is rolling out in the UK.

New Zealand has blocked Huawei equipment over national security concerns, after Australia imposed a similar ban on both Huawei and fellow communications firm ZTE.

The US has brought a number of legal cases against Chinese technology firms, with accusations such as cyber-security theft and violations of Iran sanctions.

Earlier this year, it barred US companies from exporting to ZTE, effectively shutting down the firm. The US later replaced the ban with a fine and governance changes.

The US has also restricted US firms from selling parts to Chinese chipmaker Fujian Jinhua.

What are the Iran sanctions?

Donald Trump last month reinstated all the US sanctions on Iran that had been removed under a 2015 nuclear deal.Mr Trump had been fiercely opposed to the deal, which saw Iran limit its controversial nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The re-imposed sanctions hit oil exports, shipping and banks - indeed all core parts of Iran's economy.

Although there are some waivers, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the US will "aggressively" target any firm or organisation "evading our sanctions".

ruby Posted on December 06, 2018 08:50

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Missing woman may have been recorded in dashcam footage

Police have made a renewed appeal for help to trace a missing woman.

Jade McGrath, who is 19 and from the Aviemore area, was last seen in the Leachkin Road area of Inverness on Wednesday afternoon.

Police said she may have been recorded in vehicle dashcam footage while she was in Leachkin, General Booth or King Brude road from about 13:30.

Ms McGrath is described as being about 5ft 1in tall and of slim build, with platinum blonde hair and blue eyes.

She was wearing a light grey turtle neck top, parka jacket, black leggings and black and white Nike trainers.

Police said she was considered to be vulnerable.

Searches involving police, mountain rescue teams, the coastguard, dogs and a helicopter were made over the weekend, and continued on Monday.

Insp James Rice said: "Extensive efforts are still ongoing to find Jade including CCTV and house-to-house enquiries alongside intelligence-led work to piece together her movements.

"We have received numerous sightings from the public - all of which I am grateful for and we continue to work through all information provided by the public.

"Our last confirmed sighting is still at Leachkin Road last Wednesday and I would urge anyone who saw Jade on this day or since then to please get in touch as soon as possible."

The officer urged residents of Inverness to check their sheds and outbuildings for Ms McGrath in case she had sought shelter.

Insp Rice said: "We are still keeping in close contact with Jade's family who are well aware of the challenges of some of the woodland areas we have been searching.

"To Jade - I still appeal for you to come forward if you see this appeal. You are not in any trouble - we all just want to make sure you are OK."

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 14:53

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Woman's Botox party warning after lip filler swelling

A woman's lips swelled up so much they touched her nose after she had filler injected at a Botox party.

Rachael Knappier, from Leicestershire, said she "shouted out in pain" after she was given the treatment by a beautician at her friend's house.

She rushed to A&E when her lips swelled dramatically, later seeking private treatment to fix the problem.

The 29-year-old warned others against having lip fillers from someone not medically trained.

After agreeing to Botox on her forehead, Miss Knappier said the beautician noticed a lump on her lip - an injury she sustained when a fire door hit her at the age of 13.

"That lump is my number one insecurity. As she pointed it out, I was just drawn in," she said.

After returning home, Miss Knappier said she felt unwell. Later that night, she woke up and couldn't feel her lip.

"My lips were a size I had not seen before," she said.

She contacted the beautician on FaceTime, who Miss Knappier said was "gasping and holding her hand over her mouth".

"She told me to put an ice pack on and take an antihistamine but my lips were growing," she said.

"Then she kept repeatedly shouting, 'get to A&E'."

'Left traumatised'

At the hospital, doctors told Miss Knappier the NHS would not dissolve lip filler and would only check she was not in any immediate danger.

She said she was vomiting and shaking and did not leave the house for seven days.

After first seeing a local aesthetic nurse, she went to the Consultant Clinic in London where they dissolved the filler and, 72 hours later, her lips were back to normal.

"It's left me traumatised. I would not wish it on my worst enemy," she said.

She has since started a petition calling for aesthetic medical treatments to only be performed by doctors, nurses and dentists.

Miss Knappier, from Broughton Astley, also believes the aesthetic medical industry should be regulated.

Dr Marc Pacifico, a consultant plastic surgeon from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), said dermal fillers are a "complete wild west in the UK".

"We are one of the few western countries who regard [fillers] as a device not a medicine," he said. "There have even been cases of blindness.

"It was really about time stronger regulation was brought in."

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 13:57

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Spain 'wolf pack' sex attack gang not rapists, say judges

A Spanish court's controversial decision to clear five men of gang rape has been upheld by five appeal judges, and the group are now set to go to jail for a lesser offence of sexual abuse.

There were protests across Spain when the men, who became known as La manada(the wolf pack), were acquitted of rape and then later freed on bail.

The appeal judges agreed that the 18-year-old victim was not assaulted as no intimidation or violence was involved.

The case now goes to the Supreme Court.

"We don't like it," the teenager's lawyer said, after the five judges in the northern Navarre region upheld the nine-year jail terms for abuse.

Under current Spanish law, an offence of rape has to involve sexual assault, which includes violence or intimidation.

Significantly, two of the five judges said that the attackers had used intimidation to carry out a "continuous offence of sexual assault" and called for 14-year jail terms. But they were outvoted by the other three judges.

The case sparked such a wave of revulsion that a committee of experts was formed to reform Spain's penal code on sexual violence.

Among those outraged by the verdict was Pedro Sánchez, who has since become prime minister and has promised to introduce a new law on sexual consent.

What did the "wolf pack" do?

During the San Fermín bull-running festival in July 2016, in the crowded streets of Pamplona, the 18 year old was led to a basement where five men in their late 20s surrounded her and had unprotected sex.

Some of the men filmed the attack on their phones and sent it around their WhatsApp chat group entitled "La manada". A police report said the victim maintained a "passive or neutral" attitude throughout the scene, keeping her eyes closed at all times. But, crucially, the ruling states that abuse of a situation of manifest superiority does not itself constitute intimidation, nor was any act of violence committed.

The ruling describes the victim's role as one of "passive suffering" but finds no firm evidence of acts or threats designed to intimidate her.

In their words: "The key is the actual nature of the intimidatory act carried out by the active party, rather than the reaction of the victim to it."

Essentially, the judges are saying that the men cannot be blamed for her reaction to the situation, even though they were happy to take advantage of the teenager's weak position.

Supporters of reform will say the ruling shows why a consent-based rape law is required.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 13:04

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Georgia woman jailed as 'cops mistake candy floss for meth'

A Georgia woman spent three months in jail after her bag of candy floss was mistaken for methamphetamine owing to a defective drug test, says a lawsuit.

Dasha Fincher, 41, is suing Monroe County, the police and a drug test company over the alleged mix-up during a traffic stop on New Year's Eve 2016.

The 41-year-old was held in custody because she could not afford her $1m (£780,000) bond.

The legal action argues the county violated her civil rights.She was arrested and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute, according to the lawsuit.

The court documents say she was improperly detained from 31 December 2016 until 4 April, when her charges of drug possession and trafficking were dropped.

A state crime laboratory had already tested the bag of light blue candy floss - known as cotton candy in the US - and determined on 22 March it contained no drugs.

Ms Fincher says she missed important life events due to the unlawful jailing, including the birth of her twin grandsons and the chance to care for her daughter after a miscarriage.

In addition, the arrest remains on her record despite her innocence, according to the lawsuit.

Ms Fincher is seeking damages for negligence and wrongful actions, as determined by a jury, from Monroe County, the two officers who arrested her and the test manufacturer Sirchie.

County officials and Sirchie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A 2016 ProPublica investigation found that cheap roadside drug tests "routinely produce false positives" that result in tens of thousands of Americans being wrongfully jailed.

According to a list compiled by the Washington Post, roadside tests have labelled cookies, mints, deodorant, and tea, among other harmless materials, as drugs.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 12:44

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Priyanka Chopra: Bollywood star reveals 75ft wedding veil

What's white, sheer and 75ft long? Priyanka Chopra's wedding veil.

The Bollywood star, who married US singer Nick Jonas in Rajasthan state over the weekend, unveiled her intricately-detailed wedding dress in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

The Ralph Lauren-designed dress had more than two million mother-of-pearl sequins sewed into it, but it was the veil that stole the show.

Jonas and Chopra got engaged in the summer after a whirlwind romance.

Naturally, the internet had a lot to say about her veil, which was so large it needed a small team of people to carry it.

And some people made some striking comparisons.

While others pointed out that it trumped the Duchess of Sussex's wedding veil, which was 16ft long.

Chopra donned the hand-beaded Ralph Lauren dress in a ceremony on Saturday on the lawn of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in the city of Jodphur.The ceremony was officiated by Jonas' father Paul Kevin Jonas, a pastor.

The couple's three-day wedding extravaganza also included a traditional Hindu ceremony on Sunday, which saw the couple exchange vows again.

Speaking to People magazine, Chopra said the wedding was a "religious mash-up", adding that they "took beautiful traditions that we both grew up with and personalised them in a way that makes sense for us".

Jonas, 26, and Chopra, 36, got engaged in the summer, not long after news of their romance became public.

They have since said in an interview that they first started exchanging texts in September 2016. They appeared together at the Met Gala in May 2017 as they had both been dressed by Ralph Lauren, and their relationship started making headlines around a year later.

Chopra is one of Bollywood's highest-paid actresses, having won the Miss World pageant in 2000 and going on to make more than 50 films in India.

She broke into acting in the US with a part in the TV series Quantico and film roles in Ventilator, Baywatch and A Kid like Jake.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 11:32

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one simple reason we aren't acting fsater on climate change

We’ve all seen how powerful images can make abstract crises feel concrete. Think of the photographs of a Chinese man blocking a column of tanks a day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing from napalm in 1972 or of 7-year-old Amal Hussain wasting away from hunger in Yemen. When done well, photographs help people around the world make sense of unseen disasters.

Now close your eyes and try to picture climate change – one of our generation’s most pressing crises. What comes to mind? Is it smoke coming out of power plants? Solar panels? A skinny polar bear?

That’s problematic, says psychologist Adam Corner, director of Climate Visuals, a project that aims to revitalise climate imagery. “Images without people on them are unable to tell a human story,” says Corner.

Researchers have found that images like this one lack a humanising element that makes them compelling.

…compared to a photograph like this, which shows the local, human impact of pollution.

And that kind of imagery might be a big part of why so few of us are prioritising climate action.

Climate change has an inherent image problem. While you can clearly visualise plastic pollution or deforestation, climate change has a less obvious mugshot: the gases that cause global warming, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are colourless, while impacts are slow-paced and not always visually striking.

So in the 1990s, reporters, politicians and others began using the sort of imagery that would help us begin to grasp the situation. That idea helped us understand the subject then. But it now needs revamping. For one thing, climate impacts are more evident now: take the frequency of wildfires, coastal flooding, droughts and heat waves.

Because most people aren’t that familiar with how coral should normally look, researchers found that an image like this one, of coral bleaching, had less impact.

…than an image like this one, which shows a real person doing research on climate change’s impact on the coral.

But another reason to update climate change’s visuals is that, for the general public, ‘traditional’ climate images aren’t that compelling.

Wondering if there was a better way to tell climate change stories, Climate Visuals tested what effect iconic climate images – like that lonely polar bear – really had.

Although iconic, an image of an animal most people have never seen, living in a place they have never been, may not be as effective.

…as this image of the search for Hurricane Katrina survivors, which shows the impact of climate change in a more recognisable environment. After asking people at panel groups in London and Berlin and through an online survey with over 3,000 people, the team concluded that people were more likely to empathise with images that showed real faces – such as workers installing solar panels, emergency respondents helping victims of a typhoon or farmers building more efficient irrigation systems to combat drought.

The researchers found that images like this one often don’t make as much of an impact on the viewer.

…as this kind of image, which participants thought was an intriguing take on solar energy that encouraged them to want to know more.It also helped when photographs depicted settings that were local or familiar to the viewer, and when they showed emotionally powerful impacts of climate change.

Respondents in their study were also cynical of ‘staged’ pictures… and of images with politicians.

Climate Visuals’ quest is not entirely new. For over a decade, scholars have analysed the way NGOs and governments represent climate change visually, examined how the public reacts to different types of images and come up with new approaches. What it’s done differently, though, is to create the world’s largest climate image library based on those lessons.

Researchers found that a picture like this one, which highlights an individual behaviour, can create a defensive reaction in the viewer.

..while a striking image like this, which shows high-emissions meat production at scale, was more effective.

And for better or for worse, it’s no longer that difficult to find human-led photographs of the consequences of climate change.

“The stories we need to tell are all around us in a way they were not 20 years ago when the polar bear became an icon,” says Corner.

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 11:15

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the designer changing the way aircraft are built

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humans switch from being creators to curators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 11:01

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the 'weird events' that makes machine hallucinate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing voices   

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

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

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

Under the skin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binding problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 10:51

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why 'flammable ice'could be the future of energy

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

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

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

Could this humble material solve future energy crises?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan's untold stories

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

Coming up:

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

... and many more.

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

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

Beneath the permafrost

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

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

Flammable ice appears to smoke as it melts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 10:43

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

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

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

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

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

Man Utd in defensive nightmare ahead of Arsenal clash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


sarah Posted on December 05, 2018 10:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 09:57

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sarah Posted on December 05, 2018 09:53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:53

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Blackfishing: The women accused of pretending to be black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this a big deal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You take away from them," Dara says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will she change her pictures?

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Biologically fluid'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 05, 2018 08:35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 18:10

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Russia 'partially unblocks' Ukraine ports

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

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

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

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

How did crisis erupt?

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

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

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

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

What does Russian move mean?

By Jonah Fisher, BBC Kiev correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 17:06

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Italian mafia: How crime families went global

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

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

So who are the Italian mafia?

Sicilian Mafia - Cosa Nostra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naples mafia - Camorra

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

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

Image captionDilapidated tower blocks in Scampia are a known Camorra stronghold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calabrian mafia - 'Ndrangheta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puglia mafia - Sacra Corona Unita

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

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

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



ruby Posted on December 04, 2018 16:47

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