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Apr 22, 2018, 07:11 AM
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 on: Apr 20, 2018, 05:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Pyongyang calling: North and South Korean leaders get hotline as stage set for summit

Officials prepare for greeting on live TV between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the first such event in more than a decade

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Fri 20 Apr 2018 10.50 BST

A hotline between the leaders of North and South Korea went live on Friday, a week before they are due to hold a historic summit on the border that has separated their countries for more than six decades.

As preparations for the meeting gathered pace, South Korean media reported that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, would talk over the phone before they meet next Friday.

The summit will take place on the southern side of the demilitarised zone, a heavily armed strip of land that that has divided the peninsula since hostilities in the Korean war ended in 1953.

The hotline connects Moon’s desk at the presidential Blue House with North Korea’s state affairs commission, which is headed by Kim, Yonhap news agency said.

South Korean officials were the first to pick up the phone, then took a return call from their North Korean counterparts to make sure the line was working in both directions.

Youn Kun-young, an official from the Moon’s office said the four minute, 17 second conversation had been a success.

“The historic connection of the hotline between the leaders of the two Koreas has just been established,” Youn said, adding, “The connection was smooth and the voice quality was very good. It was like calling next door.”

Kim and Moon are expected to talk over the phone before their meeting, although no date has been set for the call.

North Korea has not commented on Moon’s claim on Thursday that Kim would not demand the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula as a precondition for abandoning his nuclear weapons during his meeting with Donald Trump in late May or early June.

“North Korea is expressing a commitment to a complete denuclearisation,” Moon, a left-leaning liberal who has long favoured engagement with the North, told media executives. “They are not presenting a condition that the US cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of the American troops in South Korea ... North Korea is only talking about the end of a hostile policy against it and then a security guarantee for the country.”

North Korea could offer some indication of what it expects in return for denuclearisation following a plenary session of the central committee of the ruling workers’ party that reportedly took place on Friday.

The state-run KCNA news agency said the committee would discuss “policy issues of a new stage” in response to the current “important historic period of the developing Korean revolution”.

Some analysts speculated the body would revise Kim’s dual “byongjin” policy of pursuing economic and nuclear development before his summits with Moon and Trump.

“There is a high possibility that North Korea could unveil a new policy line, revising its byongjin policy at the plenary session,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told Yonhap. “A new line will likely contain North Korea expressing its willingness to join denuclearisation talks and resolve to improve ties with the South, the US and Japan, as well as to seek peace and coexistence.”

Kim’s apparent concession on US troop withdrawal has taken many by surprise. Traditionally, North Korea has justified its nuclear programme as a necessary counter to Washington’s “hostile policy” of basing tens of thousands of troops in South Korea and Japan, and guaranteeing its north-east Asian allies’ security through its nuclear umbrella.

With just a week to go before Kim and Moon become the first North and South Korean leaders to meet in more than a decade, officials were trying to ensure the summit would proceed without incident or embarrassment.

Earlier this week they met to discuss details, including plans to broadcast live TV coverage of the leaders’ shaking hands at the start of their talks, which will take place at the Peace House on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom.

It will be the first time a North Korean leader has visited the South since the end of the Korean war, and only the third time any South or North Korean leaders have met.

The two previous inter-Korea summits, held in 2000 and 2007 in Pyongyang, involved the then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

Moon and Kim are expected to discuss a formal end to hostilities between their countries, 65 years after the Korean war ended with an armistice, but not a peace treaty.

Trump told reporters this week the Koreas “have my blessing” to secure a peace treaty and bring an end to the conflict.

Six senior South Korean officials will accompany Moon to the summit, including his chief of staff, spy chief, national security adviser and unification, defence and foreign ministers, a presidential spokesman said.


North Korea wants total denuclearisation, says Seoul

South Korea’s president says Pyongyang has not attached any conditions such as US troop withdrawal

David Smith in Washington and agencies
20 Apr 2018 18.52 BST

North Korea has expressed a desire for the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula without attaching preconditions such as the withdrawal of US troops, the South Korean president has said.

The statement, unconfirmed by North Korea, comes before a summit between the leaders of the two countries on 27 April, to be followed in May or June by a meeting between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and Donald Trump.

The US president on Wednesday pledged to meet Kim “in the coming weeks” but said he was prepared to walk away if the talks were not fruitful.

The key question at any summit between Trump and Kim is whether the North Korean leader is serious about dismantling his regime’s nuclear weapons, and what he would demand from the US in return.

The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, told reporters that North Korea had not “attached any conditions that the US cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are expressing is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.”

Robert Wood, the top US envoy to the UN-hosted conference on disarmament, said the country would maintain a “maximum pressure campaign” to convince North Korea to denuclearise, even as preparations for the summit continued, adding that it “has had an important impact in the North’s decision to return to the table”.

At a news conference on Thursday, before a meeting next week on nuclear nonproliferation, Wood said the US welcomed Pyongyang’s willingness to talk about denuclearisation, and called the summit planned for late May or early June a “momentous time”.

Meanwhile, the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on four people suspected of “deceptive financial practices” to benefit North Korea’s arms programme.

The EU did not name the four, but said they brought the number of people on its North Korea blacklist to 59, as well as nine entities. It has also mirrored the UN’s sanctions list, which covers 80 people and 75 entities.

The anti-nuclear weapons group that won last year’s Nobel peace prize has said it is “very supportive” of the proposed summit, after months of heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

The executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said mutual threats between the two leaders had made the risk of nuclear confrontation “really dangerously high”. Speaking to reporters, Beatrice Fihn said if the summit in late May or early June made progress on disarmament, “we’ll definitely applaud it … Every step forward is positive.”

There has never been a summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, though Bill Clinton came close to agreeing to meet Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2000.

“As you know, I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” the US president told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Wednesday. “Hopefully, that meeting will be a great success and we’re looking forward to it.”

North Korea has defended its weapons programmes, which it pursues in defiance of UN security council resolutions, as a necessary deterrent against perceived US hostility. There are 28,500 American troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.

North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the US removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear deterrence umbrella from South Korea and Japan.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 05:00 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Macron, at the Barricades, Warns of Rising Nationalism in Europe

By The Editorial Board
NY Times

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

Not long ago, the things Emmanuel Macron said this week would not have needed saying. Yet, addressing the European Parliament, the French president — barely 40 and not yet a year in office — sounded almost like a biblical prophet, warning of the rising fascination with antidemocratic and “illiberal” ideas, “the deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom.”

Mr. Macron did not mention anyone by name — not Viktor Orban of Hungary, not Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland, not the populists who won in Italy’s national election, not the far-right parties that have spread across Europe on hatred of immigrants, xenophobia, disdain for the rule of law, intolerance of dissent and suspiciousness of international cooperation. Nor did he name Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin, though they are clearly an inspiration and model for the European far right.

He did not have to. The struggle between the traditional values of Western liberal democracy and the new forces of authoritarianism, intolerance and nationalism has become a defining challenge of the times. Invoking the title of a well-known German trilogy by Hermann Broch about the deterioration of values in the years before World War I, Mr. Macron said: “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past. I want to belong to a generation that has decided forcefully to defend its democracy.”

Mr. Macron’s crushing defeat of France’s reactionary National Front last May raised hopes that the tide of illiberalism was turning in Europe. But Prime Minister Orban’s easy win in Hungary’s national election on April 8 and the success of antiestablishment parties in Italy a month earlier have signaled otherwise. To the east, Russia’s brazen violation of international norms has only increased despite broad economic sanctions — witness the chemical assault on a double agent in Britain, while to the west, the Trump administration relentlessly pursues its chaotic assault on American values and traditions.

Mr. Macron said political change was inevitable, but it should not mean abandonment of democratic principles.

“Indeed, in these difficult times, European democracy is our best chance,” he said. “The worst possible mistake would be to give up on our model and our identity.”

He added, “We see authoritarians all around us, and the answer is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy.”

Mr. Macron is not without political weaknesses. He has been called “Jupiter” for his haughty style, and his economic reforms at home are being challenged by a wave of strikes. His proposals for a closer financial convergence in the eurozone have been met with a cool response in Germany. Yet the French president is one of the rare European leaders who unabashedly believe in Europe’s future, especially as Britain prepares to exit the European Union and America’s leadership erodes. Though he has cultivated a strategic rapport with President Trump, providing French forces for the punitive strike on Syria last weekend, for example, Mr. Macron drew a distinction in his speech between Europe and an America that was “rejecting multilateralism, free trade and climate change.”

It may be that the West is going through a temporary backlash against globalization, terrorism, migration, social upheavals and technological change that have swept so rapidly around the world, and that Mr. Macron is exaggerating when he sees a “certain European civil war” in the political turmoil. Yet, in Hungary, Mr. Orban opened his fourth term as prime minister with a national hate campaign against George Soros, the Hungarian-American funder of liberal projects, and with plans for a legislative campaign against nongovernmental groups that help immigrants and refugees. Late last year the European Union formally put Poland on notice that its assault on the judiciary was a serious breach of union rules. And the vulgar soap opera in Washington shows no signs of ending.

Mr. Macron said his goal was to open a critical public debate on what Europe is about. That debate should not be limited to Europe. This month, Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, warned that fascism posed a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II, and the danger was “enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump.” When a 40-year-old French president and an 80-year-old former American secretary of state sound the alarm, one hopes that the sleepwalkers will awaken.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Poland marks 75th anniversary of uprising in Warsaw Ghetto

New Europe

WARSAW, Poland  — Sirens wailed, church bells tolled and yellow paper daffodils of remembrance dotted the crowd as Polish and Jewish leaders extolled the heroism and determination of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighters on the 75th anniversary of their ill-fated rebellion.

Polish President Andrzej Duda and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said the hundreds of young Jews who took up arms in Warsaw in 1943 against the overwhelming might of the Nazi German army fought for their dignity but also to liberate Poland from the occupying Germans.

The revolt ended in death for most of the fighters, yet left behind an enduring symbol of resistance. "We bow our heads low to their heroism, their bravery, their determination and courage," Duda told the hundreds of officials, Holocaust survivors and Warsaw residents who gathered Thursday at the city's Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes.

"Most of them died ... as they fought for dignity, freedom and also for Poland, because they were Polish citizens," Duda said. Lauder said although the Nazis were defeated and crushed 73 years ago, "oppression and oppressors have not gone away and we need each other today like never before."

"Jews, Catholics, Poles, Americans. All free people should stand together now to make sure that our children and grandchildren never know the true horrors that took place right here," he said. People stopped in the street and officials stood at attention as sirens and church bells sounded at noon to mourn the Jews who died in the uprising, as well as the millions of others murdered in the Holocaust.

The daffodil tradition comes from Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the uprising, who on every anniversary used to lay the spring flowers at the monument to the fighters. He died in 2009.

At a separate ceremony at Warsaw's Town Hall, three Holocaust survivors — Helena Birenbaum, Krystyna Budnicka and Marian Turski — were given honorary citizenship of the city. Hundreds of people also attended a grassroots commemoration that was, in essence, a boycott of the official state observances. Many people there expressed anger at Poland's conservative government, which seems to tolerate anti-Semitism despite its official denunciations of anti-Semitism.

"I am not attending the official ceremonies this year because the government is supporting the rise of a dangerous nationalism," said Tanna Jakubowicz-Mount, a 72-year-old psychotherapist who carried photos of a grandmother and aunt who were executed by the Germans. "We cannot agree to this."

The alternative observances began with Yiddish singing and daffodils placed at the monument to a Jewish envoy in London, Szmul Zygielbojm, who committed suicide after the revolt was crushed to protest the world's indifference to the Holocaust.

Participants then paid homage to the victims at several memorial sites in the area of the former ghetto, including at Umschlagplatz, the spot where Jews were assembled before being transported to the Treblinka death camp. There, one by one, people spoke Thursday about their family members killed by Hitler's regime.

Signs of rising nationalism in Poland have also strengthened the resolve of those seeking an inclusive society. This year a record 2,000 volunteers were handing out the paper daffodils, which have become a moving symbol of a mostly Catholic society expressing its sorrow at the loss of a Jewish community that was Europe's largest before the Holocaust.

There were also scattered private observances, including by American Jews returning to the soil where their parents and grandparents lived and died. Some 40 members of the Workmen's Circle, a group from New York City that promotes social justice, honored the resistance fighters at the remains of a bunker in 18 Mila Street.

The son of an uprising survivor read personal recollections from the diary of his mother, Vladka Meed, while the group's director, Ann Toback, vowed on what she called "hallowed ground" that the uprising would continue to inspire modern resistance to oppression.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 young Jewish fighters armed with just pistols and fuel bottles attacked a much larger and heavily armed German force that was putting an end to the ghetto's existence.

In their last testaments, the fighters said they knew they were doomed but wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing. They held out nearly a month, longer than some German-invaded countries did.

The Germans razed the Warsaw Ghetto and killed most of the fighters, except for a few dozen who managed to escape through sewage canals to the "Aryan" side of the city, Edelman among them.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

'We are truly sorry': Eta apologises for four decades of deadly violence

Basque separatist group says it bears ‘direct responsibility’ for deaths of at least 800 people in the name of nationhood struggle

Sam Jones in Madrid
Fri 20 Apr 2018 10.23 BST

The Basque terrorist group Eta, which killed more than 800 people during its four-decade armed campaign, has apologised for the suffering it caused and asked for the forgiveness of victims and their families as it prepares to dissolve.

In a statement released on Friday morning, the group made a full and unambiguous apology for its actions, accepting that it bore “direct responsibility” for years of bloodshed and misery.

“We know that we caused a lot of pain during that long period of armed struggle, including damage that can never be put right,” it said. “We wish to show our respect for those who were killed or wounded by Eta and those who were affected by the conflict. We are truly sorry.”

The statement also recognised that Eta’s “mistakes or mistaken decisions” had led to the deaths of people who had nothing to do with the conflict, both in the Basque country and beyond.

“We know that, owing to the necessities of all kinds of armed struggle, our actions have hurt people who bore no responsibility whatsoever. We have also caused damage that can’t be undone. We apologise to those people and their families. These words won’t make up for what happened nor will they lessen the pain, but we speak to them respectfully and without wanting to provoke further suffering.”

However, the group also said the suffering of the Basque people had begun before it took up its violent, separatist struggle, citing the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish civil as the root of the region’s enduring pain.

“The generations that came after the bombing of Guernica were the inheritors of that violence and that lament, and it is up to us and the generations that follow us to bring about another future.”

It acknowledged that many people would never see its actions as anything but “unacceptable and unjust” but said the behaviour of Spanish state forces “under the guise of the law” could also be viewed as utterly wrong.

“No one can change the past, but one of the most damaging things we could do now would be to try to distort or hide certain episodes. Let us all recognise our responsibilities and the damage done. Even though we do not have the same point of view or the same feelings, we should all respectfully recognise the suffering endured by others. That is what Eta wants to say.”

The group, which is due to conclude its definitive dissolution within the next few weeks, said the future would have to bring further reconciliation within the Basque country.

“It is a necessary step to accepting the truth in constructive way, closing wounds and building the guarantees to ensure this suffering doesn’t happen again,” said the statement.

Eta also expressed the hope that there would be negotiations over the region’s future, adding: “A democratic solution to the political conflict could yield peace and bring about the freedom of the Basque country.”

A Spanish government statement said the apology was long overdue and hailed it as further proof that “Eta has been defeated with the weapons of democracy and the strength of the rule of law”.

It went on: “It’s good that the terrorist group is apologising to victims because the victims, together with their memories and their dignity, were key to Eta’s defeat.”

The apology was swiftly dismissed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), which described it as another attempt by Eta to “dilute its real responsibility, justify its use of violence to impose its totalitarian project and manipulate history”.

The AVT accused the group of trying to use Guernica to justify its murderous deeds, adding: “The only statement we want to hear from Eta is one recognising that it was the chief violator of human rights in the Basque country and the rest of Spain for decades. It should recognise that there is no justification for the use of violence and take a critical look at its criminal past.”

Eta, whose acronym stands for “Basque homeland and freedom”, was founded as a cultural organisation in 1959 when the region was suffering brutal repression under the Franco dictatorship. Its aim was the establishment of an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.

It took up armed struggle the following decade and waged a bloody campaign that finally ended in 2011 when it announced a halt to its violence.

Between 1968 and 2010, it murdered 829 people in bombing and shootings, almost half of them civilians. It also targeted state security forces and in 1973 assassinated the Spanish prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco with a bomb so powerful his car was blown 20 metres into the air.

But the atrocities it committed against civilians eventually turned the tide. The bombing of a Barcelona supermarket in 1987, in which 21 people were killed, provoked revulsion, while the murder of young local politician Miguel Ángel Blanco a decade later brought six million people on to the streets of Spain in protest.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Drag Race queen reveals new details on ‘gay exorcism’

20 Apr 2018 at 14:33 ET

As much as it is a competition to find America’s next drag superstar, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a showcase of the human ability to endure and overcome painful hardship, from bullying and drug addiction to being abandoned at a bus stop by a parent as a child. But even by the show’s standards, Dusty Ray Bottom’s revelation that her family forced her to undergo an exorcism in an attempt to turn her straight was particularly shocking.

Sobbing as tears rolled down her face, the Season 10 contestant described in episode three how her parents confronted her about her sexuality after looking at her internet history. During so-called gay conversion therapy sessions (a practice that has no medical basis) a pastor warned her she’d never find success or love in a gay relationship.

“It was the most humiliating, awful thing of my life,” the 30-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, who lives in New York, told her fellow contestants in the workroom. “Me and my parents don’t really talk.”

In an exclusive interview with Newsweek, Dusty Ray Bottoms has spoken publicly about her experiences with so-called conversion therapy and exorcism for the first time, as well how she ended up buying a one-way ticket to New York City, and what she hopes Drag Race fans can take away from her ordeal.

You opened up on the show about your ordeal with gay conversion therapy and exorcism. Can you tell us what happened in more detail?

I was home for spring break from college. I was 20 when this happened, when I came out to my family. I was literally just at the lowest low. I went to school at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, three hours away from where I grew up. I studied acting and musical theater there.

I was struggling with who I was in college. I was struggling with how I was raised and how I should be. And I just cried out to God and said ‘I can't do this anymore I need to change my life. I can't keep secrets. I need something to happen. I just need help, I don't know what to do. Am I broken?’

The next morning that's when everything went down. My dad had seen something on my computer and he asked me about it. And I told him ‘it's exactly what you think it means.’ It opened up a whole can of worms. I went through my past to my mom and dad, and told them things that they didn't know, very traumatic things that had happened to me. When I told them these things they were devastated and heartbroken and they thought the only way that could fix the situation was for me to go to therapy.

And it wasn't this big dramatic thing where they threw me in the car and drove me to church, or were holding me down and throwing holy water on me and they were screaming. It wasn't that dramatic. That's what I really want people to take away from that. I wasn't mistreated growing up. My mom and dad were everything. They provided for me and they came through for me. It's just that we didn't see eye to eye on homosexuality and who I was. So growing up I never felt comfortable. It was really hard growing up as a gay boy in Southern Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky. I hope if anything that people can take away from my message that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and tomorrow is a better day.

It's interesting that you highlight that people have a vision exorcisms where the person is pinned down, which is wrong. In reality, what was it like?

There was a group of people there and they were all there as prayer warriors as part of the church to help me. I was the only one in the group getting a “cleanse”. And it's literally just the utmost stripped away confession. They shine a light in every aspect of your life. You have to talk about everything. They wanted the first names and last names of people that I had had sexual contact with. It's a very humiliating experience and a very scary experience. Although it is not cinematic and dramatic.

When you went to conversion therapy, what did you think the outcome would be? Did you think you would be “cured” even though that’s not possible? Or did you do it for your parents?

I wanted to do it to make my family happy. I wanted to do it to make me happy. I was so confused. I wanted any outlet to make this better. And I was desperate. I wanted to try everything, and if this was the answer, may it could fix me? After the cleanse I felt like a gorilla had been lifted off my shoulders. For a while, I was going to these therapy sessions and I thought 'this is great, I feel this gorilla off my shoulders so it must mean I'm changed and cleansed. I could be straight now.'

I was going to these therapy sessions and I kept hearing this stuff that they were saying to me: I would never be happy; I would never find success; I would never find someone who truly loved me; that gay relationships are drug-driven. All this crazy stuff. Things started to sink in and I started to realize this wasn't right, and what I was going through was messed up, and I had to stop it. That's when I had to pack my car, and move away, and try to finish college and try to live the best way I knew I could.

How long did you attend these sessions for?

The exorcism session was two hours long and that was one time. Every other therapy session was one-on-one with a pastor. I was meeting with him every other day while I was home for spring break, then once a week. I probably went through five or six sessions before I was like 'OK, this is too much."

At the time were you out to your college friends? Did you live a double life in terms of who you were at college and at home?

People in college were very confused and put off by me, because I did date a couple of guys in my freshman year. A couple of those relationships ended because I got freaked out and scared, and I said 'I don't know if I'm gay.' I really, really struggled with identity and I know that a couple of my classmates were also struggling with identity but I don't think many people were they didn't know what I was going through.

When you grew up, was your family religious, and did they tell you being gay was wrong?

It was always one of the forefront rules and something that I heard of and knew at an early age.

Was the day you left the last time you spoke to your parents for a while?

I went up to Dayton and used my student loan to get an apartment and went back to school. We hardly talked. The economy was really bad so I had to move back in with them, and I didn't finish school. I took on three jobs in Kentucky and I worked living with them for a year and a half before I finally was like 'you know what? I am in a darker hole living with them right now than after I came out.'

I had a breaking down moment and I bought a one-way plane ticket to New York City. I put it on the refrigerator and told my mom and dad that in three months I'm moving to New York. And I did. I moved there with $400, two suitcases and me.

Did you stay in contact with your family?

We are working on our relationship. We definitely have a broken relationship. We don't have issues because of the therapy. We have moved past that: we have talked about it and I've forgiven them. They know that the therapy was wrong.

However, we still don't see eye to eye on homosexuality. That does drive a wedge between us and it makes it hard for me to come home. I have a fiancé now and I just want to feel 100 percent comfortable, and I need my family to feel 100 percent, and it's a work in progress. I talk to my mum once a week, she thinks my fiancé is a great guy, she thinks he's everything. She just isn't too keen about the gay thing. That's the same with the whole family. They think my fiancé is a great guy, but the gay thing trips them up.

What do you want fans to take away from your experiences?

The response I've gotten from sharing my story has been very overwhelming. I haven't been able to get through all of the messages. I have been flooded with them every day. It's so heartbreaking to see all these stories but I'm glad it was finally talked about so people can feel some relief that they're not alone. Because I felt alone in the situation. And now seeing the thousands of messages I've been getting I'm so gagged at how this is happening over and over and over again to so many people. And I look forward to working with the Trevor Project to raise money to end conversion therapy. Please go to Trevor Project and donate money, and read up on their newsletters. This is something very important that we need to fix.

Dusty Ray Bottom’s new single Neva Lavd Yah! is out now.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:50 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Mystery of sea nomads' amazing ability to freedive is solved

Scientists have uncovered the secrets of the Bajau people, long-famed for their ability to hold their breath for extraordinary lengths of time

Nicola Davis
20 Apr 2018 17.00 BST

The secret behind the ability of a group of “sea nomads” in Southeast Asia to hold their breath for extraordinary periods of time while freediving to hunt fish has finally been revealed – and it’s down to evolution.

The Bajau people are able to dive tens of metres underwater with no conventional diving aids. Instead they rely on weights, handmade wooden goggles – and a single breath of air.

But while the Bajau people’s talents have long been known, it was unclear whether the skill was the result of practice, as in the case of the excellent underwater vision of Thai “sea nomad” children, or the result of adaptations which have their roots in the Bajau people’s DNA.

Now experts say they have the answer: over time the Bajau people have undergone natural selection, resulting in certain versions of genes becoming widespread – many of which are linked to biological changes, including having a larger spleen, that could help the Bajau to hold their breath underwater for many minutes at a time.

The team say the findings could eventually prove useful in medical settings, potentially allowing experts to identify patients that might be at greater risk of death if they experience a lack of oxygen, for example during surgery.

“There seems to be so much to learn from the Bajau and other diving populations about how the human body is able to react to oxygen deprivation, which is an important medical issue,” said Dr Melissa Ilardo, first author of the study who was at the University of Copenhagen at the time of the research.

Writing in the journal Cell, the scientists reveal how they unpicked the mystery following a clue from previous research: species of seals which can dive for longer have larger than expected spleens – an organ which, among its functions, can store oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

As a result the team used an ultrasound device to measure the spleen in 43 Bajau people and 33 people from a neighbouring group of farming people, the Saluan.

“The spleen size is about 50% larger in these sea nomads than it is in the [Saluan], so already it was like ‘Oh my God – it is really [an] extreme physiological characteristic,” said Prof Eske Willerslev, a co-author of the study from the University of Cambridge.

The team note the trend held regardless of whether the Bajau individual was themselves a diver, and even when factors such as age, sex and height were taken into account.

Genetic testing revealed that certain versions of genes are more commonly found in Bajau people than would be expected, with many apparently linked to biological changes that could help individuals cope with low-oxygen conditions.

Among them is a form of a gene linked to an increased spleen size – an effect the team reveal is likely down to an increase in thyroid hormone levels. Crucially, a contraction of the spleen is one of the features of the so called “diving reflex” – a set of responses in mammals that occur when the head is submerged. A large spleen means even more oxygen-carrying red blood cells can be pumped into the circulatory system when the organ contracts, allowing individuals to stay underwater for longer.

Another is a form of a gene linked to a different feature of the diving reflex: narrowing of the blood vessels to the extremities, aiding delivery of oxygenated blood to organs such as the brain, heart and lungs.

Further analysis by the team revealed that these genetic boons are not the result of chance, but evolutionary adaptations arising from natural selection.

Stephen Stearns, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University who was not involved in the research, saidthe study adds to evidence for recent natural selection on certain genes in human populations – with previous examples including genes for lactose tolerance that cropped up with the advent of domestication of dairy animals, and genes for adaptation to high altitude in Tibetans and Native Americans in the Andes.

“What we lack at this point, and badly need, are samples large enough to allow us to infer when the selection [in the Bajau] started to happen,” he said. “We know that the Bajau have been leading this lifestyle for at least a thousand years, but we do not know when they started it – perhaps much earlier.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Filthy lucre: scavenging grime and sewage for gold on Mumbai's streets

Along the narrow alleys of one of India’s largest bullion markets, men and women scrape a living scouring the dust and even the drains for specks of the precious metal

Puja Changoiwala
20 Apr 2018 11.48 BST

When most of Mumbai is fast asleep at 5am each day, 41-year-old Tanu Behre sets out on her hunt.

Armed with a little handbrush, she walks the narrow alleys of Zaveri bazaar, one of India’s largest bullion markets, and dusts the streets for gold. She enters drains outside goldsmiths’ workshops, and gathers the black sludge in her aluminium pan. If she’s lucky, the slime will turn up the precious metal.

“I find a few hundred milligrams every day – gold worth around 1,000 rupees [£11]. At times, it can go up to a gramme, or even two,” says Behre, who travels 40 miles from her home to get to the jewellery hub.

    On my best day, I found 1.5g of gold, worth 4,500 rupees [£49]
    Wasim Sheikh

Named after the Hindi word for the pans they use, ghamela, there are hundreds of “ghamelawallahs” in Zaveri bazaar – men and women who scavenge grime for gold.

The 150-year-old Zaveri bazaar in south Mumbai is home to more than 7,000 jewellery stores, and accounts for an estimated 40% of India’s bullion trade. Its importance as a prominent trading centre has made the market the target of three terror attacks since 1993.

Congested, labyrinthine lanes house scores of jewellery workshops and factories, where gold is cut, carved, and shaped. Particles make their way into streets when craftsmen walk out – gold dust gets stuck to their hands, hair or shoes. The particles even get deposited in drains, when goldsmiths wash their hands.

“On an average work day, I spend four hours collecting seven to eight pounds of filth and sludge from the streets,” says Wasim Sheikh, 32, a native of the northern Indian city of Agra who migrated to Mumbai a decade ago to pursue his ancestral occupation. As with most other ghamelawallahs, generations of Sheikh’s family have been in the informal trade.

“Over the years, I’ve studied the bazaar closely; and now, I know exactly where workshops are, and where goldsmiths live. I usually target the crevices on pavements outside their workplaces, and drains outside their homes. On my best day, I found one and a half grammes of gold, worth 4,500 rupees [£49].”

After he collects the waste, he submerges it in water. Gold, being heavier, sinks to the bottom, while the mud and dirt float out. He then carries the residue to a secluded corner outside his rented home in Zaveri bazaar, where he lights a tiny furnace to refine the yellow metal.

“I add mercury to the residue so that gold particles stick to it, and the trash gets separated. In order to filter out the finer waste – magnetic dust and ferrous particles, I carefully run a tiny magnet over the remains. I then add this residue to a furnace, where I cook it with nitric acid for about 10 to 12 minutes. The acid reacts with mercury to form liquid salts, leaving behind a pellet of gold.”

Not every day, however, is lucrative. Mohammed Amir, a 17-year-old, who quit school to join the profession, says the monsoons leave him and his four brothers, also ghamelawallahs, struggling.

“All the dirt on the streets gets washed away with rainwater, while the gutters overflow, leaving no scope to identify sewage flecked with gold. Hence, during monsoons, my brothers and I take up other jobs – construction work, hawking at traffic signals or working as domestic labour in homes.”

Ghamelawallahs usually collect a gramme or two of gold before selling it to small-time goldsmiths in the bazaar. Mohammed Babloo, 34, says the rates are often lower than market prices. “They tend to haggle with us because they think we’re scavengers, living off sewage from gutters. I normally check rates with at least five buyers before parting with my gold.”

But now jewellers, aware of the ghamelawallahs’ work, are increasingly getting cautious about their waste, says Jaymin Zhaveri, a 30-year-old businessman, whose family has been running a jewellery store in the bazaar for 100 years. One shop owner has begun vacuuming and storing the dust.

“Workshop owners have started giving uniforms to their craftsmen, which they have to leave behind after work so that gold dust on their clothes is retained with the employers. Others clean the pavements outside their stores themselves, and some even collect the water after goldsmiths wash their hands or shower. All of this waste is preserved over time, and sold to buyers from all over India in bulk,” says Zhaveri.

For government street sweepers, meanwhile, the ghamelawallahs are a nuisance. Ranjan Mule, 37, who works with Mumbai’s civic authority, says: “Hundreds of these men and women are out every morning, searching for gold. They collect the dust and sewage, but throw everything else on the streets. There have been instances where ghamelawallahs have stolen garbage off our dumpsters, and littered the waste after.”

But ghamelawallahs are undeterred. “Business is good,” says Behre. “In my slum settlement I’m the only woman who wears nose rings and earrings made of real gold.”

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills

Australian scientists say new polymer can remove crude oil and diesel from seawater

Adam Morton
20 Apr 2018 05.49 BST

The cost-effective technology that can clean up oil spills – video

Oil spills could be soaked up by a new floating substance that combines waste from the petroleum industry and cooking oil, according to new research led by South Australia’s Flinders University.

The new polymer, made from sulphur and canola cooking oil, acted like a sponge to remove crude oil and diesel from seawater, according to a new study published in the Advanced Sustainable Systems journal. The polymer can be squeezed to remove the oil and then reused.

The lead researcher, Dr Justin Chalker, said it had the potential to be a cheap and sustainable recovery tool in areas affected by oil spills.

“We anticipate that when we get to economies of scale we will be able to compete in price with other materials that are used to soak up oil,” said Chalker, senior lecturer in synthetic chemistry at Flinders University.

“Our goal is for this to be used globally. It is inexpensive, and we have an eye for it to be used in parts of the world such as the Amazon Basin in Ecuador and the Niger Delta that don’t have access to solutions to oil spills.”

The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation says about 7,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilt into oceans last year.

The BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, which released 4.9m barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, prompted new research efforts but large spills continue. The Indonesian port city of Balikpapan, part of the island of Borneo, declared a state of emergency after a spill along the coast earlier this month.

The Flinders University research is just six months ago but Chalker said the new polymer had the potential to be less expensive and more sustainable than current clean-up tools such as polypropylene fibres and polyurethane foam.

Both cooking oil and sulphur are hydrophobic – that is, they do not interact with water. The research team found the polymer created by combining the two not only absorbed oil but turned it into a gel.

“We actually didn’t expect the aggregation effect,” Chalker said. “It’s one of the interesting things that came from working in the laboratory.”

He said the researchers were working with engineers and government agencies in an attempt to manufacture the product on a larger scale, with a goal of field-testing it over the next year.

The Flinders University research is a joint project with scientists from Portugal’s Institute of Molecular Medicine and Cambridge University.

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

'Taste the difference': Farm-to-fork movement takes off in urban Flanders

The densely populated area of Belgium is seeing a mini-boom in model of farming where growers sell direct to consumers

Jennifer Rankin Brussels
20 Apr 2018 05.00 BST

Flanders, famed for its medieval cities and motorways that can be seen from space, is one of the most urban corners of Europe. Yet this densely populated area is seeing a mini-boom in a new type of agriculture where farmers sell direct to consumers.

The movement, known as community-supported agriculture, is the antithesis of the sprawling global distribution chains of modern industrial food production. CSA farming means no supermarkets, no fertilisers and no monoculture.

Advocates say the most important feature is the direct link to consumers, who pay upfront and often pick the produce from the fields.

This model of farming – sometimes referred to as farm-to-fork – originated in the United States and the Netherlands, but has quickly taken off in the Belgian region of Flanders. More people are eating CSA-grown food in Belgium than in the more populous UK, according to a 2016 report by Urgenci, the international CSA network. 

Since the first Flemish CSA farmer struck his spade into the soil in 2007, at least 45 similar businesses have sprung up in the region.

Koen Tierens, a plant biologist, is one of the newest on the scene. Tierens swapped his desk job as an agrarian expert for the 5.30am harvests that come with running his own vegetable farm. He has a 1.2-hectare (2.96-acre) plot in the village of Kampenhout just outside Brussels, where the rich, loamy soil is ideal for growing.

Tierens’ father, a retired farmer, was sceptical when he outlined his plans; a small holding, no fertilisers and a few old-fashioned, second-hand tools: “My father told me, ‘Koen what are you doing? You studied at university, you have a PhD! Are you going to be an ancient Belgian farmer doing how they did it in the middle ages?’”

Tierens says there is nothing primitive about his business, and stresses he is not against conventional farming or fertilisers. “The market is evolving in this [CSA] way,” he says, describing the combination of care for the environment and close connection to the customer, allied to marketing and a website that allows consumers to choose their vegetable boxes. Now in his second growing season, Tierens has 72 households paying him to grow their vegetables and hopes to increase this to 90. His father is now convinced, he says.

He grows 200 varieties of vegetable in a year – a much wider range than typical farmers. As well as the more common peas, carrots and potatoes, he grows less familiar varieties – purple cauliflowers, green zebra tomatoes, black radish, salsify and cardoon.

But Tierens does not grow Belgian endive, the most emblematic vegetable in the national cuisine. Although he farms in a region that is famed for the bitter white lettuce, he decided it would be arrogant to grow his fellow farmers’ best-known crop.

Another big difference with conventional farming is the limited use of subsidies, although he received EU funds to start his business and cover the costs of gaining organic certification.

Other things are constant – the unpredictability of the weather and early starts. Tierens works in his field every day, wearing a head torch on dark winter mornings. During the peak growing season from May to October, he works 12 to 13 hours a day, seven days a week. His customers share the risk of a storm or a bad harvest. “It would be a disaster for them as well, but the chance of that happening is not that big because I grow 200 types of vegetables,” he says.

Unlike most CSA farms in Flanders, Tierens’ customers do not pick their own vegetables. In the UK, a quarter of such farms are pick-your-own, but in Flanders, 85% fall into this category.

Belgium is an enthusiastic latecomer to CSA farming, which traces its roots to the biodynamic movement launched in the US in the 1980s. But there were other inspirations. The first known CSA farm in Europe was Les Jardins de Cocagne, an organic vegetable cooperative near Geneva founded in 1978. Japanese farmers were experimenting with similar models at around the same time.

“It is not only about the food, it is also about the community and being outside,” says Nele Lauwers, a policy adviser at the Flemish farming union Boerenbond. She belongs to a CSA cooperative near Ghent and describes harvesting days as “a weekly outdoor trip” for her children.

Demand for pick-your-own vegetables is growing among medium to high earners, she says. But price may limit its appeal. “It’s quite a different market. You have to pay in advance and it is not possible for everybody, although some CSA groups may offer social prices.”

CSA farming is therefore likely to remain marginal to food production – 0.1% of the population of Flanders are paying customers.

Land is also limited. Pepijn de Snijder, an independent expert, says would-be CSA farmers face competition from nature reserves, traditional farming, horse paddocks or city sprawl. “If we don’t change anything by 2050, 50% of the area of Flanders would be paved concrete,” he says.

The Flemish government has agreed a ban on new urban development from 2040 unless an equivalent area of land is returned to nature.

Another feature of CSA produce is that it takes longer to prepare. Vegetables arrive in customers’ kitchens with earth clinging to roots and leaves, rather than shiny and neat in plastic packaging. “Not everyone likes to bring soil into their kitchen,” says Tierens. “With me you need to invest a little bit more time, but you can taste the difference.”

This article is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at theupside@theguardian.com

 on: Apr 20, 2018, 04:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

T-ant-T: meet the exploding ants of Borneo

Scientists discover ant species that fights enemies by detonating themselves, covering their foe in toxic goo

Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Fri 20 Apr 2018 06.12 BST

Woe is the insect that crosses the path of the Colobopsis explodens ant.

Scientists exploring the Borneo jungle have just discovered the species, which dwells in the trees, and they were most intrigued by the ant’s unique ability – to explode and shower toxic yellow goo on to its enemies.

Yet as impressive and effective as the detonation is in killing its predators, it is ultimately a suicide defence, for it also explodes the ant’s whole body which ultimately leads to its own demise.

Exploding ants are a rarity and the Colobopsis explodens ant is the first new species to be found since 1935, with the finding published in the journal Zookeys.

The small, reddish ant was discovered living in the treetops of Borneo by a team including Alice Laciny, an entomologist with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, who described how the ants would detonate themselves to save other members of the colony.

When faced with an enemy that will not back down, the Colobopsis explodens will latch onto the insect and bite down on it, angle their backsides directly at their attacker and then flex their abdomens so hard they tear their own bodies apart, releasing the fatal yellow substance stored inside.

Laciny described the bright goo as having “a distinct and not unpleasant smell that’s strangely reminiscent of curry”.

The ability to explode however, is not something all the ants in this species have. It is only the minor workers, all sterile females, who will sacrifice their lives by exploding in order to protect the bigger members of the colony. They were found to be “particularly prone to self-sacrifice” as a defence and would even detonate when the intruding researchers approached.

This suicidal tendency, which is similar to that of a bee delivering a sting when threatened, is called autothysis, and is common in superorganisms like ants, who work as a collective and where the needs of the group are more important than the individual in a colony.

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