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‘VIP sex ring’ detectives investigate murder of three boys
Metropolitan police on alleged Westminster paedophile ring case say they are following up claims it was linked to killingsScotland Yard is investigating the possible murder of three boys linked to an alleged Westminster paedophile ring active in the late 1970s and early 80s.Detectives working on the Operation Midland investigation into the historical “VIP” sex ring appealed on Thursday for witnesses to help them with their inquiries. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:17:00 GMT)

Putin press conference: 'economy will rebound within two years' – live
President blames ‘external factors’ for Russia’s economic problems and describes sanctions as illegitimate 12.53pm GMT 12.32pm GMT A summary of the key points will follow shortly but in the meantime here are Shaun’s thoughts:An odd press conference. Putin was on good form for parts and seemed to be enjoying himself, but he offered little concrete in the way of getting out of the crisis. He said what we would expect on foreign policy, vigorously defending Russia without being too hawkish. There was space for some typically colourful metaphors and expressions. His words are unlikely to terrify the market, but probably won’t massively reassure it either.It was pitched middle-of-the-road in all senses, there was lots of rhetoric but no major new policies announced, some conciliatory words about Ukraine but nothing concrete, and the most difficult questions were ducked or avoided. 12.21pm GMT Last question. Putin is asked whether he will take responsibility for Russia’s economic problems and whether he will run for president in 2018.Putin says it is “too early” at present to decide whether he will run for president next time.What we can be sure of is we will definitely overcome the period and difficulties and I am sure we will be stronger ...in the global economy.Thanks a lot for your attention. Happy New Year. 12.15pm GMT Crimean Tatar TV channel asks about draft law on rehabilitation of repressed peoples, why has it has stalled. Putin says it hasn’t.Crimean Tatar TV channel asks about draft law on rehabilitation of repressed peoples, why has it has stalled. Putin says it hasn’t. 12.14pm GMT Journo from Volgograd asks Putin about @tvrain law which bans cable channels from placing adverts. Putin totally dodges the answer.The journalist pointed out that the law contradicts previous statements by Putin talking about the need for an independent TV channel. 12.11pm GMT Last three questions, declares Putin. 12.06pm GMT That's the three-hour mark. A cameraman to my left just fell over. Don't feel like we're even close to the end. 12.06pm GMT A question about Iran from an Iranian business journal. Maybe someone should be appointed to boost turnover and trade with Iran? There needs to be a change of ambassador. You promised to visit Iran and to sign a trade deal with Iran but neither happened, I don’t understand, has there been a change of strategy?We will analyse the efficiency of our embassy in Tehran but on the whole we are satisfied. 11.56am GMT Angry Russian journalist: What about the people in your inner circle who are billionaires as Russians live in poverty? Are they 5th column?Great question: "Some of your close colleagues live in palace..." (Putin said earlier: "There can't be a palace coup, we have no palaces")"And last question, what is the salary of Igor Sechin?" (applause)Putin says Sechin "an effective manager" and doing a good job. Says he doesn't know how much $$ he makesPutin says there are no government officials in my circle and I hope there will never be - they're colleagues 11.48am GMT A woman holding a green fluffy crocodile just asked about parking fines in Moscow. A woman clutching a toy Gena the Crocodile asks Putin about parking in Moscow. Missed what Gena's got to do with it pic.twitter.com/y1Y7bsBD5JGena the Crocodilefriendly crocodile in the series of animation films Gena the Crocodile, Cheburashka and Shapoklyak by Roman Kachanov (Soyuzmultfilmstudio). Gena the Crocodile made his debut in 1966’s novel Gena the Crocodile and His Friends by Eduard Uspensky. 11.44am GMT A question from the Chechen leader’s press secretary.Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov's press secretary is now asking a question. Bizarre."Ramzan Akhmatovich has never broken the constitution" calls Ksenia Sobchak "naglaya" for twisting facts. How does press sec get to ask Qs? 11.41am GMT Question from the FT’s Courtney Weaver.Good Q whether Yevtushenkov trial means change in rules for big biz. Putin doesn't quite answer, but invites Yevtushenkov to meeting w/himBashneft case does not mean reevaluation of privatisations, says Putin.Yevtushenkov’s star fell rapidly his autumn when he was placed under house arrest in connection with an investigation into Sistema’s purchase of Bashneft, which was privatised in 2003 and acquired by Sistema a few years later.In October, a Moscow court gave the state permission to seize Bashneft from Sistema after ruling that the company’s privatisation deal had been illegal. Sistema declined to appeal against the ruling..@FT's @courtneymoscow is first western newspaper to get a question. Actual news in #Putin's answer, now Sistema share price up 80% 11.29am GMT Next a journalist from Xinhua asks about relations between Russia and China. China is our largest trade partner, it will grow further. Putin: We <3 <3 China. Never any problems. No problems, none. 11.25am GMT Asked a question about Turkey by a Turkish journalist, Putin says Turkey and Russia have many interests that coincide.Putin calls Erdogan a "strong guy"Putin compares Russia and Turkey to France and Germany. Used to be best of enemies, now best of friends 11.21am GMT This is descending into farce. Man from Kirov asks Putin for help for supermarkets to stock the region's local fermented bread drink (kvas).#Putin: "I don't know whether Coca-Cola is a harmful drink... Many experts say it is. The thing is we have our own national drinks."Coca Cola sales about to take a hit in RussiaWe will help you conquer your place under the sun in the Russian market. 11.16am GMT A journalist from Voronezh says her aunt's friend is curious if Putin has time for a personal life.As for your aunt everything is just fine don’t worryA dignitary from Europe asked me do you have love? ...I have people who love me, everything is just fine, don’t worry.Everything is fine (with my love life), Putin says. He’s still on good terms with his ex wife, Lyudmila. 11.08am GMT Question from Kazakhstan: Will our mutual market turn into a mutual crisis?Putin: Because Kazakhstan also an oil producer, also will see this negative economic environment. 11.07am GMT So basically President Putin did not answer John Simpson's question as to whether he would pull back from a "new Cold War" 11.06am GMT A question from the BBC’s John Simpson, the first in English. Putin requests headphones so he can understand the question.Western countries believe almost universally that there’s a new cold war and you’ve decided to create that, says Simpson. There are daily manoeuvres by Russian aircraft towards western airspace. You must have decided to do that as well as the incursion into Ukraine. Now you need help from the west because of your currency. Will you say you have no desire for a cold war and you will do what you can to sort out the stiuation in Ukraine?Does anyone listen to us at all? I believe that we are right in the course of the Ukrainian crisis ...and our western partners are wrong.There have been sanctions introduced against Russia in a completely illegitimate and illegal way. 10.54am GMT Putin is asked for details on the amnesty for those returning capital back to Russia. Businesses can keep their capital abroad but register it, says the president. 10.50am GMT Next question, from Reuters, the first from western media, is how sure are you of your circle that you will have its support always. How high are the risks of a coup d’etat in Russia?Putin saysDo not be afraid.Reuters: You blame things on external forces, but off record people even in your entourage,blame you. Putin: (grinning) give me their names!Putin: There are elite wines and elite resorts but no elite people. 10.41am GMT Here's Ksenia Sobchak, asking a very important question about Chechnya, Kadyrov's threats to target families of insurgents.Sobchak asks about Chechnya. Accuses Kadyrov of suspending Russian constitution thereIn America, torture was legalised. Do you believe that? 10.33am GMT First Channel question: Don't you think Russia wasn't able to reap the benefits of the Olympics because of the tragedy in Ukraine?Putin on Sochi: "Everything that we wanted to achieve, in terms of preparing and holding the Olympics, we achieved. We won the Olympics."Putin on Ukraine: Of course the Olympics ended against the backdrop of events in Ukraine. "But we didn't do that. We didn't cause the coup"Putin: Everyone is vacationing in Sochi. It means that we in Russia have created an analogous summer and winter resort.Putin says important to hold the World Cup because will help get Russians doing more sport and living longer. 10.30am GMT Putin is asked about Russia’s former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky who the president surprisingly pardoned last year after he had spent more than a decade behind bars. There is laughter as the questioner says that Khodorkovsky said he would not take part in politics but recently said he wants to be president. Do you regret pardoning him? "Year ago you pardoned Khodorkovsky, he promised no politics, now he wants to be president. You regret it?" A: "President of which country?"Putin: I let him out of prison on humanitarian grounds, because his mother was ill. Mother is a sacred thing. I dont regret it. 10.23am GMT Ruble Weakens as Traders Hear No Major Measures in Putin's Speech http://t.co/uUxB6AKr2V #business 10.23am GMT There is a question about a website for gifted children in Russia that helps foster patriotism. Will there be state support for such incentives? We would like to invite you to us. Putin wishes the questioner every success in her endeavour.Of course we’ll try to support the projects of such dimensions ...I believe there will be special funds for gifted children for the entirety of their education. 10.19am GMT Putin now quoting Lermontov, making cinema references, taking about fifth column. He's into classic Putin cruise mode after shaky start... 10.16am GMT Q: Where does opposition finish and 5th column start? A: It’s v difficult to answer that. I’m being honest. Because the border is subtle. 10.15am GMT Next question is the number of hospital beds and staff, especially in Moscow, is reducing, what is your attitude to that? Putin says this is one of the fundamental aspects of our lives. Millions of people expect from us to ameliorate the problems in healthcare, we should focus on that and what we have to do to make the situation better. We spend a lot on healthcare but it’s not very efficient ...We should work on high-tech components of medical systems. 10.10am GMT The currency market is a concern for millions of Russians. Who are those people who speculate on the currency? Can you name them (Putin said they must be “dealt with” earlier this month)? Why can’t we overcome them? Are we considering fixing the currency?Putin says no plans to introduce capital controls, he calls them "artificial limitations," on currency trading 10.06am GMT Putin is asked about energy deals with China and Turkey. Asia-Pacific and Turkey need new sources of energy, he replies.Why would we refuse them? 10.02am GMT Today's animal-based metaphor: "Perhaps the Russian bear should quietly eat berries & not chase piglets in the taiga" pic.twitter.com/xb04XLefwLTo finish that metaphor, Putin's point was that if the bear *did* quietly eat berries, West would CHAIN IT UP AND SAW OFF ITS TEETH (really) 9.59am GMT Asked about the situation in east Ukraine, Putin says it must be solved by political means in line with fundamental international principles, including the right of self-determination.Without a doubt the president of the Ukraine wants to reach a resolution but he is not the only person there, we have heard dignitaries say they want to wage war till the end. 9.55am GMT Rouble has fallen from 60-ish to 63 since Putin started speaking 9.54am GMT As I've written, & some people have mocked, I've heard from more than one official that Sochi boycotts/critic had effect on Crimea response. 9.52am GMT Asked whether Russia’s current situation is a result of what is happening in Crimea, Putin replies with an analogy that I’m afraid I’ve slightly lost the thread off about a bear in woods and honey. He also refers to the bear’s fangs being taken out and the bear being stuffed. There’s a reference to nuclear deterrent in there. He concludes:Do we want our bear to just become a stuffed animal? Extraordinary extended Russia as bear, which the west is trying to put on a chain and pull out its teeth metaphorPutin says "they" want the "bear" to "sit quietly and eat honey." "But they try to chain the bear and... take out his fangs and claws" 9.49am GMT A man in a dill t-shirt asking Putin a question about Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Hallucinatory. pic.twitter.com/wvAB2sl6TDHe totally ignored it. The whole problem (and advantage) of this format of course, is that journalists can't interrupt or follow up Qs.Putin laying into Kiev govt, has so far totally dodged the question of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, talking only of "volunteers"Putin got a small applause from the press after his answer to Ukraine question... 9.47am GMT Next question is from Ukraine asking about Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. How many Russian troops did you send there? How much weaponry did you send there? How many Russian soldiers died there? What did you tell your mothers?Ukrainian journalist asks Putin how many troops he sent to Ukraine and how many of them died pic.twitter.com/qk3KgCxch4The problem is that after the coup d’etat ...a forceful overthrow, instead of starting a political dialogue, the new authorities started using law enforcement officers, when that didn’t work out they started using the army, when that didn’t work out they started using other means, such as an economic blockade. 9.40am GMT Next question. Are we going to live in a divided world?Putin, referring to the Berlin Wall says we are currently witnessing the building of new walls. Isn’t Nato expansion a wall, a virtual wall? He also refers to ABM (anti-ballistic missiles) near our border. We want our partners to understand that the best way is to stop building those walls and to build a united humanitarian space. 9.37am GMT Journalists are asked to keep their questions short so more can be heard of Putin.What do you think is happening to the country at the moment?We have to stop using law enforcement agencies to punish everyone we don’t like.Putin: we need more innovation, diversify economy regional development, stop using police/courts for business disputes... Well, yes. 9.34am GMT Second “question” begins with a comment thanking Putin for his optimism, the mood of Russia depends on the president’s mood, says the questioner.Will be able to use the current crisis to restructure the economy? The main danger in Russia is bureaucracy. Are you sure that your thoughts and decisions will be implemented?In our country bureaucracy is nothing compared to the European Union.We will have to face some difficulties and we’ll definitely have to confront some social issues... but still we can benefit from the situation [by diversifying the economy]. 9.28am GMT The first question is will there be a financial and economic crisis over the next two years? And what do you think of the criticism of the government.The economic situation may improve earlier than two years, says Putin. The government and central bank are “acting properly and correctly”. Maybe they could have acted quicker, he admits.In order to stabilise the national currency, we might squeeze up the ruble liquidity a bit. Putin says he wouldn't call this week's ruble drop a "crisis."Putin says Russia should not "waste" its foreign currency reserves in defending the rubleDAM can nap safely MT @courtneymoscow #Putin says govt /central bank "as a whole" acting adequately. Seems no one gonna get fired on live TV 9.23am GMT Our economy will overcome the current situation. How long will it take? I believe about two years in the worst situation.Putin says the world’s energy needs will enable a return to growth but in the meantime repeats that Russia must diversify. It is unavoidable and imminent that the situation will become normal. 9.20am GMT Putin refers to the low oil price and knock-on effect on gas prices. Says it is possible they could put further downward pressure on the rouble.Incidentally, investors, bankers and diplomats have said that they will all be watching this press conference closely. Russia’s political course is so tied up with what is going on inside Putin’s head that the markets will be following his tone closely. Will we hear the angry, combative sabre-rattling Putin or will he give a message that will reassure the markets? 9.18am GMT Putin says mortality has fallen and the birth rate is up, which he says is a good thing. We have paid a lot of time this year to increasing the combat capacity of our forces.Of course, this situation has been provoked by external factors, first and foremost. 9.14am GMT The president walks on stage to light applause. He is reeling off economic figures. The level of unemployment is quite low...As you know this year we had a record harvest ....despite all the turbulence on the financial markets ...incomes will be higher than spending. 9.11am GMT Ukrainian agency correspondent is wearing a sweatshirt with the "dill" sign that became popular during conflict pic.twitter.com/YZetsNDTLeUkrainian soldiers have been wearing shoulder patches showing a sprig of dill – an unofficial ensign adopted as a symbol of resistance. 8.54am GMT Welcome to our live coverage of Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference. We’re expecting Russia’s currency crisis and the economic fallout to dominate. Our Moscow correspondent Shaun Walker will be filing from the scene throughout the morning. Here is his introduction:I’m in the hall for Putin’s press conference, having gone through three layers of security. There are 1259 journalists accredited for the event, many of them from small regional publications, and the entire foreign press corps in Moscow is also here.The way it works is that Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov will pick on journalists to ask questions that have been arranged with the Kremlin in advance. Towards the end of the session, Putin himself takes over and picks people at random, hence the regional journalists who have bought hand-painted signs and other objects in the hope of attracting the president’s attention (and hence the ban on furry toys). Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:05:39 GMT)

Obesity can be a disability, EU court rules
Decision at EU’s court of justice in Luxembourg establishes precedent that could affect employment rights across EuropeObesity can in severe cases constitute a disability, a European Union court has ruled, establishing a precedent that could affect employment rights across the continent.But the decision by the EU’s court of justice in Luxembourg – ruling on the case of a Danish childminder who lost his job – stopped short of declaring obesity to be a protected characteristic against which all discrimination is prohibited. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:30:41 GMT)

Obama and Raúl Castro thank pope for breakthrough in US-Cuba relations
Surprise breakthrough came after 45-minute phone call between President Obama and Raúl Castro finalised the release of US prisoner Alan GrossLive updates: Obama to announce sweeping changes to US-Cuba relationsRaúl Castro hails improved US-Cuba relations but calls for embargo to be liftedWhat do improved US-Cuba relations mean for the average American?Barack Obama and Raúl Castro have thanked Pope Francis for helping broker a historic deal to begin normalising relations between the United States and Cuba, after 18 months of secret talks over prisoner releases brought a sudden end to decades of cold war hostility.The two presidents spoke simultaneously on Wednesday to confirm the surprise reversal of a long-running US policy of isolating Cuba, detailing a series of White House steps that will relax travel, commercial and diplomatic restrictions in exchange for the release of Americans and dissidents held in Havana. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:57:34 GMT)

Theresa May plans to put 28-day time limit on police bail
Home secretary says it is not right people can be under suspicion for a long term but change of law will now be delayed by two monthsPlans by the home secretary, Theresa May, to introduce a 28-day time limit on the use of police bail before a suspect is charged have been delayed by two months while a coalition dispute over its implementation is resolved.The change in the law cannot go ahead until a dispute is resolved between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats over how extensions beyond the new 28-day limit should be approved. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:59:00 GMT)

FBI to connect North Korea to Sony hack as The Interview VOD release halted
Sources report FBI looking to North Korea as the source of hack, despite earlier denials DVD and VOD releases of The Interview are cancelled following removal from cinemasObama calls for calm amid fresh threats of terrorismThe plot to kill The Interview – a timeline so farSony’s cancellation of The Interview surprises North Korea-watchersReview: The InterviewAccording to sources speaking to Fox News and Deadline, the FBI is expected to name North Korea as being the source of the recent hack on Sony Pictures.A statement is expected 18 December from the bureau. Meanwhile, Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN that he’d been told the hack was undertaken “at the behest of a foreign government”. A statement on 10 December from the FBI had suggested that North Korea was not the likely antagonist, while a North Korean diplomat in the US said in November that the accusations were a “fabrication”. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:47:23 GMT)

Government announces council funding cuts: Politics Live blog
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments, including Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in 1.25pm GMT Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn asks Hopkins if he realises what the impact of these cuts will be. His council (he’s MP for Islington North) will face cumulative cuts worth 50%, he says.Hopkins says Corbyn should remember what state Labour left the economy in. 1.23pm GMT Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, has been tweeting about the council funding settlement.Once again, it is the poorest communities that are being hardest hit in the local government settlement.Now clear that Eric Pickles lost his battle with George Osborne to save funding for the local welfare assistance fund. 1.14pm GMT Labour’s Jack Dromey says Birmingham is losing £338m over the next two years. It is losing more than Surrey. 1.11pm GMT Here’s the full text of Kris Hopkins’ statement. 1.10pm GMT The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has said that today’s cuts will push some councils “to breaking point”. This is from its director, Graeme McDonald.This settlement reminds us that the financial challenge facing local government is immense. Cuts of up to 6.4% will push some authorities to breaking point.Government is beginning to recognise that councils have led the way on deficit reduction, but with cuts and demand increasing, fragility is beginning to show. The financial future of local services is unsustainable without a more ambitious plan for public service reform. 12.57pm GMT Here’s the start of the Press Association story about the cuts.Councils in England are to face an overall cut of 1.8% in their total spending power in 2015/16. Announcing the settlement in the House of Commons, local government minister Kris Hopkins said that the reduction would leave councils with “considerable total spending power”. 12.56pm GMT Hopkins is replying to Benn.He says he is disappointed by the tone of Benn’s statement. Benn did not recognise Labour’s role in the financial crisis. 12.53pm GMT Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, says council resent the suggestion that the cuts are modest.Councils serving the most deprived areas have been hit the hardest, he says. 12.46pm GMT Hopkins says over the last year councils have increased their reserves by £2.2bn. They now have reserves of £21.4bn.He says the government will make funds available to allow councils to freeze council tax.Councils (+ police) can raise council tax (+ precept) by up to 2% without referendum...victory for Theresa May over Eric Pickles 12.41pm GMT Hopkins is delivering this statement very badly. He keeps stumbling over his words. ITV’s Simon Mares says Eric Pickles, who is sitting beside him, is not helping.Stumbling delivery by minister Kris Hopkins as he details council cuts to MPs - not helped by a running commentary by his boss Eric Pickles. 12.39pm GMT Hopkins says the best authorities are transforming the way they do services.He says they need to prioritise the way they do business. 12.35pm GMT Hopkins says it is not just about the amount of money the government gives to councils.The government has given them the tools to help themselves. Now they can keep business rates revenue. Hopkins says 91% of them expect to increase their business rates revenue. 12.32pm GMT Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, is speaking now.He says local government has made a significant contribution to putting the public finances back on track.Councils to lose spending power of 1.8% says govt in #localgov finance settlement @lgcplusNo council will lose more than 6.4% in spending power, says Kris Hopkins in #localgov finance settlement @lgcplus 12.28pm GMT Actually, it is Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, making the statement, I’ve been told.He is due to speak any minute now. 12.20pm GMT Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is due to make his statement about council spending in the Commons shortly.He will present the funding grants for 2015-16. Last year the government signalled that councils would face a cut of 1.8%. 10.12am GMT Here are the key points from Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in.Apparently, according to Kerry Smith, he was on sedatives. Of all the excuses for this kind of bile and racist, homophoboic vitriol, was “I was on a sedative”. Most people on a sedative don’t become Alf Garnett on stilts, do they. Most people on sedatives go to sleep. But apparently in Ukip, if you are on a sedative, you just become even unpleasant. What we are seeing in Ukip is what I always predicted would happen, which is that the more they try and become like a political party, rather than just a movement of angry blokes - it’s almost always angry blokes in suits just saying they are against everything - and the more they are being pressed on what they would do, the more the problems emerge. If that’s what they do on sedatives, just imagine what they would do on Red Bull.They’ve got it wrong. It’s a comedy, for heaven’s sake. It’s just extraordinary that in a free society we are allowing these online thugs from this police state to intimidate people having a bit of fun ... There’s a big issue of principle here. We can’t have police states, through hacking and online intimidation, stopping free societies like ours having films shown on the cinemas that we want to see.Do I enjoy sitting there watching Ed Miliband and David Cameron, week in, week out, tear strips off each, and I can’t get up and say my piece - it’s not my favourite place to be ... David Cameron, to be blunt, is not speaking as prime minister of a coalition government, increasingly, at prime minister’s questions. He’s basically using it as a platform to advertise Conservative party policy. Now, it’s not really my job to sit there, on my hands, politely helping him along ... 9.37am GMT Q: Were Sony right to pull the comedy about North Korea?No, says Clegg. They were wrong. They should not back down in the face of threats from “online thugs from a police state”. 9.32am GMT Q: At our school, where people are supposed to get free school meals, they are just getting packed lunches, including frozen sandwiches and donughts.Clegg asks for the name of the school. The caller says she does not want to give it on air. Clegg says what she is describing is “completely wrong”. He will get the details of the school and look into it. 9.31am GMT Q: Do you think Kerry Smith, the Ukip candidate who resigned over offensive remarks, shows the true state of Ukip?Clegg says Ukip said Smith made those comments because he was on sedatives. Sedatives are supposed to calm you down, he jokes. Imagine what he would be saying without sedatives. 9.28am GMT Q: Do you support the EU’s decision to take Hamas off its list of terrorist organisations?Clegg says the EU decision is a bit more complicated than that. It was to do with definitions affecting financial sanctions. 9.27am GMT Q: Why don’t you just not turn up at PMQs?From time to time, I don’t, says Clegg. 9.25am GMT Q: Why do my partner and I no longer get child benefit, when child benefit is being paid to children living abroad?Clegg says the caller is right. That system is wrong. 9.23am GMT Q: At PMQs yesterday you looked very grumpy?Clegg says it is not his favourite time of the week. He has to listen to David Cameron and Ed Miliband and cannot say anything. 9.18am GMT On Call Clegg Nick Ferrari asks about a story that has just broken about a European Court of Justice ruling.Here is the Press Association snap about it.The European Court of Justice has ruled that British-Irish citizen Sean McCarthy should be allowed to bring his Colombian wife to the UK from their home in Spain without her having to apply for a travel visa, potentially opening UK borders to large numbers of non-European Union nationals. 9.15am GMT Back to the Myners report about the sale of the Royal Mail. Lord Myners was on the Today programme earlier talking about it. He said on balance it was a “well-executed” exercise.Actually it was on balance a well-executed, complex exercise. The government managed to achieve its objective; privatising the Royal Mail, exposing it to market discipline and importantly access to private capital should it require further capital in the future. So, this was something which governments over the last twenty years or so had tried to do but had failed. And the government was successful in the privatisation … The important thing is that the panel of experts concluded that it’s possible that the Royal Mail could have been sold for 20p or 30p more a share, but that would have taken considerable risk into the transaction. 9.12am GMT Q: What are you going to do about the epidemic of child abuse? [The caller says she is an abuse survivor.]Clegg says the government has set up a child abuse inquiry. 9.08am GMT Q: There is a report today about the shortfall when the Royal Mail was sold. Shouldn’t those responsible have to pay?Clegg says Lord Myners says the sale of the Royal Mail was done professionally, very well. People said the sale was undervalued by £1bn or so. The Royal Mail was sold for £2bn. Myners says the government could have got £180m more. But it says that could not have happened without the government taking a risk, and that the government was entitled not to take a risk. 8.53am GMT The Commons is sitting today for the last time in 2014. This may also be my last live blog of the year (I’m working some days next week, but probably won’t be doing a daily blog, unless a big story breaks) and it’s going to be a bit patchy, because I’ve got to disappear after 10am until lunchtime for a meeting.That means I won’t be doing minute by minute coverage of the Eric Pickles statement on council spending cuts, which is due at about 11.15am, but there will be coverage at theguardian.com/politics and I will pick up reaction later.1. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: UK Anti-Corruption Plan 2. Chancellor of the Exchequer: Annual European Union Finances Statement Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:25:11 GMT)

Non-EU family members don’t need visa to enter UK, says European court
Judges’ decision could potentially open Britain’s borders to large numbers of non-EU citizensEU judges have ruled that the UK cannot block non-EU family members from entering the country without a travel permit in a decision that potentially opens Britain’s borders to large numbers of non-EU nationals.The complicated case centres on Sean McCarthy, a dual British and Irish national living and working in Spain, and his wife, Patricia McCarthy Rodriguez, a Colombian citizen. They have two young children who are both British citizens. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:31:10 GMT)

Jeremy Hunt denies festive NHS ‘news blackout’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt tells Labour in the Commons that A&E data is never published over ChristmasNHS staff should not be forced to work over Christmas to publish A&E waiting time figures, Jeremy Hunt has said, amid claims of a festive “news blackout”.Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham insisted it was “simply unacceptable” for the publication of A&E data, including waiting times, to be suspended from tomorrow for three weeks over the “crucial” Christmas period. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:13:37 GMT)

Job ad error confirms European launch of Apple Pay
Introduction of mobile wallet and online payment system outside the US revealed by search for London-based internApple has inadvertently confirmed that its mobile wallet and online payment system, Apple Pay, is coming to Europe by posting a job advertisement on its website.The advert, which has now been taken down, said that the company was seeking a London-based intern to “drive out the roll-out” of Apple Pay across Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:09:06 GMT)

Pakistani school attackers ‘were told to kill soldiers’ after massacre of pupils
Newspaper reports details of phone calls between attackers and their handlers, who are thought to be hiding in AfghanistanThe suicide attackers who assaulted a Pakistani school on Tuesday were reportedly given orders by phone to await the arrival of soldiers after they had initially slaughtered around 100 children in the school’s hall.Telephone intercepts revealed by security officials to Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, show one of the Pakistani Taliban gunmen asked his handlers “what do we do now?” after informing them that “we have killed all the children in the auditorium”. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:06:28 GMT)

Swiss central bank introduces negative interest rates - business live
The latest business and finance news, as SNB takes fresh measures to weaken the franc following the Russian rouble crisisLunchtime summary: Rouble ripples reach SwitzerlandSNB imposes negative rates to weaken the francQ&A: Negative rates explainedWhat the experts say 1.15pm GMT Time for a recap.Switzerland’s central bank has imposed negative interest rates on bank deposits for the first time since the 1970s, as the Russian currency crisis causes ructions around the globe.“Rapidly mounting uncertainty on the financial markets has substantially increased demand for safe investments.The worsening of the crisis in Russia was a major contributory factor in this development.”UBS said on Thursday that it has no plans to levy negative interest rates on its retail clients 12.41pm GMT Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has offered Greece an olive branch - telling MPs in Berlin that its economy is in better shape then expected.“Reforms are beginning to bear fruit for the people of Greece. The labour market reforms have made the country more competitive ... This year Greece will have a budget deficit within European Union rules.” 12.25pm GMT Over in Greece, the political wheels are turning after MPs rejected the government’s nominee for the presidency last night, increasing the chance that the administration could collapse. “I confirmed my view which is categoric: early elections, required in the case of parliament’s inability to elect a president of the republic, will lead the country into turmoil whose end result will be to find ourselves out of the Eurozone.”“At this point, the widest possible consent is required. We all have to put the interests of the country above personal or party interest. We owe it to the Greek people from whom we have asked huge sacrifices.” “He asked me to come to a solution of consent in the name of national policy. We believe that a national solution will be found only after elections.” 11.57am GMT Imposing negative interest rates on commercial bank deposits could actually backfire on the Swiss economy and cause an asset bubble.So warns Angelo Ranaldo, Professor of Finance and Systemic Risk at the University of St Gallen.“By introducing negative interest rates, the Swiss National Bank is reacting to the European Central Bank’s recent decision and to the renewed pressure on its safe haven currency thanks to the Russian crisis. But there is a fundamental disconnect between the Swiss economy and the outlook for the Eurozone: the Swiss economy is in better shape and disinflation is not a concern. 11.51am GMT Analysts at Goldman Sachs reckon that the Swiss central bank could be forced to intervene in the foreign exchange markets again, once the impact of negative rates wears off:Goldman saying that the SNB may still rely on FX interventions to protect the floor after shock rate cut earlier. EURCHF currently at 1.2041 11.40am GMT Credit rating agency Fitch has warned that risks to Russia’s economy have intensified.In a statement, Fitch sounded the alarm over the rouble’s extreme volatility this week, and the interest rate hike to 17%.The inflationary impact of recent falls (inflation is heading towards double digits) will erode real incomes, further damaging private consumption and domestic demand.If rates have to be kept high or increased to support the currency at a lower oil price, the impact could be greater still. The CBR has estimated that average oil prices of $60/barrel could cause GDP to shrink 4.5%-4.7% in 2015.Fitch says $66 oil in 2015 would cut #Russia's GDP by 2.8%, and the CRB rate increase will make that worse. To review rating in January. 11.19am GMT After a rocky start, Greek bonds are actually rising in value now, pushing down the interest rate (or yield) on the debt. Greek Bonds actually doing okay this morning - the yield drops to 8.52 (-24bp) on the 10 year. 10.52am GMT The feel-good factor from last night’s Federal Reserve meeting continues to push European stock markets higher.Shares are rising on relief that the US central bank will be patient when deciding when to raise US interest rates.Equities in Europe are trying hard to take advantage of a dovish, US Federal Reserve-led rally in the States last night. The S&P 500 had its best day of the year, rising a shade over 2% to close back above the 2000 level. While the ‘considerable time’ statement remains in the minutes despite some reports to the contrary, the fact it changed its language slightly, and highlighted a ‘patient’ stance on when rates will start going up, maintained the dovish theme. The comments by chair, Janet Yellen, that this alteration in language did not actually mean a change in its outlook helped put a rocket under equities for the final part of last night’s session. 10.40am GMT Greece’s jobless rate has dipped a little, but remains in at depression-era levels.Elstat reports that the unemployment rate was 25.5% in the third quarter of 2014, down from 26.6% in April-June, and 27.2% a year earlier. 10.18am GMT Swiss central bank chief Thomas Jordan also confirmed that the Russian crisis had prompted today’s decision to charge commercial banks who deposit their francs with the SNB. 10.14am GMT Back to Switzerland....and the head of the Swiss National Bank has predicted that the negative interest rates announced today will remain “for the foreseeable future”.SNB chairman Thomas Jordan told a press conference that further measures could be imposed if it’s necessary to weaken the franc and stimulate inflation again.“If it becomes necessary, we can take further measures. Possible measures include a further reduction of interest rates or a reduction of the exemption threshold”.SNB'S Jordan says he doesn't expect negative rates for Retails customers in Switzerland, makes no sense #EURCHF #FX 9.51am GMT Record growth in department stores and electrical appliance stores in November 2014. Boosted by 'black Friday'It seems #BlackFriday gave UK retail sales a massive boost. That's it then. We'll never be rid of it. 9.49am GMT Britain appears to have caught the Black Friday bug.New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that retail sales jumped by 1.5% month-on-month in November, the biggest rise this year.“Black Friday’s shopping frenzy provided the sector with a timely boost and retailers will hope that this momentum is maintained throughout the festive period. “A combination of aggressive discounting and consumer’s determination to secure big ticket bargains ensured that electrical goods and household appliances were the standout categories. Clothing and footwear retailers used the event to reduce stockpiles of winter clothing, albeit to the detriment of their profit margins. 9.30am GMT Financial analyst are digesting Switzerland’s decision to impose negative interest rates on cash deposits at its central bank.The SNB continued to show its unwavering support for the EURCHF floor by introducing negative interest rates....We doubt the action will have long term effect and expect to see EURCHF grind back towards the EURCHF 1.2000 minimum exchange rate.”“Having seen the franc trading at, or very close to, the cap that it set of 1.20 to the euro over the past month, the SNB obviously felt it needed to shore up its defences against a building storm surge of money looking for a safe home. It is also faced with the potential for Q.E. by the ECB next year, which would likely put further downwards pressure on the euro across the board. “The timing is suspicious because the fee will be charged starting on January 22nd.” 9.08am GMT German firms appear to be shrugging off the Russian crisis, and Europe’s economic problems.The IFO survey of German morale, just released, has risen to 105.5 up from 104.7 last month. That’s the highest reading since August. 9.05am GMT Heads-up; Vladimir Putin’s press conference is about to start in Moscow. We’re running a separate liveblog, as it’s going to last for several hours:The @guardian is liveblogging Putin press conference. I'm in the hall and my colleague @Haroon_Siddique is in London. http://t.co/3GwlrJF6eHAnnouncement on the tannoy at Putin press conference asks journalists not to bring toys and furry animals into the hall. 8.56am GMT Over in Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that sanctions against Russia over Ukraine remain unavoidable as long as Moscow does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty.“As long as we do not reach this goal ... sanctions remain unavoidable, though I would like to reiterate that they were not and are not an end in themselves.” 8.48am GMT The Russian rouble is volatile around this morning, as traders await Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference, from 9am.It’s currently down 2.2% against the US dollar at 61.5 roubles/$1, having hit a low of 58/$1 in early trading.Not just @bmw , @GM now also reacting to #Russia. GM Halts car sales due to rouble volatility @business 8.32am GMT Greek three-year bonds weakened this morning after MPs rejected the government’s presidential candidate last night, pushing up the yield on the debt.Greek 3yr yields jump by 17bps as #Greece's PM Samaras still 20 MP's short for 3rd round of Presidential election. pic.twitter.com/getazQQCKs 8.27am GMT European stock markets have risen in early trading, taking their lead from Wall Street’s rally last night.The German DAX and French CAC both surged 1.7%, while the FTSE 100 is up a more modest 0.5% or 30 points at 6366.Markets had been expecting such a move and, despite signs of some disagreement on the committee as three members dissented, the shift is a signal of confidence in the sustainability of the US recovery. Fed Chair Yellen reassured that policy continued to depend upon the data, with no move likely within the next “couple of meetings”. 8.20am GMT Why has the Swiss central bank announced negative interest rates today?Because it wants to weaken its currency, the Swiss franc, by penalising banks who hold deposits.Timing of #SNB is pretty interesting ... just a week after the SNB's last policy meeting - #rouble trouble perhaps? 7.55am GMT The Swiss franc has weakened sharply after Switzerland’s central bank surprised the markets by announcing it would impose negative deposit rates of 0.25% on commercial bank deposits.The franc fell by half a cent, to 1.2095 francs against the euro, a two month low. The SNB reaffirms its commitment to the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro, and will continue to enforce it with the utmost determination. It remains the key instrument to avoid an undesirable tightening of monetary conditions resulting from a Swiss franc appreciation. Over the past few days, a number of factors have prompted increased demand for safe investments. The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments, and thereby supports the minimum exchange rate. 7.41am GMT Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the financial markets, the world economy, the eurozone and business.And #SNB introduces negative interest rates as the great monetary policy experiment continues ... Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:15:36 GMT)

Nick Clegg: PMQs is increasingly tedious exchange of point-scoring
Deputy PM says David Cameron is now using weekly session to advertise Conservative party policy in runup to 2015 electionThe deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has said prime minister’s questions is becoming an increasingly tedious exchange of party political point-scoring and that his presence at the event would not be “constant” in the New Year.Speaking on his phone-in radio show on LBC, Clegg said that the weekly session in parliament was becoming a tedious exchange that was more about “people brandishing their own party’s credentials, rather than what it is supposed to be about, which is the opposition scrutinising the coalition government as a whole and the prime minister defending the coalition government as a whole.” Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:25:52 GMT)

Irish doctors seek legal advice over brain-dead pregnant woman
Abortion laws under scrutiny as family of woman want doctors to switch off her life-support machineIreland’s highly restrictive abortion laws have come under renewed focus after it emerged that doctors in an Irish hospital are seeking legal advice over whether they can switch off the life support machine of a brain-dead woman who is 16 weeks pregnant.The family of the woman want the medical team there to allow her to die. The woman, who is understood to be in her mid to late twenties, suffered head trauma and a clot to the brain. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:01:34 GMT)

Royal Mail sell-off undervalued firm by £180m, report finds
Review concludes that company could have been sold for up to 30p more a share, but it involved considerable riskThe government could have made £180m more from the £2bn sale of Royal Mail last year but this would have involved “considerable risk”, a report commissioned by business secretary Vince Cable concluded.The report by former city minister Lord Myners said the sell-off, which attracted huge controversy, was executed with “considerable professionalism” and the government and taxpayer achieved “significant value”. Labour said the review had a “very narrow remit” and did not take Royal Mail’s property assets into account. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:14:39 GMT)

Ukip MP Mark Reckless being sued by Tories over wasted campaign expenses
Rochester Tories seek to recoup almost £3,000 spent on material with Reckless’s name on before his defection to UkipUkip MP Mark Reckless is being sued by his former Conservative colleagues over almost £3,000 spent on wasted campaign material ordered with his name on just before he defected.The local Tory party has filed papers at Medway county court just weeks after Reckless successfully re-fought his Rochester & Strood seat to become Ukip’s second MP. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:13:47 GMT)

Sunday Mirror journalist given suspended jail sentence after admitting phone hacking
Graham Johnson, who was tabloid’s investigations editor for six years, told court ‘very senior person’ showed him how to access voicemailsA journalist who blew the whistle on the alleged hacking of celebrities’ phones at the Sunday Mirror has been spared jail for his own “short and intense” involvement in the crime.Graham Johnson, 46, of Greenwich was sentenced to two months in prison, suspended for one year, on Thursday morning. He was also ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:27:16 GMT)

Kesgrave Hall school: police investigate 17 former staff over abuse allegations
Suffolk police launched investigation in January 2013 following Guardian articles on claims of abuse during 70s, 80s and 90sSeventeen former members of staff at a boarding school for troubled boys are being investigated over allegations of abusing pupils.Suffolk police detectives are investigating the allegations against 17 individuals – including teachers – of sexual and physical abuse at Kesgrave Hall school in Ipswich during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:40:11 GMT)

Government admits badger cull could fail to reduce bovine TB
Controversial cull will continue despite government admitting for the first time that the Gloucestershire cull may prove unsuccessful due to low number of badgers killedThe controversial badger cull in Gloucestershire may not succeed in reducing tuberculosis in cattle, the government has admitted for the first time. But environment secretary Liz Truss, releasing the results of the 2014 cull pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset on Thursday, said she is determined to continue culling. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:58:01 GMT)

Sky News journalists to give evidence at inquest of alleged internet troll
Brenda Leyland was found dead after she featured in Sky News report about abuse of Madeleine McCann’s parentsTwo Sky News journalists will be called as witnesses at an inquest into the death of an alleged internet troll accused of abusing Madeleine McCann’s parents.A pre-inquest hearing was told that no one is facing any criminal action over the death of Brenda Leyland, whose body was found in a hotel room after she featured in a Sky News report. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:53:37 GMT)

Geert Wilders on race hate charge over anti-Moroccan chant
Anti-Moroccan chant led by Party for Freedom leader in cafe in The Hague was broadcast nationally and sparked police complaintsAnti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will be prosecuted in the Netherlands for alleged discrimination and inciting hatred against Moroccans during election campaigning in March, prosecutors said on Thursday.The charges stem from an incident in The Hague, when Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant in a cafe, which was broadcast nationally and prompted 6,400 complaints to the police. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:51:34 GMT)

Madonna new music leak is 'form of terrorism' says singer
After hackers trade what they describe as the singer’s 13th studio album, Madonna claims unreleased tracks are ‘unfinished demos stolen long ago’Ariel Pink says Madonna enlisted him for new albumMadonna has described the leak of several new songs as “artistic rape” and “a form of terrorism”. As music pirates trade what they describe as the singer’s 13th studio album, Madonna claims the 13 unreleased songs are instead “unfinished demos stolen long ago”.“Thank you for not listening!” Madonna wrote on 17 December, amid reports her new record had leaked. “Thank you for your loyalty! Thank you for waiting.” In a follow-up post on Instagram, since deleted, Madonna used more pointed language to deal with hackers who were attempting “to destroy [her] artistic process”. “This is artistic rape!! These are early leaked demos, half of which won’t even make it on my album,” she insisted. “The other half have changed and evolved.” Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:14:51 GMT)

Chinese Android phones contain in-built hacker 'backdoor'
Smartphones made by Coolpad on sale in Britain and the US have a major security flaw that lets hackers steal private dataSmartphones from a major Chinese manufacturer have a security flaw that was deliberately introduced and allows hackers full control of the device. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:22:25 GMT)

Isro blasts India’s biggest rocket into space
Unmanned capsule on board GSLV Mk-III, designed to carry three astronauts, is also successfully testedIndia successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on Thursday carrying an unmanned capsule that could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space programme.The rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the south-east state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25m (£16m). Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:15:55 GMT)

Chinese passenger opens plane door for fresh air
Man who opened emergency exit as plane was about to take off did not realise the danger, airline staff sayA Chinese airline passenger pulled open an emergency exit as his plane was about to take off because he “just wanted fresh air”, Chinese media have reported.The man had not realised that opening the door was dangerous, staff members said. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 04:19:21 GMT)

85% of primary school students take up offer of free school meals
Liberal Democrats welcome figures after initiative to provide free dinners to all children regardless of wealth of their parentsThe Liberal Democrats have welcomed figures showing that 1.3 million more children are now eating school dinners since the party introduced its flagship free school meals policy in September.Around 85% of children now eat a school dinner at lunchtime - a total of 1,640,530 - up from around 300,000 under the last policy regime. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:53:06 GMT)

Black Friday sparks biggest retail sales boost in a decade
Nationwide spending splurge on 28 November hailed as huge success by shops, which saw sales increase 1.6% from OctoberBlack Friday spurred retail sales to the strongest year-on-year rise in 10 years, according to official figures that show a 6.4% jump last month on the previous November.The spending splurge on 28 November was hailed as a huge success by retailers that discounted TVs, furniture and homewares to encourage a pre-Christmas buying rush. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:15:26 GMT)

BBC current affairs not doing enough to explain difficult issues, says John Birt
Former director general calls on James Harding to take on battles with others within the corporation to improve serviceHarding says Panorama will not be hived off. Read his full speech hereThe former BBC director general John Birt has criticised the corporation’s current affairs output, which includes Panorama, saying it is not doing enough to address “awesomely difficult questions” about issues including Europe, the UK economy and the threat from radical Islam.Birt, who brought his “mission to explain” approach to current affairs from LWT when he joined the BBC as deputy director general and director of news in 1987, said the BBC’s on-air current affairs presence had been progressively dismantled. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:37:51 GMT)

Hong Kong protester, 14, faces separation from parents
Rather than charging young protester with criminal offence, court applied for protection order, alleging parental neglectHong Kong authorities have issued an order that could separate a 14-year-old pro-democracy protester from his parents, heightening fears of a gradual, retroactive campaign against demonstrators only days after their final encampment was cleared.Police detained the boy on 25 November as they cleared a demonstration site in the gritty, densely-populated area of Mong Kok. They held him for about 24 hours alongside about two dozen other protesters and then took him before a juvenile court judge. Rather than charge him with a criminal offence, the court applied for a protection order, alleging that his parents’ neglect put him at possible risk of harm. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:08:55 GMT)

Lana Del Rey’s death wish: how our interview unleashed a storm of hate
When the singer told the Guardian, ‘I wish I was dead already’, it sparked accusations of dark journalistic practices, enraged her teenage fans and even prompted Kurt Cobain’s daughter to intervene• June 2014: Lana Del Rey goes into some dark places for her new albumYou don’t arrange to meet Lana Del Rey expecting her to bring the megabantz. Her music, her videos, her past interviews all deal in darkness – albeit a darkness she thrives on glamorising. But it was still something of a surprise to meet her in New Orleans in May and hear her share what seemed like a genuine sadness: how she had not enjoyed any of her initial success, how she spent her life feeling constantly under attack, and then the quote – “I wish I was dead already” – that made headlines worldwide, from the Daily Mail to Rolling Stone. Was she serious? Was it a cry for help? Or was it just a publicity stunt to flog copies of her new record, Ultraviolence?Well, Del Rey took to Twitter. Not to deny the quotes, exactly, but to imply they were the result of dark journalistic practices, which prompted an army of enraged teenage Lana fans to bombard me on social media. In the end, the interview audio was uploaded to prove that she had said what she said quite willingly. This placated precisely zero enraged teenage Lana fans or, indeed, Lana herself. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:12:40 GMT)

Billy Corgan: 'Nobody believes I made a three-star record. Nobody!'
We had questions for the Smashing Pumpkins star about cats, astrology and experimentalism … but first we had to get the issue of the Guardian’s three-star review of his latest album out of the wayHi Billy! Are you cold today (1)?Fuck yeah! The cold in London goes in your bones. It’s cold in Chicago but this is like a wet cold. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:35:30 GMT)

Santa in a gimp mask? Tony Oursler's creepy Christmas greeting
With a twinkle in his shifty eyes and snowflakes for a nose ... it’s Father Christmas as you’ve never seen him before, thanks to artist Tony OurslerOff the wall: Jeremy Deller brings William Morris back to lifeJake and Dinos Chapman: ‘What Christmas looks like when you’re dying’ Judy Chicago’s explosive (and naked) happy holidays greeting Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:03:04 GMT)

Man finds woman with same name as ex to join him on round-the-world trip
Jordan Axani offered free tickets that could only be used by someone called Elizabeth Gallagher after he split from girlfriendA Toronto man who made headlines last month by offering a free round-the-world air ticket to a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend has found Ms Right.Jordan Axani, 28, and his then girlfriend, named Elizabeth Gallagher, booked heavily-discounted round-the-world air tickets in May, but their relationship ended and he didn’t want her ticket to go to waste. The ticket had a strict no-transfer policy, but since passport information was not required when booking, it can be used by any Canadian named Elizabeth Gallagher. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:45:25 GMT)

Can you identify these Lego city landmarks?
Where in the world would you find these models? These images are taken from Lego-builder Warren Elsmore's exhibition and book, Brick City: Lego for Grown-ups Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:03:00 GMT)

Amazon 'suppresses' book with too many hyphens
Graeme Reynolds’s novel High Moor 2: Moonstruck was withdrawn when the site decided 100 hyphenated words in 90,000 ‘impacted the readability’ of the bookWhat is your favourite form of punctuation? Mine is the semicolon. It wouldn’t be my desert island choice – that’d have to be something more boringly prosaic, such as the full stop. But a nice semicolon, properly used, is delicious.I ask because I am almost too tickled to type at the discovery that an author, one Graeme Reynolds, found his novel withdrawn from Amazon because of his excessive use of the hyphen. Reynolds has written about his inexplicable experience on his blog, but in summary: he released his werewolf novel, High Moor 2: Moonstruck, last March, after paying over £1,000 for professional editing. It’s had over 100 almost entirely positive reviews on Amazon. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:00:08 GMT)

Base jumper makes air-to-ground high five – video
Jumping from a cliff high above Chamonix in the French Alps, Australian base jumper Nathan Jones successfully pulls off an air-to-ground high five on December 6, coming within metres of the ground as he flies through a large model hand. The stunt raised funds for the Project: Base charity Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:11:53 GMT)

Fifty Shades beats Star Wars into second place in trailer wars
The trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey is the most viewed on YouTube in 2014 with 93m views, compared to Star Wars: The Force Awakens’s 81mIt is reportedly on course to be the most-watched trailer of all time after picking up more than 50m views in its first few days of release. But the teaser for JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been beaten into second place for the most popular trailer in 2014 by the debut glimpse of mega-hyped “mommy porn” literary adaptation Fifty Shades of Grey.The teaser for Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sex drama, which stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as kinky business magnate Christian Grey and his blushing virginal paramour, Anastasia Steele, has been viewed more than 93m times since debuting on 24 July. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:50:42 GMT)

JK Rowling: Isn’t it time we left orphanages to fairytales?
Millions of children are locked away in institutions. Forget pretty murals, just close these places downIt was a black-and-white photograph in a newspaper. It showed a small boy, locked in a caged bed in a residential institution. His hands clutched what appeared to be chicken wire containing him, and his expression was agonised. There would be no Lumos – the charity dedicated to closing child institutions and so-called orphanages – if there hadn’t first been this picture. I knew the immediate shameful impulse to turn away, to hide the page, not to look.I could try to justify that impulse by saying that I was pregnant at the time, feeling vulnerable and hormonal. The sad truth remains that my instinctive reaction to that picture could stand as a metaphor for the attitude that has enabled the unjustifiable incarceration of 8 million children around this world to take place with little outrage or comment. Ashamed of that reflexive refusal to look, I forced myself to turn back to the picture and read the article. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:34:05 GMT)

Christmas truce: a mythical football match revisited 100 years later
Game between British and German forces commemorates match that was, or wasn’t, played in no man’s land“You know the match never even happened, said the curmudgeonly Aldershot cabby. “Nah, just a myth. Mind you, Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas neither.” He’d still not finished. “And Father Christmas actually used to be green till they turned him red for a Coke ad.”On Wednesday night a football match was played between the British army and German armed forces to commemorate the centenary of the match that was, or wasn’t, played in no man’s land during the first world war Christmas truce. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:31:02 GMT)

Student raises thousands of pounds for homeless man who offered her money
A Preston art student raises over £20,000 for a homeless man who tried to help her get home safelyAn art student living in Preston has raised over £21,000 for a homeless man, after she says he offered her his last £3 so that she could get a taxi home safely. Dominique Harrison-Bentzen, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home after a night out when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:13:38 GMT)

Top 10 fictional feasts in children's books
From Harry Potter’s first meal at Hogwarts to the picnics of the Famous Five, Christopher William Hill slavers over fictional food in literature.You can win your own chocolate feast plus a complete set of Christopher’s Schwartzgarten books so far by emailing childrens.books@theguardian.com by 28 December 2014 telling us why you should win. More details at the end of this top 10!My grandfather was a baker and as a boy I grew up surrounded by more good food than you could shake a stick at (though why you’d be shaking sticks at good food I really don’t know). It was hardly surprising that I grew up obsessed by food. I’d spend hours at a time reading through recipe books or cutting out pictures of delicious-looking puddings from magazines and sticking them to the walls of my bedroom. In short, I was a peculiar boy. I liked to be fed by books. Quite frankly, a book without a decent nosh up or two held little interest for me. Nowadays, as an ancient adult and author, I have to work out what my characters like (or don’t like) to eat before I can write a single word. If I can understand the food I can understand the world. My list of ten fictional feasts in children’s literature comes in no particular order – a pick-and-mix, if you like, without the peanut brittle.‘Ah,’ the Inspector said, ‘we in the Law, Master Kay, we’ve got a maxim, “It’s the easy explanation that never occurs.” You think all battle, murder and sudden death, and all the time it’s only a tyre getting a puncture, or something equally simple. And we in the Law, Master Kay, have another proverb: “Never cross the water until you come to it.” Time enough to think of making a bridge when you are at the water’s brink, but until then, don’t worry, Master Kay. And you get that good guardian of yours to see you take a strong posset every night. But you young folks in this generation, you don’t know what a posset is. Well, a posset,’ said the Inspector, ‘is a jorum of hot milk; and in that hot milk, Master Kay, you put a hegg, and you put a spoonful of treacle, and you put a grating of nutmeg, and you stir ’em well up, and you get into bed and then you take ’em down hot. And a posset like that, taken overnight, it will make a new man of you, Master Kay, while now you’re all worn down with learning.’ Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs. The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he’d never been allowed to eat as much as he liked. Dudley had always taken anything that Harry really wanted, even if it made him sick. Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the humbugs and began to eat. It was all delicious.When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the puddings appeared. Blocks of ice-cream in every flavour you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding… As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.They stopped at eleven for ice-creams and drinks. Richard seemed to have a lot of money. He insisted on buying ice-creams for all of them, even Timmy.Once again they bought food for their lunch – new bread, farm-house butter, cream cheese, crisp lettuce, fat red radishes and a bunch of spring onions. Richard bought a magnificent chocolate cake he saw in a first-class cake-shop. Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca went upstairs and peeped into the dining-room. Then they squeaked with joy! Such a lovely dinner was laid out upon the table! There were tin spoons, and lead knives and forks, and two dolly-chairs -all so convenient! Tom Thumb set to work at once to carve the ham. It was a beautiful shiny yellow, streaked with red. The knife crumpled up and hurt him; he put his finger in his mouth. “It is not boiled enough; it is hard. You have a try, Hunca Munca.” In the matter of sweets, William frankly upheld the superiority of quantity over quality. Moreover, he knew every sweet shop within a two mile radius of his home whose proprietor added an extra sweet after the scale had descended, and he patronised these shops exclusively. With solemn face and eager eye, he always watched the process of weighing, and ‘stingy’ shops were known and banned by him. He wandered now to his favourite confectioner and stood outside the window for five minutes, torn between the rival attractions of Gooseberry Eyes and Marble Balls. Both were sold at four ounces for 2d. William never purchased more expensive luxuries. At last his frowning brow relaxed and he entered the shop. Graceful trees and bushes were growing along the riverbanks – weeping willows and alders and tall clumps of rhododendrons with their pink and red and mauve blossoms. In the meadows there were thousands of buttercups. ‘There!’ cried Mr Wonka, dancing up and down and pointing his gold-topped cane at the great brown river. It’s all chocolate! Every drop of that river is hot melted chocolate of the finest quality. The very finest quality. There’s enough chocolate in there to fill every bathtub in the entire country! And all the swimming pools as well! Isn’t it terrific? And just look at my pipes! They suck up the chocolate and carry it away to all the other rooms in the factory where it is needed! Thousands of gallons an hour, my dear children! Thousands and thousands of gallons!’ Breakfast was on the table, but [Mrs Oldknow] was standing by an open door throwing crumbs on to the doorstep for the birds. There were so many of them that they seemed to drop from the branches of the trees like ripe chestnuts when the tree is shaken and as many were going up again with a piece of bread in their beaks as were coming down to get it. A few yards beyond the doorstep the garden was under water. ‘The birds are very hungry. You see, they can’t get worms, or seed, or ants’ eggs until the floods go. Would you like to be introduced to them?’ “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating,” said the Queen presently. “What would you like best to eat?” “Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.Mowzer was very partial to a plate of fresh fish. In fact she never ate anything else. But she liked a little variety. So, on Mondays they made morgy-broth, Mowzer’s favourite fish stew. On Tuesdays they baked hake and topped it with golden mashed potatoes. On Wednesdays they cooked kedgeree with delicious smoked ling. On Thursdays they grilled fairmaids, a mouth-watering meal. On Fridays they fried launces with a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon. On Saturdays they soused scad with vinegar and onions. And on Sundays they made star-gazy pie with prime pilchards in pastry. All in all, Mowzer’s days passed very pleasantly. “The time has come,” the Walrus said,“To talk of many things: Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:00:05 GMT)

The daily quiz: Christmas adverts
To mark the approach of Christmas, the research team have trawled through some old papers to come up with a quiz• Follow @GuardianQuiz on Twitter for daily notifications• Would you like to set the quiz? Email 10 questions to daily.quiz@theguardian.com along with your name, and they may be used in the weekly Friday readers' edition Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:45:00 GMT)

10 of the best Christmas and New Year’s Day fun runs and swims
If you want to shake off the festive season’s indulgences try a bracing dip or fancy dressed-up jog. Whether Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, here’s our pick of the best cold-weather plungesPart race, part pub crawl, the Windlesham Pram Race sees runners make their way along a 3.5 mile course through the village, stopping off at local pubs to refuel as they go. Runners work in teams to transport their “pram” around the course and you can expect to see some rather ambitious creations on the track; prams shaped like swans, aeroplanes, Noah’s ark and the Batmobile have all made appearances in the past. Prizes don’t only go to the fastest team, but also for the best dressed and best engineered prams. And although there’s plenty of boozing, competitors are advised to eat something on their way round too. It may be a race, but there’s no rush after all.• Registration from £5-£10, pramrace.com Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 06:00:03 GMT)

The Apprentice review – a breath of fresh air from Claude the cheesegrater
It’s the interview round where CVs and business plans are torn apart mercilessly by that marvellous bully Claude LittnerI always enjoy this one, the interview episode of The Apprentice (BBC1). And it’s taking place in the clouds, up the Leadenhall Building, AKA the Cheesegrater. So Bianca, Daniel, Roisin, Mark and Solomon take it in turn to go up in the lift to the top, in order to be grated by Claude Littner. Grated, melted, swallowed, then spat out on the pavement outside. Merry Christmas.There are other interviewers. Mike Soutar is a publishing heavyweight, we’re told, with a gift for reading between the lines. And the lies. He finds out Daniel wasn’t named salesperson of the year for the company he worked for in 2009. Seems he has self-awarded since, for the benefit of his CV, though he doesn’t see any deceit. “To be honest, Mike, I would honestly say the CV is probably underexaggerated,” he says. Honestly, Daniel? Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:00:10 GMT)

Liverpool’s ‘outstanding’ win over Bournemouth gives Rodgers new hope
• Manager believes win shows return to form for his team• ‘Our first half was as good as I’ve seen this season’• Match report: Bournemouth 1-3 LiverpoolBrendan Rodgers spied evidence that Liverpool are returning to the form which propelled them into last season’s title race after his team produced an “outstanding” performance to prevail at Bournemouth and secure a Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea in the new year.Two goals from a resurgent Raheem Sterling, his first since September, helped deflate the Championship leaders, with Liverpool now aiming to maintain the momentum in Sunday’s Premier League collision with Arsenal. Rodgers claimed the first-half performance represented the high point of his team’s form this season, with the opening goal stemming from 51 passes and a little under two and a half minutes of blanket possession. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:36:27 GMT)

Elana Meyers Taylor: ‘Some don’t want to see this happening. But it’s happening’
American bobsleigh pilot will make history on Saturday competing against men at the World Cup in Calgary and hopes to change attitudes towards women in sport generally“I’m pretty sure there are still some people who don’t want to see this happening,” Elana Meyers Taylor says. “But it’s happening.”On Saturday, in fact, when Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries are set to become the first women to compete in a four-man bobsleigh World Cup event, blazing a trail at up to 80mph on a twisting track in Calgary. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:56:55 GMT)

FA defends appointing Mark Sampson as England women’s head coach
• FA says it is committed to producing top-class-female coaches• Lord Ouseley called Sampson’s appointment ‘an insult to women’The Football Association insists it is committed to producing top-class female coaches despite turning to Mark Sampson to manage the England women’s team.The FA has faced criticism this week from anti-discrimination campaigner Lord Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out, who called the appointment of Sampson “an insult to women”. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:18:02 GMT)

Cricket in 2014: 10 memorable moments
Mike Selvey on the best, worst and most controversial moments in cricket this year • William Fotheringham on cycling • Ewan Murray on golf • Kevin Mitchell on tennis • Sean Ingle on athletics • Robert Kitson on rugby union • Paul Wilson on footballThe tragedy of Phillip Hughes’s death brought out the best in cricket. The whole of Australia mourned, it seemed, but so did the rest of the cricket world, not in a manner suggesting intrusion on to private grief, but as part of a wider family. Social media came into its own, and cricketers young and old set out bats, topped with a cap, in a collaborative worldwide tribute. It was incredibly moving. Throughout it all Michael Clarke graduated from being Australia’s cricket captain and became a national leader. His career may be in jeopardy through injury, but his reputation as a great Australian is intact. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:00:08 GMT)

Thierry Henry's greatest hits, Latvian futsal and a rapping Bubba Claus
This week’s round-up also features Norwegian uber-child Martin Odegaard, Jesse Owens racing Usain Bolt and a Boxing Day Manny Pacquiao love fest1) The churlish may well say that Thierry Henry actually retired the day he signed up for Major League Soccer, but Bobby’s mate officially turned in his cards this week, so how about a celebration of his career? We shall start at the beginning, with this young colt bashing them in for Monaco all over the place. He then of course had a forgettable spell at Juventus, but footage survives of his year in Italy, soundtracked on this occasion with some fierce funk. How about the first goal for Arsenal, against Southampton in 1999? He scored a few more for the Gunners after that, of course. Someone, bless them, has also compiled all 106 of his assists for Arsenal, too. How about ripping Real Madrid a new one after joining Barcelona? Then there was this outrageous backheel for the New York Red Bulls after heading stateside. His international career perhaps wasn’t what it could have been, but he still scored more goals at the World Cup than you. Of course, not everything he did in a France shirt was quite so, erm, yes, well …2) Another man departing the sporting stage (well, sort of) is Kumar Sangakkara, who played his last one-day international on home soil, as Sri Lanka handed England’s bottoms to them. Here’s his top Test score, a 319 against Bangladesh, top ODI score, 169 against South Africa and here he is guiding Sri Lanka home in the 2014 World Twenty20 final. And, if you’ve got a bit of time, we recommend his 2011 Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture. As handsome and erudite behind a lectern as he is with a bat. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:24:15 GMT)

Toulon threaten legal action against Leicester fans over Delon Armitage ban
• French club’s president casts doubt over supporters’ allegations• Armitage banned for 12 weeks over fan abuse at LeicesterToulon president Mourad Boudjellal claims the club could take legal action against the Leicester supporters whose testimony led to Delon Armitage being handed a 12-week suspension.English full-back Armitage was issued with his punishment on Wednesday evening, after it was alleged he used offensive language towards spectators at Welford Road in Toulon’s European Rugby Champions Cup match against the Tigers on Sunday, 7 December. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:12:04 GMT)

Newcastle consider emergency goalkeeper loan after Jak Alnwick injury
• ‘We will perhaps talk to the Premier League,’ says Alan Pardew• Jak Alnwick injured a shoulder in 4-0 defeat to TottenhamNewcastle United are facing a goalkeeping crisis and the manager Alan Pardew is considering asking the Premier League about the possibility of an emergency loan.Already without his Dutch international Tim Krul and Rob Elliott, both injured, Pardew has been relying on the 21-year-old third-choice keeper Jak Alnwick. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:56:59 GMT)

Russian rouble collapse costs Arsenal’s Alisher Usmanov £516m in 48 hours
• Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich lost nearly £300m• Usmanov is Arsenal’s second largest shareholder with 30%An index of the world’s richest people has claimed that Arsenal’s second largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov has been among the hardest hit by this week’s collapse of the rouble, with the Uzbek-born businessman losing $809m (£516m) in the last 48 hours, while Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich lost nearly $450m (£287m).The Russian currency has fallen to its lowest value in more than a decade as a result of falling oil prices. That has led to major losses among some of the country’s oligarchs, with a total of $10m (£6.4m) wiped off their collective fortunes since Monday night. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:55:37 GMT)

Rugby must heed Nick Easter’s warning over players’ changing physiques
Bulking up these days may be essential but there is reason to believe it can shorten a player’s career often at the cost of honing their skillsNick Easter had just turned 17 when rugby union became an open sport in August 1995. His career has spanned most of the professional era and even though he is closer to 40 than 30, he is an ever-present in the Harlequins pack – the last time he did not play in a league or European match for his club was in January 2013, starting every one since then – and a player who uses his experience profitably. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:46:50 GMT)

Dan Carter to become rugby's best-paid player as he signs Racing Métro deal
All Black to leave New Zealand for Paris after 2015 World Cup Fly-half will reportedly earn €1.5m euros a yearMove could signal end of Carter’s Test careerJames Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper heading for Europe Dan Carter is poised to become the world’s highest-paid rugby player when the All Blacks great moves to France after next year’s Rugby World Cup on a three-year deal with Racing Métro. The 32-year-old fly-half, capped 102 times by New Zealand, announced he had signed with the Paris club at a media conference in Auckland on Thursday.“It’s going to be an awesome adventure for me and my family,” he said of the move to the French club. “I know what the French culture and their rugby culture is like and it’s something I really love.” Pay was not discussed at the media conference but the press in Europe reports he will be on €1.5m euros ($A2.25m) a year, making him the best-paid player in the game. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 04:31:13 GMT)

England’s Joe Launchbury set to miss Six Nations because of neck surgery
• England second-row to have surgery on nerve in his neck• Wasps expect rehabilitation to take three to four months• Launchbury was ruled out of last month’s autumn seriesThe England second-row Joe Launchbury is set to miss the Six Nations campaign after Wasps announced he will face up to four months out of action following neck surgery.Launchbury was ruled out of last month’s autumn series at Twickenham because of a recurring nerve problem in his neck and at the time was told he would need six to eight weeks of rest to recover. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:44:24 GMT)

Football transfer rumours: Wesley Sneijder to join Southampton?
Today’s rumours have to get to a P.A.R.T. Why? Because we’ve got toThe incredible rags to riches story at Manchester United rolls on, with news emerging that the Old Trafford paupers, who showed such incredible strength of character, calm and togetherness when they had around two seconds of being rubbish earlier this year, have stumbled across a bit of cash and would like to spend £47m on Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels. Aw, aren’t they just adorable? It makes you want to tap-dance all the way to work.Harry Redknapp has been racking his brains for strikers that Queens Park Rangers can sign for his meeting with Tony Fernandes today, but can’t stop thinking about Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. It’s understandable, it’s like how the Mill can’t stop thinking of anything that’s not funny. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:09:55 GMT)

Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus fined €540,000 for driving without a licence
• Germany international’s fines date back to 2011• Reus: ‘I know that I was too naive and that it was stupid’The Borussia Dortmund and Germany winger Marco Reus has been fined more than half a million euros for repeatedly driving without a licence, Bild newspaper reported on Wednesday.The 25-year-old international was allegedly stopped by police several times and received speeding tickets on at least five occasions since 2011 before authorities realised he had been driving without a licence ever since. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:44:55 GMT)

Usain Bolt says any plan to cut 200m from Olympics would be ‘ridiculous’
• Newspaper said 200m one of five athletics events to be cut• ‘I think that’s just stupid,’ says six-times Olympic championUsain Bolt, the six-times Olympic champion, said reports suggesting the 200m is among five athletics events at risk of being cut from the Olympic programme are “ridiculous” and it must not be allowed to happen.“Normally I’m not a controversial person but I think that’s just stupid. Personally, track and field is the highlight of the Olympics every edition, that’s not even a question,” the Jamaican sprinter told Reuters. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:44:38 GMT)

Move over Monopoly: Market Meltdown game is the hit with Chelsea bankers
John Lewis reports strong sales of game in which players battle to dodge defaults, bonus caps and rising debtsThere will be no Christmas break from market mayhem for London’s financial elite if sales of a board game based on a banking collapse are anything to go by.Market Meltdown, which has echoes of the 2008 financial crisis that led to the worst UK recession since the second world war, is one of the bestsellers in the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square, Chelsea, an area home to hundreds of bankers and hedge fund managers. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:52:59 GMT)

Gogglebox star to leave show to stand for Ukip in general election
Andrew Michael and his family unable to continue appearing on Channel 4 series after he announced move into politicsChannel 4 hit Gogglebox is to lose one of its families after the father revealed his intention to stand for Ukip in the general election.Andrew Michael, 55, his wife Carolyne, 53, and children Louis, 17, and Alex, 24, will no longer appear on the series in which cameras film viewers as they watch TV. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:19:17 GMT)

Scissr dating app: the new Tinder for lesbians?
It’s the latest dating app for women seeking women, but what’s the app, named after a lesbian sex position, all about?It’s being tipped as the lesbian equivalent of Grindr, but “classier”, a dating app “for lesbians, by lesbians”: introducing, the none-too-subtly named, Scissr.The free app, which will be available on iOS and Android, will fill a gap in the women-seeking-women app sector. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:01:00 GMT)

Beyond Tetris: a brief history of patriotic video gaming in Russia
Retro favourite Tetris might be Russia’s best known games export, but a closer look at the industry finds a creative powerhouse that has mirrored the country’s politics for decades. The Calvert Journal reportsThe Russian gaming industry is best known for Tetris, the classic game which turned 30 this year, but has until recently had little recognition outside of the Russian-speaking world. In the west the perception of what it means to be Russian in a game (or in a film) is built on familiar tropes. They are the bad guys smoking cigarettes, swigging vodka, dressed as Soviet soldiers or gangsters.In a climate where engineering, science and mathematics were highly prized, games promised mental training. They were socially palatable, devoid of political ideology and they offered a comforting view of the world. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:45:21 GMT)

DIY patisserie: is it worth making your own croissants?
Cupcakes don’t cut it any more – in the Bake Off age, competitive cooks are turning to fancy French confections. Richard Bertinet makes the case for homemade patisserie, and guides you through the basicsCast your mind back to a time when proficient home baking meant an evenly iced coffee and walnut cake, or a tray of perfectly golden scones. No one measured their cake layers with a spirit level and only a masochist would attempt their own croissants, never mind cronuts. That has all changed in the past few years – it’s all about DIY patisserie now. This Christmas, keen home patissiers can seek inspiration in a clutch of new recipe books. These include Patisserie Maison by French baking expert Richard Bertinet, Patisserie Made Simple by Bake Off winner Edd Kimber, and La Pâtisserie des Rêves from the glamorous Parisian cake shop. There is even a book called My Paleo Patisserie for those who want to make pastries without the wheat or sugar (somewhere in a small French town, a baker is vigorously shaking his head).Like so many baking trends, this one is directly linked to The Great British Bake Off, which has a patisserie week every year. Within hours of this year’s episode, recipes for kouign-amann, a caramelised pastry hailing from Brittany, were trending on Google, and M&S rushed a line of kouign-amann into stores. But are there other reasons? It seems home bakers are growing in confidence and looking to stretch their skills. “Patisserie is the ultimate in baking,” says Kimber. “It presents challenges, so bakers looking to try something new can find plenty in the French classics.” But partly it’s because, let’s be honest, lots of us like to show off – and cupcakes just don’t cut it any more. “There are definitely home bakers that love the competitive side of baking,” says Kimber. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:11:44 GMT)

Public libraries ‘should try to emulate coffee shops’
Independent report warns of library closures if features such as free Wi-Fi are not improvedPublic libraries are facing an “absolute disaster” and should try to emulate coffee shops, the author of an independent report into the service has said.William Sieghart, who headed a panel to produce an independent report on the role of the public library service in England, warned of large-scale closures if features such as free Wi-Fi were not improved. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:06:11 GMT)

A runners' guide to the world marathon majors 2015
All you need to know about the big six: how to enter, what the course is like and how many spectators to expect. Plus some top tips from locals on where to train and where to stayWebsite: tokyo42195.org/2015en Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:00:04 GMT)

How to make use of festive leftovers
Beyond the turkey sandwich, there are myriad ways to make use of the Christmas surplus in your fridgeYou may have noticed by now that December paraphernalia is progressively accumulating around your house. Presents as yet not wrapped, the limited-edition Christmas pudding you snatched from the clutches of a rival shopper on Black Friday, unwashed laundry. But most of all, copious amounts of food. It could be because you haven’t had time to cook it or because there is something comforting about filling the house with seasonal goodies: from dates to stilton, clementines to smoked salmon and a bereft pack of 12 chicken legs with mere hours until their use-by date (and probably the occasional savoy cabbage you bought because it looked wintery and wholesome). And while there’s inspiration aplenty for using up leftovers from the day itself (usually: make whopping great turkey or stuffing sandwich), there is a dearth of advice for fridge and countertop Christmas lurkers. Here are our suggestions:• Crack as many walnuts as you can in front of Corrie/yet another Only Fools and Horses rerun for a pesto. Place in a blender with blanched, shredded savoy cabbage, squeezed of all its liquid, half a crushed garlic clove, olive oil and plenty of grated parmesan. Have with cooked pasta, simply spread on toast, or dolloped as a dressing in a green salad with sundried tomatoes and olives. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:30:11 GMT)

Are gifts from charities the best use of your donations?
The Salvation Army, Royal British Legion and Barnardo’s say money received justifies it – but many are annoyed by the tacticIn the runup to Christmas you may find charity gifts landing on your doormat, as good causes use gift tags, notepads, calendars and the like to try to raise cash. They can leave an uneasy feeling – are they a waste of supporters’ money or a savvy way to boost charity coffers?My first two Christmas presents have both been from the British Red Cross. In November I received a pack of notelets along with a pen, and two days ago I got another gift, this time two coasters and a pen. Both came with a letter asking for financial support. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:10:41 GMT)

The house from hell took me to musical heaven
A year in Newcastle – in the company of a questing housemate – showed that NME-approved music was just the tip of a huge and strange icebergRead more in our The music that changed my life seriesIn 2006, I moved to Newcastle to have a year out after university. I hadn’t really planned it; I was too late in applying for teacher training and going up to live in Newcastle for a year seemed like a laugh and more interesting than staying at home. It was a hard 12 months. I worked as a debt collector for an energy company, setting up payment plans for people who told me they couldn’t afford them and would have to stop the next week. It was depressing.The house I lived in had mushrooms growing out of the floor, it was cold and the power, which came from a capricious, evil, prepay power meter, was supplied by the company I worked for. One of the saving graces was the music I heard that year. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:00:09 GMT)

Matchbox Theatre by Michael Frayn review – ‘This is a model of what we all do in life’
Where does this exquisite book of playlets sit in relation to the playwright and novelist’s prestigious career?Mark Lawson: Are these mini-plays or short stories? A vague sense of impending farce accompanies every encounter with Michael Frayn. Like John Cleese, who played the accident-prone protagonist of the 1986 film Clockwise, the screenplay of which was written by Frayn, he has a tall slim physique that, in repose, folds up like a deckchair. His intelligence and heightened self-awareness are the kind that seem to provoke the physical world to mutiny: pipes burst, tables collapse and mobile phones ring at inopportune moments.On a recent drizzly autumn evening, the 81-year-old playwright and novelist was booked to address a gathering of people who had braved the weather to hear him speak about his new book, Matchbox Theatre. Waiting to go on, Frayn shook his head, mystified that anyone would bother turning up. “I’d never go to speak to a writer or get a book signed,” he said. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:30:04 GMT)

The US embargo is disappearing; so, too, must Cuba’s dictatorship
Supporters of the Castros have long argued that a transition to democracy is made impossible by US hostility. That excuse may no longer holdThe US embargo against Cuba is nothing less than an act of vindictiveness and spite; the fact it is finally crumbling will alleviate the suffering of millions of Cubans. It’s “just another concession to a tyranny”, wails Republican senator Marco Rubio. Such politicians risk drowning in their own hypocrisy: their selective interest in human rights does not extend to imposing an embargo against Saudi Arabia, a vicious, woman-oppressing tyranny that decapitates people for being gay or “sorcerers”. Despite sending tens of thousands of American soldiers to die (and killing countless civilians) in Vietnam, the US normalised ties with the ostensibly Communist-ruled south-east Asian nation in the 1990s. So why not Cuba?But here’s a quid pro quo. Now this long-lasting foreign policy outrage is finally having a rendezvous with common sense, opponents of the embargo need to talk a lot more loudly about democracy in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban revolution has delivered many achievements that have transformed lives: they are all the more the impressive given the nation has been embargoed by a global superpower located 90 miles away for so many decades. Its healthcare system is recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the world’s finest. Its life expectancy is roughly the same as that of the United States. The island sends tens of thousands of doctors abroad to save lives in developing nations. It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. It is a pioneer of sustainable development and a keen promoter of urban agriculture, or “organopónicos”. All of these are examples that nations – rich and poor – can and should learn from. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:23:26 GMT)

Syria: where modern and medieval warfare combines
The conflict in Syria is the defining humanitarian crisis of our time. We need more aid and pressure on both sides to relieve the sufferingMore aid is reaching more people inside Syria, but escalating violence across the country has left more people than ever in need. So warns Ban Ki-moon in his latest report on the Syria crisis. As the UN prepares to launch a humanitarian appeal for those affected by the conflict – the biggest single aid request in history – the secretary general’s report signals the urgent need for a step-change in international engagement with Syria. The lives of the country’s beleaguered civilians, and the future of hard-won norms of warfare, depend on it.Every month the number of people requiring basic assistance inside Syria rises: the figure now stands at 12.2 million. More than half of those in need have been driven from their homes, and a quarter of a million people in the suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus remain besieged, trapped in the ruins of what used to be their houses. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:00:04 GMT)

One female bishop is not enough – the church must behave more like Jesus
As the incarnation of progressive politics, Christ would be taking a stand against every evil, from the arms trade to Ukip. The Church of England needs to do the sameThe Church of England has just announced that Libby Lane is to be the first female bishop – 22 years after the General Synod decided women could be priests.Many of my generation have watched this slow change with a mixture of frustration and embarrassment as the church has made itself seem increasingly irrelevant. And yet the church is where I have found home, community, family and a life-changing faith. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:02:41 GMT)

I'm an Anonymous hacker in prison, and I am not a crook. I'm an activist
We may have hacked Sony back in the day, but we are still a social justice movement, from economic inequality to police brutality. Hacktivism is still the futureHere in prison, I am asked a lot about hacking and especially about Anonymous, because of course there is interest in new technologies like Bitcoin for money or darknets for fraud. After all, convicts – like hackers – develop their own codes and ethics, and they are constantly finding ways to scam and exploit cracks in the system. The anti-government message of Anonymous rings true among prisoners who have been railroaded, condemned and warehoused. So when they hear about hacked government websites and cops getting doxed, my fellow inmates often tell me things like, “It’s good to see people finally doing something about it.” That rejection of established, reformist avenues for achieving social change is why Anonymous continues as a force to be reckoned with, made all the more obvious by the presence of Guy Fawkes masks at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri – and beyond.Sabu betrayed me. How could we have been so foolish? Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:30:11 GMT)

A Christmas that changed me: when my secret solitude was shattered
Being alone can be bliss but Christmas really isn’t the time to insist on itThere I was, in my early 20s, single, no children, no dog, parents away on holiday, at Christmas. The perfect opportunity, I thought, to have a bit of peace and quiet. I planned to stay in, by myself, and have a lovely rest. No visiting or visitors. No panic over cooking, shopping and presents. And I like being by myself.I hadn’t told anyone my plan, because I knew no one would like it. They’d have felt sorry for me. However much I said I wanted to be by myself, my friends would never have believed it, so I’d told them I was with someone else. Because alone, to them, meant lonely. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:00:53 GMT)

Erdoğan is crushing Turkey’s media in his bid for untrammelled power
The widespread arrest of journalists in Turkey has been condemned, but Erdoğan doesn’t care – a critical press is his main obstacle to re-electionSunday’s round of arrests in Turkey, which included the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper, Zaman, the head of a TV channel and other journalists, comes as no surprise, as President Erdoğan spoke on Friday of a showdown with government critics.As I am a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press – and a frequent contributor to Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Zaman – the government’s latest move comes uncomfortably close. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:44:22 GMT)

I salute Theresa May for limiting the use of police bail
Swift victory for the Justice Delayed Justice Denied campaignThe home secretary, Theresa May, is to limit the use of police bail to 28 days. Her decision marks a swift victory for the Justice Delayed Justice Denied campaign, which was backed by several newspapers, including the Guardian.May will announce today an end to the system under which police are able to keep people on pre-charge bail for an unlimited length of time.“Innocent people have been left on pre-charge bail for years before their cases have been dropped or thrown out of court.This is a scandal. Those on it have their careers put on hold. The mental anguish of not knowing what will happen to them is in itself a form of punishment without trial: the weight of suspicion grows heavier with each day.” Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:06:26 GMT)

Steve Bell on Ed Miliband and David Cameron – cartoon
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(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:50:00 GMT)

The US may have no queen, but it has more royal families than it knows what to do with
Be it Jeb Bush or the Clintons or the Kennedys, here are people who consider power their God-given rightLast week, when Prince William and his wife, Princess Elsa from Frozen, visited the United States, Piers Morgan – the self-appointed British commentator on America – proved how little he understands the US when he wrote an article saying that the royals’ popularity with its citizens proves America should have its own monarchy.In fact, the US already has more monarchies than it knows what to do with, from the faded glories of the House of Kennedy to the glittering Court of Clinton and the defiant Dynasty of Bush. (“The Dynasty of Bush” sounds like a terribly disparaging term for Linda Evans, Kate O’Mara and Joan Collins. I must stress that I would rather eat my own hair than ever disparage Queen Joan.) Here are families who, with varying degrees of merit, exist in a world of gilded celebrity, who consider power and money their God-given right, purely because of their surname – the very definition of a monarchy. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:18:09 GMT)

Deficit mania and balanced budgets are a political fraud
George Osborne’s cuts-without-end plan has backfired, but the political class is in thrall to economic nonsenseIn Westminster and medialand George Osborne has a reputation as a master political strategist. He might have missed all his economic targets and been booed out of the London Paralympics. But this was the man, it was always said, who would set the traps to sink Labour and deliver a last-minute election turnaround in 2015.After his autumn statement backfired so spectacularly this month, how can such claims still be taken seriously? It’s not just that he failed to meet his own objectives – on the deficit, debt and growth – while living standards have been continuously cut for the majority, and slashed for the poorest. After such a performance, any continuing talk of a “long-term plan” can only be met with derision. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:04:45 GMT)

We need Red Cross protection for all our schools
After the horror of Peshawar, the world must ensure that classrooms never become instruments of warI am in Kinshasa. I am in a college hall talking to a thousand young people about education. I am handed a note of what has happened just minutes before in Peshawar, Pakistan. The children stand as one. Silence. Faces fall. We are exactly 3,960 miles from London, 4,507 miles from Peshawar, but the vast distances mean little. An event – a terrorist attack, as almost always – has united the world in outrage again: 132 children dead, murdered by the Taliban in classrooms and corridors. This horrific attack, the worst school atrocity ever, was on boys and girls everywhere.In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where violence has been common and often brutal, these students understood the enormity of what had just occurred a continent away. Why boys and girls? Why a school? Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:25:07 GMT)

Lego: can this most analogue of toys really be a modern urban planning tool?
Lego wants to be taken serious by architects, urban planners, even MIT. Can these pricey kids’ toys teach us how to build better cities, or is it all just brand hype?Quiz: Can you identify the cities from these Lego landmarks?One September day in 2005, the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson set up a few tables in a bustling downtown square in Tirana and unloaded three tonnes of Lego bricks. The Copenhagen-born, Berlin-based artist, known for his enormous, immersive installations – he once installed a gigantic, glowing sun at Tate Modern – included simple instructions: residents of the crumbling Albanian capital, which was recovering from the end of communist rule in 1990, were to construct their visions for the city’s future out of Lego. “Building a stable society,” Eliasson said, “is only possible with the involvement and co-operation of each individual.” As the days passed, everyone from kids to adults, passers-by to committed users, gradually turned the plastic rubble into a glistening white Lego metropolis.Part art installation, part crowdsourced sculpture, part urban intervention, the success of the Collectivity Project was a sign, perhaps, of our desire to become more involved in imagining the possibilities for our cities, even if our bricks-and-plastic creations will eventually be taken apart and packed up in a box. But it also signals the Lego Group’s desire for its products to be thought of as more than a child’s building blocks. In little more than a decade, the Danish company has gone from a $300m loss to overtake Mattel, the makers of Barbie, as the world’s largest toy-maker. It has achieved this through a canny mixture of movie franchising (The Hobbit, Star Wars, Harry Potter and, of course, The Lego Movie), an ever-expanding universe of video games (including Lego City for Nintendo) and even a forthcoming CBeebies TV show in 2016 based on its long-running Lego City line – featuring sets such as Lego City Museum Break-In and Lego City Prisoner Transport. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:04:32 GMT)

‘Hitler’s tourist resort’ pits German commercialism against dark Nazi past
Ethical questions raised over plans to redevelop unfinished Third Reich seaside complex into luxury holiday apartmentsBuilt by the Third Reich in the run-up to the second world war, the resort at Prora, on the island of Rügen, Germany, was a Nazi vision of tourism. Happy, healthy Aryans would stay and play at the 10,000-room complex on the Baltic sea, eating, swimming and even bowling for the Führer. Think Hitler’s Cancun.But 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the complex nicknamed the Colossus of Prora is part of a growing debate in modern Germany that pits commercialism against Vergangenheitsbewältigung – the German word for how the country should come to terms with its dark past. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:34:27 GMT)

Annie: America's orphan rides again
Created by a poet in the 19th century, Annie has been a cartoon, two films and a Broadway show, while her politics have gone from little orphan to minature Sarah Palin. What makes her so durable?The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw doesn’t like the new version of Annie, which opens on Friday. “A hundredweight of sparkly radioactive waste in a pink carton”, he calls it. He’s joining a long tradition of Annie-hate there. The last time a new version of Annie hit the big screens, in 1982 (a 1989 TV version didn’t manage to garner a following), the Los Angeles Times phrased its displeasure as that of a friend: “Golly, Annie, how could they have put you in the movies and left out your heart?” But the New York Times’ critic Vincent Canby was meaner: “If I say that I like the film far better than the show, I also must concede that the show is the sort that almost brought me out in hives.” Even the Razzies got in on the fun: Aileen Quinn, who played the titular role, was nominated for one.The film hit the pop culture jackpot anyway, making a decent amount of money at the box office and achieving immortality in endless re-airings on television. So Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Annie in the present version, should take heart. Annie’s popularity has always been a Teflon kind of thing. That’s the privilege of being a sentimental icon: pre-existing affection gets you the benefit of the doubt. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:00:00 GMT)

‘Confronting Ebola for the first time generates strong emotions’
Dr Martin Deahl, a British doctor working in Sierra Leone, describes the profound emotional impact of his first shift at an Ebola treatment centre in Port LokoDr Martin Deahl is a consultant psychiatrist from Newport in Shropshire. He recently completed his first shift in a 100-bed Ebola treatment centre built by the UK government and run by the aid agency Goal in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.After all the training, waiting and anticipation, I have just returned from my first shift in the “red zone” at the Goal Ebola treatment centre. It was an anticlimax, in the sense that everything ran smoothly, there were no dramas and, importantly, no nerves or additional anxiety. So prepared and well-drilled were we that personal protection equipment, our safety, and all the supplementary precautions necessary were carried out automatically, with the patients the total focus of attention. Continue reading...
(Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:45:15 GMT)

Cubans in Havana on a welcome surprise: ‘This is going to help us – how could it not?’
On the streets of the Cuban capital, TVs and radios were turned up as clips of Castro’s speech were played and replayed – with the hope of a new life in the new yearThe reading room of Cuba’s National Archive is normally a place of monastic calm, where academics and researchers leaf through aged volumes among card files and dusty stacks. On Wednesday, however, the customary silence was punctuated with cheers and applause as the readers gathered around a small TV to watch president Raúl Castro announce the news that many had been waiting to hear all their lives: the planned restoration of diplomatic relations with the country’s neighbour and long-time ideological foe. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:30:09 GMT)

The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy'
The smart city is, to many urban thinkers, just a buzzphrase that has outlived its usefulness: ‘the wrong idea pitched in the wrong way to the wrong people’. So why did that happen – and what’s coming in its place?A woman drives to the outskirts of the city and steps directly on to a train; her electric car then drives itself off to park and recharge. A man has a heart attack in the street; the emergency services send a drone equipped with a defibrillator to arrive crucial minutes before an ambulance can. A family of flying maintenance robots lives atop an apartment block – able to autonomously repair cracks or leaks and clear leaves from the gutters. Such utopian, urban visions help drive the “smart city” rhetoric that has, for the past decade or so, been promulgated most energetically by big technology, engineering and consulting companies. The movement is predicated on ubiquitous wireless broadband and the embedding of computerised sensors into the urban fabric, so that bike racks and lamp posts, CCTV and traffic lights, as well as geeky home appliances such as internet fridges and remote-controlled heating systems, become part of the so-called “internet of things” (the global market for which is now estimated at $1.7tn). Better living through biochemistry gives way to a dream of better living through data. You can even take an MSc in Smart Cities at University College, London. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:39:54 GMT)

Chris Ware on Here by Richard McGuire – a game-changing graphic novel
This mind-blowing book, 15 years in the making, extends from the Earth’s earliest days to beyond humanity’s extinctionI know exactly where I was: sitting on a tattered couch in the living room of my rental house in Austin, Texas, 1989. The ninth issue of the experimental comics magazine RAW, edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, had been released, and I’d bought it at a local comics shop and brought it home to read, safe from the scrutiny of the University of Texas fine arts department. For a young student of painting with ambitions to tell serious comic-strip stories, the annual appearance of the magazine in which Spiegelman’s “Maus” was being serialised was a genuine event – like a gallery show, but exploring a medium that at that time had yet to be afforded aesthetic legitimacy.A short story, “Here”, caught my eye. While many of the strips that defined RAW could be characterised as experimentally expressionistic or stylistically sophisticated, this one was bland and approachable, even homey. Across six black-and-white pages, it simply pictured the corner of a room from a fixed viewpoint, projecting a parade of moments, holidays, people, animals, biology, geology – everything, it seems, that defines and lends human life meaning – on to windows of space labelled by year (1971, 1957, 1999, 100,097BC). Birthdays, deaths, dinosaurs. In 36 panels, the universe. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:00:02 GMT)

Ukraine ceasefire leaves frontline counting cost of war in uneasy calm
Lull in fighting prompts some locals to fear Moscow is retooling its strategy, while others suspect it has abandoned themIt was mid-morning when the bombs began to fall on Artyomove, a crumbling mining town on the frontline in eastern Ukraine. One mortar landed in Nina Dmitrievna’s garden. It flattened her fence. Another hit next door, gouging a large raw hole in a black plot of vegetables and rose bushes. “I saw it fly through the air,” she said, showing off the remains - a silvery tail-fin.The mortar was fired from the nearby city of Gorlovka. In the spring, pro-Russia separatists seized a series of administrative buildings across Ukraine’s Donbass region, including in Dzerzhinsk, next door to Artyomove. In July, the separatists retreated, but they still occupy the two major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and a chunk of territory next to the Russian border. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:26:15 GMT)

The real story of the Scottish referendum: the final days of the fight for independence
As the vote neared, Britain’s breakup seemed a real possibility. In the second part of their series, based on extensive interviews with key players, Severin Carrell, Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour track the final days of an epic campaign• Read part oneIn a quaint ritual of Britain’s political calendar, the prime minister repairs to the Queen’s Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands for a weekend break at the end of every summer. The atmosphere is meant to be relaxed: the prime minister is treated to an annual barbecue served up by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who do the washing up afterwards. Tony and Cherie Blair entered into the spirit during their Balmoral stay in 1999 by conceiving their youngest son, Leo.But there was a distinct sense of unease this year when David Cameron arrived for his stay on Saturday 6 September. The Queen was taking a close interest in the referendum, and was said to have noted a poll published in the Times earlier that week, which found the no side’s lead had shrunk to only six points.I don’t think it was frosty. There might have been the odd humorous comment over the porridgeDarling was comprehensively outboxed, appearing wooden and incoherent. Salmond hit him with well-aimed jabsThe Tory leadership were so nervous that camp beds were brought in for staff to ensure that everyone was on hand Continue reading...
(Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:17:42 GMT)

Arlene Gottfried: an intimate, humorous eye for New York City's eccentricity
She’s a photographer and gospel singer who captured a bygone New York and whose brother is a successful comic. Yet it’s only now that Arlene Gottfried is getting her duesIt’s the rare New York City photo gallery show that is covered by mainstream American press, television and foreign newspapers, but the reaction to Sometimes Overwhelming is proof that singing photographer Arlene Gottfried, dubbed an “NYC treasure” by Gothamist, is having her moment right now. The show, featuring black and white photography from a pre-gentrified, pre-Instagrammed New York City, includes Brooklynites from long before that borough was a brand and denizens of the city’s parks who have mostly been eradicated.Her photos capture people with an intimacy and wry humor which hold up in a far more visually saturated world several decades later. Nonetheless, Arlene says “this is the first time I’ve gotten this kind of recognition of my work”, and describes her overall career as “a pain in the neck”. While much respected by photo editors for her eye – and hardcore gospel aficionados for her voice – Arlene has never had the widespread success of her brother Gilbert Gottfried, the standup comic and voice behind Iago the Parrot in Disney’s Aladdin. Indeed, many people who know her sensitive photography, or who hear her sing in church, are shocked when they learn she is the sister of the man behind the crudest version of “the aristocrats” joke. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:00:09 GMT)

Darius Kazemi: the Oscar Wilde of internet bots – Tech Weekly podcast
How Twitter and Tumblr bots use algorithmic skill to bring wit, warmth and a critical eye to internet culture Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:23:00 GMT)

Peshawar massacre is a reminder that militant threat still potent in south Asia
The rise of Islamic State has seen western intelligence agencies switch their focus away from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but terrorist activity in the region has surged in recent monthsThe horrific attack on the school in Peshawar is a blunt reminder that the Middle East does not have a monopoly on Islamic militant violence. For many years, it was Afghanistan and Pakistan – the latter dubbed “the world’s most dangerous place” by a US magazine in 2007 – that were the primary concern of security and law-enforcement agencies around the world.To those on the ground it has long been clear that any problems in “Af-Pak” did not decline as young European Muslims decided to head to Raqqa to experience jihad first hand rather than North Waziristan, either when Osama bin Laden was killed in a US special forces raid on a safehouse in northern Pakistan in 2011 or when policymakers decided to drastically scale back the west’s involvement in Afghanistan. Instead, civilians and security personnel in both south Asian states continue to be killed in large numbers. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:36:57 GMT)


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(Fri, 12 Dec 2014 10:33:48 GMT)

A black man in a tuxedo? Must be a waiter. Obamas recall everyday racism they faced
Barack Obama tells People magazine how he was mistaken for a parking valet at a restaurant while Michelle describes being taken for a shop assistant in TargetAs national protests over the death of unarmed black men by white police officers pushed race relations to the top of the headlines, President Barack Obama revealed his own experiences of racism including being mistaken for a waiter and a parking valet. In an interview with People magazine published on Wednesday, Obama and his wife Michelle Obama said that before moving into the White House nearly six years ago, they faced prejudice, stereotyping and had trouble catching taxis. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:46:57 GMT)

Gérard Depardieu launches luxury watch in Russia amid economic turmoil
French actor and Russian citizen says luxury depends on ‘spiritual strength’, not rouble, at launch for £10,000 watch called ‘Proud to Be Russian’Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With the Russian economy suffering from its worst week in recent history, one of the country’s newest citizens, French actor Gérard Depardieu, chose the moment to launch a luxury watch collection.The collection, designed by Swiss watchmaker Custos, is named “Proud to be Russian”. The timepieces feature a Russian double-headed eagle on the face, with gold trim, and prices start at 15,000 Swiss francs (about £10,000). For Russians, the price will seem significantly more expensive given the dramatic drop in the rouble this year. But at the launch, a cheerful Depardieu told them not to worry. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:13:00 GMT)

'Stephen Colbert' is dead, long live Stephen Colbert!
As Colbert prepares to bid farewell to his Comedy Central show and his acerbic, satirical alter ego, Hadley Freeman points out why life without ‘Colbert’ might not be so badIf, as is widely anticipated, the final – and fatal – guest on The Colbert Report will be The Grim Reaper, he will be dragging off not just one of America’s finest political satirists, but also one of the few actually entertaining interviewers to be found on US TV.‘Stephen Colbert’, as the comedian Stephen Colbert’s blow-hard Bill O’Reilly-esque alter ego is known, is widely agreed to be one of the funniest, gutsiest and sharpest satirical creations in the 21st century. Just his 2006 roasting of a distinctly unamused George W Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner (the person who booked him didn’t realise ‘Colbert’ was actually a parody of a right-winger) would have been enough to grant him legendary status, never mind nine years of a late night talkshow that has been never anything less than hilarious and frequently brilliant. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:00:10 GMT)

American Apparel CEO Dov Charney fired: the fall of a merchant of sleaze
Charney thought his unsavory act was inseparable from his company’s edgy brand, and so did many others – until now. Few will mourn his departureIt’s not normal for the board and shareholders of a publicly owned company to have to watch a video on YouTube of their chief executive dancing naked in front of female colleagues and wonder what to do about it.It’s not normal for the chief executive of a public company to face repeated, public and sleazy allegations of sexual misconduct even if the allegations are denied, dismissed, settled or sent to arbitration. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:29:26 GMT)

Imtiaz Dharker awarded Queen’s gold medal for poetry
Carol Ann Duffy praises Pakistan-born British poet for her ‘unique perspective in the diversity of English-language poetry’The Pakistan-born British poet Imtiaz Dharker has been awarded the Queen’s gold medal for poetry, joining an illustrious roll call that includes WH Auden, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes.Buckingham Palace announced on Wednesday that Dharker would be the 2014 recipient of a prestigious prize created in 1933 by George V at the suggestion of the then poet laureate John Masefield. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:46:17 GMT)

JK Rowling confirms that there were Jewish wizards at Hogwarts
The author reveals the name of a Jewish wizard from the first Harry Potter book and assures fans ‘the only people I never imagined there are Wiccans’JK Rowling shares her favourite Harry Potter quoteRowling opens further windows on Harry Potter’s world for AdventThese are happy days for Harry Potter fans. Not only are they getting daily snippets of a new Harry Potter “ghost plot” that JK Rowling is unveiling for Advent on her website Pottermore, but the author - always very active on Twitter - has also taken to the social network to confirm that Hogwarts was, or is, a diverse school. In response to inquiries from her Jewish fans, Rowling clarified last night that there were Jewish students at the wizardry school and revealed the name of one of them, Anthony Goldstein, who was among the original 40 students she created for the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She also assured fans there would be LGBT students in the school, as well as anyone from any “religion/belief/non-belief system” – except for Wiccans (a reference perhaps to the longrunning debate among American fundamentalists as to whether the saga promoted witchcraft)..@benjaminroffman Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard..@GredxForgex Me too! But it's a different concept of magic to the one laid out in the books, so I don't really see how they can co-exist.OK, let me clarify that! Anthony isn't the first Jewish student, nor is he the only one. I just have reasons for knowing most about him!To everyone asking whether their religion/belief/non-belief system is represented at Hogwarts: the only people I never imagined there 1/2are Wiccans..@HikePenido No, I am happy to confirm that you are entirely normal..@indigo_15 Exactly. He's one of the original forty students I created in Harry's year.@jk_rowling it's safe to assume that Hogwarts had a variety of people and I like to think it's a safe place for LGBT students.@claraoswiin But of course. pic.twitter.com/Galu47MT4X Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:16:41 GMT)

Chris Brown and bodyguard skip prison sentence for connection with assault
Judge who convicted singer’s bodyguard of punching a man in Washington in 2014 has given him a sentence that keeps him out of jailNeither Chris Brown nor his bodyguard will go to jail in connection with their assault of a man in October 2013. Although bodyguard Christopher Hollosy was convicted of misdemeanour assault and Brown pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault and was sentenced to time served, a Washington, DC, superior court has ruled that they will not have to serve any more time behind bars.On 16 December, Judge Patricia Wynn sentenced Christopher Hollosy to 90 days in jail for his misdemeanour assault of Parker Adams outside Washington’s W Hotel. But Wynn also suspended the sentence, meaning that Hollosy remains free unless he violates his one-year probation. Brown was also spared jail time: he pleaded guilty to the same charge in September, receiving a sentence of time served. Continue reading...
(Wed, 17 Dec 2014 10:31:43 GMT)

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