Showing posts with label london. Show all posts
Showing posts with label london. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

China: The world's cleverest country?

Chinese girls students
Chinese School Students
China's results in international education tests - which have never been published - are "remarkable", says Andreas Schleicher, responsible for the highly-influential Pisa tests.

These tests, held every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, measure pupils' skills in reading, numeracy and science.

Pisa tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment - have become the leading international benchmark.

The findings indicate that China has an education system that is overtaking many Western countries.

While there has been intense interest in China's economic and political development, this provides the most significant insight into how it is teaching the next generation.

'Incredible resilience'

The Pisa 2009 tests showed that Shanghai was top of the international education rankings.

But it was unclear whether Shanghai and another chart-topper, Hong Kong, were unrepresentative regional showcases.

Mr Schleicher says the unpublished results reveal that pupils in other parts of China are also performing strongly.

"Even in rural areas and in disadvantaged environments, you see a remarkable performance."

In particular, he said the test results showed the "resilience" of pupils to succeed despite tough backgrounds - and the "high levels of equity" between rich and poor pupils.

"Shanghai is an exceptional case - and the results there are close to what I expected. But what surprised me more were the results from poor provinces that came out really well. The levels of resilience are just incredible.

"In China, the idea is so deeply rooted that education in the key to mobility and success."

Investing in the future

The results for disadvantaged pupils would be the envy of any Western country, he says.

Mr Schleicher is confident of the robustness of this outline view of China's education standards.

In an attempt to get a representative picture, tests were taken in nine provinces, including poor, middle-income and wealthier regions.

The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.

But Mr Schleicher says the results reveal a picture of a society investing individually and collectively in education.

On a recent trip to a poor province in China, he says he saw that schools were often the most impressive buildings.

He says in the West, it is more likely to be a shopping centre.

"You get an image of a society that is investing in its future, rather than in current consumption."

There were also major cultural differences when teenagers were asked about why people succeeded at school.

"North Americans tell you typically it's all luck. 'I'm born talented in mathematics, or I'm born less talented so I'll study something else.'

"In Europe, it's all about social heritage: 'My father was a plumber so I'm going to be a plumber'.

"In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: 'It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.'

"They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say 'I'm the owner of my own success', rather than blaming it on the system."

Education's World Cup

This year will see another round of Pisa tests - it's like World Cup year for international education. And Mr Schleicher's tips for the next fast-improving countries are Brazil, Turkey and Poland.

Mr Schleicher, a German based in the OECD's Paris headquarters, has become the godfather of such global education comparisons.

Armed with a spreadsheet and an impeccably polite manner, his opinions receive close attention in the world's education departments.

The White House responded to the last Pisa results with President Barack Obama's observation that the nation which "out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow".

The next round of global league tables will test 500,000 pupils in more than 70 countries - with the results to be published late next year.

Education ministers will be looking nervously at the outcome.

"In the past, politicians could always say we're doing better than last year - everyone could be a success," he says, describing the tendency for national results to rise each year.

The arrival of Pisa tests sent an icy draught through these insulated corridors.

No excuses

Perhaps the biggest discomfort of all was for Germany - where "Pisa shock" described the discovery that their much vaunted education system was distinctly average.

And the biggest change in attitude, he says, has been the United States - once with no interest in looking abroad, now enthusiastically borrowing ideas from other countries.

"Education is a field dominated by beliefs and traditions, it's inward looking. As a system you can find all kinds of excuses and explanations for not succeeding.

"The idea of Pisa was to take away all the excuses.

"People say you can only improve an education system over 25 years - but look at Poland and Singapore, which have improved in a very short time, we've seen dramatic changes."

The biggest lesson of the Pisa tests, he says, is showing there is nothing inevitable about how schools perform.

"Poverty is no longer destiny. You can see this at the level of economies, such as South Korea, Singapore."

Fair comparison?

A criticism of such rankings has been that it is unfair. How can an impoverished developing country be compared with the stockpiled multiple advantages of a wealthy Scandinavian nation?

Here Mr Schleicher makes a significant distinction. It might not be fair, but such comparisons are extremely relevant. "Relevance and fairness are not the same thing," he says.

Youngsters in the poorest countries are still competing in a global economy. "It's a terrible thing to take away the global perspective."

He also attacks the idea of accepting lower expectations for poorer children - saying this was the "big trap in the 1970s".

"It was giving the disadvantaged child an excuse - you come from a poor background, so we'll lower the horizon for you, we'll make it easier.

"But that child has still got to compete in a national labour market.

"This concept of 'fairness' is deeply unfair - because by making life easier for children from difficult circumstances, we lower their life chances."

'Sorting mechanism'

So why are the rising stars in Asia proving so successful?

Mr Schleicher says it's a philosophical difference - expecting all pupils to make the grade, rather than a "sorting mechanism" to find a chosen few.

He says anyone can create an education system where a few at the top succeed, the real challenge is to push through the entire cohort.

In China, he says this means using the best teachers in the toughest schools.

The shifting in the balance of power will be measured again with Pisa 2012, with pupils sitting tests from Stockholm to Seoul, London to Los Angeles, Ankara to Adelaide.

"I don't think of Pisa as being about ranking, it tells you what's possible. How well could we be doing?"

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Malaysia Airlines launches kid-free economy zone

malaysia airlines
Malaysia Airlines' first A380 service, nonstop between Kuala Lumpur and London
Looking for a child-free flight? Malaysia's flag carrier plans to reserve the upper economy deck on its new A380 service for adults only

If you want to stir up a fiery debate -- or maybe even a fist fight -- start talking about air travel and children. Inevitably, someone will declare that airlines should offer “kid-free flights.”

While that’s yet to happen, Malaysia Airlines might have come up with the next best thing. A kid-free economy upper deck aboard its first A380 service, nonstop between Kuala Lumpur and London, which takes off July 1.

Families traveling with under-12s –- including babes-in-arms -- will be automatically allocated seats in the main all-economy lower deck, says a Malaysia Airlines spokesperson.

But before we all jump to brand the decision makers at the flag carrier as a bunch of child-hating monsters, the airline is quick to point out that the 350 economy seats on the main deck of its new A380s will be enhanced and designated as a family and children-friendly inflight zone.

And if there’s overwhelming demand for seats in economy class from families with children and infants, resulting in full load in the main deck, “we will still accommodate such demand in the 70-seat upper deck economy class zone of our A380.“

This isn’t the first time Malaysia Airlines brought in a controversial policy relating to kids in the sky. Last year, the airline decided to ban infants from first class on its 747-400 routes. The decision won cheers from some -- and words you’d never say in front of your kids from others.

Given their penchant for boldly going where no airline has dared before, here's hoping Malaysia Airlines' next move will be to designate a special zone for drunks and passengers who forgot to take a shower before their flight. 
Sky nannies and 'Kargo Kids'

While Malaysia Airlines is the first to ban or segregate the little ones on flights, other airlines do recognize that traveling with young kids on long-haul flights isn't easy.

Several airlines, such as Gulf Air and Emirates, offer passengers free in-flight nanny services that range from helping with meals to entertaining the kids while mom watches a movie. 

In the United States, a new website hooks up fliers with nannies looking to make a few extra bucks. Called "Nanny in the Clouds," passengers can sign up for free and search for potential babysitters scheduled to take the same flight.

Canadian low-cost airline WestJet, meanwhile, doesn't offer nanny services but it did attract a lot of attention earlier this month with a hilarious April Fool's Day joke.

On April 1, the airline launched a video advertising a new service dubbed “Kargo Kids” in which parents check their kids in with their luggage. The parents enjoy the flight, the kids are sent down to their own special club in the cargo hold.  

Not a bad idea, really.

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Earth Hour aims for lights off across the globe

Empire State Building, New York, Big Ben, London, Eiffel Tower
Empire State Building in New York, Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris

(CNN) -- On Saturday, European Space Agency astronaut and World Wildlife Fund ambassador André Kuipers will watch from the International Space Station as each time zone hits 8:30 p.m. -- and track to see who on Earth turns out the lights.

Kuipers will blog from 240 miles above the planet as part of the Earth Hour, an annual event that encourages homes, businesses and governments to turn off their lights for one hour to build awareness about energy use and climate change.

"We are living beyond our means. That is not sustainable," says Andy Ridley, co-founder and executive director of Earth Hour. "We want to unite people around the world to build a sustainable future."

The message seems to hit home. Earth Hour 2012 has commitments from individuals, companies and landmarks to switch off lights in 147 countries and territories and over 5,000 cities, organizers say.

Sydney's Opera House is scheduled to go dark, followed by Asian landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the Tokyo Tower, Taipei 101 and the India Gate. In Dubai, the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, will switch off its lights.

Other landmarks pledged to switch off: The Eiffel Tower in Paris, London's Big Ben, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and the Empire State Building in New York.

Kuipers will watch the spectacle from orbit, sharing photos and live commentary on the event from space for the first time.

Taking place on the last Saturday each March, the numbers of people and countries participating has increased each year, Ridley says.

"It became easier than ever to connect people around the world," says Ridley. But Earth Hour's long term goal is to go "beyond the hour." For Ridley, the important question is not if action on climate change is happening, but "is it happening fast enough," he says.

"We need to move a lot further, faster and as soon as possible. That is the big challenge, that we all move and that the economies can adapt to the change."

Organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007, when WWF-Australia encouraged 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businessmen to turn off their lights for one hour to support action on climate change.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Charlotte Church 'sickened' by NoW phone hacking

Charlotte Church 'sickened' by NoW phone hacking
Charlotte Church
Charlotte Church says she was "sickened and disgusted" by what she discovered during her legal action against News International over phone hacking.

Ms Church and her parents have agreed damages and costs of £600,000 with News Group Newspapers - publishers of the defunct News of the World.

The High Court heard the singer's phone was hacked when she was 16 years old.

The court agreed that 33 articles in the paper had been due to her family's voicemails being hacked.

The settlement includes £300,000 in legal costs and a public apology.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Ms Church said it was an "important day" for her and her family.

"I brought this legal claim with my parents, as many others have done, because we wanted to find out the truth about what this newspaper group had done in the pursuit of stories about our family.

"What I have discovered as the litigation has gone on has sickened and disgusted me.

"Nothing was deemed off limits by those who pursued me and my family, just to make money for a multinational news corporation."
'Deeply traumatised'

The court heard Ms Church's phone was hacked in 2002 and journalists also placed her under surveillance and gained access to her medical records.

The court heard her mother, Maria, was at "her lowest ebb" and was "coerced" into an interview with the paper's journalists about how she had self-harmed and attempted suicide after reporters gained information from hacked voicemails about her medical history.

The family's solicitor, Mike Brookes, told the court: "She felt she had no choice but to give the interview and was deeply traumatised by the publication of the story in the NoW."

He said: "The NoW targeted Charlotte and her voicemail messages repeatedly, and in doing so unlawfully obtained her private medical information and details of her personal relationships with her family and friends.

"Even her first teenage boyfriend. They then ran stories about Charlotte using this information."

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the award, the last of the first wave of 60 settlements, was one of the highest. Former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell was awarded £200,000, while actor Jude Law received £130,000.

He said it gave an insight into some of the things that had taken place and the deeply personal nature of the intrusion which Ms Church was clearly very, very angry about outside court.

"We got a sense of how important the process of litigation here is, the process of discovery, with Ms Church saying it has only been in the last few days that she really learned the full extent of what had been happening," our correspondent added.
'Not truly sorry'

Ms Church said she had discovered that, despite an apology she believed the paper was "not truly sorry, only sorry they got caught".

She added that "money could never mend the damage that was done," and she would use her portion of the settlement to protect her children from further invasions of privacy.

Michael Silverleaf QC, for NGN, said: "NGN acknowledges that they should never have had to endure what they have suffered and that NGN are liable for the damage that they have caused," he said.

The 26-year-old singer said she was now planning to focus on helping the criminal investigation and Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media ethics.

In November, she told the Leveson Inquiry that her mother had attempted suicide "at least in part" because she had known the newspaper was going to publish details of her father's affair.

She told the hearing paparazzi had taken pictures up her skirt, there were photographers outside her house on most days and her manager had found evidence of a camera hidden in a shrub outside her home.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Floating house rises to flooding challenge

Floating house rises to flooding challenge
An "amphibious house" design was recently granted planning permission
London (CNN) -- Building a home with a floor beneath ground on a plot next to a flood-prone river might seem like a recipe for disaster. But not when it's designed to float.

The "amphibious house" was recently granted planning permission for construction on a island on the River Thames in Marlow -- a small town 35 miles west of London.

The upper part of the house is constructed from lightweight timber, according to its creators Baca Architects, while a concrete basement level sits inside a "wet dock" consisting of a base slab and four retaining walls.

Should the worst happen the house turns into a "free-floating pontoon" with vertical guideposts running up the building's exterior preventing it from drifting off downstream.

Sea level rise: Impacts and mitigation measures

A terraced garden will also surround the property encouraging incremental flooding while also helping manage run-off when water levels start to subside.

Richard Coutts, director of Baca Architects said in a statement: "From the outset, we sought the expert advice of the (UK) Environment Agency to determine the most appropriate construction model to mitigate flood risk on the site and provide a safe dwelling, sympathetic to its setting and fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

"Amphibious design is one of a host of solutions that can enable residents to live safely and to adapt to the challenges of climate change," he added.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adele and Ed Sheeran win at UK music's Brit Awards

Adele in UK music Awards
LONDON (AP) — Soulful songstress Adele capped a momentous year of Grammy Awards triumph and medical woes with a double win at the U.K.'s Brit music awards Tuesday, taking prizes for album of the year and best British female solo artist before making an obscene gesture after the show's host cut her acceptance speech short.

Teen-friendly English troubadour Ed Sheeran won two trophies, including British male solo artist, at an energetic ceremony in London.

It has been a dramatic year for down-to-earth north London diva Adele, who based her chart-topping songs of heartbreak on a rocky relationship.

Her sophomore album "21" won six Grammys last week and has sold more than 6 million copies in the United States alone. But Adele also had to undergo vocal cord surgery in November to fix a potentially career-threatening throat condition.

She delivered a powerhouse performance of her single "Rolling in the Deep" to thousands of fans and industry insiders at London's O2 arena.

"It's been an amazing year," Adele said as she received the female artist statuette from petite pop star Kylie Minogue.

"I feel like a drag queen next to you," joked the winner, who wore a sleek black Burberry gown but towered over Minogue. She thanked her record company "for letting me be the kind of artist I want to be."

The show's host, actor James Corden, cut off Adele's second acceptance speech, prompting the singer to make a rude middle-finger gesture in frustration.

She stressed afterward that it was aimed at industry leaders, not her fans.

"I'm sorry if I offended anyone but it was the suits that offended me," Adele said. "Thank you all very much and thanks to my fans. I don't want them to think I was swearing at them."

The show's broadcaster, ITV, issued a statement apologizing to Adele for cutting her off.

"We regret this happened and we send deepest apologies to Adele that her big moment was cut short tonight due to the live show over-running," ITV said.

The 23-year-old lost out on the British single prize to boy band One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," but took the coveted album of the year award for "21." The statue was presented by singer George Michael, returning to the stage after suffering life-threatening pneumonia in December.

The ceremony also included tributes to two departed divas, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse.

Tousle-haired singer-songwriter Sheeran won prizes for solo artist and British breakthrough act.

The red-headed 21-year-old has been panned as bland by some critics, but has amassed legions of young fans through online releases and a relentless calendar of shows.

Sheeran thanked his manager for transforming a "spotty, chubby ginger teenager" into a Brit-winner.

Long derided as dull, the Brits have become a lively celebration of U.K. music and style — and this year's awards come with British music riding high around the world.

"I'm so, so proud to be British and to be flying our flag," said Adele, who has the century's best-selling album so far.

Tuesday's event — which kicked off with Coldplay performing "Charlie Brown" and included live turns from Sheeran, Florence and the Machine, Noel Gallagher, Bruno Mars and Rihanna — brought out a host of stars who blended rock 'n' roll attitude and fashion finery.

Blur frontman Damon Albarn dressed down for the red carpet in jeans and a flat cap, and former Oasis guitarist Gallagher wore a leather jacket. But others struck a snazzier note. Actor Ray Winstone arrived in a pinstriped three-piece suit, complete with watch chain.

Style standouts included Minogue, in a strapless sky blue dress; plump-lipped Internet sensation Lana Del Rey, wearing a floor-length red gown; and Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch, in a lacy peach dress by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen.

Coldplay won their fourth best British group trophy, while Foo Fighters were voted best international group.

Bruno Mars took the prize for international male solo artist, and Rihanna won the international female prize for a second year.

The Barbadian singer, who has often been in the news for non-musical reasons since her then-boyfriend Chris Brown attacked her at a pre-Grammy Awards party in 2009, thanked her fans.

"At times when I feel misunderstood, my fans always remind me that it's OK to be myself," she said.

Lana Del Rey appeared moved to be named international breakthrough act.

"This award means much more to me than you know," said the singer, who has gone from Internet-fueled buzz to backlash in record time after a disastrous performance last month on "Saturday Night Live."

Britpop icons Blur received a special prize for their contribution to music.

The four original members — Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree — performed together for the first time since a series of concerts in 2009, offering versions of 1990s hits including "Girls & Boys" and "Parklife."

Most of the awards are chosen by more than 1,000 musicians, critics and record industry figures, with several decided by public vote.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Pakistan helps the U.S. drone campaign

US Drone
US Drone
(Reuters) - The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the U.S.-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions.

The Jan 10 strike -- and its follow-up two days later -- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.

They made use of Pakistani "spotters" on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

"Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship," the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. "It's more productive."

U.S. and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a U.S.-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.

That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in U.S. President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which U.S. officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the U.S. official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.

"We run a network of human intelligence sources," he said. "Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.

"Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our U.S. and UK friends," he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint "priority of targets lists" in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.

"Al Qaeda is our top priority," he said.

He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and "marked," his network coordinates with drone operators on the U.S. side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles north of the capital.

From spotting to firing a missile "hardly takes about two to three hours," he said.


It was impossible to verify the source's claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis' cooperation has been less helpful in the past.

U.S. officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape.

Drone strikes have been a sore point with the public and Pakistani politicians, who describe them as violations of sovereignty that produce unacceptable civilian casualties.

The last strike before January had been on Nov 16, 10 days before 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in what NATO says was an inadvertent cross-border attack on a Pakistani border post.

That incident sent U.S.-Pakistan relations into the deepest crisis since Islamabad joined the U.S.-led war on militancy following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. On Thursday, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said ties were "on hold" while Pakistan completes a review of the alliance.

The United States sees Pakistan as critical to its efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency.

Some U.S. and Pakistani officials say that both sides are trying to improve ties. As part of this process, a U.S. official said, it is possible that some permanent changes could be made in the drone program which could slow the pace of attacks.

The security source said very few innocent people had been killed in the strikes. When a militant takes shelter in a house or compound which is then bombed, "the ones who are harboring him, they are equally responsible," he said.

"When they stay at a host house, they (the hosts) obviously have sympathies for these guys."

He denied that Pakistan helped target civilians.

"If ... others say innocents have been targeted, it's not true," he said. "We never target civilians or innocents."

The New America Foundation policy institute says that of 283 reported strikes from 2004 to Nov 16, 2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 people were killed. Between 293 and 471 were thought to be civilians -- approximately 17 percent of those killed.

The Brookings Institution, however, says civilian deaths are high, reporting in 2009 that "for every militant killed, 10 or more civilians also died." Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, also said in April 2011 that "the majority of victims are innocent civilians."

Still, despite its public stance, Pakistan has quietly supported the drone program since Obama ramped up air strikes when he took office in 2009 and even asked for more flights.

According to a U.S. State Department cable published by anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, Pakistan's chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani in February 2008 asked Admiral William J. Fallon, then-commander of U.S. Central Command, for increased surveillance and round-the-clock drone coverage over North and South Waziristan.

The security source said Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, also was supportive of the strikes, albeit privately.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fears of mutant virus escape halt bird flu study

Bird flu in US 2012
Bird Flu
(Reuters) - Researchers studying a potentially more lethal, airborne version of the bird flu virus have suspended their studies because of concerns the mutant virus they have created could be used as a devastating form of bioterrorism or accidentally escape the lab.

In a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday, 39 scientists defended the research as crucial to public health efforts, including surveillance programs to detect when the H5N1 influenza virus might mutate and spark a pandemic.

But they are bowing to fear that has become widespread since media reports discussed the studies in December that the engineered viruses "may escape from the laboratories" -- not unlike the frightful scenario in the 1971 science fiction movie "The Andromeda Strain" -- or possibly be used to create a bioterror weapon.

Among the scientists who signed the letter were leaders of the two teams that have spearheaded the research, at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as influenza experts at institutions ranging from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the University of Hong Kong.

The decision to suspend the research for 60 days "was totally voluntarily," virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus told Reuters. The pause is meant to allow global health agencies and governments to weigh the benefits of the research and agree on ways to minimize its risk.

"It is the right thing to do, given the controversies in the U.S.," Fouchier said.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December had asked Science and Nature to censor details of the research from the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams that was submitted for publication.

Biosecurity experts fear that a form of the virus that is transmissible through airborne droplets--which the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams independently created--could spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu that killed up to 40 million people.

"There is obviously a controversy here over the right balance between risk and benefit," says virologist Daniel Perez of the University of Maryland, who signed the letter supporting the moratorium. "I strongly believe that this research needs to continue, but that doesn't mean you can't call a time out."

The researchers' decision shifts the focus of debate from whether the studies should be made public to whether they should have been done at all, given the theoretical possibility that a highly infectious virus could be stolen or escape from a lab. Some of the studies were funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, told Reuters that the decision to fund the research was justified.

"The proposal the investigators put forth to do this research was appropriate," said Fauci, who was "actively involved" in the decision to call a moratorium on the research. "The value of the research is clear, as even the biosecurity board unanimously agreed."


In its current form, people can contract H5N1 only through close contact with ducks, chickens, or other birds that carry it, and not from infected individuals.

But when H5N1 acquires mutations that allow it to live in the upper respiratory tract rather than the lower, it can travel via airborne droplets between infected ferrets, which are considered good models of how flu viruses behave in people.

The teams at Wisconsin, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and Erasmus induced as few as three mutations that allow the virus to be transmitted through the air between ferrets. It is not known whether the mutant H5N1 can be spread between people in a similar way, by coughing or sneezing, since such experiments would be unethical.

But the fear is that the mutations that allow H5N1 to spread via the air between ferrets would allow it to do in people, making it exponentially more contagious.

To give the scientific community and governments time to determine whether the research can be conducted safely, the scientists write, "We have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses" that produce easily contagious forms of the virus.

In particular, they wrote, no experiments with live, mutant viruses "already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time."

Fouchier noted in an essay published Thursday in Nature that other laboratories around the world may also be close to an airborne bird flu virus, and may not even be aware of it.


Critics have more recently raised concerns over the safety of the physical environment in which the experiments were being conducted, in addition to the question over whether details of the research should be made public. For now, Science and Nature are withholding publication of the studies.

Nature reported last month that both experiments on mutant viruses were carried out in labs rated "biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) enhanced," which "require scientists to shower and change clothes when leaving the lab, and include other safety features such as negative air pressure and passing exhaust air through high-efficiency particulate air filters."

That is widely believed to protect against an accidental release of the virus. But some virologists argue that the more stringent BSL-4 precautions are needed. BSL-4, which is required for research on, among other microbes, the Ebola virus, includes full-body positive air-pressure suits like astronauts use. In the past, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus has escaped from BSL-3, and possibly BSL-4, labs.

"It's a responsible decision to suspend work on these viruses while agreement is being reached," said Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London. "I hope that these issues can be resolved and that this vital work will continue under appropriate conditions and not be driven underground."

Scientists and government officials are expected to meet in Geneva in February at the World Health Organization, to decide how research on mutant H5N1 should proceed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Breast milk ice cream goes on sale in Covent Garden

ice cream
Ice Cream made of Breast Milk
A restaurant in London's Covent Garden is serving a new range of ice cream, made with breast milk.

The dessert, called Baby Gaga, is churned with donations from London mother Victoria Hiley, and served with a rusk and an optional shot of Calpol or Bonjela.

Mrs Hiley, 35, said if adults realised how tasty breast milk was more new mothers would be encouraged to breastfeed.

Each serving of Baby Gaga at Icecreamists costs £14.

Mrs Hiley's donation was expressed on site and pasteurised before being churned with Madagascan vanilla pods and lemon zest.

Icecreamists founder Matt O'Connor placed an advert appealing for breast milk donations and believes his new recipe will be a success.

"If it's good enough for our children, it's good enough for the rest of us," he said.

"Some people will hear about it and go yuck - but actually it's pure organic, free-range and totally natural."

He added that the ice cream was not certified organic.

Mrs Hiley, who gets £15 for every 10 ounces of milk she donates to the company, said it was a great "recession beater".

"What's the harm in using my assets for a bit of extra cash?" she added.

"I teach women how to get started on breastfeeding their babies. There's very little support for women and every little helps."

Mr O'Connor said 14 other women had come forward to offer their services. Health checks for the lactating women were the same used by hospitals to screen blood donors.

"No-one's done anything interesting with ice cream in the last hundred years," he added.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Swiss bank chief to respond over wife's dollar trade

swiss-bank-chief-Philipp Hildebrand
Phlilpp Hildebrand, Swiss bank cheif
(Reuters) - Switzerland's central bank chief will break his silence on Thursday over a controversial currency trade made by his wife three weeks before he imposed a cap on the Swiss franc.

Philipp Hildebrand's decision to speak came after the sacking on Tuesday of a bank employee who leaked details of the trade to the lawyer of a political adversary.

The affair goes to the heart of bank secrecy in Switzerland, whose banks are plagued by scandals over their role in tax avoidance by the world's wealthy, but where controversy over the actions of the central banker's wife has been centered on the leak of her private data rather than on the action it revealed.

Kashya Hildebrand, a former trader who also owns a Zurich art gallery, told Swiss television she "felt good" about the deal last August. Local tabloid Blick reported it had yielded a 60,000 Swiss franc ($64,400) profit on a 500,000 franc trade.

"What motivated me to buy dollars was the fact that it was at a record low and was almost ridiculously cheap," she was quoted as saying. "As I have worked in the financial and banking industry for over 15 year and always observe the markets, I felt at ease with this transaction."

The Swiss National Bank has already investigated the trade and said last month it did not breach the letter of internal rules.

On Wednesday, it bowed to political pressure and published internal trading rules for the first time -- alongside a report by auditor Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) on the controversial dollar purchase.

PwC said Hildebrand had not known in advance about his wife's dealings on August 15, but that one day later, he told Sarasin in an email all future dealing would need his express approval. He copied in the Swiss National Bank's (SNB) compliance department for good measure.

His caution was well warranted. On September 7 the SNB's compliance department ruled that there should be no repeat of such trades, the PwC report said. The Swiss franc cap was introduced on Sept 9.

"One could call this trade risky," PwC said in the report.

Swiss central bank rules, as well as those from the Bank of England and European Central Bank, put the onus on staff to refrain from unauthorized disclosures rather than on families to avoid trading. But officials said the spirit of guidelines demanded extra sensitivity.

"It may well be completely above board but nevertheless it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth," said one central bank official, who declined to be named.

The SNB said Philipp Hildebrand, a former hedge fund manager and vice chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), would make an announcement on Thursday.

The respected banker, credited with steering Switzerland's banking system through the financial crisis, is expected to weather the storm, and won the backing of the government in a statement late on Wednesday.

"The Federal Council has no reason to question the validity of the audit findings and has expressed its full confidence in Mr. Hildebrand," it said in a statement.

Some said that the scandal was nothing more than a politically motivated attack.

"As long as allegations (of wrongdoing) turn out to be unfounded, which at the moment I think looks likely, it looks like just another attempt to discredit the central bank and its chairman," said Nikola Stephan at Informa Global Markets.


In a country which prizes itself on bank secrecy, the fact that the leak breached client confidentiality -- and that the data had found its way into the hands of Hildebrand's political rival Christoph Blocher -- initially took centre stage.

Bank Sarasin (BSAN.S), which said on Tuesday it had fired an IT staffer for the leak of customer data, apologized for the "considerable unpleasantness" caused by its employee, who turned himself over to police on Sunday.

"The bank condemns the misuse of confidential bank data for political purposes in the strongest possible terms," it said.

The data was leaked to the lawyer of Christoph Blocher, a political rival of Hildebrand.

Blocher has called for the central banker's resignation over the losses racked up trying to stem the relentless rise of the Swiss franc as funds seeking a safe haven from the euro zone crisis poured in.

But to date, Blocher, who transformed the right-wing Swiss People's Party into the country's largest political force, has stayed out of the trading embarrassment.

"There is a time to talk and a time to be quiet. In this affair, it is time for me to be silent," he has told Swiss television.

Philipp Hildebrand met Kashya, an American citizen born in northern Pakistan, when they worked as colleagues for the U.S. hedge fund Moore Capital, according to Swiss newspaper reports.

Police raided the London offices of Moore Capital, headed by billionaire Louis Bacon, in 2010, and arrested an equity trader as part of Britain's biggest swoop on an insider trading ring.

($1 = 0.9323 Swiss francs)

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Katy Perry and Russell Brand spend Christmas 7,000 miles apart

katy perry
Katy Perry and Russell Brand
WHEN you’re trying to convince everyone your marriage is not on the rocks, pictures like these won’t help your cause.

Katy Perry and Russell insist that all is well in their marriage despite spending Christmas apart. Over 7000 miles apart for that matter.

While the 27-year-old singer soaked up the sun in Hawaii, her husband wrapped up warm at a charity swim in chilly Cornwall.

And her splashing in the waves without her wedding ring will do nothing to quash the rumours the couple are about to split. Nor will the snaps of 36-year-old Russell grinning like a Cheshire cat while surrounded by a host of girls – one in a bikini.

katy perry
Katy Perry

Russell spent his Christmas in the rather less glamorous ­surroundings of a pub in the Cornish fishing village of Coverack. He later went to his comedian friend David Baddiel’s charity swim nearby where he was mobbed by fans.

Hmm, Hawaii or Cornwall – tough call that one.

Russell was also spotted at celeb favourite festive haunt Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park on Tuesday, again without his wife.

The couple are constantly batting away speculation over the state of their marriage with Russell defending their relationship on The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month.

When asked about rumours of a split the British comedian joked: “What?! She should have told me!” before adding: “I’ve treated the whole Internet now as a wicked little liar” – Russell was referring to allegations of a split that surfaced on Twitter at the beginning of December.

He continued: “I’m really happily married. Being famous is like a little bit of you is taken away and goes off and lives on its own and does what it wants. I wish it would do more interesting things.”

Russell said: “I’m married to Katy. Perpetually, until death do us part was the pledge. I'm still alive.”

The comedian also admitted he’d love to start a family with wife Katy saying: “I would like one [NB a baby]. I love those little babies in the beginning.”

We’re with Russell on this one – partly because we don’t think we can handle another Hollywood split.

But mainly because their babies would be so cute – and if Russell has his way, they’d probably be walking dictionaries by the time they were, er, walking.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Singer Dido gives birth to son Stanley

Singer Dido
Dido has a treble reason to celebrate; not only does her 40th birthday fall on Christmas Day, she has also welcomed her first child into the world.

However, the talented singer has opted to name her newborn Stanley - a bizarre choice considering the morbid lyrics of her No1 hit with Eminem.

The song, released in 2000, focuses on a fictitious fan, named Stan, who bombards the US rapper with letters in the hope he will write back.

However when he fails to receive a reply from his hero, Stan seals his fate by killing his girlfriend and their unborn child, before committing suicide.

Yet, in a cruel twist, Eminem does write back apologising for being too busy - by which time devoted fan Stan is already dead.

Dido – whose full name is Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong – gave birth to her son Stanley in July this year at the Portland Hospital in central London.

Baby Stanley is her first child with husband Rohan Gavin, a writer who also directed a pop promo for her two years ago.

The couple are believed to have married quietly last year and now live in North London.

Miss Armstrong’s 2001 debut album No Angels, which featured the singles Thank You and Here With Me, is one of the biggest selling albums ever by a British female, selling more than 21 million copies worldwide.

It secured her two Brit Awards in 2002 for Best Female and Best Album.

The follow-up Life For Rent, released in 2003, then confirmed her superstardom with sales of more than 12 million and two more Brit Awards.

Her last album Safe Trip Home came out in 2008. However, it did not enjoy the same commercial success but saw her nominated for an Academy Award for her song If I Rise from the album.

The star had been due to perform the song at the Oscars earlier this year, before cancelling the appearance when she found out she was pregnant. 

She wrote at the time: ‘Hello everyone, It’s been a month of amazing news for me and now I have some more to share.

‘Me and my husband Rohan are expecting a baby and we’re beyond happy and excited about it.

‘So as some of you already know, I won’t be able to travel to LA for the Oscars ceremony to perform If I Rise.

Obviously I’m really gutted about not being there – going to the Oscars has literally been a dream of mine since I was about nine.'

She said she had embraced her pregnancy, adding: ‘There’s a real calmness about it which I think is really nice. Your decisions are sort of made for you. You just have this priority that is unchangeable and I think that’s a great calmness that comes from that.’

Safe Trip Home also featured the song Northern Skies. In 2009, Mr Gavin then directed a short-film to go with the song.

Since her commercial peak, Miss Armstrong has had to contend with personal upheaval.

In 2003, she separated from fiancé Bob Page, a lawyer and her partner of seven years, whom she had credited as being the inspiration for her work.

Then, in 2006, she had to face the death of her father William, the former head of publishing house Sidgwick & Jackson.

She dropped all work commitments as her father’s health deteriorated, going to see him in hospital twice a day and spending time with her mother, Clare, and older brother Rollo, a member of dance trio Faithless.

The singer – who is estimated to be worth more than £28million - had an unusual childhood, growing up in Islington in a house full of books with no television and no visitors. 

She attended Westminster School before going to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Apart from caring for her son, Miss Armstrong said she was currently working on a new album.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Ferrari which holds EIGHT people and plenty of Christmas presents

Long Ferrari
With Christmas days away and presents still to buy for all your family and friends, sometimes a regular estate is just not big enough for all the bags.

Which may explain why these last-minute shoppers arrived at Harrods driving something a little more spacious than the usual.

Shoppers in upmarket Knightsbridge, London, looked on in disbelief yesterday afternoon when two men pulled up at Harrods in this outrageous stretched Ferrari.

With no bay in the area suitable for a vehicle of such length, the car simply stopped on double yellow lines at the front of the store.

The limousine is a one-off, made by a developer in the UK by cutting a regular Ferrari 360 Modena in half and adding some seats in the middle.

It is the fastest limousine in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 166mph and is estimated to cost as much as £250,000.

It is likely the car was not owned by the male driver but hired specially for the occasion from an elite hire company.

The limo was designed by Dan Cawley, a Manchester-based businessman who owns hire company Style Limousines.

Mr Cawley, who has sold the car to another rental company, told the Mail: 'Every boy wants to get into a Ferrari, this was a way for people to be able to do that with seven mates. It's the biggest and craziest vehicle you can get. We made it because we wanted to create the ultimate Ferrari experience.'

He added: 'There's room for eight people – so you can get plenty of shopping bags in there.'

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Prince Harry back with lingerie model Florence Brudenell-Bruce?

prince harry
Prince Harry and model Florence Brudenell-Bruce
After swinging back into London town for the Christmas break it seems Prince Harry has been meeting up with some old acquaintances.

The young royal has reportedly rekindled his relationship with lingerie model Florence Brudenell-Bruce whom he broke up with in August this year.

According to Made In Chelsea star Spencer Matthews, the couple have been spending some intimate time together.

Spencer claimed to The People newspaper that he knows 25-year-old Florence well and has heard that she and the prince are still romantically linked.

He told the newspaper: 'I know Flee quite well and from what I've heard there's still something going on.

The reality TV star continued: 'She and Harry have enjoyed a few nights in together with a DVD on the sofa - stuff we all do.'

The blonde haired model features on the front cover of this month's Tatler and speaks about her brief dalliance with the 27-year-old prince.

She explained that she found the public attention quite 'full on' and that had dies down since they stopped seeing each other.

In her first interview since the split Florence, who grew up in Fulham, south-west London, revealed that she is keen to pursue a different career as 'one day everything will drop and I won’t be able to earn my living in a bikini.'

In the shoot she swaps her standard converse and skinny jeans for some feminine designs, featuring sheer fabrics and flattering cuts, with her long blonde hair naturally styled.

Prince Harry ended his short romance with Flee after just two months and sources revealed that the prince just didn't want to be 'tied down'.

Miss Brudenell-Bruce, who used to go out with Formula 1's Jenson Button, is said to have been visited by Harry at her father's £2.5million home in Notting Hill, West London.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

UK weather: Red warning from Met Office as 100 miles per hour winds close schools in Scotland

People struggle in high winds in Glasgow (Pic: PA)


 Glasgow (Pic: PA)

Schools in many parts of Scotland were shut today as the country braced itself for hurricane-force winds.

Winds of up to 100mph have been forecast, with the strongest gusts expected to hit the west of Scotland and the central belt from 12pm, and from 3pm in the east, hitting rush-hour traffic.

The Government warned that travel conditions could be "dangerous" and road users may experience severe delays of several hours or more.

Key travel routes are likely to be closed and severe gales could lead police to advise against all travel, the Scottish Government said.

High waves batter the coastline at Helensburgh (Pic: PA)
High waves batter the coastline at Helensburgh (Pic: PA)

High waves batter the coastline at Helensburgh, Scotland (Pic: PA)

Although Scotland will bear the brunt of the bad weather, other parts of the UK could also be affected by strong winds.

Lindsay Dovey, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "There will be gusts of 100mph in north west Scotland and over high ground. "Gusts of up to 70mph are expected in northern England and north west Wales. "Across central England and East Anglia, we'll have gusts of 55 to 60mph, and up to 55mph in the south of the UK."

Strong winds and high waves batter the coastline at Blackpool (Pic: PA)
Strong winds and high waves batter the coastline at Blackpool (Pic: PA)

A couple walk along a wet and windy promenade in Blackpool (Pic: PA)
A couple walk along a wet and windy promenade in Blackpool (Pic: PA)

She said temperatures would range between 7C, in Scotland, and 13C, in the south of Britain, but added: "It will feel much colder because of the wind." All classes at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities were cancelled, affecting thousands of students. Glasgow Caledonian university was open, but asked students to take travel advice if they planned to come in. The weather also brought disruption to the country's transport network.

The Forth Bridge is expected to close after 3pm as a precaution against the high winds.
The bridge is likely to be closed to high-sided vehicles, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars with trailers, roof boxes or caravans for much of the day. Drivers were told to "exercise extreme caution" and to check conditions before travelling.

Largs promenade is battered by winds (Pic: Getty Images)
Largs promenade is battered by winds (Pic: Getty Images)

A man walks his dog along the promenade in Largs (Pic: Getty Images)
A man walks his dog along the promenade in Largs (Pic: Getty Images)

Part of the A8 in Renfrewshire was closed between the Langbank roundabout and the Woodhall roundabout in both directions because of flooding.

ScotRail and Network Rail said speed restrictions of 50mph may be put in place from 10am today. Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services to North Uist, Harris, Mull, Islay, Gigha, Coll and Tiree, and Arran were cancelled, and other sailings severely disrupted.

Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The very latest information from the Met Office's chief forecaster shows that we can expect very severe gales, at wind speeds not seen for many years, across large parts of western, central and southern Scotland throughout Thursday.

Rough seas batter the beach in front of Central Pier in Blackpool (Pic: PA)
Rough seas batter the beach in front of Central Pier in Blackpool (Pic: PA)

"On the basis of the earlier red warning from the Met Office, some councils had already taken the precaution of closing schools early to make sure that parents can safely collect children before the most dangerous weather and travel conditions arrive.

"In light of the latest forecast, and in particular the timings which suggest the severe weather affecting the west-central part of the country earlier than originally anticipated, some of these closure timings may have to change.

"The decision is a matter for individual authorities but the warnings are of the highest level of seriousness and we are clear that safety has to be the paramount issue. "Parents should check locally through websites, local radio and with their schools to find out the specific situation with their own schools.

"All commuters are advised that if they can adjust their working pattern to reflect the latest weather and travel advice, or work from home, that would be a very sensible step to help avoid possible traffic disruption.
"The authorities are all working hard to keep Scotland moving." Dumfries and Galloway police warned of hazardous conditions throughout the area, with surface water and flooding on roads.

A spokesman said the A74 in Moffat was particularly bad, with standing water causing delays in both directions. He urged people not to drive and warned conditions will get more dangerous as the day goes on.

A car drives on a flooded road in Glasgow (Pic: PA)
A car drives on a flooded road in Glasgow (Pic: PA)

Water was also building up on the surface of the M8 between Livingston and Hermiston Gait in Edinburgh.
In Stirlingshire, the M9 was also restricted in both directions between junction 9 at Bannockburn and junction 11 at Dunblane because of surface water.

In Tayside, snow closed the Spittal of Glenshee area and flooding is being reported on the A9. ScotRail introduced speed restrictions of 50mph on all trains in case of falling trees and other debris, and damage to overhead power lines.

Steve Montgomery, ScotRail's managing director, said: "We will constantly review weather forecasts and respond accordingly. Our aim is to ensure as robust a service as possible.

"The forecasts are that the peak of the high winds will be in the afternoon and early evening. If that happens, it would be a sensible step to allow more time for journeys, to keep checking our website and where possible, leave work earlier to avoid rush hour."

Trains between Aberdeen and Inverurie, Glasgow and Dunblane, and Edinburgh and Glenrothes were cancelled, while other trains will run less frequently than usual. Glasgow Caledonian University later said it will close "all but vital services" from 12.30pm.

Flooding in Helensburgh, Scotland (Pic: PA)
Flooding in Helensburgh, Scotland (Pic: PA)

Of Scotland's 32 local authorities, Aberdeen City Council, Angus Council, Dundee City Council, Scottish Borders Council, Shetland Islands Council and Orkney Islands Council have no plans to close schools today.
All schools in nine local authorities have closed, with the rest expecting to shut their doors at 12pm.

Weather forecasters said the low pressure over the Western Isles was causing strong winds as far south as Merseyside and north Wales.

Coastal areas will be hardest hit by the westerly wind and gusts have already reached 54mph in Crosby, near Southport, and 56mph in Hawarden, Deeside.

The wind speeds are expected at peak at about 65mph or higher later today. The Highways Agency has issued an "amber alert" in north-west England, warning that the worst wind conditions can be expected in Cumbria.

Officials have closed the A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith to high-sided vehicles. A spokesman said: "Drivers of these vehicles should seek alternative trans-Pennine routes including the A69 and M62 as well as the A65.

"The Highways Agency has set signs across the regional motorway network, including the M6 to advise drivers of the restriction." The East Coast train company said there were extended journey times on its services north of Edinburgh due to 50mph speed restrictions.

Early morning services from Hull and Harrogate began instead from Doncaster and Leeds respectively, while services north of Newcastle were being provided using diesel trains only. Some services between London and Newcastle were expected to be slower than normal due to speed restrictions.

East Coast's direct service this evening to Hull, Brough and Selby will terminate at Doncaster, while this evening's direct service to Harrogate and Horsforth will terminate at Leeds.

Services operated by the CrossCountry, First TransPennine Express and Virgin train companies were also affected by the speed restrictions as well as flooding which hit services in the Penrith area of Cumbria.

The Erskine Bridge, linking Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire across the River Clyde, was closed as high winds hit. The Forth Road Bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and Fife, was also shut.
The A78, between Skelmorlie and Largs in Ayrshire, was also closed as the carriageway flooded.
As the winds picked up, Glasgow University decided to close until tomorrow.

A spokesman said: "The university of Glasgow has decided to close with immediate effect. The university will open as normal tomorrow, with all scheduled classes and exams going ahead as planned. Exams that were postponed today will be rescheduled for the week beginning January 9."

A number of royal engagements in Scotland and the North East have been cancelled due to the dangerous winds, said a Buckingham Palace spokesman.

The Countess of Wessex has been forced to postpone two visits in County Durham - to the town of Billingham and a meeting in Durham in connection with her role as patron of the Sunderland Association Football Club Foundation.

The spokesman said the bad weather meant her flight to the region had been cancelled but that other travel arrangements had been made and she would still take part in events later this afternoon and evening.

The Duke of Gloucester's day of engagements in Glasgow have all been cancelled and would, apart from a Christmas carol concert at Glasgow Cathedral, be moved to the New Year. The A66 which links County Durham and Cumbria was closed to all vehicles due to the high winds, police said. Roads in Weardale were subject to localised flooding as fellside streams struggled to cope with melting snow and heavy rains.

Strathclyde Police Chief Inspector Stewart Campbell said people should only travel if their journey is essential and advised them to stay indoors.

He said any essential journeys should be planned, and motorists should make sure they have warm clothes and food with them in case they get stuck.

The travel warning stretched across the central belt, from Strathclyde to Lothian and Borders, and also applies to pedestrians who may be at risk of being hit by objects blown by high winds.

Central Scotland Police Assistant Chief Constable Allan Moffat said: "The advice for motorists across the central belt of Scotland is to avoid travel as the severe weather moves across the country from west to east, starting around noon on the west side of the country. It is expected that the impact of the weather will affect the east side of the country from 2pm onwards.

"This advice to avoid travel is not given lightly but is based on the clearest information yet from weather forecasters that there will be high winds with gusts of up to 90mph.

"The time frame for these exceptional conditions is between noon and 7pm and I am being given clear information that a wide area of Scotland will be affected. People could be putting themselves at considerable risk by travelling in these conditions.

"The predicted impact of the wind is such that it may cause structural damage and is a specific danger to high-sided road vehicles. I would ask the public to pay close attention to weather and road updates and act accordingly to the advice given.

"I recognise that this is a significant statement, however it is based upon the premise of ensuring public safety and minimising the risk to road users in the affected areas."

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Woman decorates ceiling with 1,700 Christmas baubles

marry christmas
Woman decorates ceiling with 1,700 Christmas decorations (Pics:Rex)

According to Sylvia her best bauble buying experience was when she visited Macy's in New York and was overwhelmed with the choice on offer.

On that trip she walked away with 30 new decorations and even had to buy a new bag to carry them all home in.

Some of her most expensive baubles cost £14 each and were brought from Harrods in London.

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Evergreen Actor Dev Anand Dead: Bollywood Star Dies In London At 88

dev anand
Dev Anand
NEW DELHI — Bollywood star Dev Anand, a charismatic and flamboyant Indian film fixture for more than a half-century, has died of a heart attack in London, his family said Sunday. He was 88.

Famed for his roles in dozens of movies, including "Jewel Thief" and "Guide," the veteran actor, director and producer was working up to the last minute, with a new script in the works.

Anand lived and died on "his own terms," his nephew and renowned film director Shekhar Kapur said in a posting on Twitter. "He was working one minute. Sat down and smiled. And was gone the next. So much to learn."

Anand died of a heart attack Saturday night in a hotel in London, where he had gone recently for a medical checkup, the family said.

India's prime minister joined Indian film stars and officials in lauding Anand's achievements and expressing sorrow for his death.

"Dev Anand was a great artist who entertained generations of cinema lovers over five decades," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement. "He was an embodiment of long passion for acting and filmmaking. I join millions of his fans in mourning his death."

Born on Sept. 26, 1923, as the son of a Punjab lawyer, Anand studied English literature and law, eventually moving in his early 20s to India's film capital of Mumbai, then called Bombay, where he pursued a love of acting.

Known for his good looks, melodious voice and success in romantic leads, Anand was considered a superstar within just a few years of his 1946 screen debut in the Hindi-language film "Hum Ek Hain."

Others in his family followed, with his brothers Chetan and Vijay also winning praise as film producers, screenwriters and directors.

Dev Anand also began producing in 1949, and made his directorial debut in 1971 with the popular hippie cult film "Hare Rama Hare Krishna."

Never giving up the career, Anand released his latest film, "Chargesheet," just a few months ago and was reportedly working on another script when he died.

On his birthday in September, the upbeat actor told the Press Trust of India that he still had more to offer.

"My life is the same, and I am at a beautiful stage at 88," he reportedly said in the interview. "I am as excited as I was in my 20s. I have so many things to do," including a sequel to his 1971 film that he had titled "Hare Rama Hare Krishna Aaj."

Anand was given several prizes during his career, including lifetime achievement awards by Filmfare in 1993 and Screen Videocon in 1996. His 2007 memoirs, titled "Romancing With Life," underlined his belief in making films that were socially relevant.

Also known for social work, Anand dabbled in politics in the 1970s, launching a short-lived political party and leading other film stars in opposing then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's "Emergency" regime, which gave her the power to rule by decree.

"With his death, an era has come to an end. For a career spanning more than five decades, Dev Anand gave us films which will stay entrenched in our minds for years on," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said in a statement carried by Press Trust of India. "He was truly a multifaceted performer as an actor, director and producer."

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan said in a posting on Twitter that Anand's death "leaves a void never perhaps to be filled again."

Prize-winning British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie lamented in a post: "I grew up watching your films. Sorry to say goodbye."

Anand's family plans to cremate his body in London on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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