Lewis Hamilton missed the first 25 minutes of Friday’s second free practice for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix but still finished top of the timings by 0.141 seconds, ahead of Fernando Alonso and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg..

Hamilton’s car had a suspension problem and then he complained about understeer, but the current championship leader soon made up for lost time and, after switching to soft tyres, toppled Alonso.

Daniel Ricciardo once again proved too fast for his teammate and world champion Sebastian Vettel, pipping him to fourth place. The Red Bulls were followed by Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.

Alonso had topped the morning practice run in front of team principal Marco Mattiacci, who was making his first appearance in his new role and wearing his already trademark dark glasses, despite the sullen gloom of the day.

The Spaniard was 0.398 seconds faster than Rosberg, with Ricciardo in third place. Behind them came Button, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen, with Hamilton back in eighth place.

But whether it’s Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain or China, the Mercedes are still the teams to beat and Hamilton will go into the weekend as favourite to win what would be his third straight victory – something he has never achieved before.

Hamilton only arrived in China on Thursday, but has been leading life on Chinese time in the days leading up to his departure.

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Ten things we learned this week

Posted by MereNews On April - 18 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Turnout is high in the Indian election

A Kashmiri woman supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) laughs as she attends an election campaign rally. Photograph: Mukhtar Khan/AP

Since the first votes were cast earlier this month in the six-week Indian election, turnouts have been hitting historic levels. Currently an average of around 68% of eligible
voters have cast their ballots in each successive phase of polling, 10
points higher than in the last national elections five years ago.
The bitter contest is being described locally as the country’s most important
election for many decades, pitting the centre-left Congress party
against the Hindu nationalist opposition BJP, led by the controversial Narendra Modi.

are divided over what the high turnouts may mean. Some argue it will
benefit the BJP as it indicates the participation of large numbers of
urban voters who traditionally favour the party. Others say it may
indicate increased polling among India’s 150 million Muslims, generally
supportive of Congress.

Varghese K George, political editor of the
Hindu newspaper, said both conclusions rested on too many assumptions to
be sustainable.

“All you can say at the moment is that the BJP
is doing well [and] Modi is managing to make some connection with voters
and the Congress is doing pretty badly, though they have pulled back
some ground in some places in the last month.” Jason Burke

Interactive guide
More on Narendra Modi

More than 900,000 people received food parcels last year

Croydon food bank. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Data from the UK’s biggest food bank network revealed that there was an
increase of 163% in the number of people receiving food parcels in
2013-14 in comparison with the year before. The Trussell Trust said the revelation of 913,138 people reliant on these parcels is “just
the tip of the iceberg” of poverty in the UK. This is because the
Trust did not include thousands of people helped by non-Trussell food
banks and soup kitchens, those with no access to a food bank, those too
ashamed to take charity food, or those deciding to go without food or
buy less. As a result, more than 40 bishops and 600 church leaders
presented the government with a letter calling for action to tackle what
they call a national crisis of hunger. 330,205 children were
beneficiaries of the parcels, which was almost as many as the entire total 346,992 people in 2012-13.

Religious leaders call for change
Food banks issue “kettle boxes”
Food banks

The UK is a ‘boys’ club’

UN special rapporteur on violence Rashida Manjoo. Photograph: UN/PA

With accusations of sexism flying across the country recently, from adverts to cat-calling and Facebook groups,
it comes as little surprise that a UN investigator has said this week
that the UK has an in-your-face “boys’ club sexist culture”. Rashida
Manjoo travelled across the UK on a 16-day mission to find out the facts
about violence against women, and said that certain perceptions are
held about women and girls. She claimed that in the UK there is “a more
visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a
“marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies”.

UN rapporteur criticises Britain’s sexist culture
British sexism
Everyday sexism

Andy Coulson hasn’t spoken to David Cameron for three years

Former Editor of the News of the World newspaper Andy Coulson arrives at the Old Bailey in central London April 15, 2014.

revealed at the phone-hacking trial that he hasn’t been on speaking
terms with David Cameron since leaving his position as director of
communications for 10 Downing Street. He stated that he and his family
spent a weekend with Cameron in the spring of 2011 after Coulson left,
as was planned before he resigned, however they have not been in touch
over the three years since. When asked if he had been in contact with
the News of the World owner, Rupert Murdoch, Coulson said: “Sparingly.
Entirely at social events, his summer party.” He said that when he was
editor of the paper between 2003 and 2007 he spoke to Murdoch once every three weeks on average.

Andy Coulson at the trial
First day in the witness box
Phone-hacking trial

There’s no such thing as a ‘real partner’

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks on before speaking at the 2013 Dreamforce conference on 20 November 2013 in San Francisco, California. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite encouraging women to create a “real partner” in her book Lean In, chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, has been caught out by her husband. Sandberg said at the Guardian Women in Leadership
event that usually in families with children “women have two jobs and
men have one… what would happen if we had real partners? We will never
get to real equality in our workplaces until we have equality at home,”
and she told women to ensure the equal sharing of domestic duties. Yet in a
talk in London on Tuesday her husband David Goldberg,
CEO of SurveyMonkey, said: “I think Sheryl does more like 60 [per cent]
and it’s more like 40 for me”. Although the book is a bestseller with
1.6m copies sold worldwide, some feminists have
criticised it saying that Sandberg does not go far enough with her
argument about women progressing in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg ‘does more than her fair share of childcare’
Video: “I don’t plan on running for political office”

Public health messages do work

Man seasoning a pot of vegetables and meat. Photograph: Village Production/Getty Images

message “eat only 6g of salt per day” has been ingrained in the minds
of the British public for a number of years now, and it appears that the mantra is finally taking effect. Research has linked the 15% drop
in average daily consumption of salt in England with the 42% drop in
stroke deaths and the 40% decline in coronary heart disease. The
researchers say that the fall in an average of 9.5g to 8.1g salt
consumption a day was an important contributor to falls in blood
pressure between 2003 and 2011, and therefore would have “played an
important role in the reduction of stroke and ischaemic heart disease
mortality during this period”. The lower salt intake was encouraged by
the Food Standards Agency after they persuaded food manufacturers to
gradually reduce the amount they added to their products. Deaths from
cardiovascular disease in the UK since 1971 have almost halved, from
335,000 to 161,000 in 2012.

Fall in salt intake and drop in heart attack deaths
Heart attack

The true cost of the shirt on your back

Factory workers, Dhaka. Photograph: David Levene

From our anniversary investigation into the Rana Plaza tragedy
we learned some stunning facts about the clothes we wear, the amount
they cost and the cheapness of the labour that makes them. In 1950,
households in the west spent 12% of their income on clothes. Now they
spend 2.8%, as clothes have become ever cheaper. The economic flipside
makes grimmer reading: the average Bangladeshi factory worker earns just
£60 a month, a tiny fraction of the average couturier or fashion house
employee. And while the retailers’ margins in the average shirt is
counted in dollars, the person who did the cutting, stitching and sewing
makes around 20 cents per item. Mark Rice-Oxley

MH370 may be deeper than investigators thought

The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is craned over the side of the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Photograph: HANDOUT/REUTERS

The underwater search
for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has suffered more setbacks. The
area of the Indian Ocean the search teams are focused on has never been
accurately mapped and could be deeper than search officials first
thought. This is a problem because the Bluefin-21 submersible currently being used
to locate the black box has a maximum range of 4,500m below sea level. Bluefin-21 has already been forced to surface early twice – first because it exceeded its 4,500m range and second due to a technical issue
– and there are growing concerns it may not be able to continue the
search. United States navy captain Mark Matthews, who is overseeing the
use of the remote vehicle, said if the Bluefin-21 exceeded its limits
again it could malfunction. If that were the case, a new submersible may
be needed for the search. Paul Farrell

The search
The difficulties
Search aborts

The Pistorius prosecutor lived up to his pitbull reputation

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel in the high court on 17 April 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images

State prosecutor Gerrie “pitbull” Nel wound up his
blistering cross-examination of murder accused Oscar Pistorius with
tough questions including: “Mr Pistorius, you’re not using your
emotional state as an escape, are you?” This was after the fallen
Paralympic star spent the seven weeks of his mega-trial cowering,
sobbing and vomiting as he was confronted by the retelling of the brutal death of his
girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Some were taken aback by Nel’s ferocious style,
including the shock tactic of showing Steenkamp’s bullet-wounded head to
the court. But it will have come as no surprise to accused who have
felt his wrath before, notably Jackie Selebi, formerly South Africa’s
top policeman, who was sent down for corruption. Nel succeeded in sowing
doubts over Pistorius’s version of events, which appeared to shift from
shooting a suspected intruder in self-defence to an involuntary and
“accidental” pulling of the trigger. David Smith

Monday as it happened
Tuesday as it happened

Wednesday as it happened

Thursday as it happened

And things we didn’t learn… the identity of the rail dodger

A British ticket inspector. Photograph: Alamy

now infamous commuter who dodged train fares to London for five years
has managed to keep his identity anonymous by arranging an out-of-court
settlement with Southeastern railways. He paid a sum of £43,000, which
was based on the cost of all the single fares he would have missed,
rather than the season tickets he did not pay for. It has been estimated
that this would have cost him around £20,000 more than if he had bought
season tickets. It is believed that the man exploited a loophole in the
Oyster card system, only paying £7.20 for his journey each day. A
construction manager who has been using the same line, from Stonegate in
East Sussex to London Bridge, for two and a half years said: “There’s a
lot of people thinking: ‘Yeah, well done’. Southeastern are quite poor. I
think people can sympathise with it a bit. I do think he should be
prosecuted, but I think secretly people will think: ‘Well done for
getting away with it for so long’.”

Rail dodger avoids prosecution
Passengers call for his prosecution
Hero or villain?

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When I read this week that lamb kebabs “often contain other meat”, I was puzzled. How is that news? Did anyone genuinely think that their local Kebabylon was giving them 100% prime Welsh baby sheep for tea? If so, just what kind of mug are they?

Of course, any dodgy food standards that constitute a risk to public health need to be thoroughly investigated, but mix in a bit of chicken with my lamb and I’m just not bothered. I followed the whole horsemeat scandal with a sort of baffled bemusement. Surely some tender, delicious horse in your lasagne was a bonus? I plan to regard the chicken in my kebab in the same way.

Unlike many former vegetarians, I have no squeamishness about meat. Indeed, I’ve gone completely the other way, and will basically eat anything. Andouillette sausage stuffed with pig’s colon so pungent that my lunch date gags? Bring it on. Crispy duck tongue salad followed by sauteed calf’s brain? Hell, yes – and get me some chitterlings to sprinkle on top. I am a gastronomic slag, daunted only by the most sadistic or dangerous of dishes – Ortolan is off the menu, as is raw chicken, but that’s about it. Dirty food, too, I love: stuffed crust pizza, potato smiley faces, turkey dinosaurs, cheese strings and popcorn chicken – oh my!

While a student, I lived off hot dogs from those pavement carts, but surprisingly for someone undaunted by street meat, I came to the kebab relatively late. “I don’t trust meat that needs shaving”, I used to slur, when we queued outside the now deceased Dionysus (RIP) at 3am. Dionysus, straddling the corner of London’s Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, was the king of kebab emporiums. Such was its popularity that they had to employ bouncers on the door. Yet, while others chowed down on their lamb doners, I stuck to my infinitely safer chips, cheese and garlic sauce (alas, they had no gravy – this was London, after all). Even later, while living on in a predominantly Turkish part of north-east London on the kebab mile that is Green Lanes, I kept a safe distance. Was it fear or snobbery? I think mainly fear. I have always stubbornly hung on to affection for things others deride – Wetherspoons, cheap white wine, roller discos, Spirit and Destiny magazine – it was a horror of the trots that was holding me back.

And then I went to Turkey and had a kebab. They served the fatty meat on that domed bread known as pide (or pita), so that its luscious juices soaked down into the pillowy dough. It was a sublime culinary experience to rival the salamella panino I ate from the back of a Milanese van in 2010. The fiery chilli sauce balanced perfectly with the minty yoghurt to create what was, to be quite honest with you, a taste sensation. I have been trying to replicate that Proustian moment ever since, but frankly nothing from Abakebabra, Jason Donervan, Pitta the Great, or even Shish Happens is ever going to come close. I will continue in my quest nonetheless.

The dirty kebab is a post-pub British tradition; that fatty melange of meat and its throat constricting pong of the garlic sauce unparalleled elsewhere. I pray that kebabs will not be subject to stringent regulations that will hamper experimentation in this noble industry, as it continues to bravely withstand against the gastrofication of our culinary habits. If they take kebabs, then rest assured they won’t stop there – it’ll be Chicken Cottage next.

Foodie culture demands we know the provenance of everything, but to do so would make the world a darker, more sterile place. As we all know, any passionate love affair requires a little bit of mystery.

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Skrillex: ‘Dance music is not a bubble’

Posted by MereNews On April - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Sonny Moore climbs into a bloody great spaceship in the California desert, salutes his friends, lights a fag, and proceeds to reduce 20,000 party kids to jelly for 90 minutes. His set at Coachella is a fast-cut barrage of hip-hop, house, 90s rave, Jamaican dancehall, grotesquely gurgling dubstep bass, fizzy trance rushes, high-sugar 80s soft-rock choruses and sudden bursts of abstract noise. The vast tent is slathered in a never-ending spew of lasers and strobing projections of alien faces, acid smileys, explosions, emojis and internet icons such as Nyan Cat and Flappy Bird.

There’s a bravura turn from New Yorker A$AP Rocky and his crew, who surge on to the stage for a few rap verses, and a wonderfully odd finale involving a hooded steel pan player and Moore himself bounding down from his vehicle to the front of the stage, where he wrings out a high-drama punk-metal guitar solo. It’s quite a ride.

The last time Moore, AKA Skrillex, spoke to the Guardian, three years ago, there was some confusion about his place in the world. He was a former teenage rocker who had walked away from a $3m deal with his band From First to Last, turned to making dance music, citing Aphex Twin as his primary influence but happy to remix Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga. He frequently used the sounds and rhythms of dubstep – which by 2011 was nearing the peak of its explosive global rise – royally enraging the scene’s purists, who were already struggling to cope with “their” sound spilling into the mainstream and picked him as scapegoat. Referencing this, the piece ran with the headline “Is Skrillex the most hated man in dubstep?” and Moore, stung by this, promptly cut off almost all media contact.

Some might see that as petulant. But in person, the wiry 26-year-old is almost unnervingly kind and enthusiastic. Even Gia Trimble, a former dance music manager who has seen the worst excesses of American DJ culture and isn’t afraid to spill beans, tells me: “Sorry, I got nothing on Sonny – nothing – he truly is that nice.”

Moore sidesteps all questions about negative portrayals, saying the media blackout was “because I didn’t have time for it. I preferred to let the music reach the people directly.” If that was the plan, it worked: the dubstep bubble may have burst, but it ushered in the era of American “EDM”, which is seemingly now as entrenched in the entertainment industry as rock, rap or country (it’s perhaps significant that one theory advanced for the perceived failure of Outkast’s comeback performance at Coachella is that an audience conditioned for the crowd-pleasing rush of EDM simply does not have the patience for a set designed to please hardcore fans). While Skrillex may not have the chart clout of, say, Calvin Harris – his debut studio album, Recess, was slipped out last month without ceremony or advance notice, and he has previously given away his music – he is one of the figureheads of EDM, sending stadium-sized crowds wild.

Skrillex – Bangarang (feat. Sirah) on MUZU.TV.

Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch.

He lives in a mezzanine apartment full of technology and toys in a 101-year-old warehouse – his studio is an identical one next door – in the endless light-industrial sprawl of downtown Los Angeles, now in the first throes of gentrification. The offices of his own labels, Owsla and Nest, are a couple of blocks away. He and the close friends who do his lights and visuals walk or skateboard between them and the various juice bars and artisan sausage-and-beer joints that are filling the neighbourhood alongside the Mexican and Korean businesses.

As we walk near his home – Moore greeting local business owners and passersby like old friends, or posing for pictures with strangers who accost him, street art by Shepard Fairey and D*Face on every other wall – it feels like hipster heaven: the wide streets and unbroken blue sky a Californian antidote to the claustrophobic and hypercompetitive buzz-chasing of east London or Brooklyn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moore is an optimist about both his position and the music scene. “This dance music thing is not a bubble,” he says, sitting in his apartment chain-smoking menthol cigarettes. “Because it’s not about dubstep, or techno, or house, or any other sound: those things coexist and support each other. It’s not like when grunge or nu-metal or whatever became the new trend and everyone was chasing one sound and that scene turned in on itself and lost what it had to begin with. There’s room for everything.”

Skrillex: ‘I preferred to let the music reach the people directly.’

It’s easy to scoff at that, especially when Britain witnessed the last-days-of-Rome horrors of superstar DJ culture and the bursting of its bubble. But Moore is insistent, and pretty convincing, as he says that Miami’s Ultra Music Festival – which this year has been held up as the epitome of rave Babylon, with pictures of wasted ravers and exhibitionist industry executives going viral – was safer and better-organised than most music or sporting events of comparable size. “A lot of these pictures are from previous years anyway,” he says. “We were there this year and seriously the crowd were better and safer than I’ve ever seen there. It was awesome.”

The crowd in Palm Springs for Coachella bears this out. The wrecked “candy ravers” and rampaging fratboys of EDM cliche are barely present – aside from more visible breasts and muscles, it is close to any European festival audience out for a good time, perhaps even a bit savvier. Despite it being the second day of 30C-plus daytime heat and desert dust whipped up by the wind, accompanied by the omnipresent reek of strong weed, there are no sparked-out casualties to be seen. And plenty of the electronic music may be facile, but no more so than that played by some of the biggest British names in the 90s. Much as Britons might have willed the Americans to have glommed on to a nastier, trashier version of the dance culture we have long dominated, it’s clear that, for the most part, they really get it.

Likewise, it doesn’t come over as flannel when Moore eulogises the hyper-networked LA scene. “There’s not really been a scene,” he says, “in terms of original music coming out of here – maybe for like the last 10 years or more – but now you have guys such as [Diplo's] Mad Decent, Wedidit, Fool’s Gold, Trouble Bass [the latter two originally from NYC, now with offices in LA], Body High [key dubstep label], Smog Records, Owsla and Nest, Low End Theory and [Flying Lotus's] Brainfeeder. All these people are connected – we’re all doing things together, so it’s creating this really powerful energy, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie in LA.”

Again, at Coachella, a lot of the influential people he mentions are present backstage for his set, and the atmosphere is a million miles from the sniffy jostling that can occur when the music industry comes together: these people drink, smoke and dance together and, more or less, really are friends.

If there is a conceptual framework behind all this, it is as much of a hodgepodge as Skrillex’s music. Moore was brought up in LA as a Scientologist: though he is not a member of the church now, he is broadly supportive of it, and it’s quite easy to see hints of Tom Cruise’s starry-eyed motivational rants in his schtick. But, equally, he believes intensely in grassroots subculture,”whether it’s doing some religious Bikram rave yoga for 10 hours a day, or punk bands with no social media”.

He was a child skatepunk, and retains the sense that hanging with friends “IRL” matters above all – plus there’s a dash of rave idealism, and an obsession with the Grateful Dead’s hippie capitalism that manifests itself in his vision for his tours where “every detail is taken care of, every single thing contributes to you having a good time”. His music is released through the mainstream label Warner, but his professed highest ambition is ”to show the world the DIY approach on a very high platform”. The collision of laid-back Californian hey-wow and insatiable drive can perhaps best be summed up when, regarding another successful DJ, he says with Bill-and-Ted breeziness: “It’s an OK thing, ruthlessness.”

Culture is a seething collage for him. His favourite books (Jonathan Safran Foer, Henry Miller and Richard Adams’ Watership Down) are mentioned in the same tones as his favourite music technology, animes or dubstep tunes: they’re all there for him to absorb and use. Above all, he is a rampant techno-utopian – a sci-fi dreamer. “I think there’s a whole new voice and a whole new energy,” he says, “aesthetically and culturally, coming from the internet, but you can feel it all around. The internet is weird, and people use it in freaky ways – we’re going to have to go through this learning curve as a civilisation about what it is to have these things. But now you have kids growing up with things like homophobia just seeming ridiculous, or with this willingness to think about space exploration and aliens, these are just part of the youth culture, younger kids are being educated in this whole different way, like ideas spreading through Tumblr – do you know Tumblr?” I suddenly feel old. “I guess I echo that in a sense, that’s my culture, I’m still that kid.”

Skrillex: ‘We’re all doing things together. It’s creating this powerful energy and camaraderie.’

He’s more than just that kid, though: he’s the embodiment of that whole culture. His stage show represents the sights and sounds of a generation for whom global networking is like breathing, and Moore is living the teenage dreams of that generation – skateboards, aliens, cracked contradictions and all. At one point, by the side of the Coachella stage, one of Moore’s friends shows me a photo Moore has just Bluetoothed them of his view from 20 feet above the crowd. The lightshow from this perspective makes it look as if he is entering hyperspace and it becomes clear: this spectacle is not just for the crowd, it’s for Moore’s benefit, too. He was born into this information overload, and now he’s not just navigating it, he’s piloting a bloody great spaceship right through the middle of it.

Recess is out now on Atlantic.

Joe Muggs’s trip to California was paid for by Atlantic.

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Syrian government forces stepped up efforts to advance on opposition areas of the central city of Homs on Thursday amid warnings of a potential massacre following months of siege and starvation.

But reports from the scene described rebels clinging to their positions despite tank shelling, sniper fire and air strikes mounted to help government troops recapture several enclaves in the old city.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN mediator for Syria, warned that the collapse of negotiations on a truce risked new bloodshed.

“It is alarming that Homs, whose people have suffered so much throughout these past three years, is again the theatre of death and destruction,” the Algerian diplomat said in a statement distributed at UN headquarters in New York.

“We urge all the parties to return to the negotiating table and complete the deal which was on the verge of being signed.”

Rebel groups say that around 1,300 people, mostly fighters, are still trapped inside neighbourhoods besieged by the army and national defence militia forces.

The UN security council was expected to discuss the deteriorating situation. But Syria has been overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, which has made western-Russian co-operation even more difficult. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, cut short a planned meeting with Brahimi in Geneva because of Thursday’s Ukraine summit. Homs has been called the “Stalingrad of the 21st century” and compared to Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where thousands of Muslims were massacred in 1995.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition, the main western-backed rebel group, issued an urgent appeal. “The regime has reduced what was the soul of the revolution to rubble and ruin. The international community must watch to ensure the regime does not massacre the remaining brave people left in the Old City,” said Monzer Akbik, spokesman for the SOC president, Ahmed al-Jarba.

Homs was the scene of early protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and has come to symbolise the destructive nature of Syria’s civil war.

Brahimi oversaw a deal at otherwise unproductive talks in Geneva in January which allowed some 1,400 civilians to leave the old city unharmed. But further negotiations broke down after renewed heavy fighting this week. Dozens of rebels have surrendered to the government.

On Tuesday, the Syrian army launched an assault against the rebel-held areas and said it had “achieved key successes” and “killed a number of terrorists”.

In the past few months, Assad government forces have recaptured several rebel-held areas and border towns, closing off supply routes from Lebanon and securing the main road leading north from Damascus towards central Syria, Homs and the Mediterranean. Earlier this week the army recaptured the Christian town of Maaloula in the Qalamun region. Assad has said he believes the war is turning in his favour.

More than 150,000 people have now been killed in a conflict which began with peaceful protests. About a third of the victims have been civilians, according to the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Millions have fled the country.

The Syrian government has been accused of using starvation as a weapon to force rebel-held areas into surrender. The SOC quoted one fighter as saying: “We don’t have any leaves left on the trees. We’ve eaten them all.”

The siege of the rebel-held neighbourhoods of Homs intensified after tunnels used to smuggle in supplies were destroyed by bombing and bombardments. The last attempt to lift the siege took place a few days ago, but some 25 fighters were killed when government forces targeted a car attempting to force a way out. On Wednesday, there were constant airstrikes on the Old City, but government forces were repulsed by a counter-attack by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

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MPs are put off contributing in the House of Commons by the “histrionics and cacophony of noise” during prime minister’s questions, according to John Bercow.

The Speaker said party leaders had yet to make a specific commitment to improve the situation despite recognising that behaviour must improve to impress the public.

Bercow said parliament was “spraypainting its own shop window” by appearing to generate higher decibel levels than Deep Purple, once recognised as the loudest band in the world.

He also claimed there are “downmarket parts of the media” which would relish a fight on the floor of the Commons chamber.

Radio 4′s PM programme said Bercow had told them seasoned parliamentarians boycotted PMQs out of embarrassment while some female MPs did not want to take part. He added: “Not just people standing down, but people with a lot to contribute, reluctant to engage in the chamber because they think that the histrionics and cacophony of noise are so damaging as to cause them to look elsewhere.”

“But I’m sorry if some of those people are lost to the chamber because they think: ‘I’m not going to take part in that atmosphere.’”

Bercow was asked if he had heard back from the party leaders after he sent them a letter about the conduct of MPs in the Commons.

He replied: “I have heard back from the party leaders.

“There is a general sense, ‘Yes, Mr Speaker, you make a good point and of course we must behave well and try to impress the public and give serious consideration to what people think,’ but there’s not yet much by way of a specific commitment.”

Bercow went on: “I know there are people in the Westminster beltway, including in the press gallery, who think: ‘Well, what’s the Speaker moaning about? Why is he so neurotic? This is the way people like it.’

“To which my answer is no, that’s the way you like it.

“There are people in the media, I don’t say people necessarily representatives of the PM programme on BBC Radio 4, but there are people in some of the more downmarket parts of the media who would positively relish it if there were a physical fight on the floor of the chamber.”

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/397b865c/sc/7/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cpolitics0C20A140Capr0C170Cjohn0Ebercow0Eprime0Eministers0Equestions0Ecommons0Espeaker0Emps/story01.htm

A newly discovered planet may be the most Earth-like yet found in another solar system, scientists believe.

Kepler-186f is almost the same size as the Earth and occupies its star’s “habitable zone” where temperatures are mild enough to allow liquid surface water.

If the planet has lakes or oceans, it would increase the chances of life evolving there.

But anything living on the world may have to withstand extra large doses of radiation from its active sun, Kepler-186.

The find is described in the journal Science as “a landmark on the road to discovering habitable planets”.

Smaller and cooler than our sun, Kepler-186 is classified as an M-dwarf star, is 795 light years away and is orbited by five known planets.

Kepler-186f, the latest to be discovered, is the outermost plant in the system.

The planet was found by astronomers scouring the Milky Way galaxy for potentially habitable worlds

Using Nasa’s Kepler space telescope, they measured the very tiny dimming that occurs when a planet crosses or “transits” in front of its star.

The transit information allowed them to calculate the planet’s size and estimate its mass and density.

Kepler-186f was found to be just 10% bigger than the Earth. While habitable zone planets have been identified around other stars, none of them so closely match the Earth in size.

US astronomer Dr Stephen Kane, a member of the Kepler team, said: “Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are. We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.

“What we’ve learned, just over the past few years, is that there is a definite transition which occurs around about 1.5 Earth radii. What happens there is that for radii between 1.5 and two Earth radii, the planet becomes massive enough that it starts to accumulate a very thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere, so it starts to resemble the gas giants of our solar system rather than anything else that we see as terrestrial.”

The habitable zone has also been called the “Goldilocks” zone, because conditions there are just right to permit liquid surface water and, possibly, life.

Of our two closest neighbours in the solar system, Mars is just too cold and its water is locked up as ice, while Venus orbits closer to the sun than the Earth and is too hot.

Kepler-186f seems to orbit the outer edge of its habitable zone. However, being slightly larger than the Earth means it is likely to have a thick insulating atmosphere that would stop its surface water freezing.

Small stars such as Kepler-186 live a lot longer than larger stars, providing more time for biological evolution to take place. This makes them promising places to look for life, according to Kane.

On the other hand, small stars tend to be more active than the sun and liable to produce more solar flares and potentially harmful radiation.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/397b4ba2/sc/10/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cscience0C20A140Capr0C170Cplanet0Eearth0Elike0Ediscovered0Ekepler0E186f/story01.htm

Fifty years on: how BBC2 lost its way

Posted by MereNews On April - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Imagine being born as the third child of a devoted and attentive family but then celebrating your 50th birthday as one of hundreds of siblings claiming the attention of increasingly distracted and financially desperate parents.

This is roughly the position of BBC2, which reaches the half-century mark on Saturday . When the network arrived, on 20 April 1964, a television station was a special and treasurable thing. The BBC‘s single visual service was 28 years old and its ITV rival only nine. And although the new baby had a difficult delivery – a power cut on the first night wiped out everything except a short news bulletin – its early upbringing was privileged.

From 1967, it was given the gift of colour, then a technological novelty. Snooker, which became and remains a fixture in the BBC2 schedules, was chosen for showing because it is the sport in which different shades are most significant. That was one of the decisions made by David Attenborough, then controller of the network, whose own broadcasting personality – reflecting intelligence and culture – continued to define BBC2′s brand long after he left to talk to animals.

Civilisation, the Kenneth Clark chronicle of western art that is regarded as a benchmark of public service TV, was also broadly the word with which the channel became associated. Viewers knew BBC2 as a place to find high-end documentary (The Great War, Molly Dineen’s The Ark, Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self); arty chat (from Late Night Line-Up to The Late Show); and classy drama in a line that stretches from Boys from the Blackstuff and Edge of Darkness in the 1980s to the recent Parade’s End and Line of Duty.

The fact that Line of Duty is ranked among the best TV fiction for years suggests there is no crisis with the channel. There is, though, a problem that has been created by two rival broadcasters with a numerical value double its own. First, Channel 4, a commercial network with a public service remit, challenged the BBC’s second child as the place where edgier material – and younger audiences – went. And, subsequently, when the BBC itself counted up to four, a damaging perception developed that BBC4 had become a safe haven for the sort of cultural stuff that BBC2 no longer wanted to do, and the former home of Civilisation packed itself with cookery and gardening series. Though exaggerated, this slur has been a burden for recent controllers, along with an increasingly doddery demographic among the audience.

Reviewers and viewers have struggled to compute the value of BBC2. Breakout shows – Have I Got News for You, The Apprentice and The Great British Bake Off – have routinely been lifted from the channel to its older sister because their ratings were so high. And yet BBC1 franchises that deliver secondary ratings – such as Question Time and Imagine – have not been sent in the opposite direction because of a perception that some minority topics, such as arts and politics, should be represented on a mass audience channel.

Evidence of this identity crisis is that, although the BBC director general, Tony Hall, recently announced a new version of Civilisation, the remake may find itself under pressure to go out on BBC1 to lend cultural prestige to that network.

The task for Kim Shillinglaw, a distinguished factual programme maker who last Friday was announced as the 13th controller of BBC2, is to avoid the channel becoming caught in a trap in which its lighter pieces migrate to BBC1 while the heavier ones go out on BBC4. Promisingly, she has a connection with Attenborough, having worked on one of his later series. But he ran the channel when it was one of three, while she has to make it stand out among hundreds.

Fifty years after it began by literally losing power, BBC2 has metaphorically done so.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/397b107e/sc/8/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A140Capr0C170Cfifty0Eyears0Ebbc20Ekim0Eshillinglaw/story01.htm

The Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, who unleashed the worldwide boom in Spanish literature with his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, has died at the age of 87. He had been admitted to hospital in Mexico City on 3 April with pneumonia.

Matching commercial success with critical acclaim, García Márquez became a standard-bearer for Latin American letters, establishing a route for negotiations between guerillas and the Colombian government, building a friendship with Fidel Castro, and maintaining a feud with fellow literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa that lasted more than 30 years.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said via Twitter: “A thousand years of solitude and sadness at the death of the greatest Colombian of all time.

“Solidarity and condolences to his wife and family … Such giants never die.”

García Márquez in Mexico City in March. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Journalists gathered outside García Márquez’s house in Mexico City in the hope that one of the family members who was reportedly at his side would emerge.

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto expressed sadness at the death of “one of the greatest writers of our time,” in the name of Mexico, the novelist’s adopted home.

Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda was quoted by the Mexican newspaper Reforma as saying that he was “the most important writer in Spanish of the 20th century”, central to the Latin American literary boom that “revolutionised everything: the imagination, the way of telling a story, and the literary universe”.

The Colombian singer Shakira wrote: “We will remember your life, dear Gabo, like a unique and unrepeatable gift, and the most original of stories.”

Born in a small town near the northern coast of Colombia on 6 March 1927, García Márquez was raised by his grandparents for the first nine years of his life and began working as a journalist while studying law in Bogotá. A series of articles relating the ordeal of a Colombian sailor sparked controversy and saw him travel to Europe as a foreign correspondent in 1955, the year in which he published his first work of fiction, the short novel Leaf Storm. Short stories and novellas with the realism of Hemingway as their inspiration followed, but after the publication of The Evil Hour in 1962 García Márquez found himself at an impasse.

Speaking to the Paris Review in 1981 he explained how he decided his writings about his childhood were “more political” than the “journalistic literature” he had been engaged with. He wanted to return to his childhood and the imaginary village of Macondo he had created in Leaf Storm, but there was “always something missing”. After five years he hit upon the “right tone”, a style “based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories”.

“She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness,” García Márquez said. “When I finally discovered the tone I had to use, I sat down for eighteen months and worked every day.”

García Márquez with a copy of his book One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1975. Isabel Steva Hernandez (Colita)/Corbis

Right from the elliptical opening sentence – which finds Colonel Aureliano Buendía facing a firing squad and remembering the “distant afternoon” many years before when “his father took him to discover ice” – One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves together the misfortunes of a family over seven generations. García Márquez tells the story of a doomed city of mirrors founded in the depths of the Colombian jungle with the “brick face” his grandmother used to tell ghost stories, folk tales and supernatural legends.

The novel was an instant bestseller, with the first edition of 8,000 copies selling out within a week of its publication in 1967. Hailed by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as “perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes”, One Hundred Years of Solitude went on to win literary prizes in Italy, France, Venezuela and beyond, appearing in more than 30 languages and selling more than 30m copies around the world. García Márquez forged friendships with writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar and Vargas Llosa – a friendship that ended in the 1970s after Vargas Llosa floored the Colombian with a punch outside a Mexico City cinema.

The Autumn of the Patriarch, which the author called a “poem on the solitude of power”, followed in 1975. García Márquez assembled this story of the tyrannical leader of an unnamed Caribbean nation from a collage of dictators such as Franco, Perón, and Pinilla, and continued to draw inspiration from Latin America’s history of conflict with a novella inspired by the murder of a wealthy Colombian, The Chronicle of a Death Foretold, published in 1981.

A year later he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, the Swedish Academy hailing fiction “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”. Speaking at the ceremony in Stockholm, he painted a picture of a continent filled with “immeasurable violence and pain” that “nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty”.

“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination,” he said, “for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

An undated photo of García Márquez. Photograph: AP

The lives García Márquez next made “believable” were those of his parents, whose extended courtship was rendered into Love in the Time of Cholera, first published in 1985. The novel tells how a secret relationship between Florentino Arizo and Fermina Daza is thwarted by Fermina’s marriage to a doctor trying to eradicate cholera, only to be rekindled more than 60 years later.

A 1989 account of Simón Bolívar’s final months, The General in his Labyrinth, blended fact and fiction, but García Márquez never left journalism behind, arguing that it kept him “in contact with the real world”. Clandestine in Chile, published in 1986, was an account of the Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littín, who returned to his homeland in secret to make a documentary about life under General Augusto Pinochet. News of a Kidnapping explored how prominent figures in Colombian society were snatched and imprisoned by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel.

He continued to write, publishing a memoir of his early life in 2002 and a novella that chronicles an old man’s passion for an adolescent girl in 2004, but never regained the heights of his earlier masterpieces. His brother Jaime García Márquez revealed in 2012 that the writer was suffering from dementia after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphatic cancer first diagnosed in 1999.

Asked in 1981 about his ambitions as a writer he suggested that it would be a “catastrophe” to be awarded the Nobel prize, arguing that writers struggle with fame, which “invades your private life” and “tends to isolate you from the real world”.

“I don’t really like to say this because it never sounds sincere,” he continued, “but I would really have liked for my books to have been published after my death, so I wouldn’t have to go through all this business of fame and being a great writer.”

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/397c67bf/sc/38/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cbooks0C20A140Capr0C170Cgabriel0Egarcia0Emarquez0Edies/story01.htm

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