Beverly Hills declares war on Brunei
Beverly Hills city council has condemned the government of Brunei for introducing new laws that impose harsh penalties, including death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery, and called on it to either change its laws or sell two of its most famous hotels.
The council unanimously passed on Tuesday a resolution criticizing Brunei, which has drawn fire for a controversial penal code announced last month. Brunei owns the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, two properties in its Dorchester Collection.
The resolution will be delivered to the US State Department, asking that the government take “appropriate action” to condemn Brunei’s policies.
On Wednesday, Mayor Lili Bosse said: “I brought this resolution forward because of my own and the Beverly Hills community’s fierce reaction to the horrific laws and punishments in Brunei. These laws are shocking, inhumane and must be met with a strong statement of support for human rights of the people of Brunei.”
Earlier in the week celebrities, including talkshow hosts Ellen Degeneres and Jay Leno, called for the hotels to be boycotted. Organisations such as The Hollywood Reporter and Teen Line have also changed venues for their upcoming events, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bosse said: “It is extremely important that we separate out the hotel from the ownership. I am not calling for a City-sanctioned boycott. I feel that each individual and group should make their own decision and I personally will not be attending any events at the hotel until this issue is resolved.”
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told a news briefing that concerns had been “privately” relayed to the government of Brunei. She said the State Department would not be boycotting hotels in the Dorchester Collection.
“It’s our understanding that the boycott specifically targets the Dorchester Collection of hotels, which has issued a statement that it does not tolerate any forms of discrimination of any kind. As such, the State Department has no specific restrictions prohibiting an employee from staying in a Dorchester hotel.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Beverly Hills Hotel employs about 600 people and the Hotel Bel-Air about 400. The Beverly Hills Hotel pays about $7m in bed taxes and $4m in city taxes annually.
India elections: death toll hits 43 after attacks on Muslims in Assam
by Agence France-Press
Indian police discovered five more bodies of women and children on Wednesday after a “barbaric” rampage by tribal separatists targeting Muslims in north-east Assam, taking the total number killed to 43.
The bodies were found as authorities continued their search of two districts in the remote tea-growing state where masked gunmen last week shot dead Muslim villagers, including babies, as they slept.
Police have accused tribal Bodo rebels of killing the Muslims, whose migrant community has been locked for years in land disputes with the indigenous group in the state, which borders Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Local media have reported that Bodos attacked the Muslims as punishment for failing to vote for their candidate last month in the country’s mammoth staggered election, which is drawing to a close.
The Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, told reporters from the worst-hit Narayanguri village: “So far the death toll is put at 43. The killings were indeed barbaric, with even a five-month-old baby not spared. It is unfortunate that bodies are still being recovered and we have reports that 11 more people are missing.”
A police spokesman travelling with Gogoi said the bodies of three children and two women were the latest found in the district of Baksa, about 130 miles west of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
The death toll has climbed from at least 32 on Sunday after a series of bodies were discovered in recent days, while several people wounded in the carnage on 1-2 May have also died in hospital.
Gogoi said 15 children, aged between eight months and 14 years, had been left orphaned by the bloodshed and were being sent to a charity-run home in Guwahati.
Villagers cried as they recalled their ordeals, while others pleaded with officials travelling with the chief minister to help shift them to hospital for treatment.
“I saw my mother and father dying in front of me. I managed to save myself hiding under the bed as masked gunmen put bullets in my parents,” 14-year-old Habiba Nessa told AFP.
Security forces are searching for the Bodo guerrillas blamed for the violence, which has forced several thousand people to flee their homes in fear, officials have said.
The violence came during the final stretch of the general election, which has seen religious and ethnic tensions flare and which the Hindu nationalist hardliner Narendra Modi and his opposition party are expected to win.
Chemicals in soap can cause male infertility, claim scientists
Scientists find that sperm cells are affected by chemicals in household products
Monday 12 May 2014
Chemicals in common household products such as toothpaste, soap and plastic toys have a direct impact on human sperm which could help explain rising levels of male infertility, scientists have found.
One in three “non-toxic” chemicals used in the manufacture of everyday items significantly affected the potency of sperm cells, which may account for the high incidence of unexplained infertility in the human population, the researchers said.
It is the first time that a study has found a direct effect of the many ubiquitous man‑made chemicals in the environment on a vital function of human sperm. The findings will raise further concerns about the hidden toxicity of chemicals deemed safe by toxicology tests.
But the researchers believe they have developed a new way of testing the impact of household chemicals on human sperm which will allow regulatory authorities in Europe to decide whether to ban or impose restrictions on their use in certain products.
The study was part of wider research into so-called “endocrine‑disrupting” chemicals that for several years have been linked with declining sperm counts and widespread male infertility.
In some cases, these chemicals are thought to mimic female sex hormones – oestrogens – and in other cases act as anti-androgens, the male sex hormones, thereby interfering with the male reproductive system.
However, the scientists found that one in three common household chemicals found in products such as sun screens, detergents and plastics directly sabotaged the human sperm’s swimming behaviour and caused them to prematurely release the critical enzymes needed to penetrate and fertilise the egg cell – which would render the sperm infertile.
They also found that the concentrations needed to trigger these adverse reactions were similar to the very low levels commonly found within the human body. In addition, they showed for the first time that there was a “cocktail effect”, when a number of chemicals worked together to amplify their individual effects.
“For the first time, we have shown a direct link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals from industrial products and adverse effects on human sperm function,” Professor Niels Skakkebaek, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, said.
“In my opinion, our findings are clearly of concern as some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are possibly more dangerous than previously thought. However, it remains to be seen from forthcoming clinical studies whether our findings may explain reduced couple fertility which is very common in modern societies,” Professor Skakkebaek told The Independent.
Professor Skakkebaek has pioneered the scientific investigation of rising male infertility. In 1991, he produced the first evidence showing that human sperm counts had fallen by nearly 50 per cent in less than 50 years – low sperm counts are a major cause of male infertility.
Some years later, scientists found that some common chemicals have an “oestrogenic” or “antiandrogenic” effect on the male reproductive system, which could be particularly important in the development of male foetuses in the womb during the critical first six months when the reproductive tissues form.
However, the latest research, published in The EMBO Journal and carried out with Timo Strünker of the Centre of Advanced European Studies and Research in Bonn, Germany, found that 30 out of 96 common household chemicals had a direct effect on the “catsper” protein which controls the sperm cell’s motility, or swimming agility, and its ability to enter the egg cell to trigger fertilisation.
“We have found a completely novel way in which endocrine-disrupting chemicals may affect human reproduction by direct interaction with human sperm,” Professor Skakkebaek said.
Relatively low concentrations of the chemicals – which previously were thought to be too low to cause an effect – triggered the catsper reaction in test-tube studies.
“In human body fluids, one does not find one of a few particular chemicals, but rather complex chemical cocktails with many different endocrine-disrupting chemicals at very low concentrations. We tried to mimic this situation in our experiments,” Dr Strünker said. “When mixed together the cocktail, despite the extremely low concentration of its ingredients, evoked large and sizeable responses in sperm. Thus, in complex mixtures [the chemicals] co-operate to interfere with sperm function. This has not been shown before.”
People ingest these chemicals every day either by consuming food and drink contaminated with them or by absorbing them through the skin in personal-care products such as sunscreens and soaps.
Professor Richard Sharpe, a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, said: “This study appears to open up a new dimension of potential effects of common lifestyle or environmental chemicals on male fertility.”
Cocaine use in Britain so high it has contaminated drinking water, report shows
Traces of illegal drug appear even after intensive treatment processes
Sunday 11 May 2014
Cocaine use in the UK is now so common that traces of the drug have contaminated the drinking water supply, a report has shown.
In a study to assess the dangers from pharmaceutical compounds appearing in the water we drink, scientists discovered traces of cocaine after it had gone through intensive purification treatments.
Experts from the Drinking Water Inspectorate found supplies contained benzoylecgonine, the metabolised form of the drug that appears once it has passed through the body. It is the same compound that is looked for in urine-based drug tests for cocaine.
Steve Rolles, from the drug policy think tank Transform, told The Sunday Timesthat the findings were an indication of the scale of the use of the drug in Britain today.
“We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” he said. “It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”
According to the charity DrugScope, there are around 180,000 dependent users of crack cocaine in England, and nearly 700,000 people aged 16-59 are estimated to take cocaine every year in Britain.
As well as benzoylecgonine, scientists also found traces of the common pain-killer ibuprofen and carbamazepine, a drug for treating epilepsy. The drinking water tested also contained significantly higher quantities of caffeine.
Assessing the risk from pharmaceuticals appearing in the water supply, a recent report from Public Health England found that the quantities of cocaine found were around a quarter of what appeared before treatment and, at a dose of just 4 nanograms per litre, was unlikely to represent a danger to the public.
“Intakes of the compounds detected in drinking water are many orders of magnitude lower than levels therapeutic doses,” the report said.
“Estimated exposures for most of the detected compounds are at least thousands of times below doses seen to produce adverse effects in animals and hundreds of thousands below human therapeutic doses.”
“Thus, the detected pharmaceuticals are unlikely to present a risk to health.”