Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Beginning Of The End

'The Night King has your dragon. He's one of them now. The Wall has fallen. The dead march South.' So, dear blog readers, congratulations to everyone in the UK with access to Sky who - like this blogger - was daft enough to stay up into the wee small early hours of Monday morning to watch the opening episode of Game Of Thrones' eighth and final series. An episode which some lady of no importance at the Gruniad Morning Star described as 'like a Greatest Hits episode, with brothel scenes, incest and reunions galore.' This blogger thought that the episode - with its redolent themes of reunion and consequence - was great, incidentally. No surprise there, then. Other - mostly gushing - reviews of the episode can be found here. And here. And here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. And, probably at an Interweb full of other places too. Use your search browsers wisely, dear blog reader. There's also a useful round-up of various soundbites and people you've never heard of 'OMGing' on Twitterhere.
The first episode of the much-anticipated final series of Game Of Thrones was set to premiere on Sunday night at 9pm EST on HBO (or, for those of us not in America, at 2am GMT on Sky). But, some lucky fans reportedly got their hands on it a bit early. Hours before the premiere, the episode was live for some users on DirecTV Now, before it was hurriedly taken down. Reports first surfaced that the episode was on the AT&T-owned service around 5pm EST on Sunday, with some users reporting that they received a 'push notification' that the episode was ready to be viewed. 'Apparently our system was as excited as we are for Game Of Thrones tonight and gave a few DirecTV Now customers early access to the episode by mistake. When we became aware of the error, we immediately fixed it and we look forward to tuning in this evening,' a representative for AT&T said.
A UK audience of around 2.3 million watched the premiere of the final series of Game Of Thrones on Monday. That was the total number of viewers who either watched it live when it was first broadcast at 2am (like this blogger), or who viewed a recording later on Monday. The start time was a result of the episode being simultcast with its US premiere. Despite warnings from the Daily Lies, which used Monday's front page to declare - entirely wrongly - that 'millions of Britons will call in sick' after staying up late to watch the episode, it seems that only a relatively small number elected to forgo sleep in order to watch it. Instead, most viewers - far more sensible ones than this blogger, clearly - chose to wait and view the programme during the day. Sky Atlantic's repeat of the episode on Monday night attracted a further seven hundred thousand overnight punters. That was the first British scheduled broadcast of the programme in prime time and the audience has seen a twelve per cent rise from the previously record-breaking finale of series seven in 2017. The series eight premiere was watched by 17.4 million US viewers, the Los Angeles Times has reported. Many more UK viewers are expected to watch the episode on catch-up or video-on-demand in the coming days, while the figures do not take into account individuals who watch the series via Sky's Now TV service, which can be bought by people without a full Sky package. The viewing figures, of course, also do not account for those who will have watched the episode illegally - with some reports suggesting that as many as one hundred and twenty thousand bad, naughty types are sharing versions of the episode online. They enjoyed a better experience than viewers in China, who complained that 'six minutes of sex and violence' were cut from the episode at the whim of the country's censors. Which, presumably, means that Jerome Flynn and his trio of lady-friends disappeared from the episode entirely.
This blogger was not exactly surprised but was, undeniably, more than a bit saddened to read a couple of threads on Facebook this week from people (including one or two whom this blogger had always really rather respected) apparently celebrating the fact that they had never, not never, watched a single episode of Game Of Thrones. Personally, this blogger would like to confirm that he has never roller-skated on the surface of The Moon. Or, indeed, scored a hat-trick at Wembley after licking the chocolate off a dozen Mars' Bars. He'd like to have done both, though. This blogger has to confess, he's never understood the rationale behind, seemingly, taking delight in bragging about something one hasn't done rather than something one has. Not that there is anything, necessarily, wrong with someone never having watched an episode of Game Of Thrones, of course. But, most of these threads also contained a few stray comments which indicated that some of those contributing considered the popular adult fantasy drama to be both 'over-rated' and 'shit'. Quite how any of these people knew either of those things to be true if, indeed, they really have never watched a single episode, they spectacularly failed to explain. Despite a couple of direct queries being asked about exactly that apparent conundrum. Some of the sneering displayed in such threads did, rather, remind this blogger of some similar threads from last year before and during the World Cup from a handful of people who were, seemingly, similarly desperate to let anyone that was interested - and, indeed, anyone that wasn't - know they really didn't like football. And that, as a consequence, they would be spending the next month generally scowling and snarling at any poor miscreant who happened to mention the damn thing in their general vicinity whilst feeling an, apparent, sense of moral superiority because they didn't like something which lots of other people did. Which prompted at least one responder - not this blogger, just to make that very clear - to enquire if they 'wanted a fucking medal' for their lack of interest in - and haughty disdain for - something which other people happened to enjoy. 'I like being different' is one thing; 'I'm going to celebrate my "difference" by deliberately pissing off people that I'm different from by sneering at them about how much better than them I am because I don't like what they do' is, this blogger would suggest, quite another. This blogger feels, however, that the saddest aspect of the recent, 'I've never watched any of that there Game Of Thrones, me' malarkey has been the large percentage of such claimants who are known (and active) members of fandoms of other popular TV series. And, one in particular! All of which does, rather invite the observation in response to any bafflement at other people finding enjoyment in what is, essentially, 'I, Claudius with dragons,' something along the lines of '... and, you're so smart in your own viewing habits, because ... ?' This blogger, it should be noted, didn't get into Game Of Thrones himself until Christmas 2015 (although he had seen a handful of episodes for that) when he finally decided to find out what lots of his friends had been enthusing about for four years and bought a box-set (cheap on e-Bay, let it be noted). And then binge-watched five full series worth of fifty episodes in about four or five days. Then he sort of understood what all the fuss had been about. The point, dear blog reader, is that not watching something does not make one a foolish fool but it does not, necessarily, make one a gloriously insightful sexy golden God either. Neither does the latter apply to anyone who deliberately does not watch something that they could watch but choose not to largely on the grounds that because lots of other people like it, they intend not to on general, sour-faced principle. As for the 'foolish fools' bit, this blogger couldn't possibly comment. Well, he could, but he's not going to. Here endeth this week's From The North editorial whinge!
The Kingslayer's golden hair was a signature part of his look, but Nikolaj Coster-Waldau wanted to trick the Game Of Thrones crew into thinking he'd done to his hair what someone once did to his hand and chopped it off. 'There'd been a lot of talk about Jaime's hair in the early seasons – his long golden locks,' Nik told the Digital Spy website. 'Once he lost his hand, I thought he should maybe have a haircut. And then I thought, "Why don't I just pretend?" This is five, six seasons ago - I sent them an old picture where I had a buzz cut,' he continued. 'I sent a long letter where I explained I'd taken control of my character and I want to be respected. I said that my integrity as an artist was at stake.' Coster-Waldau did not get a response immediately, but he did get a frantic call from an assistant director as he made his way back to Belfast to film again. Apparently, the head hairstylist was already rushing to create a makeshift wig. At this point, the actor revealed that he was joking about his makeover. 'They all believed it,' he said, but not everyone was laughing. 'They'd also called my manager. HBO had started to talk about suing me and it had gotten out of control.'
As noted in the last From The North update, dear blog reader, this blogger does not intend to review any episodes of the second series of From The North favourite Killing Eve currently showing in the US until the episodes become widely available in Britain (probably in late May or early June) for fear of spoiling anyone who wants not to be spoiled. However, if you're not bothered about any such spoilerising then, reviews of episode two are extremely available here, at the Torygraph for example. And, here, here, here and here. Avoid all of these like The Plague if you want to remain unspoilerised, obviously. This blogger will merely - in a wholly non-spoilerising way - congratulate the production on managing to make Basildon exactly like the shitehole this blogger has always found it to be on his two visits there. Oh and this blogger will also note that Keith Telly Topping thought it was great. Though, that's not really a spoiler, per se, more a universal constant.
And, in possibly the least unexpected bit of broadcasting news of the year so far, it was announced over the weekend that Killing Eve is set to return for a third series. Well, of course it is. Charlotte Moore, the BBC's Director of Content, said: 'It's fantastic news that there will be a third series of this award-winning hit drama and we're delighted UK audiences will be able to see Killing Eve exclusively on the BBC. In the mean-time Villanelle and Eve will be returning to BBC1 and BBC iPlayer for a second series soon.' Ish. Series three will be executive produced by Sally Woodward Gentle and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who adapted the books for series one.
The latest episode of From The North's current favourite TV show on the planet, Doom Patrol - Jane Patrol - was a truly remarkable exploration of abuse survival and mental fragmentation, based heavily on an issue of Grant Morrison's legendary run of the comic during the late 1980s (Going Underground). It was, as with the previous eight episodes of this astonishing adaptation, funny, horrific, mind-bendingly surreal and not far off being indescribable. So, this blogger won't even attempt to do so. Instead, he'll leave that to others. 'Dark and poignant,' according to Den of Geek! 'Complex and haunting,' noted Superherohype. 'Exploring the psyche, the spiritual and the meaning of individuality as it does, the show is one of the most challenging and socially conscious superhero dramas out there,' opined Fansided. So, not indescribable, then. Just ... great.
The trailer for the next Doom Patrol episode, meanwhile, will see Vic and Rita face another classic Grant Morrison character, The Beard Hunter, who has been activated by The Bureau Of Normalcy to find Niles Caulder. One imagines it can't be long before Red Jack, The Brotherhood Of Dada and The Brain and Monsieur Mallah show up to the Doom Patrol party. Which will be nice if an when it happens.
Sunday's third episode of Line Of Duty's fifth series continues to slap regular viewers in the face. With really obvious - and, hopefully, entirely red-herringish - suggestions that fan favourite Ted Hastings (the great Adrian Dunbar) may not be the Olympian honest copper we all previously thought but, rather, a corrupt, murdering bastard. The usual - borderline-fannish - reviews of the episode at the Gruniad, the Independent and the Torygraph are available. As is one from the Radio Times. Although dear blog readers are advised that the latter contains reporting of the witless bleatings of various people that you've never heard of on Twitter. So, you might want to avoid that one if you want to retain your sanity.
Again, this isn't exactly a spoiler, but this blogger could not let the opportunity pass to express his admiration for how utterly superb long time From The North favourite Stephen Graham is in this year's Line Of Duty. In what could have been a rather obvious scenery-chewing role in lesser hands, Graham's John Corbett is a beautifully nuanced realisation of a man, quite literally, on the edge. But then, this is Stephen Graham we're talking about, what would you really expect?
For this week's entry in From The North's Songs This Blogger Really Likes Turning Up On The Soundtrack Of TV Series This Blogger Also Really Likes, we have number six: Lonnie Donegan's 'Gamblin' Man' making a surprise appearance in the latest episode of The Blacklist, Lady Luck.
'Its impact on British pop music cannot be under-estimated; The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie all began playing skiffle.' And, speaking of Lonnie his very self, this blogger had always been a big of Billy Bragg. But, he must place on record how twenty four-carat excellent The Bard Of Barking's BBC4 documentary Rock Island Line: The Song That Made Britain Rock was. Thoughtful, passionate, witty and with a splash of - not entirely unexpected - politics included, it was another of BBC4's impressive contributions to the rock-doc genre that was a notch or two above the norm. Reviews can be found here, here and here and, if you missed it on Friday evening, dear blog reader, keep your eye on the BBC4 schedules on any forthcoming repeat. You will not regret it, trust yer actual Keith Telly Topping on that score.
And, then there's Songs This Blogger Really Likes Turning Up On The Soundtrack Of TV Series This Blogger Also Really Likes. Number seven: Lou Reed's 'Vicious' used in the latest episode of American Gods.
Really jolly splendid episode - Donar, The Great - it was too. As you can read all about it, dear blog reader, here, here, here, here and here. But, only if you don't want to have your very selves spoilerised, of course.
In this week's second semi-final of Only Connect dear blog reader, once again, this blogger managed to get the answer to two questions - both in the sequences round - before either of the teams did. And, he was particularly pleased in so much as The Divine Victoria reckoned that those two were the hardest of the episode. Which either means that year actual Keith Telly Topping is a late developing genius or, more likely, he just got really lucky.
The episode was won by The Dicers on a thrilling tie-break. They will go on to meet From The North favourites The Time Ladies in the final in a couple of week's time. The Ancient Alumni will also be back in next week's (rather pointless) Third Place Play-Off against the other losing semi-finalists, The Poptimists.
This blogger has also been greatly enjoying the opening two episodes of David Olusoga's beautiful documentary series A House Through Time focusing on a lovely-looking Georgian terraced gaff in yer actual Keith Telly Topping's vague neck of the woods, Ravensworth Terrace in Summerhill just to the West of Newcastle's city centre. The series works both as a piece of social history and a lyrical regional think-piece. Indeed David has, previously, described the series as 'a love letter to the North East.' It's certainly that. And, it looks gorgeous too. More - much more - of this sort of thing, please.
HBO has confirmed popular drama series Westworld will return for its much-anticipated third series in 2020, along with the fourth series of Insecure and series ten of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The cable network's new 'comedic thriller' Run also is slated to premiere in 2020. Bob Greenblatt, the recently appointed Chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer and HBO President of Programming Casey Bloys confirmed the returns as part of an interview with Deadline. Still to be determined are Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams' Lovecraft Country, Joss Whedon's The Nevers and Abrams' Contraband (formerly known as Demimonde). HBO's Perry Mason limited series starring former The Americans lead Matthew Rhys is also yet to have its start date confirmed. Abrams' newly retitled Contraband is described as 'an epic and intimate sci-fi fantasy drama.' Abrams is executive producing with Bad Robot's Ben Stephenson. The Nevers is 'an epic science-fiction drama about a gang of Victorian women who find themselves with unusual abilities, relentless enemies and a mission that might change the world.' The former Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly creator is described as writer, director, executive producer and showrunner of the series. He also makes the tea and tells jokes. Apparently. Lovecraft Country comes from Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions, Abrams' Bad Robot and Warner Brothers Television. Based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country focuses on twenty five-year-old Atticus Black. After his father goes missing, Black joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to 'embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America to find him.' An 'epic' road-trip presumably since that word seems to appear in every single HBO press release.
BBC Studios have announced that the next release in their Doctor Who: The Collection will be the tenth series, starring Mister Pertwee as The Doctor: 'In 1973, Doctor Who celebrated its tenth anniversary with a very special story reuniting the first two Doctors - William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton - with Jon Pertwee's then-current Doctor. The Three Doctors kicks off an explosive, colourful series of adventures across all of time and space as The Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) encounter the rogue Time Lord Omega, the terrifying Drashigs, the noble Draconians, fearsome Ogrons, deadly Daleks and slithering giant maggots. Season ten also includes the final appearance of Roger Delgado as The Doctor's arch nemesis The Master, plus adventures alongside Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and UNIT.' You knew all that, right? The six disc Blu-ray collection includes all five of the stories comprising this series - The Three Doctors, Carnival Of Monsters, Frontier In Space, Planet Of The Daleks and The Green Death - plus a bonus disc of extras. As well as features previously available on the DVD releases, the set will include a brand new feature-length documentary examining the Third Doctor's era, with archival contributions from Mister Pertwee, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks plus all-new interviews with Katy Manning, The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (OBE) and Mark Gatiss, presented by the very excellent Matthew Sweet. There will also be 'updated special effects' and surround-sound mix for Planet Of The Daleks, five new episodes of Behind The Sofa, featuring Katy Manning, Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sergeant John Benton), along with Twenty First Century Doctor Who panel Phil Collinson, Pete McTighe and Joy Wilkinson, Looking For Lennie, a documentary investigating the life of director Lennie Mayne and Keeping Up With The Jones', which sees Katy Manning with Stewart Bevan (Cliff Jones) pay a return visit to the Welsh locations from The Green Death. So, it would seem that, after all these years Jo is still 'up on the slag-heap with the professor.' Plus the set will include the repeat 'omnibus' version of The Green Death unseen since Christmas 1973, rare Panopticon convention footage, HD photo galleries plus scripts, production files and rare documentation provided as PDFs. The set will also include Death Of The Doctor, which featured Katy Manning reprising her role as Jo in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Doctor Who: The Collection, series ten which sounds mighty righteous - is due to be released on Monday 8 July (the day after what would have been Mister Pertwee's on hundredth birthday) and is available to pre-order in the UK already. And, if it's half as good as the previously released series' twelve eighteen and nineteen packages then it'll, one imagines, be right up your straß, dear blog reader.
If you fancy a geet good laugh, dear blog reader, and let's face it, who doesn't, then this blogger's Facebook fiend James Gent's hilariously piss-take article Doctor Who's Rare Grooves at the We Are Cult website should also be right up yer straß.
This blogger's favourite bit: 'A surreal, surely mescaline-induced slice of psychedelia wherein Doctor Who's Zoe (shortly after leaving the series) was persuaded, in her innocence, to recite a thinly-veiled paean to her magnificent, glittery catsuit-coated arse, with lyrics by Michael Moorcock against a noodly noisenik background by members of Soft Machine and Caravan (listen out for Robert Wyatt's whispered "Look at the size of that thing"). It appeared on an International Times flexi-disc in early 1970 and was directly responsible for Padbury turning her back on the alternative scene and marrying Melvyn Hayes. Second only to Blood On Satan's Claw as topics that Dame Padders refuses to discuss at conventions.' Groovy.
Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field will not be on the judging panel for the next series of The X Factor, it has been confirmed. In a post on Instagram, the former Take That singer said that the duo would still work with Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads 'on other projects' but that they did not wish to be associated with The X Factor any more. Because, it's shit and no one watches it these days. Williams and Field only joined the show last year. Some fans were initially worried about the US TV actress's lack of experience in the music industry. But Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads said at the series fifteen launch: 'Ayda has been a revelation. I mean, seriously, she's been brilliant.' Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads explained that you do not necessarily need to be an artist or a music manager to be on the show. Or, indeed, be a likeable human being which explains why he, himself, is still on it. 'You have to have taste, good instincts, you have got to like people,' he claimed. 'Ayda has seen the music business from a different point of view so she brings a different perspective to the panel. I think she's amazing.' Field said her years spent with Williams had given her enough experience to be on the show. 'I know that I've helped Rob for twelve years now, I've had to pick him up off the ground and lift him up,' she said. 'I am always incredibly straightforward, I say it with compassion but I stick to my word and carry it through.' Williams filled the vacancy left by long-standing judge Louis Walsh, who quit the show last summer after thirteen years. Williams said at the time that he hoped The X Factor would boost his future TV prospects. 'Selfishly, for me, I've had the most fun that I've ever had in the entertainment industry,' he told This Morning last September. 'It would be incredible to open a new chapter and have this be the start of it. I'm just having a whale of a time. Who knew that I would be a TV personality? I like it though!'
A UK-based TV station has been fined seventy five grand by Ofcom after broadcasting 'hate speech' about the Ahmadi community, amid growing fears that the religious group is facing persecution. Channel Forty Four, an Urdu-language current affairs satellite channel, broadcast two episodes of a discussion programme featuring a guest who 'made repeated, serious and unsubstantiated allegations about members of the Ahmadiyya community,' the broadcasting watchdog said.The guest, who appeared on the Point Of View show, which was made in Pakistan, claimed Ahmadi people had 'committed acts of murder, terrorism and treason as well as undertaking political assassinations.' The same guest also claimed that the Ahmadi community, which has its roots in Northern India in the late Nineteenth Century, was 'favoured in Pakistan at the expense of orthodox Muslims.' The ruling comes during 'ongoing concern' over discrimination against the Ahmadiyya movement, a minority sect of Islam which faces persecution and violence in Pakistan and Indonesia as well as hostility from some orthodox Muslims in Britain. The Ahmadi community moved its global headquarters from Pakistan to South London in the 1980s, after a constitutional amendment declared its followers to be non-Muslims and they were later barred from practising their faith. Some orthodox Muslims regard the Ahmadi as 'heretical' because they do not believe Muhammad was the final prophet sent to guide mankind. During the programmes broadcast by Channel Forty Four in early December 2017, Ofcom - a politically appointed quango, elected by no one - said that the guest 'made remarks that attributed conspiratorial intent to the actions of the Pakistani authorities towards the Ahmadiyya community.' Ofcom found that the channel breached three clauses in its code, covering context of 'offensive material, hate speech and derogatory treatment of religions or communities.' Arguing that Pakistani officials had 'inducted' Ahmadi people into the police and education department, the guest called on the country's people to 'rise up' against this. Among other inflammatory remarks, he also claimed that until the Ahmadi community suffers 'a bad ending, matters will not improve.' City News Network Pvt Ltd, which runs the channel, was fined seventy five thousand smackers and ordered to broadcast a statement about the ruling. The firm expressed its 'regret and sincere apologies for the failings in the compliance for these two programmes.' It described the failings as 'unintentional' and claimed it 'did not intend to cause offence' to the Ahmadi community. Last year, a community radio station was fined ten thousand notes after broadcasting 'abusive and derogatory' statements about the Ahmadis. Radio Ikhlas, based in Derby, suspended a presenter and broadcast an apology after a radio phone-in that discussed the beliefs of the Ahmadi community 'in offensive and pejorative terms.' During the twenty one-minute segment, the presenter described Ahmadi people as 'dangerous, liars, enemies and hypocrites.' In 2013 a TV station was fined twenty five thousand knicker after broadcasting two programmes 'subjecting the Ahmadi community to abuse.' Takbeer TV, a free-to-air Islamic channel, broadcast statements describing Ahmadis as having 'monstrous intentions' and being both 'lying monsters' and 'worthy of elimination' by Allah, 'by using worms and vermin.'
The next Star Wars movie will be titled The Rise Of Skywalker, it has been announced. The title was revealed at a Star Wars celebration event in Chicago, while a teaser trailer was posted on Twitter with the words: 'Every generation has a legend.' Director JJ Abrams said that the movie is set 'some time' after previous film, The Last Jedi. Despite his apparent death at the end of Return Of The Jedi, Emperor Palpatine seems to be making a comeback. His sinister cackle is heard at the end of the trailer and Ian McDiarmid, who plays the character, strolled on stage to loud applause at the announcement. The two-minute trailer, the first footage seen from the new film, also features a brief glimpse of Princess Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher. She embraces Rey (Daisy Ridley), while Luke Skywalker's voice is heard saying: 'We'll always be with you. No one's ever really gone.' Fisher died in 2016 but the filmmakers were able to use previously unseen footage from The Force Awakens. Abrams told the event in Chicago that it was 'a weird miracle' to be able to continue Princess Leia's story. 'Every day it hits me that she's not here, but it's so surreal because we're working with her still,' he said. 'She's so alive in the scenes and the craziest part is how not crazy it feels. Princess Leia lives in this film in a way that's kind of mind-blowing for me.' Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm - a subsidiary of Disney that makes the Star Wars films - agreed with the event's panel host, Stephen Colbert, that it was 'unprecedented' to tell a story in a nine-film arc. 'What's also fascinating is it's over forty years,' she told the event. 'To keep this relevant and meaningful to the characters and to the people experiencing this story, it has to feel like its of its time. We've taken to heart everything that inspired George [Lucas] and then I think the inspiration that JJ's brought to this has given it even more depth.' Fans welcomed the reappearance of Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, who is seen piloting The Millennium Falcon. The movie also features the return of John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron. The trailer opens with Rey on a desert planet as Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, says in a voiceover: 'We've passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.' She activates her lightsaber as a TIE fighter bears down on her, flying close to the ground. As it reaches her, she back-flips over it. It's pretty cool. Then we see Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, slicing through enemies in a blood-red forest. Calrissian appears at the controls of The Millennium Falcon, putting it into hyperdrive as a title card says: 'The saga comes to an end.' The film is due to be released on 20 December.
Prosecutors will seek a sentence of 'four to ten months' in The Joint for actress Felicity Huffman for her part in the college admissions scam, an alleged - though anonymous - law enforcement 'source'allegedly told CNN. Huffman pleaded extremely guilty last week to a charge of conspiracy to commit fraud alongside twelve other parents involved in the Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal in which parents paid to have people cheat on standardised tests for their children or bribed college administrators and coaches to increase their chances of getting into prestigious universities. Huffman said last week in a statement that she accepts her guilt 'with deep regret and shame over what I have done' and 'will accept the consequences that stem from those actions.' Not that she'll have much choice in the matter, obviously. 'I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologise to them and, especially, I want to apologise to the students who work hard every day to get into college and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly,' she said in the statement. One or two people even believed her. Under the terms of her plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend 'incarceration at the low end' of Huffman's sentencing guidelines range, a twenty thousand bucks fine and one year of supervised release, according to court documents obtained by the Daily News. CNN's allegedly snitchy 'source' allegedly snitched that the prosecutors' decision to seek four to ten months had 'nothing to do with Huffman's public apology.' A federal judge will have the final say on Huffman's sentence. She is due back in court on 21 May for a sentencing hearing.
Intelligence agency GCHQ has cracked 'secret' codes hidden by the man behind Frank Sidebottom. Because, obviously, they didn't have anything more important to do at the time. The late Chris Sievey drew cryptic symbols in artwork around the borders of some of Frank's fan newsletters, football programmes and record sleeves. Sievey died in 2010 and the codes remained secret until the director of a new documentary took them to GCHQ. A crack team of codebreakers revealed that the messages said things like: 'Why does my nose hurt after concerts?' That was a reference to the nose peg that Chris wore under Sidebottom's giant head to give the character his trademark nasal voice. Chris told friends and family that he was hiding 'important messages' in code. But, as with so many things in Chris's extraordinary life, that was just him havin' a laugh. Director Steve Sullivan, whose film Being Frank tells the story of Sievey and Sidebottom, took the rows of symbols to several codebreakers, but none of them could help. Sullivan told BBC News: 'My own attempts to crack it proved absolutely futile. I spent a while just looking at them going, "What could he be saying, what could this mean?" But it was impossible to crack them and it was entirely plausible that there wasn't a code there and that he was just winding people up.' In an attempt to solve the mystery, Sullivan eventually turned to GCHQ. The country's top codebreakers, too, seemed flummoxed until Sievey's son Stirling recalled how his dad would get the children to fill an outer row with random symbols, while Sievey would insert real code into the inner row. 'It meant the outer row triangles is a complete red herring,' Sullivan said. 'Not only did he put a mystery out there, he made it deliberately impossible to crack. By letting his kids add nonsense into the message, it deliberately obscures the chances of anybody - even top mathematicians - being able to crack it. So I reported back to GCHQ that the outer ring is a red herring and then had an email one day saying, "Right, we've cracked it during a light-hearted training exercise." I'm embarrassed to say, on the very next day Chris's very own code grid was found in the back of his address book. It was almost like Chris Sievey was going, "There you go, now we've all had our fun, there's the explanation."' GCHQ told Sullivan that Sidebottom had 'a small but dedicated following' among its own staff. Noticing some repeated pairs of symbols - which represented letters - the first word cracked by GCHQ was Sidebottom's favourite word, 'bobbins'. You know, what The Robins aren't. The full messages didn't turn out to be crucial to national security. They were 'a combination of slightly autobiographical statements and silly statements about Frank's world,' Sullivan said. No shit? As well as 'Why does my nose hurt after concerts?' another typical code translated as: 'The Man From Fish EP is top secret.' Sullivan said he has 'absolutely no idea' what that means. Sievey never told his fans about the existence of the codes, despite the fact that the symbols were inserted into newsletters, music sleeves and football programmes for Timperley Big Shorts, his Sunday league team. 'It was just an exercise in wilful absurdity, which is why he was doing it,' Sullivan said. 'But then all of his work was an exercise in wilful obscurity and absurdity. I think he loved the idea that he was putting communication out but people didn't even know he was communicating.' GCHQ had 'a great sense of humour about the whole investigation,' the director added. A GCHQ spokesperson said: 'As the national authority for cryptanalysis, we're sometimes sent codes which the team will test themselves with in their spare time. They provide us with a great challenge and help build the skills we need to keep the country safe. With its colourful drawings and striking patterns, this code caught our eye and it was satisfying to be able to break it.' All of Sidebottom's codes will be available for fans to work out for themselves when Being Frank is released on DVD on 29 April. Meanwhile, if nothing else, this story gives this blogger the excuse to post a link to his own favourite Frank song, the genius that is 'Estudiantes (Striped Shirts, Black Panties)'.
Police log books for the officers who protected The BeAtles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them) from hordes of screaming fans on their first visit to the US have gone on display. The records list the names of the officers who guarded the band in New York as they prepared to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. The visit saw The Fab Four followed by huge crowds wherever they went. NYPD officer Patrick Cassidy, who found the logs, has donated them to Liverpool's Magical Be-Atles Museum. Detailed as the 'visit of Beatles singing group,' the handwritten police blotter lists Sergeants O'Shea, Jones and McAuliffe, with officers Delgado, De Angelo, Lucarelli and Madden among the NYPD detachment looking after the band. The records also mention The Be-Atles' show at Carnegie Hall on 12 February 1964 and an incident where an officer was 'knocked off balance' and injured outside the Plaza Hotel while 'attempting to restrain the surging crowd.' Of little girls. Cassidy, whose father Edward also served with the NYPD, said he found the logs while searching in police records. 'The Ed Sullivan Theatre is in the confines of my precinct, so one day in 2013, I went into the storage area that holds these books. After fifty years, they clean out and destroy them, so I looked up February 1964 and found the book, which would have been destroyed the following year.' Cassidy said his father had told him he found The Be-Atles to be 'well-dressed and well-behaved' young adults, adding that the band had, modestly, assumed 'the crowds outside the hotel were for someone else.' The Be-Atles had already hit number one in the US charts when they arrived in New York on 7 February 1964 and the levels of anticipation surrounding their arrival were huge. Throngs of screaming fans and reporters shadowed the band's every move, with police on alert for anyone posing as hotel guests or other disguises trying to get close to them. Their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was watched by a then record audience of seventy three million people, with sixty per cent of televisions in the country tuned in to the show.
New research has shown where William Shakespeare - a popular scribbler of soap operas of the 1590s, you might've heard of him - lived in London when he was writing Romeo & Juliet. It was previously known that the playwright lived 'close' to the site of Liverpool Street station between 1597 and 1598. But theatre historian Geoffrey Marsh has cross-referenced various official records to pinpoint the exact location. Evidence suggests The Bard lived at what is now known as Thirty Five Great St Helen's, a site next to St Helen's Church occupied by an office block. Over a decade of research, Marsh discovered that in the 1590s, Shakespeare was a tenant of the Company of Leathersellers, the guild that organised the Elizabethan leather trade. His home was most likely in a cluster of properties which overlooked the churchyard of St Helen's, yards from where The Gherkin stands today, Marsh said. Marsh, who is also the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum's department of theatre and performance, said: 'The place where Shakespeare lived in London gives us a more profound understanding of the inspirations for his work and life. Within a few years of migrating to London from Stratford, he was living in one of the wealthiest parishes in the city, alongside powerful public figures, wealthy international merchants, society doctors and expert musicians. The merchants had connections across Europe and the doctors were linked to the latest progressive thinking in universities in Italy and Germany. Living in what was one of the power locales of London would have also enhanced Shakespeare's status as he developed his career, sought a family coat of arms and planned to buy an impressive and expensive house in Stratford.'
Ecuador's decision to allow police to arrest Julian Assange inside its London embassy last Thursday followed 'a fraught and acrimonious period' in which relations between the government in Quito and the WikiLeaks founder 'became increasingly hostile,' it has been claimed. In a presentation before Ecuador’s parliament on Thursday, the foreign minister, José Valencia, set out nine reasons why Assange's asylum had been withdrawn. The list ranged from 'meddling in Ecuador's relations with other countries' to having to 'put up with his rudeness' for nearly seven years. Valencia said that Ecuador had been 'left with little choice' but to end Assange's stay in its embassy following his 'innumerable acts of interference in the politics of other states' which 'put at risk' the country's relations with them. His second point focused on Assange's behaviour, which stretched from riding a skateboard and playing football inside the small embassy building to allegedly 'mistreating and threatening' embassy staff and 'even coming to blows' with security workers. Valencia said the fugitive and his lawyers had made 'insulting threats' against the country, accusing its officials of being pressured by other countries. He said that Assange 'permanently accused [embassy] staff of spying on and filming him' on behalf of the United States and instead of thanking Ecuador for nearly seven years of asylum he and his entourage launched 'an avalanche of criticisms' against the Quito government. He referred also to the guest's alleged 'hygienic' problems including one that was 'very unpleasant' and 'attributed to a digestive problem.' But Assange's deteriorating health was also major concern, the minister claimed, as he could not be properly treated in the embassy building. He added the fact that the UK 'would not consider granting him safe conduct' meant Ecuador faced the prospect of him staying 'indefinitely in the diplomatic headquarters.' The minister went on to say that Ecuador could not extend asylum to a person fleeing justice and there was no extradition request for Assange when Ecuador ended his asylum. The UK had offered 'sufficient guarantees of due process' to Assange, Valencia added and that he would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. Finally, there were 'multiple inconsistencies' in how Assange had been granted Ecuadorean citizenship and his stay had proved 'very costly,' the minister said. Ecuador had spent more five million dollars on its guest's 'security' between 2012 and 2018 and nearly four hundred thousand dollars on his medical costs, food and laundry, he added. Ecuador's president, Lenín Moreno, had made little secret of his desire to evict Assange from the embassy building in Knightsbridge, where he had lived since June 2012. Moreno has variously described Assange as a 'hacker,' an 'inherited problem' and a 'stone in the shoe.' In a video address on Thursday, he accused Assange of breaching the 'generous' asylum conditions offered by Ecuador and of 'meddling in the internal affairs of other states.' Moreno claimed that Assange had installed 'forbidden electronic equipment' in the embassy, had mistreated guards and 'accessed the security files of our embassy without permission.' The final straw came 'two days ago,' Moreno suggested, when WikiLeaks directly 'threatened the government of Ecuador.' On Tuesday Assange's legal team gave a press conference in which they accused Quito of illegally spying on him. 'The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behaviour of Mister Assange,' said President Moreno in a TV address. In retrospect, Assange's fate was sealed in 2017 when Moreno narrowly won Ecuador's presidential election. Moreno's leftist predecessor, Rafael Correa, had given Assange unconditional support and had offered him asylum in the first place. Moreno was the candidate for Correa's Alianza Pais party, but soon distanced himself from his predecessor - apparently viewing Assange as a 'hangover' from the Correa years and an impediment to better relations with the United States. In a tweet on Thursday, Correa, now Moreno's bitter enemy, described him as 'the greatest traitor in Ecuador and Latin America's history.' In particular, Moreno took a dim view of WikiLeaks' release of material that caused 'bilateral embarrassment.' In 2016 WikiLeaks published e-mails hacked by Russia's military intelligence spy agency, according to a 2018 indictment by the special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The e-mails were stolen from the Democratic party during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Then in 2017 Assange tweeted in favour of Catalan independence - an action which annoyed the Spanish government, and caused difficulties for relations between Madrid and Quito. In March 2018 Moreno restricted Assange's access to the Interweb and insisted he 'abide by new conditions.' Assange complained that he had been cut off from visitors and the world. Then, near the end of last year, Ecuador laid out a stringent new set of house rules for Assange, warning that he had to 'avoid online comments about political issues' and ordering him to clean his bathroom and 'take better care' of his pet cat. By spring of this year it appeared Moreno's patience had finally run out and that his unhappiness with Assange had become personal. In a radio interview earlier this month Moreno complained that 'photos of my bedroom, what I eat and how my wife and daughters and friends dance' had been circulating on social media. The Ecuadorean government said it believed WikiLeaks had shared the photos. WikiLeaks tweeted last week that Moreno had said he would take a decision about Assange's fate 'in the short term' after it had reported on an 'offshore corruption scandal wracking his government.' Known in Ecuador as The Ina Papers, the scandal alleges that Moreno 'corruptly benefited' from an offshore account in Panama. Moreno denies any wrongdoing.
Almost two decades into the Twenty First Century, the days of the Page Three girl look to be finally over, after the Daily Lies announced it would no longer feature pictures of topless women. The alleged 'newspaper' was the last daily print outlet maintaining the British tabloid tradition, after the Sun stopped doing so following political pressure in 2015. So, no more tits for breakfast for you lot. Although the Lies will continue to feature photos of attractive young women in suggestive poses, they will no longer be topless, according to its editor, Jonathan Clark, who suggested it was 'time for a change. The Daily Star is always looking to try new things and improve,' he said. No, it really doesn't. 'In that spirit, we've listened to reader feedback and are currently trialling a covered-up version of page three.' The move potentially brings to an end fifty years of geet big bazoomas in mainstream newspapers. The former Labour minister Clare Short, who was pilloried by the tabloids in the 2000s when she repeatedly proposed banning the feature, told the Gruniad Morning Star that her campaign had, finally, been vindicated. 'Good news. It only took thirty years,' she said. The decision also marks a U-turn for the Lies, which has always taken what the Gruniad described, euphemistically, as 'an idiosyncratic approach' to the newspaper business. When the Sun cancelled its Page Three girls, the Daily Lies responded by increasing on its own commitment to the feature, working on the 'tits sells tabloids' principle. Under the guidance of its former proprietor Richard Desmond, a major UKiP donor and softcore pornographer who previously owned titles such as Asian Babes, it defended the inclusion of such pictures and suggested they were 'a core part of British culture.' Which they might be but, you know, so were bear baiting and cock fighting. 'The Daily Star is proud to continue the great British page three tradition,' the newspaper sneered at the time. 'It brightens the day for our readers during tough times and has launched many successful careers. We will continue to listen to what our readers want and put a smile on their faces with our lovely, bright, talented and independent young ladies. Page Three is as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pud, fish and chips and seaside postcards. The Daily Star is about fun and cheering people up. And that will definitely continue!' Four years later, the newspaper appears to have decided otherwise, seemingly influenced by Desmond's decision to sell the title to the Daily Mirra owner, Reach. The former longstanding Lies editor Dawn Neesom, who once justified page three as something which was 'fun and women look at it as much as men' was, last year, extremely replaced by Clark, a former Daily Mirra associate editor who has brought a new approach to the job. Page Three was introduced to the UK by billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch and Larry Lamb in 1970 shortly after they relaunched the Sun as a tabloid newspaper. It helped make models such as Samantha Fox and Katie Price household names and rivals followed suit with their own equivalents, despite a sustained public campaign against the feature. Topless pictures have not vanished from British newsstands completely, with the Sunday Sport continuing to be distributed in some outlets. Ones that have not shame, anyway. It remains to be seen whether the Lies' decision to end topless Page Three girls will make a substantial difference to the newspaper's sales, which last month fell to three hundred and twenty two thousand copies a day, an eighteen per cent year-on-year decline. The Daily Lies is also, of course, a completely risible rag which specialises in made-up non-stories. As this blog has previously highlighted, many times.
It is, you might think, as British as fish and chips and one of the country's most famous historic sites, but new evidence suggests that the roots of Stonehenge lie in the Mediterranean. Scientists studying DNA from ancestors of those who built the world's most famous prehistoric monument found they journeyed to Britain from what is now Greece and Turkey. When UKiP heard about this they immediately demanded that the stones be dismantled and sent back where they came from in the first place. Which was Wales, as it happens. Arriving in Britain around six thousand years ago, the newcomers virtually replaced the existing hunter-gatherer population, a study published in the journal Nature has claimed. These bloody Neolithic types, they come over here, they take our jobs and what did they ever do for us. Apart from being our ancestors, obviously. Anyway, built in several stages, Stonehenge's first monument was put up about five thousand years ago and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period around 2500 BC. The migration was just one part of a large-scale expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000 BC which introduced farming to Europe. Researchers from Britain and the US found 'similarities' between the DNA of Britain's early farmers and those discovered in what is now Spain and Portugal, indicating this population arrived in the UK after journeying East to West through the Mediterranean. But some groups of migrants appear to have landed on the Western coast first before spreading to other parts of Britain, suggesting that they didn't cross the English Channel using the shortest possible course but instead sailed into the Atlantic. Well, you know, Cornwall's quite nice in the summer, maybe they fancied a holiday first. Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, said that the findings match what is known about the spread of megalithic structures along Europe's Atlantic coast. DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were 'largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route,' either hugging the coast or hopping from island to island on boats. 'This route is a continuation of the Mediterranean coastal dispersal route but of course in much more complicated maritime circumstances,' Doctor Carles Lalueza-Fox said. In contrast with other countries where they settled, these ancient Aegeans do not appear to have mixed well with British locals, as evidenced by their failure to leave much impact on farming relics. Mark G Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London, who co-wrote the study, also found 'considerable variation in pigmentation levels in Europe' during the Stone Age as shown from the genetic samples they examined. Whereas Britain's outgoing hunter-gatherers - including the oldest-known Briton 'Cheddar Man' - likely had blue or green eyes and dark or even black skin, the farming populations migrating across Europe are believed to have had brown eyes and dark to intermediate skin.
The Moon's 'magnificent desolation' is far wetter than scientists had previously imagined. A NASA spacecraft sent to study lunar dust and atmosphere also picked up signs of water being released from the Moon as meteors collide with its surface. This unprecedented detection, reported in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows that tiny impacts release up to two hundred and twenty tons of water per year - much more than should be on the surface based on previously known delivery systems. 'There was so much that the instrument on the spacecraft acted like a sponge, soaking up the water that was moving through the atmosphere,' said study leader Mehdi Benna, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. 'When we turned the instrument on, what we found was extremely exciting.' The discovery offers fresh clues to our understanding of how the Moon formed in the first place and it provides tantalising targets for future human missions, which could one day use the Moon's watery bounty for both hydration and propulsion. Although, if they were planning on drinking it, it might be an idea to boil it first. Just to be on the safe side. 'We always think of the Moon as a very peaceful and desolate place,' Benna says. 'Now with this data, we see that the Moon is actually very active and responsive.' We have long known that there is some amount of water on the Moon, most of it locked up as ice in permanently shadowed craters or hidden deep below the surface. Water can be delivered to the Moon in two ways. Hydrogen from the solar wind can mix with oxygen on the surface and make a chemical relative called hydroxyl which, in turn, interacts with lunar rocks to create hydrated minerals. Comets and asteroids can also deposit water on the Moon when they slam into it. NASA data now suggest that such impacts release 'a surprising amount' of water from the lunar surface. But the new data, collected by a retired NASA spacecraft called LADEE, revealed something unexpected. While LADEE was in orbit around the Moon, it witnessed meteor showers, the same way we do here on Earth. At certain times of the year, our planetary system crosses into the orbits of comets, some of which are strewn with debris. Most of these cometary leftovers burn up in our atmosphere, sparking the annual sky shows the Geminids, the Perseids, the Leonids and others. On the airless Moon, however, these meteor showers bombard the surface. 'Every stream is millions of particles, like a rain of small impactors,' Benna says. 'We saw twenty nine known streams of meteors and each stream is related to a comet.' As these small particles collided with the surface, they kicked up the top layer of fine soil, or regolith, revealing much more water than the team expected to find below the first few centimetres. 'This loss of water can't be compensated for by the solar wind hydrogen implantation or by the water that comes with micrometeorites themselves,' Benna says. 'So there must be more water in the soil of the moon that can’t be replenished by those two known sources. The only way to explain that is to have an ancient reservoir of water that's been basically depleted over geological time.' Benna and his team estimate that the Moon has 'a fairly even amount of water' just a few centimetres below the surface. This means the Moon holds more water than could have been delivered to it over its lifetime by solar wind or comets, which speaks to a problem planetary scientists have been trying to solve for decades. During the early days of our solar system's formation, giant masses of young planets crashed into each other, flinging debris out into space. All the material that created Earth and the Moon swirled around each other in a cosmic ballet. As a result, the Moon and Earth share some history, but it has been hard to explain why the Moon seemed to have so little water in relation to Earth's vast reserves. While the exact connections are unsure, the amount of water could be linked to the Moon's early volcanic history or the exchange of material between the Moon and Earth in the earliest days of the solar system. 'This is an important paper because it's measuring the release of water in the present day,' says Carle Pieters, a planetary scientist at Brown University. 'They have started the discussion about asking, "what happens here? Is the water young? Is it old? Is it related to a surface process or is it an ancient reservoir?" They're the right questions to ask.' The team's data can now inform scientists working on theories for the Moon's origin story and how it might have obtained so much water. In addition, as NASA prepares to send humans back to the Moon, whole missions will be dedicated to mapping lunar water and figuring out how the Moon may supply future crews with the resources they need to survive. 'This is so exciting because they are catching all of this in progress - watching the water move in the exosphere before it either lands back on the surface or is lost to space,' Pieters says. 'This is a really important piece of the story.'
Saturn's moon Titan has something in common with Earth in that it has an atmosphere and rains fall there. However, unlike our planet, it isn't water which falls from Titan's skies but, rather, liquid methane. Scientists have been trying to establish for years exactly how this 'waterless water cycle' happens on Saturn's satellite. Now, two new research recently published in the journal Nature Astronomy may have found an explanation behind Titan's strange weather. While studying data from the Cassini mission, Shannon MacKenzie and her team found what appeared to have been three liquid-filled lakes. However, by the time the spacecraft returned to this area around seven Earth years later, the lakes appeared to have dried up, leading them to believe that the liquid had either evaporated or seeped into the surface. The paper suggested that the 'phantom lakes' were the result of seasonal changes on the moon. While the observations may have been affected by the difference in instruments used by Cassini for the two observations, MacKenzie believes that liquid had been present in the area and disappeared during the transition to winter to spring. Meanwhile, the second research, led by Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a planetary scientist at Caltech, focused on the much larger lakes on Titan. The second research team used Cassini data to determine the depth of some of Titan's lakes, some of which are three hundred and twenty feet deep. Mastrogiuseppe and his colleagues also established that the lakes were 'mostly' composed of liquid methane, similar to Titan's seas. Mastrogiuseppe added that rain had gathered into these lakes and the basins, in turn, 'drain liquid.' As for where the liquid is going exactly, the study suggested that there could be caves under Titan's surface, much like on Earth. Scientists may soon find solid proof of the disappearing lakes and caves if missions to Titan are approved in the future. NASA is reportedly considering launching a mission called Dragonfly named after the Julian Cope song, presumably since The Arch Drude is a particular favourite in Houston - in 2025, which would see a drone landing on Titan's surface and exploring what scientists have called 'the Earth of the outer solar system.' 'At first blush, I think a lot of people think [Dragonfly] sounds like the literal meaning of incredible,' Melissa Trainer, a deputy principal investigator with the mission, told 'Not only is this an incredibly exciting concept with amazing, compelling science, but also, it is doable - it's feasible from an engineering standpoint.'
Kepler-47 is a three-and-a-half-billion-year-old star system about three thousand three hundred light years away from Earth. It is one of nine systems that we know of which are 'binary star systems,' which means it has not one star at its heart, but two. And it's the only one we know that has two planets orbiting around it, Kepler-47b and Kepler-47c. Now, a third has been discovered. Scientists have officially confirmed the existence of a third planet orbiting the binary stars and have - appropriately - dubbed it Kepler-47d, Space reported. The newly discovered planet is about seven times larger than Earth, making it the biggest planet in its system, roughly double the size of Kepler-47b and c. The discovery, announced in The Astronomical Journal this week, is big news for the team that discovered it. Kepler-47d's orbit lies in between Kepler-47b's and Kepler-47c's, even though scientists theorised that any additional planets would be found further away from the stars. The Kepler-47 trio is helping scientists learn about so-called 'puffy' planets, which are gas planets with a large size but a very low density. Even the 'puffiest' planet in our own solar system - Saturn - is much denser than any of the Kepler planets. The information we can learn about them will help us understand more of the 'loosely packed, low-density planets' in our solar system, according to Jonathan Fortney, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Owen Garriott, the astronaut who flew on the first US space station, Skylab and whose son followed him into orbit, died earlier this week at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. He was eighty eight. His death was announced by NASA. The cause was not disclosed. Doctor Garriott served on the second Skylab crew in 1973, spending close to sixty days in space along with Al bean and Jack Lousma, a record at the time. He also was part of the ninth space shuttle mission, flying aboard Columbia in 1983 and operating a ham radio from orbit for the first time. In 2008, Doctor Garriott travelled to Kazakhstan for his son, Richard's, launch into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Richard Garriott is a computer-game developer who paid the Russians thirty million dollars for a ride to the International Space Station. They were the first US father-and-son space travellers. 'Our adult bonding around the experience of space was a rare treasure we shared,' Richard said on Twitter. 'In fifty years, from my father's Apollo era to our new commercial era, much has been accomplished,' he tweeted. 'Yet, none without the risks undertaken by those early pioneers.' Owen Garriott was born in November 1930, in Enid, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1953, then served in the Navy. He received master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1957 and 1960 and taught at Stanford before being selected as an astronaut in 1965. He was among the first six scientist-astronauts picked by NASA in a group which also included Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt and Garriott's Skylab project colleagues Joe Kerwin and Ed Gibson. Doctor Garriott later held other positions within NASA, including director of science and applications at Johnson Space Centre in Houston. He left NASA in 1986 and later contributed to books about Skylab and physics. Owen is survived by his second wife, Evelyn and by four children from his first marriage, Randall, Robert, Richard and Linda.
Barnsley have complained to the English Football League and Football Association following an alleged incident involving their head coach Daniel Stendel and Fleetwood boss - and, arch nutter - Joey Barton. The League One club said that they are 'working with South Yorkshire Police' and 'assisting with all enquiries.' Barnsley player Cauley Woodrow wrote on Twitter that Barton 'physically assaulted' Stendel in the tunnel after Saturday's game at Oakwell. Woodrow later deleted the tweet. On Monday, South Yorkshire Police said that they were 'continuing to investigate reports of an assault' at Barnsley Football Club. 'No arrests have been made at this time and enquiries remain ongoing,' the statement added. Fleetwood said that they had 'been made aware of an alleged incident' and were 'currently establishing the facts.' BBC Radio Sheffield reported on Sunday that Stendel was 'okay' but 'suffered facial injuries.' And the claret had, allegedly, been spilled. Sky Sports News showed footage of Barton attempting to leave the ground after the match, but the car in which he was a passenger was stopped by police, before being allowed to proceed some time later. Barton later rejoined the rest of his team for the journey back to Lancashire. The former England midfielder has a history of controversy, including a seventy seven-day spell in The Slammer for common assault and affray following an incident in Liverpool city centre in December 2007. He took over at Fleetwood for his first managerial job last summer - one day after an eighteen-month FA ban for betting ended.
Former The Scum and England midfielder Paul Scholes has been charged with misconduct for allegedly breaking FA betting rules. Scholes is alleged to have placed one hundred and forty bets on football matches between 17 August 2015 and 12 January 2019. The forty four-year-old, who spent thirty one days in charge of Oldham Not Very Athletic between February and March this year, has a ten per cent stake in fifth-tier side Salford City. He has until 26 April to respond to the charge. Scholes, who won eleven Premier League titles with The Scum and was capped sixty six times by England, retired from playing in 2013 and became a part-owner of Salford in 2014 alongside former team-mates Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt.
Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey 'did not know what a Nazi salute was' when he was charged with making the offensive gesture, according to a Football Association panel. The charge was found 'not proven' this month and Wales international Hennessey will face no punishment. The regulatory commission has published its written reasons for the decision. It said that Hennessey showed 'a lamentable degree of ignorance' about Adolf Hitler, fascism and the Nazi regime. Hennessey was pictured with his right arm in the air and left hand above his mouth in a photo posted on Instagram by German team-mate Max Meyer after Palace's FA Cup win over Grimsby on 5 January. Hennessey denied the charge and said that any resemblance to the Nazi gesture - which, remember, he didn't know anything about - was 'absolutely coincidental.' The charge was found 'not proven' after two members of the three-man panel believed the photograph had been 'misinterpreted.' The other panel member said that the 'only plausible explanation' was that Hennessey made the salute. Hennessey claimed he 'waved and shouted at the person taking the picture to get on with it' and 'put my hand over my mouth to make the sound carry.' And, two people believed him. He submitted photographs to the panel of him making similar gestures during matches to attract the attention of team-mates. The panel said that Hennessey was 'able to corroborate his explanation' with a series of photographs, including one that showed his right arm raised and left hand across his mouth 'in a similar way' to the photo posted on Instagram. Hennessey said 'from the outset' of the hearing that he 'did not know what' a Nazi salute was. 'Improbable as that may seem to those of us of an older generation, we do not reject that assertion as untrue,' said the panel. 'In fact, when cross-examined about this Mister Hennessey displayed a very considerable - one might even say lamentable - degree of ignorance about anything to do with Hitler, Fascism and the Nazi regime. Regrettable though it may be that anyone should be unaware of so important a part of our own and world history, we do not feel we should therefore find he was not telling the truth about this. All we would say (at the risk of sounding patronising) is that Mister Hennessey would be well advised to familiarise himself with events which continue to have great significance to those who live in a free country.' The panel said that other photographs from the evening showed Hennessey's arm 'raised in slightly different but comparable postures' that 'at its lowest' demonstrates he was 'trying to attract the attention of the photographer,' Jordan Bussolini. It said the FA was 'entirely justified' in bringing the case but that 'rather than giving a Nazi salute, we think it more likely that Mister Hennessey was, as he says, trying to shout at and to catch the attention of the waiter.'
'The Federal Office for National Economic Supply has concluded coffee ... is not essential for life,' the Swiss government has said. No shit? Mind you, neither are chips, but life would be a Hell of a lot less worth living without them. 'Coffee has almost no calories and subsequently does not contribute, from the physiological perspective, to safeguarding nutrition.' Since the period between World War I and World War II, Switzerland has been storing emergency food reserves, which include coffee, as well as sugar, rice, edible oils and animal feed in case of war, natural disaster or epidemics. This means that by law in Switzerland Nestlé, the maker of instant coffee Nescafé and other importers, roasters and retailers are required to store bags of raw coffee. Currently, the country has over fifteen thousand tonnes of coffee stored - enough to last three months. But, the government wants to put an end to that, proposing that coffee companies stop stockpiling in 2020. However, not everyone is happy about the proposal. The organisation which oversees Switzerland's food reserves, Réservesuisse, asked the Federal Office to 'reconsider' its recommendation last year. The company said of the fifteen companies with mandatory coffee stockpiles, twelve wanted to continue, partly because it helped reinforce the supply chain. Others - coffee addicts, mainly one suspects - argue that the caffeine drink's 'health benefits,' including antioxidants and vitamins, have been ignored. The Swiss consume about nine kilograms of coffee per person per year, according to the International Coffee Organisation - three times the amount consumed in Britain. The final decision on scrapping coffee stockpiles is expected to be made in November.
The drone attack which caused utter chaos at Gatwick just before Christmas was carried out by 'someone with knowledge of the airport's operational procedures,' the airport has claimed. A Gatwick chief told BBC's Panorama that the drone's pilot 'seemed to be able to see what was happening on the runway.' Sussex Police told the programme the possibility 'an insider' was involved was 'a credible line' of inquiry. About one hundred and forty thousand passengers were caught up in the disruption. The runway at the UK's second busiest airport was closed for thirty three hours between 19 and 21 December last year - causing about one thousand flights to be cancelled or delayed. In his first interview since the incident, Gatwick's chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, told Panorama: 'It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport.' Woodroofe, who was the executive overseeing the airport's response to the attack - the 'Gold Commander' who isn't a character in Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons, apparently - also said that whoever was piloting the drone could either see what was happening on the runway, or was following the airport's actions by eavesdropping on radio or Interweb communications. And, whomsoever was responsible for the attack had 'specifically selected' a drone which 'could not be seen' by the DJI Aeroscope drone detection system that the airport was 'testing at the time,' he added. Despite 'a huge operation' drawing resources from five other forces and a fifty thousand knicker reward, there is still no trace of the culprit. Sussex Police says that its investigation is 'ongoing' and 'expected to take some months to complete.' The first sighting of the drone was at around 9pm on 19 December but it was not until just before 6am on 21 December that flights resumed with an aircraft landing. Gatwick says that it 'repeatedly' tried to reopen the runway but on each occasion the drone reappeared. Airport protocol mandates that the runway be closed if a drone is present. Woodroofe denied claims that the airport 'over-reacted,' describing the situation it faced as 'an unprecedented, malicious and criminal incident. There is absolutely nothing that I would do differently when I look back at the incident, because ultimately, my number one priority has to be to maintain the safety of our passengers, and that's what we did. It was terrible that one hundred and forty thousand people's journeys were disrupted but everyone was safe.' Woodroofe also dismissed the suggestion that the number of sightings had been 'exaggerated' and a theory, circulating online, that there had been no drone at all. These claims have been fuelled by the fact that there are no verified pictures of the drone and very few eyewitnesses have spoken publicly. Police told the BBC they had recorded one hundred and thirty separate credible drone sightings by a total of one hundred and fifteen people, all but six of whom were professionals, including police officers, security personnel, air traffic control staff and pilots. Woodroofe said that many of the drone sightings were by people he knew personally and trusted - 'members of my team, people I have worked with for a decade, people who have worked for thirty years on the airfield, who fully understand the implications of reporting a drone sighting. They knew they'd seen a drone. I know they saw a drone. We appropriately closed the airport.' Panorama has been told witnesses reported seeing 'an extremely fast-moving, large drone with bright lights.' At least one person noted the characteristic cross shape while others described it as 'industrial or commercial' and 'not something you could pop into Argos for,' an airport spokesperson said. Other international airports have installed counter-drone technology and Gatwick has confirmed that, in the days after the attack, it spent five million smackers on 'similar equipment.' Asked whether Gatwick should have done more to protect the airport from drones before the incident, Woodroofe said the government had not approved any equipment for drone detection at that stage. 'The equipment I have on site today is painted sand yellow because it comes straight from the military environment,' he added. Panorama learned that Gatwick bought two sets of the Anti-UAV Defence System anti-drone system made by a consortium of three British companies. AUDS was one of two systems the military deployed at the airport on the evening of 20 December. Woodroofe said he was 'confident' that the airport was now much better protected. 'We would know the drone was arriving on site and we'd know where that drone had come from, where it was going to and we'd have a much better chance of catching the perpetrator.' Every day, he said, the airport sends up a drone to test the detection equipment and 'it finds that drone.' But he added: 'What this incident has demonstrated is that a drone operator with malicious intent can cause serious disruption to airport operations. And it's clear that disruption could be carried over into other industries and other environments.'
Authorities in Florida said that three naked women who were 'seen applying suntan lotion' at a rest stop subsequently led police on a twenty one-mile chase, drove a car at one deputy and threatened another with a bat. The Florida Highway Patrol claimed that when a deputy approached the women at the Interstate Seventy Five rest stop on Wednesday in Dade City, Pasco County, they 'started dressing.' The women told the trooper they had been staying at a relative's home but went to the rest stop 'after an altercation' and 'had nowhere else to go.' The Tampa Bay Times reported that the women claimed they were 'air drying' after washing. They then fled in a car, with troopers giving chase. The women were eventually caught after police managed to blow out their tires and repeatedly rammed their car. One was 'subdued using a stun gun' and marijuana was found in the car. The three women were charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, fleeing to elude and indecent exposure. The Tampa Bay Times added: 'Though Pasco has been dubbed the nudist capital of the world, the arrest reports do not indicate the women are linked to its many nudist or clothing-optional communities.'
An emu has been caught on camera sprinting along a road in the Scottish Highlands. The bird can be seen running away from traffic on the A82 outside Fort Augustus. It has reportedly been returned safely to its home. The whereabouts of Rod Hull cannot, at this time, be confirmed.
Newcastle Central Station's piano has, reportedly, been 'damaged beyond repair' after 'a mindless group of partygoers decided to destroy it.' Peter Tracey, of the Newcastle Rotary Club, came up with the idea of installing the public piano four years ago after seeing a similar piano in a station in Prague. He told the Evening Chronicle that he was 'deeply disappointed' to see the damage done to an instrument which 'was intended to bring people together.' He said: 'Unfortunately a hen party decided to have a smashing time - literally - and they've damaged the piano beyond repair. They kicked in the the panels under the keyboard out and they've damaged the keyboard by hitting it. It's a real shame, the piano was much-loved by everyone at the station. Lots of people used to use it on a daily basis.' The damage was spotted by security staff at the station, who moved the damaged piano out of public view. It is not believed that any legal action is being taken. Sitting near the entrance to the station with signs inviting people to 'play a tune for Th' Toon', the piano has become a popular feature for commuters and visitors alike. In 2015, it was 'transformed into a shrine to rough sleeper Alan Palmer,' whose beautiful renditions of classical pieces regularly turned the station entrance into a concert hall, before his death. The first piano to be installed eventually wore out from use and this is the second which has stood in the concourse. 'It was deliberately done,' Alan claimed. 'The piano is a lovely thing and it's for the benefit of a charity. I'm very, very sad that this happened. We expected there would be some damage over the years, but it's just sad that the piano has had to be taken out of service.' As well as allegedly 'delighting' visitors and giving people a chance to share their musical talents with the world, the piano helped raise money for a good cause, with players donating more than a thousand knicker for the Children's Heart Unit Foundation at the Freeman Hospital since it was installed. The station, however, won't be left without music for long. Peter has already managed to source a replacement instrument, discovered by a builder acquaintance as he cleared out a local church.
A US man is reportedly suing his parents after they destroyed his 'massive pornography collection,' which he claims was worth twenty nine thousand dollars. His parents admit that they 'dumped' the twelve boxes of films and magazines, which included titles such as Frisky Business and Big Bad Grannys. The forty year-old, from Indiana, moved into their home in Grand Haven, Michigan, in October 2016 after a divorce. In court papers, he said that when he moved out ten months later they delivered his things to his new home in Indiana, but that his pornography collection was 'nowhere to be seen.' The unnamed man's case includes e-mails between him and his father, in which he wrote: 'If you had a problem with my belongings, you should have stated that at the time and I would have gone elsewhere. Instead, you choose to keep quiet and behave vindictively.' His father responded: 'Believe it or not, one reason for why I destroyed your porn was for your own mental and emotional heath. I would have done the same if I had found a kilo of crack cocaine. Someday, I hope you will understand. I did you a big favour by getting rid of all this stuff.' His son, who is seeking triple financial damages of roughly eighty seen thousand bucks, initially filed a complaint with local police, but the Ottawa County prosecutor decided not to press charges. The man allegedly sent one officer forty four e-mails detailing movies that he said were destroyed, listing many as 'valuable out-of-print films,' but the prosecutor again decided not to press charges. His parents wrote: 'We counted twelve moving boxes full of pornography plus two boxes of sex toys as you call them. We began that day the process of destroying them and it took quite a while to do so.' The man's father added: 'I also warned you at that time if I ever found pornography in my house again, I would destroy it.' The identities of the trio have not been released as it is a civil case without any criminal charges.
A judge reportedly gave a serial drink-driver a chance to avoid jail because she is a woman. Victoria Parry, aged thirty, hit three other cars after downing a bottle of wine. Judge Sarah Buckingham said that Parry, an alcoholic who had escaped an abusive relationship, would have gone 'straight down the stairs' to The Slammer if she were a man. Although Parry 'deserved' a prison term, the judge gave her three months to 'address her issues.' The comments are - rightly - being investigated by a judicial watchdog. Prosecutor Tim Sapwell said that Parry caught a van's rear bumper, a Vauxhall Insignia's wing mirror, then the side of a BMW 'very heavily' in the crash. He told Warwick Crown Court it caused her Fiat to spin off the A46 near Stratford-upon-Avon into a wooded area where it then caught fire. An off-duty police officer pulled her from the car and Parry, who was banned from the road at the time, told him she had drunk a bottle of wine and 'shouldn't be driving,' Sapwell said. She was very arrested and registered a reading of almost three times the legal limit at a police station. Lucy Tapper, defending, said Parry had 'a considerable drink problem' after a fifteen-year abusive relationship, but had 'begun to tackle' her alcohol intake. The judge said: 'If Miss Parry was a man, there is no question it would have been straight down the stairs, because this is a shocking case of dangerous driving against a background of two previous convictions for excess alcohol.' But, she said, the offence had been committed in May 2018 and Parry, who had admitted dangerous driving, had not been in trouble since. 'She has clearly got an alcohol problem. She is, whether she admits it or not, an alcoholic,' the judge said. Deferring sentencing for three months, judge Buckingham told Parry she 'richly deserved' an immediate custodial term of eighteen months. 'I want to see whether you can really address the issues rather than paying lip service,' she said. She ordered Parry to abstain from alcohol, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and pay for private counselling. If Parry complied, she said, the custody would not be made immediate. 'If you don't comply, I will conclude that you are not worthy of the chance,' the judge added. The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office confirmed that it had received a complaint about the remarks attributed to the judge.
A senior judge has revealed he was excused from jury service, because he was due to preside over the case in question. Keith Cutler, the resident judge of Winchester and Salisbury, said he was 'surprised' when he got the call up. But, his reason for not doing his duty was 'initially rejected' when he contacted the Jury Central Summoning Bureau directly to explain. Judge Cutler said the bureau 'realised its mistake' when he called them back. The judge, who served as the coroner for the inquest of Mark Duggan, said that he would have happily served as a juror if it had been appropriate. He told a jury: 'I was selected for jury service here at Salisbury Crown Court for a trial starting 23 April. I told the Jury Central Summoning Bureau that I thought I would be inappropriate seeing I happened to be the judge and knew all the papers. They wrote back to me, they picked up on the fact I was the judge but said "your appeal for refusal has been rejected but you could apply to the resident judge" but I told them "I am the resident judge." I had to phone them up and they realised it was a mistake.' The judge added: 'I would have liked to have done the jury service to see what it was like and whether I would have liked the judge.' A guide to jury summons issued by the Ministry of Justice states: 'The normal expectation is that everyone summoned for jury service will serve at the time for which they are summoned. However, it is recognised that there will be occasions when it is not reasonable for a person to serve at the time for which they are summoned.'
Saving France's eight hundred and fifty-year-old Notre-Dame cathedral came down to a crucial time window of fifteen to thirty minutes, France's deputy interior minister has said. Laurent Nuñez praised the 'courage and determination' of firefighters who 'risked their own lives' to salvage the building's stone structure and its two towers. The fire ravaged the cathedral's roof and caused its spire to collapse in shocking pictures beamed live around the world which resembled a cross between 9/11 and the final scene of The Wicker Man. French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the magnificent structure - which this blogger once visited during a trip to Paris in 1999 - within five years. The cause of the blaze is currently unclear. 'We now know it all came down to fifteen to thirty minutes,' Nuñez said, adding that police and fire services would spend the next forty eight hours assessing the security and safety of the structure. Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz said his office was 'favouring the theory of an accident,' but had assigned fifty people to investigate the origin of the fire. Other officials have suggested it 'could' be linked to extensive renovation works taking place at the cathedral. Thoughts are now turning to how Notre-Dame will be rebuilt, which Macron promised to make 'even more beautiful. We will turn this catastrophe into an opportunity to come together,' he said. In a televised public address, Macron also heaped praise on the fire services. 'The firefighters stopped the fire by taking the most extreme risks. They were twenty or twenty five, from each corner of France, from each region.' A number of companies and business tycoons have so far pledged about eight hundred million Euros between them to help with reconstruction efforts, AFP reports. Offers of help have also poured in from around the globe, with European Council President Donald Tusk calling on EU member states to rally round. Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the one thousand-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, told AFP the Notre-Dame may take 'decades' to rebuild. The blaze was discovered at 6.43pm local time on Monday and firefighters were called to the scene. The flames quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying the wooden interior before toppling the spire. Fears grew that the cathedral's famous towers would also be destroyed. But while a number of fires did begin in the towers, Nuñez said that they were 'successfully stopped before they could spread.' Search teams had already begun assessing the extent of the damage when dawn broke over the French capital. The cathedral's blackened stone and charred scaffolding were revealed to onlookers for the first time. Photos appear to show that at least one of the cathedral's famed rose windows has survived, although there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. Christophe Castaner, France's interior minister, warned that while the principal structure had been saved, the building was still unstable. 'We will be standing at [Notre Dame's] bedside,' he added. Nuñez said that 'overall,' the structure was 'in good condition,' but that 'some vulnerabilities' had been identified in the stone vaults and the remainder of the building's ceiling. Experts have not yet been allowed on site to assess the damage and French firefighters have sent a drone to survey the scale of the destruction. Heat and water damage will also need to be assessed. The cathedral's Eighteenth Century organ has not been burned, but it is not clear whether it has been damaged by water, Bertrand de Feydeau, from the French charity Fondation du Patrimoine, told Associated Press. Air France said in a statement that the company would offer free flights to 'anyone involved in the reconstruction.' Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group which owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, pledged one hundred million Euros, AFP news agency reports. Another two hundred million Euros was pledged by Bernard Arnault's family and their company LVMH - a business empire which includes Louis Vuitton and Sephora, according to Reuters. French cosmetics giant L'Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family have promised to give a further two hundred million. Total, the French oil giant, has pledged one hundred million. Fondation du Patrimoine is reported to be launching an international appeal for funds for the cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was 'happy to send experts' to help restore the cathedral. The British government is also looking into what it can do to help, according to Ed Llewellyn, the UK ambassador to France. Spanish Culture Minister Jose Guirao said his country was also seeking ways to help. Emergency teams managed to rescue many valuable artwork and religious items, including what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ before his crucifixion. A tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris was also saved. Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV that 'invaluable heritage' had been destroyed. 'Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see.'
Two female fortune tellers were reportedly executed by firing squad in North Korea while a third was jailed for life in a show trial in Pyongyang. An alleged 'source' allegedly told Radio Free Asia that the women formed 'a psychic collective' called The Seven Star Group. They claimed that two children - aged three and five - had the ability to 'channel a spirit oracle' and 'predict the future.' The women were executed in March while thousands of people watched. Radio Free Asia said that 'sources within The Hermit Kingdom' allegedly told them the executions were 'designed to send a message.' Kim Jong-un reportedly 'fears superstition has become too widespread' in the dictatorship and he wants to maintain social order. 'Even high-ranking officials and the families of judicial authorities often visit fortune tellers before arranging weddings or making business deals,' the alleged 'source' allegedly said. In North Korea, any threats - perceived or real - are dealt with severely. Executions are fairly routine in one of the world's remaining Communist countries. 'As a matter of state policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes,' a UN human rights report said. In 2013, Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, a high-ranking government official, after accusing him of trying to increase his own power.
And finally, dear blog reader, From The North's Headline Of The Week award goes to some wag at BBC News for this cracker.
On the hop, surely?