Chemical Weapons Inspectors Collect Samples in Syria in Wake of Gas Attack

(BEIRUT) — Chemical weapons inspectors collected samples from Syria’s Douma on Saturday, two weeks after a suspected gas attack there followed by retaliatory strikes by Western powers on the Syrian government’s chemical facilities.

The site visit, confirmed by the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, would allow the agency to proceed with an independent investigation to determine what chemicals, if any, were used in the April 7 attack that medical workers said killed more than 40 people.

Douma was the final target of the government’s sweeping campaign to seize back control of the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus from rebels after seven years of revolt. Militants gave up the town days after the alleged attack.

The U.S., France, and Britain blamed the President Bashar Assad’s government for the attack, and struck suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities one week later.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia denied responsibility for the attack.

OPCW inspectors arrived in Damascus just hours before the April 15 strikes but were delayed from visiting the site until Saturday, leading Western officials and Syrian activists to accuse Russia and the Syrian government of staging a cover-up.

“I won’t find any hope in my heart until the Assad regime is held accountable and eradicated from government in Syria,” said Bilal Abou Salah, a Douma media activist who left the town after the government takeover. He said he feared Russian and Syrian government personnel destroyed potential evidence in the two weeks since the alleged attack.

The OPCW said in a statement that it visited “one of the sites” in Douma to collect samples for analysis at agency-designated laboratories, adding it would “consider future steps including another possible visit to Douma.”

It said the mission will draft a report based on the findings, “as well other information and materials collected by the team.”

The OPCW mission is not mandated to apportion to blame for the attack.

A U.N. security team had scouted Douma on Tuesday to see if it was safe for weapons inspectors to visit. The team came under small arms and explosives fire, leading the agency to delay its mission.

Journalists visiting Douma the previous day, escorted by government minders, experienced no security issues.

Russian ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the delays to the OPCW team were “unacceptable,” in a statement Saturday.

Douma is just minutes away from Damascus, where the OPCW team is based.

Images emerging from Douma in the hours after the attack showed lifeless bodies collapsed in crowded rooms, some with foam around their noses and mouths.

Abou Salah entered one of the buildings affected by the alleged gas attack the following day and took footage of a yellow cylinder with a gas valve on the top floor. He said it had crashed through the roof and showed a gash in the ceiling where it purportedly came through.

His assertions could not be independently verified. But the cylinder looked like others identified by the international NGO Human Rights Watch at other locations of chlorine gas attacks attributed to the government in 2016.

Raed Saleh, the head of the Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his organization had shared the coordinates of the graves of April 7 victims with the OPCW, so that inspectors could take biological samples.

Civil Defense workers evacuated Douma after the attack, fearing persecution by the security services of the government. The government says the group is a terrorist organization. The group, which operates in opposition areas only, maintains a strong position against Assad.

Thousands of people — rebels and civilians — left Douma on buses to north Syria in the days after the attack, believing they could not live under government authority after it retook the town. North Syria is divided between opposition, Turkish, and al-Qaida control.

The evacuations were the latest in a string of population transfers around the Syrian capital that have displaced more than 60,000 people as the government reconsolidates control after seven years of civil war.

U.N. officials and human rights groups say the evacuations amount to a forced population displacement that may be a war crime.

On Saturday, rebels began evacuating three towns in the eastern Qalamoun region in the Damascus countryside, state TV reported.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said 35 buses left the towns of Ruhaiba, Jayroud, and al-Nasriya carrying hundreds of rebels and their families to opposition territory in north Syria.

The station said there could be 3,200 rebels leaving three towns on Saturday. It said the evacuations would continue for three days.

Syrian government forces will take over the towns once the departures are complete.


Kim Kardashian Calls for Gun Control in Wake of Florida Shooting

Kim Kardashian has taken a break from stripping nearly all the way down to address the most pressing issue currently facing our country:

Gun control.

In the wake of 17 people being gunned down at a school in Florida on Wednesday, the reality star has chosen to use her social media platform for something worthwhile right now.

We’re not saying photos such as THIS ONE are not worthwhile, of course.

But they are certainly meaningless in the wake of this horrific school shooting.

“We owe it to our children and our teachers to keep them safe while at school,” Kim Tweeted last night, adding:

“Prayers won’t do this: action will. Congress, please do your job and protect Americans from senseless gun violence.”

The mother of three is reacting here to the way in which most politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” after a shooting of this nature.

But we didn’t vote them into office to deliver hollow platitudes, Kim is arguing. We voted them into office to actually pass legislation.

kim on guns

On Wednesday afternoon, a 19-year old named Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff members at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

He used an automatic rifle to end the lives of these 17 people, while injuring many others.

In the hours since this tragedy took place, a debate has once again arisen over whether new gun control measures ought to be put in place.

Along with her own message on the topic, Kardashian re-Tweeted a number of other points people made on Twitter in regard to this contentious issue.

To wit:

gun retweet

This actually isn’t the first time Kardashian has pushed for gun control of some kind.

In November of 2016, she talked to Kendall Jenner about the issue, emphasizing how important it is for celebrities to get involved in various political debates.

Just consider the reach they have, she stated.

Watch the clip below: 

Just over a week since this scene was filmed, Kardashian slammed Congress about it failed to pass meaningful legislation.

“Nothing has changed!!!! People continue to senselessly die. When will these gun laws be changed?!?!?!?!!!!?????” she asked on Twitter at the time, adding:

“The fact that anyone can so easily access guns is so scary & after all of the devastating loss the Senate should have not failed us!!!”

We almost never say this about Kim Kardashian, but… we agree.

We agree completely with everything she is saying here.

In televised remarks from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room on Thursday morning, President Donald Trump said he was committed to making schools safe and to tackle the issue of “mental health” in America.

He did not say anything about gun control.

“I want to speak now directly to America’s children, especially those who feel lost alone confused or even scared,” he added.

“I want you to know that you are never alone, and you never will be.

“You have people who care about you, who love you and who will do anything at all to protect you.

“If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader. Answer hate with love. Answer cruelty with kindness.”

That sounds terrific in theory.

In practice, answering an automatic weapon with kindness will simply get you killed.

The Hollywood Gossip

Trump pushes ‘America First’ in Davos in wake of report he tried to fire Mueller – CNN


Trump pushes 'America First' in Davos in wake of report he tried to fire Mueller
Davos, Switzerland (CNN) President Donald Trump on Friday pushed his "America First" message abroad as news broke at home that he had tried to fire the special counsel investigating him. Trump did not address the bombshell report that he had tried to
Trump in Davos: Analysis of the President's World Economic Forum SpeechNew York Times
Trump encourages a buy-American brand of globalism at DavosWashington Post
Trump tells global Davos crowd: 'America is open for business'USA TODAY
Politico –The Hill –Bloomberg –Fox News
all 1,240 news articles »

Top Stories – Google News

In wake of Fujimori pardon, divided Peru debates meaning of reconciliation

Former President Fujimori received a Christmas Eve pardon on his 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. The government calls it the first step in reconciliation for a still deeply divided country. Protestors took to the streets this week, saying reconciliation looks different to them. 

Christian Science Monitor | All Stories

The Editor of the Paris Review Has Resigned in the Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegations

(NEW YORK) — The editor of the Paris Review has resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Magazine board president Terry McDonell told the Associated Press that Lorin Stein submitted his resignation on Wednesday. The Paris Review, one of the world’s most prestigious literary journals, was founded in 1953 and edited by George Plimpton for 50 years. Stein, who took over in 2010, was only the fourth editor in the magazine’s history.

“The Paris Review has no tolerance for sexual harassment,” the magazine said in a statement. “We are committed to whatever is necessary to ensure that the Paris Review is free from harassment and discrimination of any kind.”

Also Wednesday, a spokesman for the publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux told the AP that Stein had resigned from his position as editor at large. Stein had been a full time editor at FSG before joining the Review and had worked with such prize winning authors as Denis Johnson and Jonathan Franzen.

An email to Stein seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Stein’s resignation from the Review was first reported by the New York Times, which said that Stein acknowledged dating and expressing interest in women he knew professionally, including interns and writers, and that he wrote a letter expressing his remorse.

A Times profile of Stein from 2011 was headlined “The Paris Review’s New Party Boy” and described the editor as a “serial dater” and “an unabashed bon vivant who favors bespoke shirts and tailor-made suits by Kirk Miller.”


HBO Cuts Ties With Louis C.K. in the Wake of Sexual Misconduct Claims

HBO announced that they will no longer be working with Louis C.K., who was recently accused of sexual misconduct by five women in a New York Times exposé published on Thursday, November 9.

“Louis C.K. will no longer be participating in the Night of Too Many Stars America Unites for Autism Programs,” which will be presented live on HBO on November 18,” a spokesperson for the network told Us Weekly in a statement on Thursday. “In addition, HBO is removing Louis C.K.’s past project from its On Demand services.”

FX Networks also issued a statement to Us regarding the claims: “We are obviously very troubled by the allegations about Louis C.K. published in The New York Times today. The network has received no allegations of misconduct by Louis C.K. related to any of our 5 shows produced tougher over the past 8 years. FX Networks and FCP take all necessary actions to protect our employees and thoroughly investigate any allegations of misconduct within our workplace. That said, the matter is currently under review.”

As previously reported, comedians Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Abby Schachner and a woman who spoke under the condition of anonymity told NYT that the producer masturbated directly in front of them or while they were on the phone with him. Comedian Rebecca Corry detailed an incident in which she allegedly declined C.K.’s offer to masturbate in front of her.

Numerous celebrities have since spoken out against C.K. and have shown support for the victims.

“This is to me one of the saddest parts of the Louis CK story in the @nytimes,” Judd Apatow wrote in reference to a portion of the piece where Schachner reveals she accepted the disgraced producer’s apology. “When you disrespect and sexually harass young, vulnerable people you become a dream killer.”

Busy Phillipps tweeted, “F—king disgusting predatory creeps. I hope they’re all terrified.”

C.K. joins Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Steven Seagal, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven and more males in Hollywood who have been accused of sexual harassment throughout the past month.

Us Weekly has reached out to Louis C.K. for comment.

Celebrity News – Us Weekly

Rob Kardashian: Family Fears Relapse, Suicide Attempt in Wake of Blac Chyna Scandal

In case you somehow haven’t heard, Rob Kardashian went off the rails in frightening fashion on social media yesterday.

Rob attacked Blac Chyna on Instagram, accusing her of cheating on him and being addicted to various hard drugs.

When Rob began posting nude photos of Chyna, seemingly as an act of revenge inspired by her alleged infidelity, Instagram shut down his account, but he continued his tirade on Twitter.

Finally, Rob simmered down and stopped posting, but only after committing what many have described as a sex crime against his ex and making himself vulnerable to losing custody of his and Blac’s 7-month-old daughter, Dream.

Now, his family and friends reportedly fear that the worst is yet to come.

Before he met Chyna, Rob was reclusive and prone to compulsive overeating and self-medication through alcohol and drug use.

Sources close to the family tell Radar Online that his family is concerned he’ll return to his old ways in the wake of his public meltdown.

“It seems like no one can do anything to help Rob and they have all tried,” says one insider.

“He is not working out and he is not eating healthy. He is really down on himself right now and no one can do anything because he shuts his family out whenever they try.”

The source adds that Rob has fallen back into troubling behavioral patterns that are making it difficult for him to serve as any kind of father figure to his daughter:

“He stays up late and then sleeps all day and seems to feel like he will never be happy again. He is blaming Chyna for everything,” the insider claims.

Fans have pointed out a reference to Rob’s alleged suicidal tendencies in a recent episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

In the scene, Kris Jenner’s boyfriend Corey Gamble is seen consoling Rob after a particularly bad fight with Chyna.

“People that don’t know you are going to get the idea that you were suicidal,” Gamble remarks at one point.

Some are now pointing to the exchange as an indication that Rob’s troubles go even deeper than the public realizes.

Here’s hoping the troubled 30-year-old is able to get the help he needs before he does further damage to his own life and the lives of those around him.

The Hollywood Gossip

How to Wake Up To Your Creativity

The following story is excerpted from TIME’s special edition, The Science of Sleep, which is available at Amazon.

Sleep is, as ancient maps once labeled uncharted territories, where the dragons be. To go to sleep is to enter a world entirely like our own and entirely unlike it, too. You can board a plane that’s really a car that flies to Russia, except it’s the moon and your mom is there—until she’s your dad. Dreams can be prosaic or repetitive (exactly how many times can you show up at the same party in your underwear before you remember to put something on?), but whatever they are, they remain mysterious. The sleeping brain runs its absurdist-movie loop all night long, always taking care to conceal what’s behind it. Right?

No longer. Neuroscientists have a growing arsenal of tools—fMRIs, PET scans, high-density EEGs—to watch the nocturnal brain at work and see how it ticks throughout the sleep cycle. To the surprise and delight of researchers, that’s finally helping explain one of the mind’s most ineffable qualities: creativity.

We’ve all slept on a problem and had it sort itself out by morning. But that’s only a small part of what the brain on nighttime autopilot can do. Paul McCartney famously said that he came up with the melody for “Yesterday” in a dream; Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, is said to have solved the problem of the machine’s needle when he dreamed of an attack by warriors carrying spears with holes in the tips. “Dreams are just thinking in a different biochemical state,” says Harvard University psychologist Deirdre Barrett, author of The Committee of Sleep. “In the sleep state, the brain thinks much more visually and intuitively.”

The hunt for the source of human creativity has been going on for as long as people have been creating. It drives all of us to wonder how celebrated inventors came up with ideas that became the next big thing. And it drives us to wonder how we’ll find our own next brainstorm when we need it. It’s no secret that sleep can be a well of good ideas—what we’re learning now is how to dip into it.

You, uncensored

The act of sleeping, as researchers have long known, is a lot more complicated than just conking out for the night. There are two principal cycles of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non–rapid eye movement (NREM), and they alternate. NREM sleep starts as a light doze— sleep at no greater than snorkeling depth—and steadily progresses to deeper levels at which muscles relax, heart rate and respiration slow, and body temperature drops.

REM sleep usually begins about 90 minutes after the start of the first NREM cycle and is the true blue ocean of sleep. Heart rate and respiration accelerate, and brain activity, as measured by electroencephalograms (EEGs), increases too—a function of dreaming. For this reason, muscles become paralyzed, lest you act out the scenes unspooling in your head. Know those dreams in which you’re trying to run away from something but can’t seem to move your legs? That’s not your imagination.

Most REM sleep comes in the last four hours of sleep, says cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Payne of Notre Dame University. “Dreams in the early, NREM phase can be kind of literal. It’s in the REM phase that you get all these crazy binding errors.”

“Binding errors” is one of those lovely scientific terms that mean pretty much what they sound like. Your waking brain is orderly, your sleeping brain is fragmented, and as with all broken things, the bits can get reassembled the wrong way. But “the wrong way” suggests that there’s just one way, and the genius of sleep is that it allows you to explore other, untried avenues.

In a frequently cited 2009 study, investigators at UCLA and the University of California, San Diego, recruited a group of volunteers and had them solve a type of word puzzle known as the remote-association test (RAT). In a typical RAT question, subjects are given three words and asked to determine a fourth word that links them all. The answer for the words “broken,” “clear” and “eye,” for example, would be “glass.” The volunteers had to take the test twice; between the two sessions, they were told to take a 40-minute nap. Some just rested in that interval, others dozed, and some tumbled into the depths of REM sleep. In Round 2 of the tests, participants who got a slug of REM improved 40%, while the other volunteers saw their scores go down. Sleep, it appeared, sharpened their brains’ ability to find links among words.

A 2004 study from the University of Lübeck in Germany approached the same idea in a more revealing way. Subjects were required to complete math problems that relied on algorithms, but hidden deep within the formulas was an elegant arithmetical shortcut. About 25% of the subjects discovered it on their own. But that figure jumped to 59% when volunteers were given a chance to get eight hours of sleep and then come back for more.

“If you have an idea about a simpler solution and it’s been working itself out in your head, you still tend to use the familiar one,” says cognitive neuroscientist Howard Nusbaum of the University of Chicago. When you sleep, the better answer has a chance to emerge.

The hard drive in your head

The key to the brain’s ability to make such good use of downtime is something it shares with your computer: the capacity to run multiple programs at once. The aha moment you experience when you’ve been trying to remember the name of a song and three hours later it hits you is no accident. “Conscious awareness is able to focus on only one thing at a time,” says Barrett, “but problems go on getting processed under the radar.”

Sleeping doubles down on this. The prefrontal cortex performs a traffic cop role, doing more than just keeping the brain focused on a conscious task. It also screens out thoughts that it decides you oughtn’t think of at all. The forbidden concepts aren’t just things that are socially inappropriate—though those are on the list—but also those deemed rationally inappropriate. In sleep, that brake on your imagination comes off, which explains the German math study.

At the same time, the prefrontal censor is dialing itself down, the brain’s visual centers, in the occipital lobe at the back of the head, are dialing up. The hallucinogenic quality of dreams is a result of the visual centers’ mixing images at will. That’s usually just chaff, but not always. One night in 1816, Mary Shelley dreamed of a man assembled from bits beyond the grave—and went on to write Frankenstein.

Just as important as which regions of the brain are working is how they communicate. We think of the left hemisphere as the rational, mathematical region and the right as the creative, more bohemian one, and that’s a fair division. But a study conducted by neuroscientist Lisa Aziz- Zadeh of the University of Southern California found that the brain is not quite so bifurcated.

When architecture students undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans were asked to perform a visual-spatial task—arranging geometric shapes in their heads to see if they could be assembled into a square or a triangle— the right, artistic hemisphere carried the load. When they were given a slightly more creative task—arranging a circle, a C and an 8 in various ways to form a face—the right hemisphere called on the assistance of the left. “The specific regions that are active during the creative process largely depend on the kind of task the person is engaged in,” says Aziz-Zadeh.

Another study at the University of Rome found something similar. With the help of EEGs, investigators tracked communication between hemispheres when subjects were awake, in NREM sleep and in REM. In the waking and NREM states, information traveled mainly from left to right, consistent with the idea that the left brain controls the right. During REM sleep, however, there was no preferred direction. The right can thus come out of the shadows.

Synapses—the cell-to-cell links that serve as the bits of the brain’s operating system—play an important role too. Each brain cell can link to more than just one other, and it would seem that the more connections there are, the better, since that makes for a richer system. That’s indeed true, but only to a point. Too many connections can lead to chaotic free association rather than organized thought. So the brain must periodically clear out the synaptic underbrush—analogous to “running a repair-and-cleaning program on your computer to defrag the hard drive,” says psychologist William Killgore of Harvard Medical School.

The hormone cortisol rises during REM, then helps form new and imaginative ideas from the data that survives the defrag. Cortisol is a stress hormone and tends to fracture memory. It has the same effect when we’re asleep, and Payne believes this encourages the unbinding and rebinding of images that can define dreams. “The brain dislikes fragmentation, so it weaves narratives,” she says. “And that, in turn, gives rise to novel thinking.”

Dopamine is another ingredient in the brain’s secret creative sauce. Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson points out that dopamine levels rise in pleasure centers of the brain both when we’re dreaming and when we’re being creative. This serves as a reward and reinforcement that keeps the dreams—and ideas—flowing.

Controlling the process

As with all other matters scientific, the question of causation comes up. Are we all equally imaginative in our sleep, or do people who are already creative in their waking hours retain that edge at night? Much as it would be nice to think that sleep is a great democratizer, the fact is, creative types may indeed have an advantage around the clock. Psychologist David Watson of the University of Notre Dame tracked 200 subjects over three months and found that those who scored high on creativity scales when they were awake tended to remember their dreams more.

“One reason is that they simply have more vivid and interesting dreams,” he says. “That’s linked to having an active fantasy life; the daytime behavior shades over into the night. This is a case of the rich getting richer.”

That’s not to say the creative middle class can’t aspire to join that metaphorical 1%. The best strategy for remembering dreams is keeping a journal next to your bed, says Watson. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is also wise, since they scramble the NREM and REM cycles. Barrett’s studies suggest that engaging in some type of pre-bedtime priming—contemplating a problem you’d like to solve—increases the likelihood that sleep will bring some answers. Up to a third of the subjects in one of her sample groups reported that priming had helped them find a solution that had eluded them during the day.

None of this guarantees that a good night’s sleep is the panacea for what ails you creatively. But neither does it change the fact that the odds are in your favor. You have problems every day, and you go to bed every night. But even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, your sleeping brain will sometimes prove otherwise.


Louis Tomlinson Receives Support, Condolences in Wake of Mother’s Death

Tragedy has struck Louis Tomlinson and his family.

As previously reported on The Hollywood Gossip, Tomlinson’s mother, Johannah Deakin, died on Wednesday after a battle with Leukemia.

She was only 42 years old at the time of her passing.

Following two days of private mourning, Tomlinson’s family released a statement that confirmed this horrible news.

It reads as follows:

“It is with immeasurable sadness that Johannah Deakin’s family said goodbye to Johannah in the early hours of Wednesday 7th December 2016.

“Earlier this year Johannah was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of leukemia that required immediate and continuous treatment. We respectfully request that the family are given time and space to grieve in private.”

Along with the beloved One Direction member, Deakin is survived by six other kids: Lottie, 18, Felicite, 16, twins Daisy and Phoebe, 12, and twins Ernest and Doris, 2.

Our hearts goes out to all of them.

And not just our heart, but the hearts of nearly everyone who knows Tomlinson well.

In the wake of this terrible development, many stars have reached out via social media and sent Tomlinson their condolences.

Here’s a look at what they said over Twitter, Instagram and other platforms:

Liam Payne: “I’m so sorry for you my brother my heart aches for you, just know I love you the same from a million miles away as I do right next to you. I’m always here for you through everything as you have been for me.”

Cheryl Cole: “@Louis_Tomlinson my heart breaks for you. I am so sorry. My thoughts are with you and your loved ones at this incredibly tragic time.”

Zayn Malik: “@Louis_Tomlinson love you bro! All of your family is in my prayers. proud of your strength and know your mum is too x.”

Simon Cowell: “Heartbroken for you @Louis_Tomlinson. Your mum Jay was an incredible person. Sending you all my love.”

Among other well wishes sent the singer’s way:

louis tweets

The most moving message of all, though, came from Tomlinson’s own sister, Félicité, who simply posted the image of a broken heart.

What else was there for her to even say, right?

Félicité tweet

Tomlinson will reportedly go through with his previously scheduled appearance on The X Factor on Saturday as his mother’s final wish.

We cannot imagine the pain he and his siblings are experiencing right now and we will continue to send them our thoughts and prayers.

The Hollywood Gossip