Items filtered by date: Friday, 14 April 2017

3 big reasons to read 'The Handmaid's Tale' right now

There has never before been, and will hopefully never come again, a more appropriate time than early April 2017 to pick up the classic 1984 Margaret Atwood dystopia The Handmaid's Tale — no matter your gender, no matter whether you've read it before.

Why? Let us count the ways.

Firstly, we're still a few weeks away from the TV adaptation launching on Hulu. Elisabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men) plays the protagonist Offred, an enslaved woman in a nightmare future fundamentalist America called the Republic of Gilead.

Pick up the book now, and you'll be extra knowledgable about what is likely to be one of the buzziest shows of the year. Remember how Game of Thrones book aficionados gained so many bragging points when that series became super popular? How they were able to look down their noses at the latecomers to their fandom?

Reader, that could be you.

Secondly, as of this week, The Handmaid's Tale gained the equivalent of an extra chapter. That's right: Atwood has gone all Star Wars Special Edition on us.

The original version ends with a professor discussing Offred's story at a conference in the year 2195, long after Gilead has fallen. Now, in an audiobook version narrated by Homeland's Clare Danes, Atwood has added a revealing Q&A session with that professor.

A few details she could not have written in 1984 — including the professor's unearthing of an ancient iPad — make it clear that Gilead could still lie in our American future.
Atwood has also added an afterword in which she answers a number of FAQs about the book. (Is it a prediction? She hopes not; more an "anti-prediction" that is less likely to come true because it was written.) She then puts her story of extremist men seizing the levers of American government in the context of the Trump administration.

The way she does so is subtle, but it will nevertheless give you chills. She urges readers to write, to bear witness to the changes that are taking place in America, just as Offred did.
And that's the third and most important reason why you need to read The Handmaid's Tale now — it's full of eerie parallels to our present time, as well as warnings about how we should never get too comfortable in thinking that hard-won rights for women will never be lost.

Every aspect of Gilead, from the "aunts" who keep the other women in line to the red dresses worn by the sex-slave handmaids, was drawn from history. We can easily backslide into male-dominated religious fundamentalism, the book insists; we do it all the time. It even name-checks another modern country that did just that: Iran.

When did Gilead arise out of the United States? When a cabal of puritanical militants attacked Congress, then blamed the attack on Muslim extremists. The Constitution was suspended, because terrorism. A secret plan hatched by misogynistic marketing experts is put into effect.

A hundred and fifty million women were then disempowered at the stroke of a computer keyboard. How? The new government simply suspended their bank accounts. It worked, because nobody used cash anymore. The money trick was also used on male feminists; no doubt if it were written today these men would be branded SJWs.

Offred (we never learn her real name) had a husband and daughter who were seized when the family tried to run for freedom on the other side of the Canadian border — as hundreds of refugees are already doing in our timeline.

She was placed in a reeducation camp run by Aunts. Part of the process involved what Atwood now identifies as "slut shaming." It is drilled into the women that every incident of sexual abuse in their lives was somehow their fault. They asked for it.

In this dystopian future, thanks to air and water pollution, couples are becoming increasingly infertile (Atwood points out this is already happening in China). Women like Offred, with the proven ability to reproduce, are in high demand. She is farmed out to a man of high status in the government, known only as the Commander, for the sole purpose of making babies.

"I understand that they feel like that is their body," one man says. "What I call them is, is you’re a host. And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host."

Whoops! That wasn't a character in The Handmaid's Tale — that was Oklahoma representative Justin Humphrey in February 2017, talking about his bill that would require women to get the consent of the man that impregnated them before they can get an abortion.

And that was far from the only piece of abhorrent legislation introduced this year in a country that feels more like Gilead every day.

Even as far as the Commander is concerned, this isn't a pleasant set-up. His wife is required to be present every time he has sex with Offred. Here we have the Mike Pence rule taken to horrific extremes.

Spoiler alert: the Commander turns out to be a giant hypocrite who breaks his own rules. He's a member of a secret sex club called Jezebel's that his wife doesn't know about. We're sure this has no bearing whatsoever on all those "family values" politicians who cheated on their spouses!

Does Offred ever escape her circumstances? That's left ambiguous; indeed, there's a lot of clever ambiguity throughout Atwood's brilliantly-crafted prose. (Once you realize the hidden theme of the book is "doubles", you can't unsee it.)

But if she does, it's because she has help from the men and women of the resistance — or the "underground female-road", as the too-aloof professor at the end of the book dubs it.

The Handmaid's lessons, then, can be distilled to this: Bear witness. Kick up a fuss. Don't be meek. When you see misogyny in government, call it what it is, no matter what its supporters call you in return. Men and women are as likely to be on the side of female oppression (witness the 53% of white women who voted Donald Trump into the White House) as female liberation.

And just because this is an extreme fictional version, a dark mirror on reality, don't ever think that some kind of Gilead can't happen here.

BY CHRIS TAYLOR (Mashable Asia)


Dana Vollmer, the Olympic swimmer racing while six months pregnant

With a little more than 1,000 days to go until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin, preparation - even at this stage - is key.
Such is the case with American swimmer Dana Vollmer, who claimed her seventh Olympic medal in Rio last year.
But she has had to adapt her preparation for Tokyo to cater for, in her words, the "bowling ball" in her stomach.
In her first race since Rio on Thursday, Vollmer was six months pregnant.
The first obstacle was finding a swimming costume that worked for her - up from the size 26 she wore in Rio to a size 32 at Thursday's race in Mesa, Arizona.
"It kind of holds everything in," she said, in an interview on the Team USA website. "We had to go up a few sizes to hold the belly."
Vollmer raced with her doctor's permission, and has amended her training programme while pregnant by doing more strength training.
In an interview before the race with ESPN, she said training was a welcome distraction.
"As hard as people think this is, the race is only 30 seconds long as opposed to the entire day I spend holding and chasing around a 35-pound two-year-old," she said. "This will feel like a break."
After winning gold in the 100m butterfly in the 2012 London Olympics, Vollmer took time off to have her first child, son Arlen, and returned in time to qualify for Rio.
But this time around, she has made the decision to continue training. Baby number two, a boy, is due in July.
"Putting the health of the baby first doesn't just mean sitting on the couch," the 29-year-old said.
Why it's OK to run when you are pregnant
Vollmer isn't the first woman to race while heavily pregnant - in June 2014, Alysia Montano competed in the 800m quarter finals of the US track and field championships while eight months pregnant.
Plenty of women have also taken part in the Olympics while pregnant, though none did in Rio, due to concerns over the effect of the Zika virus on unborn children.
The website of the US Swimming Masters, an organisation helping promote the sport, advises that women can carry on swimming even while heavily pregnant, but that each case is different.
Competing in the 50 metres freestyle only three months before giving birth did present one particular challenge for Vollmer.
"I don't think I've ever done a 50 where I took four or five breaths," she said. "A 50 felt long for the first time in my life."
In the end, Vollmer finished 55th in the preliminary round in Mesa, with a time of 27.59 seconds (last year, she swam the same race in 25 seconds).
Not that her time was a problem.
"Time didn't matter, place didn't matter," she said. "I've loved being here. I've loved seeing all my teammates, all the people from Rio. The race felt great."

BBC News

  • Published in World

Suspected IS member deported from Philippines

A Kuwaiti man suspected to be a member of the Islamic State group was Friday deported by the Philippines to face charges at home, a justice department official said.
Hussein Al-Dhafiri, one of the two suspected IS members arrested in the Philippines last month, was flown out of the country to Kuwait, undersecretary Erickson Balmes said.
A statement from the Kuwaiti embassy said Dhafiri was due to be tried in his home country.
"Evidence obtained by Kuwait's state security agencies also showed that he is planning to carry out terroristic attacks in the State of Kuwait," the statement said.
Dhafiri was arrested along with a Syrian woman Rahaf Zina, also named as a member of the jihadist group.
Zina and Dhafiri married after her high-ranking IS commander husband was killed in Syria, said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.
He earlier said the pair had entered the country as part of plans for "a bombing operation" in the Philippines or Kuwait.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned that IS members might make their way into the country by infiltrating its Muslim communities, concentrated in the south of the largely Catholic country.
The Philippines has been battling with Muslim extremist groups for years in the remote southern region, some of whom have since pledged allegiance to IS. ABS-CBN News


United Airlines passenger 'stung by scorpion' on flight

A Canadian man says he was stung by a scorpion while travelling in business class on a United Airlines flight.
Richard Bell said the scorpion fell from the overhead bin and onto his head during lunch on a trip from Houston, Texas to Calgary in Canada.
After putting it on his plate, he was stung. United has offered compensation.
It happened on Sunday, the same day a United passenger was violently dragged from a plane after refusing to give his seat to a staff member.
Video of the incident has been watched by millions of people online.
Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese-American, lost two front teeth and suffered a broken nose and a "significant" concussion in the incident.
Mr Bell, who was travelling with his wife, Linda, told CBC: "While I was eating, something fell in my hair from the overhead above me.
"I picked it up, and it was a scorpion. And I was holding it out by the tail, so it couldn't really sting me then."
A fellow passenger, he said, warned him that the creature was a scorpion and could be dangerous.
"So I dropped it on my plate and then I went to pick it up again, and that's when it stung me. It got my nail, mostly," he said
Mr Bell flicked the scorpion on to the floor and a flight attendant covered it with a cup before throwing it away in the bathroom.
A nurse who happened to be on board gave him a painkiller as a precaution, he said.
When the plane landed in Calgary he was taken to a hospital, and later released after being cleared of any medical issue.
Mr Bell said he had no plans to launch a lawsuit. United Airlines has offered the couple flying credit as compensation, CBC reports.
In the incident with Dr Dao, law enforcement officials were called after he refused to leave the overbooked plane travelling from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, saying he needed to get home to see his patients.
Dr Dao's lawyers have filed an emergency court request for the airline to preserve evidence ahead of a hearing on Monday.
He was released on Wednesday night from a Chicago hospital, his lawyer said, adding that he planned to have reconstructive surgery.

BBC News

  • Published in U.S.

Apple granted self-driving test permit

Apple has been granted a permit to test self-driving cars on the streets of California.
It has long been known that Apple is working on automotive-related projects, but the company has never publicly confirmed any details.
The news was made public by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday.
The agency said Apple has been given permission to test three cars manufactured by Lexus.
Apple has not commented - other than to point to its letter late last year expressing an interest in the technology.
The company was "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”, it said at the time.
Rumours about Apple’s car ambitions have ranged from speculation it was building its own car to the suggestion it was instead focusing more on in-car software.
Internally known as Project Titan, the project at one point was understood to have more than 1,000 employees working on it, though the current scale of Apple’s efforts is unknown.
Encountering self-driving cars in California is a daily occurrence for those living around Silicon Valley. Apple has become the 30th company to be granted a testing permit.
Among the stipulations for approval is the requirement to regularly report back statistics on the performance of the technology - including how often humans have to intervene when the computer gets it wrong.
Apple's competitors have already been testing autonomous vehicles. Last year Waymo - a company spun out of Google's self-driving programme - clocked up 635,868 miles in California. Statistics showed a human had to step in on average once every 5,000 miles of driving.

Dave Lee
North America technology reporter
BBC News

  • Published in U.S.

Jerusalem stabbing: Hannah Bladon named as victim

A British woman has been stabbed to death on a tram in Jerusalem.
She has been named as 20-year-old University of Birmingham student Hannah Bladon.
Ms Bladon was stabbed several times in the chest while she travelled on a tram in Tzahal Square and died in hospital. A 57-year-old Palestinian man was detained at the scene.
She had been on an exchange at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which expressed "deep sorrow" over her death.
'Inquisitive and adventurous'
Ms Bladon had been taking classes in bible studies, archaeology and Hebrew at the Rothberg International School, part of The Hebrew University.
The school said: "Her friends described her as an inquisitive and adventurous student who made the most of her opportunity to learn and experience life in Israel."
The University of Birmingham also paid tribute to the 20-year-old saying it was "deeply saddened" to hear of Ms Bladon's death and that it would provide support to its students.
Police say the suspect, a resident of Ras al-Amud in east Jerusalem, was recently released from a psychiatric hospital.
Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy told the AFP news agency that the man was "very mentally disturbed".
Police at the scene of the attack in JerusalemImage copyrightEPA
Image caption
Police cordoned off the road leading to scene of the attack near the Old City
An off-duty policeman travelling on the tram pulled an emergency brake and then tackled the attacker, with the help of another passenger.
He told the AFP news agency: "I was travelling with my family when I heard the cries of 'attack, attack'.
"I sounded the alarm then rushed to the scene of the attack. We overpowered him."
A 30-year-old pregnant woman and a 50-year-old man were also injured in the attack.
BBC Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman said the pair, who were much less seriously injured than the British woman, were either hurt when the tram came to a sudden stop or in the panic to get away.
'Filled with sadness'
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We can confirm the tragic death of a British national in Jerusalem.
"We are providing support to her family at this difficult time and are in touch with local authorities."
There will continue to be heightened security in Jerusalem after measures were brought in ahead of the Jewish Passover Festival and Easter celebrations.
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin said he was "filled with sadness about the attack" and that his thoughts and prayers were with the family of the victim.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted a picture of the knife used in the attack.


BBC News

  • Published in World

Aaron Hernandez: Jailed ex-NFL player acquitted of murder

Former US footballer Aaron Hernandez has been acquitted of a drive-by double murder that prosecutors said began over an argument about a spilled drink.
On Friday he was acquitted of seven charges, but was found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm.
The former tight end for the New England Patriots is already serving a life sentence for the killing of man who was dating his fiancee's sister.
Hernandez cried in court as the verdict was read, saying he is "very happy".
A judge added five years to Hernandez sentence after the verdicts were read.
He had been accused of the fatal shooting of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado outside a Boston nightclub in 2012.
Prosecutors said it happened after the American football star became enraged that one of the men had bumped into him causing him to spill his drink.
Lawyers for the state relied heavily on a former friend of Hernandez, Alexander Bradley, who said he had been the driver for the shooting.
Bradley, who is serving a prison sentence in another state, was granted immunity in order to testify.
He had also claimed that Hernandez shot him in the face, causing him to lose sight in his right eye, after becoming paranoid that he would tell someone about their crime.
Hernandez's lawyers mocked the immunity agreement as the "deal of the century".
One month after the deaths, Hernandez signed a $40m (£32m) extension contract with the Patriots.
Prosecutors pointed to one of Hernandez tattoos as evidence that he had committed the attack.
"That is not random. That is not art. That is evidence," Patrick Haggan told the court about a depiction of a handgun beside five bullets - the same number fired in 2012.
"That is a confession."

BBC News

  • Published in U.S.

Fil-Am Domingo definitely coming back to Philippines

I'M COMING HOME. Lo Domingo will fly to the US to visit his family there, but will return to the Philippines to keep playing Filipino ball.
The gas ran out for Alab Pilipinas before they even got going in the 2016-2017 Asean Basketball League – but it was a positive maiden season, nonetheless.

Of course, Ray Parks Jr. starred throughout the elimination round while Kiefer Ravena shined in his only two games which came in the semifinals.

Aside from those usual suspects, it was Lo Domingo who turned out to be a revelation.

Through the tournament, the Filipino-American from New Mexico exhibited a non-stop motor that allowed him to impose his will down-low. An undersized forward at only six-foot-five, he was still able to average 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.

This, all while also proving to be a more than capable defender – matching up well against the likes of Xavier Alexander and Lenny Daniel.

Now that their ABL run is over, Domingo admitted that he has his eyes set on Asia’s first pay-for-play league. “I need to talk to my agent to see what my next move is because I still need to finish some paperwork before I can make my way into the PBA,” he shared.

He then continued, “But that is definitely something I want to do.”

At the same time, the 23-year-old also isn’t counting out another go-round with Alab. “If it’s still in the works, hopefully, I can be back for another season with Alab,” he expressed.

Wherever he ends up taking his talents to next, Domingo is certain that he will be returning to his homeland. “Either way, I’m coming back to the PI (Philippines),” he said.

By Norman Lee Benjamin Riego ABS-CBN News

  • Published in Sports

Filipinos may enter Taiwan visa-free starting June

Come June, Filipinos can go to Taiwan visa-free as the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has granted an exemption for Philippine travelers, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Manila has confirmed to ABS-CBN News.
The visa-free grant will be implemented on a trial basis for a year, starting June 1, 2017.
The TECO has yet to release details, but a Taiwanese news website reported on Wednesday that Filipinos may stay in Taiwan visa-free for up to 30 days.
The new policy is part of efforts of Taiwan to draw in more travelers from Southeast Asia.
Last October, Taiwan relaxed visa requirements for Filipinos, offering visa-free entry to Filipinos who have been issued visas to enter Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, any of the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, or the United States.
TECO in Manila is expected to make the formal announcement on the visa exemption after the Holy Week.
Taiwan is an emerging destination for Filipino travelers, as the flight takes less than two hours.

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

'Friendship with China’ makes Duterte reconsider raising Philippines flag on disputed islands

The Philippines leader has cancelled his visit and flag raising ceremony at Spratly Islands in the South China Sea whose sovereignty is disputed with China; backtracking on his recently issued order for the military to occupy and fortify the disputed land.
In July 2016, The Hague Tribunal awarded the Philippines sovereignty rights over the Spratly Islands, rejecting China’s claim that it has historic rights to the archipelago. However, having won the legal battle the Philippines, after Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, worked to mend relations with China over the South China Sea territorial dispute.

As Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations continue to claim parts of the South China Sea as their own, President Duterte last week ordered his navy to go and colonize the disputed islands.

“It looks like everyone is making a grab for the islands there. So we better live on those that are still unoccupied. What's ours now, we claim it and make a strong point from there,” Duterte told journalists last week.

“There are about nine or 10 islands there, we have to fortify,” President Duterte added. “I must build bunkers there or houses and provisions for habitation.”

However, feeling that such colonization orders will sever relations with Beijing, Duterte decided to cancel his planned visit to the disputed shoal on Wednesday where he personally planned to raise the national flag on one of the islands.

“Because of our friendship with China and because we value your friendship I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” he said during an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

“They said, do not go there in the meantime, just do not go there please. I will correct myself because we value our friendship with China.”

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