The Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands Committee of Bar Examiners has announced the following applicants have passed the V.I.…
On Thursday, April 25, the St. Thomas community was enjoying J'Ouvert when the celebration was shattered by gunshots which injured three people. Public safety officials immediately canceled the remainder of J'Ouvert.
Speaking before Friday prayers, Muslims at the East London mosque condemn Wednesday's attack in Woolwich and express their sympathy with the family of murdered British soldier Lee Rigby. The worshippers agree that the actions of the two men accused of the attack are not in any way part of the Islamic religionMona Mahmood
Critics should visit the cockpit of a plane or an operating theatre to see just how effective a tick-box culture can be
Few things get as much of a ticking-off as the tick-box culture. Newspaper jeremiads blame it for all that ails the NHS. Ken Clarke has grumbled about the "tick-box, bean-counting culture" that keeps prison officers from dealing with offenders. Everyone knows where tick-box sits in the political thesaurus: as a synonym for bureaucratic, pettifogging, obstructive ineffectuality. Well, perhaps the MPs and columnists should visit the cockpit of a plane or the operating theatres of a hospital to see just how useful a tick-box culture can be. Both pilots and surgeons routinely tick through exhaustive lists in preparation for their flights and operations. At the hospitals of University College London, the "surgical safety checklist" opens the batting with "Has the patient confirmed his/her identity"? A blindingly obvious question, maybe, but one where the wrong answer could prove fatal. This is how tick-boxes help: by keeping a team of professionals to a routine, minimising avoidable errors and allowing them to concentrate on the really important parts of the job. As surgeon and writer Atul Gawande argues, the paradoxical boon of a checklist is that it frees an expert – whether they're flying planes, slicing out an appendix or building a skyscraper – to show off their expertise. Research by the National Patient Safety Agency has shown that mere box-ticking can cut surgery-related deaths by over 40% and reduce complications by more than a third. Such stats should make you feel at least a bit kindlier to that clipboard.
French singer-songwriter who penned the lyrics of Piaf's Milord
Georges Moustaki, the Egyptian-born French singer-songwriter who provided the lyrics for Edith Piaf's international 1958 hit Milord, has died at his home on the French Riviera, aged 79. Famed for his repertoire of simple romantic ballads, Moustaki wrote in the region of 300 songs, many of them performed by a galaxy of much-loved Gallic stars, including Yves Montand, Juliette Greco, Pia Colombo, and Tino Rossi.
After a decade of composing songs for these celebrated artists, Moustaki launched a successful career as a performer himself, singing in French, Italian, English, Greek, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish.
Moustaki, born Giuseppe Mustacchi in Egypt, was the son of immigrant Jewish parents who had moved from the Greek island of Corfu to Alexandria, where they ran a bookshop.
He would later write: "The Alexandria of my childhood was the world in miniature with all races and all religions. I was rarely a foreigner anywhere because I always found some reference to Alexandria in the languages I heard, the smells I breathed or the colours."
His father, Nessim, spoke five languages; his mother, Sarah, six. At home, the young Giuseppe and his two older sisters spoke Italian, in the streets Arabic, at school French. In his parents' shop he discovered the literature of André Gide, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
At the age of 17, after an idyllic summer holiday in Paris, Moustaki obtained his father's permission to move there, working as a door-to-door salesman of poetry books. After his mother sent his guitar from Egypt, he changed his first name in honour of his hero, the celebrated French singer Georges Brassens, and began playing and singing in nightclubs, where he met some of the era's best-known performers.
"My taste for music came from French songs: Charles Trénet, who dazzled me, and who, a long time afterwards, I told as much; Henri Salvador; Georges Ulmer; Yves Montand; Georges Guétary, Luis Mariano.
"I would borrow my father's long trousers (when young) to go and hear them sing. I even saw Piaf with my mother when I was 13 years old, 10 years before I met her," he said.
Moustaki was introduced to Piaf in the late 1950s by a friend whose praise of the young composer was so flattering that Piaf, then at the height of her fame, asked somewhat sarcastically to hear him sing his best works there and then.
"I picked up a guitar and I was lamentable. But something must have touched her. She asked me to go and see her perform that same evening at Olympia [the Paris music hall] and to show her later the songs I had just massacred."
He soon began writing songs for Piaf, the most famous of which, Milord, about a lower-class girl who falls in love with an aristocratic British traveller, reached number one in Germany in 1960 and went to number 24 in the British charts the same year. It has since been covered by numerous artists, including Bobby Darin and Cher.
Moustaki's relationship with Piaf was not exclusively professional. The two became lovers and embarked on what Libération described as a year of "devastating, mad love", with the newspapers following "the 'scandal' of the 'gigolo' and his dame day after day".
Moustaki achieved fame in France with songs including Le Métèque and Ma Liberté, a hymn to the free spirit of the 1960s, which, with his bushy beard and mop of hair, he seemed to personify. He also wrote film music and loved drawing, painting and, above all, travelling. His singing career ended in 2009, when he complained of a bronchial condition that made it impossible for him to carry on performing.
In a tribute to the singer-songwriter, Juliette Gréco said: "He was an absolutely charming man, a gentleman, a fine man. This was an elegant man with infinite softness, and of course, talent. He was like all poets, there was something different about him."
In December, Moustaki told French radio station RTL that he wanted to be buried in Alexandria, his birthplace. "There is a cemetery that is the cemetery of free thinkers and it is there that I want to rest for eternity," he said.
Moustaki and his wife, Yannick (Annick) Cosannec, had a daughter, Pia, also a singer.
• Georges Moustaki (Giuseppe Mustacchi), singer-songwriter, born 3 May 1934; died 23 May 2013Kim Willsher
Oscar Pistorius was more than a national hero. His success came to symbolise South Africa's triumph over apartheid. Then he shot his girlfriend and left the nation's self-image in tatters
A couple of years ago, two journalist friends of mine spent an afternoon with Oscar Pistorius. For much of the time, they recall, Oscar was quiet and self-contained. And then, apropos of nothing, he told a story. He was driving on the outskirts of a black township, he said, when a dog ran under his wheels. In his rear-view mirror, he watched as it dragged itself off the road by its front legs, its hind legs useless to it now. Its back was clearly broken. He stopped and got out of his car to find that the dog's owner had come out on to the street, shouting, cursing, gesticulating. What to do? Oscar grabbed his gun, shot the dog through the back of the head and drove off.
On Valentine's Day 2013, when the world learned that Oscar Pistorius had shot Reeva Steenkamp dead through a closed bathroom door, this story no longer sounded the same. Before 14 February, the man in the tale my friends tell is a little inscrutable, too hard perhaps, and clearly a cowboy. In the end, though, he does use his gun to put an animal out of its misery. But now… Well, along with everything else Oscar has ever said and done, it takes its place in the biographical backdrop to an alleged murder.
So it is with all of the crazy tales about Oscar. They are legendary. Versions of them appeared periodically in the New York Times, in Wired, in New Scientist. The journalist arrives in Johannesburg to find that Oscar himself has come to the airport to meet him. There is no chauffeur; Oscar will drive. On the freeway, he clocks 250kmh while reading a text message from a girl who wants to spend the night with him. The journalist is scared; he suddenly remembers that last year Oscar almost killed himself in a speedboat accident.
Another such tale: at Oscar's home, over lunch, talk turns to guns and Oscar grabs his 9mm pistol and two boxes of ammunition. And now Oscar and the journalist are burning a trail to the firing range, because Oscar insists on teaching the journalist to shoot.
Before 14 February, these were the colourful trimmings of magazine profiles. Oscar's accomplishments were superhuman. He had licence to be a little crazy. Indeed, it was expected. But now… Well, a switch has been flipped and we are listening to these same stories in a very dark place.
Something odd happened to South Africa when news of Steenkamp's death broke. By nightfall, the billboards of Oscar Pistorius that dotted the country's cities had been removed. South Africa, which had loved Oscar unreservedly that morning, now hated him. And as it spat venom at Oscar, so it excoriated itself. In newspapers and on radio and television, South Africans kept confusing Oscar with the whole nation. Oscar was a symptom, it was said, of too many guns, of too much crime, of too much fear. He was a sign that men were out of control, that they were killing, beating and raping the women they ostensibly loved. Oscar was rotten and South Africa was rotten.
Otherwise level-headed people began insulting each other. A South African cabinet minister, Lulu Xingwana, told an interviewer that Afrikaner men were raised to believe that women and children were their property and thus theirs to kill. She recanted and apologised the following day. When one of the country's leading social scientists, Professor Rachel Jewkes, said in an interview that an overwhelming number of the black men she had surveyed aspired to sleep with many women, the former editor of South Africa's Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, denounced her as a racist. Tempers flared. The country's fuse shortened by the hour.
On one level, South Africa's response to Reeva Steenkamp's killing was insane. As ferociously as we may love or hate him, Oscar is a stranger to us. We do not know what his love of fast cars and speedboats means. Nor do we know why he so enjoys shooting guns. Most importantly of all, we do not know why he killed Steenkamp, and we probably never will. We can imagine and reimagine that moment as often and as fiercely as we like. We were not there. All we know is that he shot her through a closed bathroom door. The rest we are making up.
And even if we could know Oscar, what might the state of his being tell us about South Africa? If he was indeed murderously crazy, why on Earth should this make all South African men so?
And yet, on another level, South Africa's over-involved relationship with Oscar Pistorius makes the profoundest sense. To an uncanny extent, the story the country tells about him is precisely the story it likes to tell about itself. It is no wonder that the two have become confused.
As an infant, Oscar lost his legs. He not only went on to walk, and then to run, but he did so faster than the able-bodied. He appeared to have broken the barriers of human limitation. There was no accounting for him.
So with South Africa. Under apartheid, our souls were rotting. Many people were jailed and tortured and murdered by men in uniform. Street crowds threw tyres around people's necks and torched them alive on the wisp of an accusation. Ours was a country sick with rancour. It was expected to implode.
In 1994, as if by a miracle, we were reborn. Our capacity to make peace was celebrated the world over. Our president was the most-loved human being on Earth. The sun shone on us. The world marvelled at us. Legless, we had also sprinted faster than anyone. And so, when Oscar came along, we grabbed him and owned him. Oscar was South Africa and South Africa was Oscar. Our stories were the same.
And yet there was something horribly wrong with both stories, was there not? In the days after Steenkamp's death, an astute sports writer made a moving observation. "During his Olympic preparations in Italy," Gerald Imray wrote, "Pistorius pulled out his cellphone to show me pictures of his bleeding leg stumps, rubbed raw from the friction of pounding around the track on his blades… Until that moment, I hadn't fully realised what Pistorius went through every time he slipped on his prosthetic blades to compete or train. Not many people had, I guess." Pistorius did not like people to see him without his prosthetics, Imray observed. Once, after a race, he watched Pistorius slip off to a secluded part of the track to swap his racing blades for his everyday legs.
These quiet observations are far more telling than the fast cars and the guns. Oscar is no miracle. It is not magic that propels his speed. More likely it is rage; more likely it is memories of humiliation. So, too, with South Africa. We are no miracle. We, too, have had to grind our stumps raw. We, too, have had to bury our shame. And so, when we heard what Oscar had done, we felt something like deja vu. As if we always knew that his story was not quite right.
Three months before Oscar shot Steenkamp, a South African talkshow host, Redi Tlhabi, published a memoir about an episode in her childhood. Tlhabi is a uniquely post-apartheid phenomenon. It is not just her life history that makes her so – raised in apartheid-era Soweto, she has, like many successful black South Africans, moved to the suburbs where, a generation ago, the only black people were domestic servants. Listening to Tlhabi's radio show, everything that is new and lovely washes over you. She is clever and funny. When she laughs, you can hear the lightness in her soul. Her listeners span South Africa's divides – they are black and white, rich and poor, from townships and suburbs. Her magic is to connect all these people. Listening to her, one can imagine that we all live in the same country.
And then came Tlhabi's memoir, Endings & Beginnings: A Story Of Healing. In it, she was 11 years old, living in Orlando East, the heart of old, established Soweto. It was 1989. Her family was neither rich nor poor – they were respectable, educated Sowetans. She had recently lost her beloved, doting father. He was found murdered in the streets of their neighbourhood. Why, young Redi did not know.
There were gangsters in Orlando – young men who killed and died. Their funerals were spectacular occasions. The mourners would spin their cars and fire their guns into the air while Redi's neighbours "lined up as if they were watching a grand prix".
Respectable and upstanding, Redi's parents did not permit a gangster's name to be uttered in their home. Her mother had a cousin who was a gangster, but he was not allowed to visit and Redi was forbidden to speak to him. When, at the age of eight or nine, Redi told her father that she had run an innocuous errand for two members of the local gang, he beat her.
And, yet, if the gangsters in Redi's neighbourhood were not respectable, they were nonetheless admired. This was apartheid, after all, and to stand up to armed white men was to be godlike. The neighbourhood's most legendary gangster, a young man called Mabegzo, was said to have done terrible things to the police. According to one story, Mabegzo killed two policemen, pushed their bodies out of their vehicle and did wheel spins in the police car to entertain the crowd.
Redi had never met Mabegzo. But she was certain that she would know him the instant she saw him. The idea terrified her. How would she stop herself from making eye contact with him? For, should their eyes meet, she was certain that Mabegzo would rape her. Gently, artfully, Tlhabi dropped the theme of rape into the story of her childhood. "I was big for my age," she writes, "and while my classmates were still sitting with their legs apart, I couldn't afford to be so childlike and carefree. With breasts and hips budding by the age of 10, I often attracted the attention of much older boys and young men. When I ignored them, the word rape fell from their lips with ease while their friends and onlookers just laughed."
These threats were not idle. Rape was omnipresent. Once, Redi watched a group of young boys luring her drunken, middle-aged neighbour, Tokai, into an empty house. They assured onlookers that they were helping her home, even though they were walking in the opposite direction. "The next morning," Redi writes, "I heard that Tokai had been found naked on a street corner and some little boys had had sex with her – not raped her, simply had sex with her! People would say matter-of-factly that Tokai should stop drinking, but no one ever suggested that she deserved justice…"
That she might one day be raped was a piece of knowledge Redi carried under her skin. She had seen it happen to so many people around her. Her elders neither stopped it nor dared speak about it. Indeed, it was taboo even to mention it. It was something a girl must face alone.
This is the story South Africa is hiding from when it gets lost in Oscar's tale. The boy with no legs who ran faster than anyone – the half-ruined country that became the best. These stories are opiates. South Africa does not know how to love a country in which ordinary little girls expect to be raped. So it invents another country and talks of miracles. That is also why our love for Oscar turned so quickly to hate. We knew that the Blade Runner was not a real human being, just as we know that the South African miracle isn't really our country.
But the connection between Redi's story and Oscar's goes much deeper than that. Redi finally met the dreaded Mabegzo. Instead of raping her, he fell for her and she for him. Their love was chaste – he seemed to regard her as an angel to be protected from the world. And she was mesmerised by the fierceness of his care for her. Their enchanted, celibate courtship lingered for months until, one day, walking home from school, Redi saw Mabegzo's dead body in the street. He had been murdered by members of his own gang. In the ensuing two decades, he haunted Redi. The book is an attempt to excise him.
It is only when looking back from adulthood that Tlhabi understands what drew her and Mabegzo together. They recognised in one another a mutual brokenness. Redi was mourning her beloved father. And Mabegzo, well, he had been raised by a severe grandmother who'd concealed from him everything about his past, including his mother's identity. Why? Because, he gradually learned, through whispers and insinuations, he was a rape-child, and thus a source of terrible shame.
It is truly unusual for a South African book not only to confront everyday violence as nakedly as Redi Tlhabi has done, but to cut so sharply to its sources. What Mabegzo needed, really, was a loving mother. He had been robbed of one by denial and silence, by a collective turning away from what is painful. And, strange as this may sound, as Tlhabi describes Mabegzo, we begin to catch glimpses of another Oscar Pistorius. It is not just that Oscar and Mabegzo both had a maniacal love of fast cars and guns. It is not just that both were brutal on their bodies – as an adult, Tlhabi learns that Mabegzo trained with pleasureless determination every day. It is something else.
Reading Oscar's autobiography, Blade Runner, is a disconcerting experience because there is nobody there; one ends the book none the wiser as to who Oscar is or what happens inside him. There are nonetheless moments when we glimpse something of what it meant to be a boy with no legs. He tells us, for instance, that his prostheses triggered a disorder called neurofibromatosis – periodically, noncancerous tumours would grow on his stumps.
"They were terribly painful," he writes, "and caused my stumps to become hypersensitive, making any movement and particularly walking impossible for me. I went through patches where I could not leave the house for three or four months at a stretch. I would have to stay at home and study alone. I missed school terribly." Oscar does not have the internal reach to tell us what his stumps meant to him during those deprived and painful months. But one can begin to imagine.
There is another passage in Blade Runner worth mentioning – 14-year-old Oscar standing at the bedside of his dying mother – for it is the one moment in which he writes of a self he can neither understand nor control. It was horribly distressing for him – "She could no longer recognise us," he writes, and her mouth was full of tubes. When she died, he thought himself brave. He was the only family member who did not cry. After the funeral, he returned to school, thinking that everything was fine. But the next morning, in the school dormitory, he woke in floods of tears. "I had completely lost my bearings," he writes. "I went to stay with a friend for a couple of days… I would then recover my composure and return to school, only to be stricken by my grief once again and have to go and stay with someone else. It was awful."
As I say, we do not know Oscar. We can rummage through his life and choose the parts that make him resemble the South African miracle. Equally, we can bend and twist him until he looks like Mabegzo the gangster. Both were lost for being motherless. Both ploughed their sorrow into their bodies – "Sport was my salvation," Oscar writes. He can be made to resemble anything and everything South African – including the horror that Redi Thlabi so graciously laid on the page.
South Africa has actually done all right since the end of apartheid. It is true that our politics is increasingly corrupt, that people express discontent by throwing stones and burning things, that yawning inequalities cause much resentment. Less well known is that the income of the average black family has increased by about a third since the beginning of democracy; that 85% of homes are electrified compared with just over half on the last day of apartheid; that 85% of six-year-olds are in school now, whereas less than 35% were when apartheid ended. Even some forms of violence are way down – the murder rate, for instance, has dropped by a staggering 50% in the last 18 years.
Most of the poor still vote overwhelmingly for the ruling ANC, not because they have been duped, but because life has so obviously improved. It is nonetheless hard not to feel ambivalent about South Africa. Walk through inner-city Johannesburg on a Saturday morning and its spirit and its joy will leave you exhilarated. You can return home the same day to read that in a shack settlement 10 miles away a mob has set a person on fire. Spend a day in the city and you'll experience the kindness of innumerable strangers. And yet you will in all probability rub shoulders with an 11-year-old girl who expects to be raped.
South Africa has not learned both to love itself and to feel ambivalent about itself. It hasn't the courage to look itself squarely in the eye. That is why it invented Oscar the great on one day and Oscar the terrible the next. He will probably stand trial later this year. Whatever he has or has not done, it will be a terrible time for him. It would be good if, between now and then, South Africans could come to grasp that they are not Oscar and that Oscar isn't them.
US president Barack Obama has asked Congress to establish a special court or board to authorise legal drone actions by the militaryMartin Rowson
Mayor dismisses video purportedly showing him smoking the drug as 'nonsense' a day after firing longtime chief of staff
The embattled mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, was forced on Friday to repeat a denial of allegations that he uses crack cocaine and dismiss descriptions of a video purportedly showing him smoking the drug as "nonsense".
At a press conference, Ford refused to answer questions from a packed crowd of journalists. However, he was firm in stating that he does not use hard drugs or does not have any form of substance abuse problem. "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," Ford said.
The alleged crack smoking video has not been released publicly but reports on the gossip website Gawker and in the Toronto Star claimed it was taken by men who said they had sold the drug to Ford. Journalists at the two organisations have written lengthy descriptions of a video they say they have watched, and Gawker has even launched an appeal to raise $200,000 to buy the video and publish it.
The Star reported that two journalists had watched a video that appeared to show Ford sitting in a chair, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe. Gawker and the Star said the video was shown to them by a drug dealer who was trying to sell it. The Star also reported that in the video Ford allegedly made a racist remark about high school football students he coached.
Ford said he could not comment on the video at all. "I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist," he said. He attacked the media for running with the story. "It is very unfortunate that my colleagues and great people of this city have been exposed to the fact that I have been judged by the media without any evidence," he said. "This past week has not been an easy one. It has taken a great toll on my family and my friends and the great people of Toronto."
Ford has been embroiled in almost weekly controversies about his behaviour since he was elected in 2010. The Toronto Star reported earlier this year that he was asked to leave a gala fundraiser for wounded Canadian soldiers because he appeared to be intoxicated.
During his campaign for mayor, Ford vehemently denied a 1999 arrest for marijuana possession in Florida; he later acknowledged it was true, after confronted with evidence. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and failing to give a breath sample to police.
Yet the crack allegations have no doubt been the biggest scandal to hit Ford, creating headlines around the world and becoming the subject of endless jokes on late-night comedy shows. Earlier on Friday the executive committee of Toronto city council – which acts as sort of cabinet to the mayor – released a letter asking Ford to address the allegations "openly and transparently". That came a day after Canadian media reported that Ford's chief of staff, Mark Towhey, had been fired after telling the mayor to go to rehab. According to reports in the Toronto Sun, the National Post and CBC News, Towhey urged Ford to "go away, deal with this and then come back".
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ford has been enduring a roasting in the local press. The Toronto Sun ran its story on Towhey's concerns under a front-page splash headline that read simply: "Go to rehab".
Yet at the press conference, Ford appeared committed to remaining in his job. "It is business as usual at City Hall. This administration is turning the corner, and I will continue to do what the great people of the city elected me to do and that was to keep taxes low, to improve customer service and to reduce the size and costs of government and invest in infrastructure," he said.Paul Harris
Centre-left parties across Europe could shore up their slipping credibility by tackling the big issues on a broader stage
With Munich matched against Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley tonight, today is a day to remind us once again that Germans are uncommonly good at football. But they have always been pretty decent at centre-left politics too. No centre-left political party in Europe – and perhaps no centre-left party in the world – has been as important over the decades as Germany's Social Democratic party (SPD). Certainly no centre-left political party has a history to match that of the SPD, which gathered in Leipzig this week to mark the 150th anniversary of its foundation there in 1863 under the leadership of Ferdinand Lassalle.
But this week's gathering was not just of historical interest. Few parties have grappled more conscientiously or more often – and sometimes at greater cost – with the big questions that face democratic parties of the centre-left in dramatically changing times. That was true in the eras of the party's legends – Bernstein, Bebel, Ebert, Brandt and Schröder among them. And it is still true today in the era of Peer Steinbrück, the SPD's candidate to replace Angela Merkel – who was a guest in Leipzig this week (they do these things differently in Germany) – as chancellor in September's elections.
These are historically difficult times for the SPD. When Willy Brandt became postwar Germany's first social democratic chancellor in 1969, the SPD took 44% of the votes. When Gerhard Schröder became the first SPD chancellor since reunification, in 1998, the party won 41%. But in 2009, in Germany's most recent general election, the SPD polled a record low of 23%, its worst result of modern times. Today, with a general election only four months away, the polls look little better. Under Mr Steinbrück, the SPD has barely improved on its 2009 share. The latest Infratest dimap poll for ARD television yesterday has the SPD on just 27%.
In some respects this is an unfair verdict on the SPD's modern achievements. Germany's prosperity, export-led boom and continuing position as the dominant economy in the eurozone – the source of continuing security among German voters – owes at least as much to Mr Schröder's Agenda 2010 labour market reforms during his last term as chancellor a decade ago, as it does to Mrs Merkel's pragmatic but cautious handling of the global financial crisis since she ousted Mr Schröder in 2005.
Yet a significant segment of SPD voters have never forgiven Mr Schröder for his welfare-to-work cutbacks on long-term benefits to the unemployed. Mr Steinbrück is struggling to win these voters back. Today, the party remains divided between a more uncompromising left wing and a more pragmatic right – a bit like it was in Bernstein's time a century ago.
The SPD is not alone in that. France's socialist president François Hollande, who spoke in praise of Mr Schröder's reforms in Leipzig this week, has just notched his worst net approval ratings – minus 47 – since becoming president. Ed Miliband, also briefly in Leipzig before, maybe unnecessarily, putting the Woolwich murder first, boasts higher party ratings, but still trails David Cameron in the polls as preferred prime minister. Across Europe, most centre-left parties are losing credibility.
One reason these parties are in eclipse is that they promise security and fairness but struggle to deliver on the national level. If modern capitalism is to be made to act responsibly over issues such as tax havens, financial transactions and bank regulation, centre-left parties need to grasp that these issues are better gripped on a broader stage. It is surely at least worth considering whether Europe's centre-left parties would have more credibility if they could offer a Europe-wide programme. It would be a positive alternative to the pull-up-the-drawbridge message of parties such as Ukip in next year's European elections. Parties of the centre-left unite. You may not have a world to win. But a better election showing would surely be a start.
For demanding fair elections and respect for the constitution, Russians are being treated as spies and traitors
I have been active in the human rights scene here since the dark days of the Soviet Union. As I look across today's Russia, I have every reason to believe that at the very top, the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society for daring to raise its head in protest against government repression and to demand fair elections and respect for the constitution.
From the end of the 80s to the middle of this century's first decade, a lively and active civil society formed in Russia. Today, it is an obstacle in the path of President Putin and his circle, who aim to form a harshly authoritarian, perhaps even totalitarian, regime.
It is precisely to destroy civil society – and primarily the human rights groups that form its backbone – that a series of repressive laws were adopted in 2012 by Russia's Duma, elected fraudulently and obedient to Putin. One of these laws requires that NGOs which receive funding from abroad and "engage in politics" voluntarily register as "foreign agents". This demand is the equivalent of Nazi Germany's demand that Jews don a yellow star.
This law is directed against human rights organisations that have to receive financing from foreign donors in order to maintain their independence – since neither the Russian government nor big business will support organisations whose goal is to protect citizens from violations of their rights by the state.
The foreign agents' law should not apply to human rights NGOs, as they do not engage in politics. However, the law defines the term "politics" as including "influencing the formation of public opinion" – and, of course, human rights NGOs do exactly that. For violating this law, NGOs face closure and fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£11,000), while their leaders face fines of up to 300,000 rubles and up to two years' imprisonment.
If the law demanded that NGOs register as organisations receiving foreign grants, all of us would register, as this would reflect the truth. But we cannot register as foreign agents. In Russia, "foreign agent" means "traitor", "spy". We are not agents of foreign governments or private foundations, as we do not carry out their instructions. To register as their agents would mean sacrificing our reputation.
Because not a single NGO registered as a foreign agent, several weeks ago the authorities began a mass wave of inspections across the country led by the state prosecutor, the ministry of justice and the tax authorities. We are aware of about 500 NGOs that have undergone such inspections – there are probably many more.
By law, the prosecutor has the right to conduct inspections only where there is evidence that a given organisation has, or is planning to, violate the law. The simultaneous inspection of hundreds of NGOs is a clearly illegal action by the prosecutor, whose mission is to ensure the law is obeyed.
Several dozen of the inspected NGOs have now received instructions stating that they are required to register as foreign agents. Golos, which organised election observers who uncovered massive falsifications during the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011-2012, was the first to be sanctioned by the courts, receiving a fine of 300,000 rubles. All of these organisations are on the verge of being closed down.
The Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organisation, awaits this fate by the end of May, as do others. It is absolutely clear that Vladimir Putin's goal, as he begins his third term in office, is to destroy all independent civic activity. It is clear he fears that otherwise he will not succeed in retaining his office, let alone strengthening his authoritarian regime.Lyudmila Alexeeva
Netflix's unorthodox release of an entire TV series at once has helped popularize marathon sessions of watching. Do you prefer your shows in one sitting?
While some gay-rights supporters praised vote's outcome, others were disappointed in continued ban on gay adult leaders
While some gay-rights supporters praised Thursday's vote by the Boy Scouts of America in favor of formally accepting openly gay scouts, others were disappointed in the group's decision to continue to block gay scout leaders.
The Boy Scouts will formally accept openly gay boys beginning 1 January 2014, after more than 60% of its members voted Thursday in favor of ending the longstanding ban. Many conservatives within the scouts were distraught at the outcome of the vote and some threatened to defect. A meeting is planned for next month to discuss the formation of a new organization for boys.
"Within our movement, everyone agrees on one thing, no matter how you feel about this issue, kids are better off in scouting," said BSA president Wayne Perry after the vote. "Our vision is to serve every kid. We want every kid to have a place where they belong, to learn and grow and feel protected."
The organization added one sentence to the membership rules that permits gay youth from entering the organization. While gay rights advocates hailed the decision as a step forward, many were disappointed in the group's decision to block gay leaders from being a part of the organization.
"I wish I could say it's a step forward, but unfortunately, I think it actually makes things worse," said James Dale, the first person to bring a legal challenge against the BSA policy. "I think it's a bit of a step backward."
Dale was dismissed from his position as a volunteer scoutmaster after being quoted in a paper about LGBT issues. He challenged the dismissal in a case that was eventually brought to the US supreme court in 2000.
"This doesn't give younger gays a future," Dale told the New Jersey Star Ledger. "The Boy Scouts are still sending a destructive message."
White House spokesman Shin Inouye said President Barack Obama welcomed the Scouts' decision regarding gay youth but "continues to believe that leadership positions in the Scouts should be open to all, regardless of sexual orientation."
Pascal Tessier, an openly gay 16-year-old scout from Maryland, was told recently by his council that he would not be able to receive his Eagle scout award, the highest honor in scouting, unless the resolution passed.
"Just a few hours ago, I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout," said Tessier, pictured. "Obviously, for gay scouts like me, this vote is life-changing."
"I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue," said Jennifer Tyrrell, whose ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because she is lesbian launched a national protest movement.
Tyrrell recalled having to tell her son she had been forced out as den mother.
"He doesn't deserve to be told that we're not good enough," she said. "We're not going to stop until this is over."
More than 1,200 delegates voted at the annual meeting in Texas, with just over 60% supporting an end to the ban. Texas governor Rick Perry, a former boy scout who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, lamented the decision.
"The Boys Scouts of America has been built upon the values of faith and family for more than 100 years and today's decision contradicts generations of tradition in the name of political correctness," Perry said in a statement. "While I will always cherish my time as a scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision."
His opinions were echoed, at times much more vehemently, by numerous conservative and anti-gay groups including the Family Research Council.
The group's president Tony Perkins said in a statement that the decision was "another casualty in moral compromise."
"It is clear that the current BSA leadership will bend with the winds of popular culture, and the whims of liberal special interest groups," said Perkins. "There is little doubt that God will soon be ushered out of scouting."
Religious groups sponsor 70% of the more than 100,000 scouting units in the US. While some including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches have supported the ban in the past, others think it should be revoked.Amanda Holpuch
Reports link tech giant to online video service which is also coveted by Time Warner, William Morris and more
The online video service Hulu is at the centre of a frenzied bidding war, according to US media reports, with the tech giant Yahoo rumoured to have made an offer for the second time in its history.
With the ink is barely dry on its $1.1bn deal to buy the lite-blogging platform Tumblr, Yahoo made a formal proposal to buy Hulu on Friday morning, according to the tech news websiteAllthingsD.com and the news agency Reuters.
Yahoo told the Guardian it "would not comment on rumour or speculation" in regards to the reported offer.
A deal would confirm Yahoo's fresh drive into "native" advertising – branded or sponsored editorial content – led by chief executive Marissa Meyer. Yahoo made an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to buy the French video site Daily Motion; the move was vetoed by the French government in April.
Yahoo faces some hefty competition for Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, News Corp and Comcast. Offers are reported to have been made by Time Warner, News Corp executive Peter Chernin, satellite operator DirecTV, talent agency William Morris and two investment firms, Guggenheim Digital Media and KKR.
Yahoo first approached Hulu in 2011 under Carol Bartz, when Hulu had recruited Morgan Stanley to find a buyer – without success.Jemima Kiss
After three years of Tory-Lib Dem coalition, our economy remains in the doldrums, performing much worse than that of the US, where President Obama has achieved a deal of stimulus despite obstruction by Congress. We have a health service under increasing pressure and sliding with government encouragement into private hands; we have education being planned by the whim of a secretary of state whose latest wheeze is schools run by army officers; we have a welfare state re-engineered to produce homelessness, hardship and ever-growing child poverty.
Small wonder that more than 60% of the electorate disapprove of what this government is doing and want them gone, though how that will pan out in seats in the parliament to be elected in 2015 is uncertain. It is possible that the arithmetic might allow for the Labour-Lib Dem coalition that Martin Kettle is now advocating (Comment, 23 May), but politically at this moment the Lib Dems are part of the problem – they have voted solidly for every one of those Tory measures – and not part of the solution.
Is a politics in which the Lib Dems spend five years in alliance with the Tories demolishing the welfare state and the next five years in alliance with Labour rebuilding it for real? Either they believe in what they have been voting for or they don't; and in either case, what credence can be put in them post-2015? The illusion that the Lib Dems are a progressive party is one that Martin Kettle has been peddling for years, but with Nick Clegg recommitting to the coalition with David Cameron to the bitter end, it should surely be clear even to him it has reached its sell-by date.
Simon Jenkins has shown courage in connecting the criminal outrage in Woolwich with the participation of the UK in the use of drones to destroy whole village communities in Afghanistan (An echo chamber of mass hysteria only aids terrorists, 24 May). He is surely correct when he poignantly remarks: "Of course, people should be able to walk peacefully down the street in London. They should also be able to walk peacefully in Kandahar, Yemen or Baluchistan."
We should be very grateful that our home-grown religiously inspired fanatics have not yet got their hands on a Hellfire missile, the standard weapon of choice used by Predator and Reaper drones operated by the US and UK in Afghanistan, and by the US in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. This missile can carry an anti-personnel charge which allows one missile to kill dozens, even hundreds of people. It is not difficult to imagine more sophisticated jihadists being able to mount such a missile on the roof-rack of a car (they weigh about 100-150kg), perhaps hidden in a roll of carpet. It could then be fired into a crowded market place and achieve a kill-rate comparable to that obtained in Afghanistan by the drone pilots based at RAF Waddington.
As Menzies Campbell correctly points out (Syria needs help but it does not need arms, 24 May), if William Hague gets his way and is allowed to supply sophisticated weapons to the Free Syrian Army, they will inevitably end up in the hands of the jihadists of the al-Nusra front. According to most reports, the latter is now doing the bulk of the fighting in Syria on "our" side and might demand access to the most effective weaponry from the FSA. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they would not mind supplying the odd missile or two to their fellow religious fanatics in the UK. It is even said that UK-born jihadists are already fighting in Syria with al-Nusra.
Dr David Hookes
• President Obama has defended his country's drone attacks as "legal, effective and a necessary tool in an evolving US counter-terrorism policy" (Report, 23 May). According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Obama approved 300 drone strikes in Pakistan alone between 2009 and 2012, that killed 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, 64 of whom were children. This is a higher death toll than the Bush administration in the period 2004-09, which launched 52 strikes, killing 438, including 182 civilians, 112 of whom were children. This comparison bears close scrutiny for those – including the Nobel Foundation – who feel that Obama represents a turn to a more enlightened page in US history.
Centre for Global Education, Belfast
I wholeheartedly endorse the anti-war sentiments expressed by Jude Law et al (Letters, 22 May). It may be worth reminding David Cameron, before he goes on to mark the anniversary of the first world war with a "truly national commemoration of national spirit", that the so-called "war memorials" erected throughout the land after the war were originally called "peace memorials". If you look at two politically neutral guidebooks, in Arthur Mee's The King's England, in the 30s, you will see them referred to in a quite matter-of-fact way as "peace memorials", whereas three decades and another world war later, Nikolaus Pevsner's The Buildings of England describes them as "war memorials". Let any modern memorial mark that peace, and remember with humility the suffering and sacrifice on all sides rather than by taking pride in "national spirit".
• So David Cameron plans to spend £55m commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war. I trust he will commemorate the West Indies Regiment. On 6 December 1918, 180 sergeants forwarded a petition to the secretary of state complaining about the levels of pay, which were much lower than for white troops, and the failure to increase their separation allowance, as well as discriminations in promotion. On the same day, the men of the 9th Battalion revolted as they had been forced to work as labourers, including cleaning the latrines of the Italian Labour Corps. So shall we also be commemorating British racism during the war?
Sr research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
• David Cameron is unlikely to take the good advice of Jude Law et al and "promote peace and international co-operation", especially given his current Ukip infatuation. However, individuals can decide to wear "never again" white poppies in 2014 as a reminder that, in almost all cases, war is a choice and peace an alternative. In doing so, they would also show sincere respect for those who have died or been wounded in war by signalling that they do not want such avoidable loss and suffering to happen again.
• If Martin Adams (Letters, 22 May) had read the article on the previous page by Guy Standing, about the progressive stripping of social security rights from working and unemployed people since the time of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps he would not have written about "the acts of bravery that helped ensure that this and other nations were not enslaved", since that enslavement is precisely what so many of the unemployed, the disabled, the low-paid and the mentally ill experience as their daily lot.
Fr Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
• I thought the whole point of continued remembrance of the two world wars, and all wars, was to help to avoid starting another. Every November, across the world, there are thousands of services where lines from poems of Laurence Binyon and John McCrae are spoken: At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them (For the Fallen); If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders' Fields (In Flanders' Fields). Are these words not meant to be taken to heart?
• The first world war was labelled the war to end war. The second world war, the war to end tyranny. War and tyranny still flourish. Both wars were failures. Those who died or were maimed for life fighting or sheltering from bombing or fleeing or starving were not the only casualties. Their families, their communities, their nations and their economies were all deeply affected for many years. At 88, my memories of both wars – my parents' and my own – still bring me to tears. They failed. We need, as communities, to remember the suffering wars bring about, to recognise that to try to solve conflict by violent means, by war, will fail. I shall be adding my name to ww1.stopwar.org.uk and urging my friends to do the same.
Aberdaron: I scan with my glass. No sign. Has the winter been too hard for the vulnerable, beautiful little choughs?
The once-quiet fishing cove of Porth Meudwy, west of Aberdaron and embarkation point for Ynys Enlli, is busy these days. Pyramids of lobster pots are piled high round the slipway, new twin-hulled boats drawn up on the pebbles. More working boats circle the bay, hauling their catch. The recently completed Wales Coastal Path, one of the finest sections of which begins here, has added to the spruced-up air. I climb the long sequences of steps to clifftop level and head west for Pen y Cil, abandoned quarry workings at Porth Cloch glinting in the sun beneath.
The cliff badger sett – one of the few in Wales that remained undug during the monstrous 80s, when Welsh badgers were regularly sent to city dog-pits – has flourished in recent years, with fresh evidence of their activity all around. This is sheep country, so their existence is relatively safe. The new path has been diverted away from the cliff edge and no longer arrives at a belvedere that gives the sudden, breathtaking view of Ynys Enlli across the sound. I used to enjoy the rock-scramble up the ridge above. Signs now warn you away from its delights.
The headland is as it ever was, spacious and bathed in that distinctive light of the west – glowing and diffuse. The long-time residents, the peregrines and the kestrels that nest among contorted strata at the back of Parwyd bay, put in appearances, arrowing past in swift intensity. A mile on, when I reach the low col behind Trwyn y Gwyddel ("the Irishman's Nose"), it's an absence, not a presence, that is felt. Not once in 50 years have I failed to see choughs feeding across this slope. I scan with my glass. No sign. Has the winter been too hard for these vulnerable, beautiful little red-legged crows?
Suddenly the sky is full of whistling cries, tumbling flight. Half a dozen birds scatter down into the heather. I could almost weep with relief.Jim Perrin
Since the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, 60 years ago next week, the Himalayas have become far more accessible to walkers. We round up this amazing region's best treks, across Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tibet and even Burma
Hindu scriptures say that in "a hundred ages of the gods" you could not do justice to the Himalayas. So where do mere mortals start? Knowing where to go in an area 10 times the size of France is daunting, especially when just getting there is expensive. Everest gets most of the headlines, but the Himalayas are vast, especially when you include mountain ranges west of the Indus – the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram.
This 4,000km crescent, stretching from Kyrgyzstan to Burma, is a geography of superlatives – the highest mountains, the deepest gorges, tracts of wild forest, the rolling high plateau of Tibet plus, in Bhutan and the Indian state of Assam in the eastern Himalayas, some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet.
Then there are the people. It is true that in some areas the Himalayas are wild and barely populated, but in most there is an incredible diversity of cultures that have adapted to surviving in an environment that can be exceptionally hostile as well as incredibly beautiful.
These huge peaks are also the meeting point for three of the world's great religions: Islam in the west, Hinduism to the south and Tibetan Buddhism to the north.
It's an incredibly dynamic region. New roads and airports are making some areas more accessible, while diminishing the appeal of others, like the famous Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
Political change has also altered horizons. Mountains along the northern border of Burma have recently become accessible for the first time in decades, while visa restrictions and unrest in Tibet have made travelling there more difficult.
Trekking is also changing. Many assume walking in the Himalayas is only for rugged types who enjoy roughing it. That was true in 1953, when Everest was first climbed and trekking tourism didn't exist. Now there are new ways to experience the Himalayas: luxury lodges for those looking to take in the views with a bit of comfort; treks that focus as much on culture as scenery; and new lodges and homestays for those who want to relax and get beneath the surface of Himalayan life.
The walking itself is usually not too difficult, no more so than in the Lake District – apart from the altitude, of course. It's the altitude, along with problems of travelling in one of the least developed regions of Asia and fears about hygiene, that put some people off. Staying healthy in the Himalayas is certainly more difficult than it is at home, but if you're used to walking and are cautious about gaining altitude then you're unlikely to have any problems. And the rewards are spectacular.Where, when and how
The summer monsoon is much heavier in the eastern Himalayas than it is in the west, and so the most popular trekking periods in much of India, Nepal and the region east of there are April and October. Skies tend to be clearer in the autumn, although it's colder too, but that's when Everest and other popular treks are at their busiest.
If you want to trek in the summer holidays, then look further west. Zanskar and Ladakh, largely Tibetan Buddhist in terms of its population but politically part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, are north of the Himalayan chain and enjoy much better weather in July and August. These are also the best months for K2 and the rest of the Karakoram, including Kashmir, and the Hindu Kush.
The most popular trekking areas – like Everest, the Annapurna region and Ladakh's Markha valley – have a network of basic lodges to stay in, opening up these areas to independent trekkers who don't want to carry a tent and are on a more limited budget. It's also possible to reach Annapurna, or Nepal's Langtang region, by bus, without the need for costly internal flights.
For those with a bit more to spend, there are off-the-peg itineraries from specialist travel agents in the UK. The best of these use good local outfitters and provide a guide, either western or a local who speaks good English. For those who don't want the hassle of organising transport and accommodation, this kind of trip is perfect – and for camping treks in remote areas, they're essential. You can also approach a local agent directly, which is useful if you have a group of friends who want to trek together.Mount Everest
Since Nepal's civil war ended in 2006, the number of trekkers visiting the Everest region has more than doubled to 35,000 a year. At the height of the season, around 60 flights land at Lukla airport each day. The Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar, the gateway to Everest base camp and used for altitude acclimatisation, now has better mobile coverage than much of Snowdonia. So if you go in peak season, expect a crowd. If you have a group of mates who all want to see Everest, most companies will organise a private tour.
World Expeditions is one of the biggest operators, running over 20 treks this year, with accommodation a mixture of camping and lodges on the classic standard trek to Everest base camp. An 18-day trek costs £1,650, which it can also arrange. Some of its autumn departures are already full, so hurry if you want to go in the diamond jubilee year of the first ascent.
If you prefer a bit more comfort, there are now two chains of luxury lodges on the way to base camp, Yeti Mountain Homes and Everest Summit Lodges. We're not talking five-star spas here, but an en suite bathroom and a hot water bottle are a big step up from standard lodges.
If you're looking to beat the crowds, trekking guide Bonny Masson has this advice: "If you've got the time, do the original trek the British expedition took in 1953." This started in Kathmandu, but a bus will now take you to the end of the road just beyond the town of Jiri. The trail beyond is a tougher walk than the stages from Lukla, which most people now reach by air. "You'll get a better slice of life in Solukhumbu and the trails are quieter." Alternatively you can trek out of season, in December or February, when numbers are down and the trails are quieter. But you should be prepared for lower temperatures.
Adventurous types can trek to the little-visited east face of Everest inside Tibet via the Kama valley, one of the least known but most beautiful approaches to the world's highest peak. Unlike the Nepalese side, this wild valley has hardly changed at all. In recent years, the visa situation in Tibet has been inconsistent, but that now seems to be settling down. KE Adventure Travel offers a 20-day trip out of Kathmandu, including nine days of trekking, for £2,995.More than just trekking
Stunning views are what prompt many to go trekking, but the Himalayas is an incredibly diverse region culturally. For those who want to combine great walking with gaining an insight into how people live in such an extraordinary region, there's now a wide range of holidays offering treks combined with other activities.
Wild Frontiers, known for its stylish approach to adventure travel, now offers some excellent journeys that include trekking. It is one of the few companies that will take you trekking in Kashmir, a wonderful place to walk in the summer, and then pamper you on a houseboat on Dal Lake (10 days from £1,690). It also runs an amazing trip, sadly full for 2013, to the Hindu Kush (17 days from £2,395) that mixes a visit to the Kalash area with trekking on the Pakistan-Afghan border, along the Wakhan Corridor.
At the other end of the Himalayas, far to the east, Mountain Kingdoms is one of the first to offer a trek in northern Burma (20-day trip from £2,645) through pristine jungle and along rocky outcrops to reach the snow-capped Mount Phongun Razi. Trekking here mixes the jungle appeal of other parts of south-east Asia with the high drama of the Himalayas – and the opportunity to explore Rangoon and the temples of Bagan. And if you're looking for something a bit less strenuous, there is an alternative itinerary through the foothills.Gentle trekking
If trekking was developed for explorer types who see disaster as a welcome change of pace, then the industry has done a great deal to broaden its appeal. Young backpackers have been wandering around the foothills of Nepal's Annapurna range for decades now, arriving in Pokhara by bus and surviving on next to nothing. World Expeditions offers an off-the-peg 11-day equivalent for newbie trekkers from £990, which takes in the pretty villages of Landruk and Ghandruk. You won't sleep higher than 2,500 metres but you'll still get stunning views of the Annapurna range and the colossal pyramid of Dhaulagiri, seventh-highest peak in the world.
The Mountain Company offers an 11-day beautiful village walk in India's Kumaon mountains in Uttarakhand. You stay in basic but homely accommodation en route, on easy trails between villages, and end with a few days at the luxurious and very relaxing Himalayan retreat Shakti 360° Leti (a 10-night package including accommodation in Delhi is £1,410pp).
Once kids get over the initial shock of the idea that a walk can last for days, not hours, trekking can be a brilliant family trip option. Exodus offers a great itinerary in Ladakh for families that takes in visits to Tibetan monasteries, rafting on the Indus and a three-day trek that crosses the Sarmanchan La, a pass that reaches 3,750m. Prices start from £1,899, including flights, and the trip is suitable for ages eight plus.
Nepal is also a great place to take children, combining a trek with a visit to Chitwan national park, close to the border with India, where they can see wildlife and ride elephants. Steve Webster is a long-time resident of Nepal who runs Escape2Nepal, a small travel company specialising in "soft" adventures that are just right for children – its 15-day family adventure trip costs £1,720pp. He also has a quiet guesthouse, Shivapuri Heights, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, away from the ever-increasing noise of Thamel, the city's tourist district.Wild trekking
Although tourism in the Himalayas is changing fast, it's still possible to do a big trek in the wildest landscape on Earth. These really are for the hardier trekker, with weeks of camping and a tolerance for serious walking and high altitude. In Pakistan's spectacular Karakoram mountain range, there are fewer villages in the high mountains, and treks feel remote and exploratory.
The jewel in the crown is the trek to K2's base camp, taking you past some of the most beautiful peaks you've probably never heard of, like the Trango Towers and Masherbrum, before reaching Concordia, the confluence of two mighty glaciers with spectacular views of K2 itself. It takes around 15 days, walking eight miles a day, to reach base camp and leave via the Gondoro La, a pass of over 5,400m, into the beautiful Hushe valley. Previous trekking experience is essential. KE Adventure offers a 22-day itinerary starting at £2,495.
While the Annapurna massif is as beautiful as ever, the construction of a road up the Kali Gandaki, the world's deepest gorge, to link Pokhara with the Tibetan border, has abruptly terminated interest in trekking the well-established Annapurna circuit. No one wants to trek beside a road. A new road is also being driven on the eastern side of the massif, towards the village of Manang.
Luckily for Nepal's trekking industry, the long and arduous trek around Manaslu, higher than Annapurna and just to its east, is plugging this self-inflicted wound. Mountain Kingdoms offers a slightly different route in the early part of this increasingly popular trek that makes each one of the 18 days it takes to loop around the Manaslu Circuit's remote north side as culturally fascinating as it is spectacular. The trip costs £1,725 and is the perfect introduction to the wilder side of Himalayan trekking.
If those two aren't enough for you, then consider the Great Himalayan Trail , which traverses the length of Nepal's high mountains, broken down into 10 sections, each of which takes around two to three weeks. The Mountain Company is offering the first section – between the world's third-highest mountain Kanchenjunga and Makalu – this October from £3,195.
• Unless stated, prices exclude international flightsEd Douglas
Our coverage of the day's events in the UK and around the world
US federal trade commission looking into allegations that company's DoubleClick has illegally promoted Google products
The US federal trade commission is investigating whether Google's DoubleClick advertising subsidiary has illegally pushed customers to buy its other products, the Guardian has established.
The regulator is understood to be looking at whether the display advertiser, acquired by Google in 2008 for $3.1bn (£2bn), is being used to muscle clients into buying adverts on other Google advertising properties such as its text-based AdSense. That could constitute "tying", which is illegal under antitrust law.
FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan declined to comment. The Guardian has, however, confirmed that the investigation is under way from other sources with knowledge of the FTC's work.
The FTC, which has a remit to protect consumers, has a number of preliminary investigations under way at any time, many of which are subsequently dropped for lack of evidence or harm. The first sign that it was moving towards a formal investigation would be the issuing of investigative requests to affected companies. The Google investigation is understood to be in its preliminary stages.
Reuters reported that the concerns have been raised by rivals who have complained that DoubleClick products such as its ad management system have been used to encourage sites to use other Google products such as AdExchange.
An antitrust investigation by the FTC could seriously hamper Google's freedom to manoeuvre in the advertising market. DoubleClick provides ad targeting based on various criteria. Since the purchase was completed in 2008, the number of players in the online ad market has shrunk.
Google had about 15% of America's $15bn online display advertising market in 2012, ahead of Facebook's 14.6%, said research firm eMarketer. That's expected to widen in Google's favour over the next year.
Microsoft famously fell foul of antitrust law in the 1990s, found guilty of illegally tying PC vendors' ability to buy its Windows operating system to the use of its Internet Explorer browser. That shut out the rival Netscape. Microsoft escaped a direct sanction following an appeal in 2000 but had to submit to antitrust oversight until May 2011. The trial and subsequent consent decree substantially changed Microsoft's corporate culture – and created the opportunity for Google to emerge with the rise of the internet.
Separately, the European commission has yet to decide whether it will accept a number of suggestions made by Google to end an investigation into potential abuse of its search monopoly. Google in April offered a number of concessions relating to search labelling – but rivals who previously complained to the EC indicated they would reject them, which could set back any agreement and might trigger legal action.
The FTC has carried out formal investigations against Google a number of times in recent years. In 2011 it investigated its Google Buzz social media system, for which it was bound over for 20 years in March 2011 on privacy-related matters. It then had to pay a $22.5m fine last August for violating that ruling by hacking Apple users' browsers to track them online.
In January, the FTC cleared Google of biasing its search results in its own favour after a two-year formal investigation that ran in parallel with – but separate from – the one in Europe. However, the FTC did slap down Google's Motorola Mobility (MMI) subsidiary for its attempts to seek injunctions against companies including Apple and Motorola for using its "standards-essential" patents – a decision seen by many as lowering MMI's overall value, because it reduced the amount that Google could demand for use of its portfolio of 17,500 patents.
That weakness in MMI's patent portfolio was reinforced on Thursday, when a panel at the ITC, which adjudicates on trade disputes over US imports, declined to grant MMI a sales ban against Microsoft's Xbox, ending a dispute that had gone on since November 2010.
Previously a US judge cut to just $1.8m an MMI claim under which it was demanding royalties on a standards-essential patent that would have cost Microsoft billions of dollars annually.
The US district court judge argued that having a patent with comparatively small functionality used in a standard should not be an excuse for demanding a "hold-up" rate.
In Europe, Apple and Microsoft have both complained to the EC's antitrust arm – the same one investigating Google's alleged search bias – about MMI's use of standards-essential patents to seek injunctions.Charles Arthur
The record for the top speed reached on a mountain bike has been broken by cyclist François Gissy on a track near Mulhouse in eastern France
President tells Annapolis graduates that sexual assault 'has no place in the greatest military on earth'
President Barack Obama on Friday urged US Naval Academy graduates to remember that their honor depends on what they do when nobody is looking, and said that sexual assault has "no place in the greatest military on earth".
The commander in chief congratulated the 1,047 midshipmen graduating at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, telling the 841 men and 206 women that they have proven themselves morally by meeting rigorous standards at the academy. But their commencement celebration came in the midst of reports of widespread sexual assault throughout the US military, and Obama ended his 20-minute address by recognizing "how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide".
"Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong," Obama said. "That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they've got no place in the greatest military on earth."
The president's comments were aimed at rooting out the problem at a time when Republicans have been criticizing him for not responding forcefully enough to controversies including last year's deadly attack on a US consulate in Libya and political targeting at the IRS. But Obama was quick to express outrage over the reports of sexual assault, saying he has no tolerance for it. Last week he summoned military leaders to the White House and instructed them to lead a process to root out the problem.
The Pentagon released a report earlier this month, estimating that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs. That figure is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.
Several recent arrests have added to the military's embarrassment. A soldier at the US Military Academy at West Point was charged with secretly photographing women, including in a bathroom. The Air Force officer who led the service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit was arrested on charges of groping a woman. And the manager of the Army's sexual assault response program at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was relieved of his post after his arrest in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife.
The applause that had accompanied earlier portions of Obama's Naval Academy speech, as he mentioned the Navy Seals' killing of Osama bin Laden and called for the building of a powerful 300-ship fleet, fell to silence as he turned to the sexual assault scandal. Midshipmen and spectators watching under cool gray skies as a light rain fell listened silently as he repeated the refrain: "We need your honor."
Obama urged the graduates to use the leadership skills and values learned at the academy to help prevent behavior in the battlefield that can damage the image of the US overseas.
"We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you, not when the path is easy and obvious, but it's hard and uncertain, that tells you the difference between that which is right and that which is wrong," Obama said. "Perhaps it will be the moment when you think nobody's watching. But never forget that honor, like character, is what you do when nobody's looking."
After the midshipmen took their oath of office as Navy ensigns and Marine second lieutenants, the president emerged from the covered stage into the rain to shake the hand of each graduate collecting a diploma. "Folks in the Navy don't mind a little water," the president joked in his speech. The rain stopped just before the whooping graduates threw their caps in the air to end the ceremony.
Obama's address was his second to a military audience in as many days, coming a day after he laid out his counterterrorism vision at the National Defense University, where he defended his controversial drone strikes program and renewed his push to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. It is a tradition for presidents to rotate speeches at the commissioning ceremonies of the four service academies. The Naval Academy, about 30 miles from the White House in Annapolis, Maryland, says 16 presidents have addressed graduates, and Obama is the sixth to do so twice. He also addressed 2009 graduates.
The ceremony and its pageantry could not escape Washington's budget fights. The Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic team did not perform, because of budget cuts due to a fight between Obama and congressional Republicans. But the ceremony also featured a fitting achievement: for the first time in the academy's history, an entire family has graduated from the school. Matt Disher was joining his brother Brett and sister Alison, twins who graduated in 2010, as well as his father Tim and mother Sharon as alumni.
"Tim and I never expected anything like this," said Sharon, who graduated in 1980 in the first class that included women. "In fact, if anything we probably discouraged the kids from going, because if you don't come in for the right reason, which is to serve your country, you're not going to last."
Sharon Disher, of Annapolis, wrote the book First Class: Women Join the Ranks at the Naval Academy about the difficulties of being in the class of 1980, the first that included women. She said she is disappointed the military is still grappling with sexual assault issues, but applauded the president for raising the subject.
"The more we talk about it, the more we're going to do something about it, and that's the thing we never did," she said. "I guess we've just got to keep the conversation going until we fix the problem."