News: As Syrians die, the first lady shops

President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, centre.

Private emails show Syrian leaders with little care for nation’s violence

The escalating crisis in rebellion-torn Syria, in which thousands have died, appears to have had little effect on the upmarket lifestyle of its leaders Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad.

Private emails obtained by the Guardian show a life still filled with excess and distracted by shopping, even as the rebel city of Homs remains under heavy fire.

The first lady in particular has used emails to purchase finely crafted furniture, hand-made jewelery and high-end shoes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

One pair of shoes, crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutins heels, would cost more than AUD$4000 even though one friend emailed the first lady saying: “I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”

The President, on the other hand, alternated between being apparently torn and dismissing the state of the nation. He emailed country and western song lyrics to his wife: “I’ve been a walking heartache? I’ve made a mess of me / The person that I’ve been lately / Ain’t who I wanna be.”

In July last year when she emailed that she would be finished at 5pm, her delighted-sounding husband replied: “This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media…”

The Syrian uprising began last March and has grown to include hundreds of thousands agitating for more freedoms, and a democracy in action. More than 8000 have been killed, many more detained and stories of torture and brutality at the hands of the regime which most recently included images of children and babies being killed.

The rebels have taken hold in the city of Homs, which has become the epicentre for the violence as Government forces fight back.

George Clooney testifies

Hollywood star travels to Sudan, reports back to Washington on horrors

George Clooney might be better known for his blockbuster movies and ladies-man-attitudes but the actor has also thrown himself heavily into humanitarian work, having recently returned from a trip to the troubled Sudan on the continent of Africa to see firsthand the horrors of the civil war.

“What we’re looking at is a real disaster,” Clooney told reporters before testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington.

Travelling with John Prendergast, co-founder of the advocacy group the Enough Project, Clooney filmed the hardship for a video shown to the committee and posted online just before his testimony.

The country voted on a split last year, forming Sudan and South Sudan but violence on the border and over oil pipelines has persisted. Clooney witnessed an nine-year-old boy with his hands blown off, and dodged a rocket attack himself.

Please be warned, this video contains graphic content:

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Woman jailed after she was raped, appeal to overturn conviction refused

A British judge has refused to overturn the conviction of a Welsh woman who was jailed in 2010 after she was raped by her allegedly violent and abusive husband and later falsely withdrew the allegations against him.

The woman, who lawyers said was in a state of post-traumatic shock withdrew the allegations of rape (even though she had been raped) after pressure from her husband and his sister. It was her later acknowledgment to police that saw her charged and sent to jail, of which she served 18 days followed by community service and a two-year supervision order.

Edit: She was charged with perverting the course of justice.

Even though her husband was never convicted (due to the withdrawn testimony) the prosecution admitted there was no question about the facts of the matter. The prosecution said it: “…unreservedly accepts the factual background to this case. It’s plain that [the woman] was subjected to a lengthy period of domestic violence and it’s implicit in the plea that she was the victim of rape.”

The woman’s lawyer Niall Quinn QC, acting for free, said told the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Maddison in an earlier hearing that, as well as repeatedly abusing Sarah, her husband had forced her to work in a massage parlour, providing sexual services for other men. “He drove her to the premises, to this brothel, waited for her and took her home again, took the proceeds and then proceeded to attack her emotionally for doing what she had done at his insistence and for his gain,” he said.

The team added the decision was: “…one of most important judgments to come out this year on women’s – and thus human – rights.”

Tony Abbott’s youngest to become racing ambassador

The youngest daughter of Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been named the brand ambassador for the Sydney Autumn Carnival. Bridget Abbott, 19, studies radiography usually but said she was looking forward to a different challenge.

“I’m very excited, a little bit nervous, but I guess that comes with the job,” she said.

She said her father had not given her too much advice for her role but both her parents were supportive of her move into the media spotlight.

“Dad’s supportive of everything I do and so he was really excited with this opportunity, he’s urged me to jump at it.”

Prince Harry

Prince Harry just wants to be normal

He’s been touring the Caribbean for 10-days and in an interview granted with CBS, Prince Harry admitted he just wanted to be normal.

Asked if royalty lived up to the fairytale, Harry told the US broadcaster: “No, not at all. As any girl would ever tell you.

“It’s sort of, ‘Oh my God, he’s a prince’. But no. The job that it entails – I mean look at me, I’m 27 years old, and not so much searching for someone to fulfill the role, but obviously, you know, finding someone that would be willing to take it on.”

“There’s a lot of times that both myself and my brother wish, obviously, that we were just completely normal.

“We’ve been born into this position and therefore we’ll do what we need to do to people and to kids that need it.

“It really is that simple for us.”

– Prince Harry and William do have a special bond. Remember when they might have been roomies with Kate?

Here’s a gallery of the Prince throughout the years. Normal life? Yes and no.

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The Encyclopedia Britannica is no more

After 244 years in print, the Encyclopedia Britannica’s last paper edition has run off the press. Well, it did in 2010 but the decision was only taken this week to abandon the hard copy version. While 7 million sets of the encyclopedia were sold over the years, only 15 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from its reference business (which is now mostly online with apps and subscriptions). But don’t shed a tear just yet. As The Guardian reported:

“The company’s websites, which include Merriam-Webster dictionaries, attracted more than 450 million users over the course of 2011, according to internal numbers.

Wikipedia English has 3.9m articles. The comprehensive Britannica has about 120,000. Wikipedia is free. The DVD Britannica, which includes two dictionaries and a thesaurus, costs $30 on Amazon. Individuals will also be able to sign up for an annual $70 subscription (universities will be charged about $1 per student).

“We may not be as big as Wikipedia. but we have a scholarly voice, an editorial process, and fact-based, well-written articles,” the company said. “All of these things we believe are very, very important, and provide an alternative that we want to offer to as many people as possible. We believe that there are 1.2 to 1.5bn inquiries for which we have the best answer.”

– Speaking of things that are out of fashion, how about the top 15 worst (best!) songs of the 1990s?

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