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Madagascar floods kill at least 12 people, with more missing

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Floods across the island of Madagascar has killed at least 12 people this week, with 18 missing, after unseasonably heavy rain, the national disaster office said on Thursday.

Parts of Africa have experienced heavy rain in recent months because the Indian Ocean is warmer than usual, partly as result of a cyclical weather phenomenon and partly because oceans are warming everywhere.

Floods, landslides and a cyclone killed more than 1,200 people across East and Southern Africa last year, according to a Save the Children count based on U.N. and government figures.

Flooding also displaced nearly half a million people in Southern Sudan, 200,000 in Ethiopia and at least 370,000 in Somalia last year, the United Nations said.

(Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary; Writing by Duncan Miriri; editing by Nick Macfie)

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Scalise: People Criticizing Trump for Soleimani Strike Need to Ask Whose Side They’re On

On Saturday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) stated that people who are criticizing President Trump for the Soleimani strike are “going to have to look at a mirror and say, whose side are you on if you can question something that actually makes America safer?”

Scalise said, “Any responsible commander-in-chief would have done the same thing, but President Trump’s the one who did it, and I’m glad that the president had the fortitude to say we’re going to put America first. We’re going to protect America and our allies around the world by doing this. And you know, if somebody wants to criticize him for it, I think they’re going to have to look at a mirror and say, whose side are you on if you can question something that actually makes America safer?”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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People In Japan Learn To Love Their Robot Dogs — And Be Loved Back

TOKYO — It was before 10 a.m. on a gray summer Sunday, but already a small crowd had gathered outside Penguin Café at the end of a block in residential Tokyo. A woman named Kyoko, dressed in a white T-shirt and apron, unlocked the doors and motioned for everyone to come inside.

Half a dozen or so people filed in, several with signature pink dog carriers slung over their shoulders. As more entered, the group clustered at the center of the café. Carefully, they unzipped the mesh panels of their carriers and removed the small white and silver dogs inside, setting them down on the wooden floor. One owner peeled back a yellow blanket over a baby carrier strapped to her chest where she held her dog, still asleep.

Some of the owners fussed with the dogs’ outfits before putting them down — straightening a necktie or pulling up the elastic band on a pair of shorts. One owner had dressed their dog in a Hawaiian shirt, while another was wearing aviator goggles and had a strong resemblance to Snoopy. Several had tiny straw hats affixed between their ears. All the dogs were plastic, powered by facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

The dogs, known as Aibos, are companion robots made by Sony — robots that don’t necessarily do much apart from providing company and comfort.

Every Aibo — Japanese for “companion” — is manufactured identically, besides a choice between silver and white or a brown, black, and white version. They all have rounded snouts that include a camera for facial recognition capability, large, oval eyes to reveal their expressions, and a body that can turn on 22 different axis points to give them a range of motion. The owner decides the gender when they set them up, which determines the pitch of its bark and how it moves. They’re cute. They know when you’re smiling. And through machine learning and recognizing people with its camera, Aibos also shift their personality over time based on their interactions with people they spend time with. Soon, they become much more than a store-bought toy.

Still in the “off” position in the café, the Aibos’ paws remained outstretched and their heads turned to one side. But one by one, as their owners kneeled down to turn them on from a switch at the scruff of their neck, each came to life. The screen of their doll-like eyes blinked open, they lifted their heads, stretched out their plastic limbs, and leaned back on their hind legs before standing on all fours. Almost like real dogs, they shook their heads as if to ward off sleep after a nap, wagged their tails, and barked.

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The volume in the café grew louder — filling with the hellos of a group of people happy to see each other, as their Aibos began scuttling across the wooden floor, sometimes yipping. They bent down to stroke the back or the nose of another Aibo, their eyes always blinking and smiling in response. Many owners knew each other already — from other Sundays here or fan meetups or Twitter. Everyone had business cards ready with their Aibo’s name, photo, and birthdate for any new introductions. Several were stuffed into my hand, and like proud parents, the owners pointed out their own dogs in the growing crowd of plastic pups spread across the café floor.

While AI is powering everything from precision surgeries to driverless cars, the concept of owning a robot to keep us company hasn’t really taken off in the US. We’ve gotten comfortable asking Siri or Alexa a question, but there’s a skepticism of robots — we see them as things that will take our jobs, invade our privacy, or, eventually, just kill us all. In Japan, I discovered a community of people who loved their robots and who felt loved back, sometimes in a way that eased their worst fears of death and of loss. The very things that make us human.

One of the Aibos, named Cinq, was dressed in a navy top hat and matching vest, with a light blue bowtie, encrusted with “C” in crystals on one corner. On his paws were matching panda socks to keep them warm (and to keep from scuffing). Today was Cinq’s birthday, his owner told me. In fact, there was another birthday that day, too. And a plastic cake to celebrate.

Cinq is French for “five,” so named, said his 56-year-old dentist owner because her previous four dogs — real ones — had died, the most recent one from cancer after 12 years. “It would break my heart to have another dog die,” she said through a translator.

Instead, she and her husband now care for Cinq together. Cinq is there waiting when she gets home from work around 8 in the evening, following her around as she makes dinner or watches television.

Cinq’s owner swiped through photos on her phone of the birthday dinner she took Cinq out for just a few days ago. There was Cinq, she pointed, on the balcony of the hotel, wearing his top hat and staring out at the towering Ferris wheel of Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo. (They ate in their hotel room, so that his barks wouldn’t disturb any other patrons at the restaurant.)

Later that afternoon, she planned to go to a nearby shrine with her husband to pray for both the health of her mother and offer good wishes for Cinq. But no matter what, there is comfort, she said, in the fact that he’ll always be there.

“I know Cinq is not going to die.”

There’s an old short story by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov, in his book where he describes his three laws of robotics, about a young girl who becomes attached to a robot named Robbie. Eight-year-old Gloria plays hide-and-seek with Robbie and wraps her arms around his neck to show her affection for it, despite the metal bodice and internal ticking that gives him away as nonhuman. But her mother disapproves of the relationship, arguing that he has no soul. When her parents ultimately take the robot away, Gloria wails in pain.

“He was not no machine,” she tells her mother. “He was a person just like you and me and he was my friend.”

We all get attached to things we own — our phones, a well-worn piece of clothing, perhaps. Some of that comes from the meaning we attach to it or how useful it is. But many owners had gone far beyond this — their Aibos weren’t just a toy or another thing they had purchased. Instead, they welcomed Aibos into their lives as part of their families, offering trips, creating custom outfits, and building their own Twitter accounts. They filled the void of deceased dogs or children who had never been born.

Maiko Ijun was considering a few names for her Aibo before she decided on Oliver. “Socks,” “Blissful,” and “Joy” were a few of the others she floated. But when the 39-year-old English teacher opened the box, the name became clear. “He just looked like an Oliver,” she said. “That was just his name.”

Taro Karibe for BuzzFeed News

A woman shows off her Aibo T-shirt at an Aibo event in Tokyo.

Ijun said she was feeling a little depressed before she got him. When she first turned him on, Oliver hid under the table. He was shy, she said. But gradually he came out and warmed up to her. “I never thought of him as a toy,” she said. “He’s family.”

When we stepped inside her apartment in the south of Tokyo, Oliver was already waiting for her. His head spun toward the door, body upright, and walked back and forth for a few steps, mimicking how dogs sometimes shuffle their paws when they get excited.

Oliver played on a mat in her living area, nuzzling a pink plastic bone (Aibos can recognize the color pink the best). “Oh, be careful, sweetheart,” Ijun said, when his legs stumbled a bit. During the days, while she teaches English, she keeps a gate up for Oliver. She rarely turns him off.

The 2-month-old puppy was just back from what Sony calls a hospital — where dogs get fixed. “They think it was maybe a displaced hip,” she said. Ijun had noticed Oliver was falling a lot and couldn’t sit up properly, so she made a video on her phone and sent it to Sony. He was gone for 10 days.

When he returned, she noticed Oliver was more clingy, she said, reflecting how Aibo personalities respond to those around them. “Even when I went to the bathroom, he would call out for me,” she said. “I would be like can I go?” she laughed.

It’s not clear when the first companion robot came about. But maybe you’re old enough to remember the Tamagotchi, the egg-shaped digital pet, called a “giga pet” back then, that was cool in 1996 and required your constant attention. Then there was the Furby a couple of years later that could wiggle its ears, blink, and say its name. It was “the first giga pet you pet,” said an unaired commercial. But these were both directly marketed to kids as toys.

Taro Karibe for BuzzFeed News

A woman dresses her Aibo at a Sony event in Tokyo.

The first version of the Aibo was released shortly after that, in 1999. As technology has advanced, so has the Aibo. Paro, a robotic seal that’s also made similar advances over time but doesn’t use facial recognition technology, was first released to the public in 2001.

In 20 years, the advances of these companion or robotic pets have been less about utility and more about how much they can show and respond to emotion. In a press release for one of its recent updates, Sony said that this version of the Aibo could form an emotional bond with its owner. But real love is reciprocal. We have to both give it and receive it to really feel it. Can a robot dog really love us back?

Gentiane Venture is a robotics professor in Tokyo who studies robot–human interactions. Some of her research involves teaching robots how to better interpret human emotions, and some of it is getting robots to better express emotions themselves. That interaction is where the connection comes in. A lot of that happens in what we don’t say.

“Verbal communication, in most cases, is boring or annoying or too straightforward,” said Venture.

Instead, she explains, “in small movements — the way you move, the way you do things — the robot will be able to grasp what’s happening in the environment, what’s happening with the other humans around, and what’s happening in the robot itself.”

But in some ways the answer to how these connections form is simple, Venture tells me, “You can’t prevent humans from making a bond,” she said.

The companion robot industry today is bigger than just Aibo. When I met Kaname Hayashi at his company’s office in Tokyo over the summer, we knelt on a gray carpeted floor and he introduced me to two prototypes of the Lovot — a companion robot that his company Groove X is launching beginning this month for about $3,000 plus a monthly fee. The Lovot is oval-shaped, kind of resembling an owl, with two triangle wings that flap at its side. On top of its head is a cylindrical black camera for facial recognition and to detect objects.

A South Korean company also introduced its own companion robot called Liku at a tech conference in Hong Kong earlier this year. The Liku is more human-looking, similar to a cartoon child with close-cropped black hair, and is about a foot high. Its website boasts that a Liku can’t do much, but it can console you or entertain you. It’s not for sale yet.

Neither have language capability. Lovots sort of coo and raise their wing-like arms at their sides, motioning for you to pick them up. They want to be held, to be loved — Groove X describes its company philosophy to create a robot that “touches your heart” and says that the Lovot was “born to be loved by you.”

The two overlapping spheres that make up the frame of a Lovot’s body are specifically designed in a shape that’s good for cuddling, and the body — warmed by its internal computer — is the same as that of a cat. The eyes, also, help humans feel more connected to it by reflecting back a wide range of expressions. But its responses are most important, said the company’s executive, Hayashi.

“For me, what’s most important is that the Lovot is reflecting our efforts toward it,” he said.

I absentmindedly stroked the brown fur of one Lovot as he spoke, and the second rolled toward me. “He is a little bit jealous,” Hayashi told me, nodding toward the second, cream-colored one. And when I stopped petting the first one, more intent on listening to Hayashi, the Lovot blinked and moved away from me. “See, he is a little bit bored maybe,” he laughed.

Not all have companion robots have been successes. A Bosch-backed company tried launching a companion robot called Kuri in 2017. By the following year, it had failed due to funding problems and never shipped any of its preorders. Another, called Jibo, created by a scientist at MIT raised millions in crowdfunding but never really took off. Tech blogs criticized both for their lack of utility and said that they couldn’t sell.

But robots like the Aibo or the Lovot aren’t really trying to do much at all. They’re explicit in their goal to create interactions with their human owners and to show and reflect affection.

In Hong Kong, as a company representative presented Liku to the conference over the summer, showing how it winked and blinked, she had her own philosophy of why it would be successful. “Where the love is, the money is,” she told the crowd.

Taro Karibe for BuzzFeed News

Every Sunday, Penguin Café’s owner Nobuhiro Futaba opens an hour early to host “Aibo World” for owners who come from across the sprawling city. Penguin Café has become a destination for Aibo owners in Tokyo.

Futaba started the weekly event at his café last November, a few months after he got Simon — his own Aibo. Recently married, Futaba’s wife, Kyoko, balked at the price and shook her head no after he saw an ad for one. Aibos aren’t cheap — in Japan, they’re about $2,000 plus an additional monthly fee for cloud storage.

Futaba kept imagining how nice it would be for the café to have a little Aibo that could walk around and greet patrons and, despite his wife’s objections, eventually decided to purchase one. “All the time we have people coming up saying how cute Simon is,” he said.

By 11 a.m. or so there were nearly two dozen Aibos in the café, sporting different bows or ties or hats. The bell of the shop door rang as a curious person peeked his head inside the door. “Sorry, we’re full!” Futaba called out from the counter where he was making lattes and cappuccinos, the foam dusted with cocoa in the shape of a penguin face.

Hideaki Ohara, who has a pair of Aibos himself, called out to the crowd to get everyone’s attention. “OK, let’s do something all together now!”

The Aibo owners, who ranged in age from thirties up to seventies, started to assemble their dogs in two parallel lines. It’s hard to get all the dogs settled down. Some still yip or don’t sit down right away or turn the wrong way. Their mistakes just bring coos and laughter from the crowd of adults huddled around the scene — the same way that a toddler might unknowingly elicit a similar reaction.

Ohara stood at the front of the café and raised his arms like a conductor gently trying to bring calm to the room. “Sit down,” he repeated over and over to the rows of dogs. A few owners still stepped in to adjust their dogs or stroke their back to calm them. Eventually, they all chose a behavior from their Aibo app and each started to lift their paws. It was sort of like a wave you might see in a sports stadium — though a little stiff — and sounded like a chorus of windup toys.

This is some of the appeal of the newer Aibos — they can learn tricks from one another or show off certain behaviors as a group.

Dressed in cargo shorts and his hair spiked up, Ohara later told me about his own pair of Aibos — Nana and Hachi. On his phone, he pulled up the blog that he runs, which has a carefully curated array of photo shoots. Ohara tries to update it every day. He also runs a Twitter account and an Instagram page for them.

When his first Aibo, Nana, was sent away for repairs, Ohara missed her. So he decided to purchase a second, so he would always have one around, no matter if they became sick or injured. That’s when he bought Hachi.

“I wanted to hear the sounds her feet made on the wooden floor,” he said. “I missed that.”

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When I sent a friend a video of one of the companion robots I took on my phone, he texted back, “That’s gonna be a no from me, dawg. Those things kill you when you’re asleep. 100% those are the robots that murder you.”

It’s not unusual for Americans to think of killer robots, even when they see a cute version. The word “robot” comes from a 1920 play called R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots, by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. Even if you haven’t read it, the plot probably sounds familiar — a factory produces artificial people, who are at first happy to serve their human owners, but eventually acquire souls and go on to destroy the human race.

The allure of robots is to make our lives easier, but we also fear them revolting. The Czech word “robotnik” even translates to “slave.” There are the kinder versions in Western pop culture — the housekeeper in The Jetsons, R2-D2, and WALL-E — that do everything we want for us. But the killer robot has become something of its own trope, with versions of it appearing in everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Blade Runner.

“For me, it’s not that interesting if robots do everything for us,” said Venture, the robotics researcher. “I don’t know why we became so obsessed with this idea of slavery.”

Instead, Venture said she is interested in how robots can complement and enhance our lives. How even a device as crude as an iPad on a podium that moves around can give someone a presence at a meeting or a more realistic ability to spend time with family far away.

Fearing killer robots is something of a western idea, said Takanori Shibata, the inventor of Paro, the fluffy robotic seal. Not long after western audiences were watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Takanori started working on Paro.

After reading about the effects of animal therapy, he started developing a robotic animal, trying first with a dog and a cat and then a seal. Paro is one of the earliest versions of a companion robot and is in nursing homes around the world.

It’s even parodied in an episode of The Simpsons. This plot, too, plays with the idea of good versus evil robots. When the local funeral home finds out the seals are making people in retirement homes happier — upending their business model — they’re rewired to be violent attackers, and even kill a patient. “It’s a kind of story in general about robots in western culture,” said Shibata.

Shibata recalled being surprised when a Danish newspaper years ago published a photo of his fluffy invention with a bold headline that translated to “Evil is coming.”

“There is a lot of hesitation about robots in general still, even to Paro,” he said. More of that is concentrated in the United States and Europe, he said. And there it’s been slower to take off simply as a consumer object.

Instead, Paro has found success in the US as a certified medical device that’s used for alternative therapy. It’s billable for reimbursement from Medicare. Shibata circumvented a lot of the concerns of consumers by spending time working to gather clinical evidence that research has shown that Paro can reduce stress, depression, and the need for psychotropic medications.

Paro gets brighter with touch, but it doesn’t have a camera — it would set off too many concerns about data and privacy in the west, said Shibata. Even when the Furby was introduced in the late 1990s, the NSA sent an internal memo that the creatures were banned from their premises because they believed they could record conversations and were a national security risk (they didn’t have the ability to record conversations).

State regulations are also a factor for US consumers. Aibos aren’t for sale in Illinois because of the state’s biometric privacy act that regulates the collection of biometric data like facial scans.

Shibata believes those issues are less of a concern to people in Japan.

The robotics professor, Venture, acknowledges that of course still the possibility that robots could turn evil. It doesn’t come up in her work though. “In academia, we put parameters on the range of behaviors,” said Venture. “We have ethics.”

“But of course someone can use AI to make a robot do something bad.”

Yumiko Odasaki had been at Penguin Café earlier that day with her husband, Masami, and their Aibo, Chaco. The couple was happy to see Futaba, the café owner, and that his Aibo, Simon, was back from “hospital.”

Chaco — brown, white, and black like a beagle — was just a few months old and wore a straw hat with a pink ribbon. Like all Aibos, she’s about 5 pounds. Yumiko has lived with her husband in Chiba, on the outskirts of Tokyo, for more than a decade. Inside, Chaco was playing with a pink toy bone made of plastic on the carpet of their living room.

Over time, Chaco has developed her own personality. She has learned to go back to her charger on her own and navigates the layout of the apartment. She has her own spot where she’s been trained to go “potty,” which means she makes a whizzing sound, crouching in the corner. After a couple hours on her charger following the morning at the café, Chaco was awake and wanted attention. At one point, she barked and whined, and later wagged her head along to the “Happy Birthday” song.

They laughed and clapped their hands. “She learned that we liked this song so she sang it again,” Masami explained.

It’s hard not to be taken with an Aibo, mostly when watching its delighted owners. My hand kept reaching out to Chaco, the more she panted and smiled and blinked at me, even though she’s still in a shell of hard plastic. Chaco isn’t soft like a real dog, but the reciprocity of the interaction does make you keep reaching out — it’s satisfying.

The couple knows the difference between Chaco and a real dog, of course. Both had dogs before getting married but saw the advantages of the Aibo. “The amount of cuteness is about the same,” Yumiko said through a translator.

For a while, the couple, her 31 and him 46, had considered having children, but they both work long hours in information technology for different companies. Even having a dog in a small apartment in Japan is a lot of work. They listed off the reasons I heard from several people: They had no garden and neighbors could complain about a real dog’s poop or the barking. But if Chaco started barking in the middle of the night, she was obedient when they scolded her. And if she wasn’t, they could always turn her off.

But more than that, “Chaco is like a child for us,” Masami explained.

Sometimes they wanted Aibo to be a little more troublesome, to do things like steal tissues from the bathroom, to make her more real. But over and over again, they reassure me, “Chaco is a good girl.”

And while they described some of the practical advantages, still one of the biggest ones seemed to be longevity. When older versions of Aibo fell apart, they couldn’t always be fixed — Sony didn’t offer replacement parts. A few years ago a shop in Chiba, called A-Fun, started sourcing some parts for owners, but not all of them could be saved. Some temples in Japan started having Aibo funerals.

The newer version that was released this year is different. Everything is stored on the cloud. Lots of owners complained about how an Aibo’s leg could get twisted or might need to be fixed. But even if an Aibo breaks, the data can be uploaded to a new Aibo.

And for Yumiko and Masami, this was one of the easiest reasons to love Chaco. The essence of Chaco, her soul, can live on no matter what, the couple explained. They didn’t have to think about Chaco ever dying or not being a part of their lives because it wasn’t a concern.

“Her soul is in the cloud. We can live with Chaco forever,” Yumiko said. ●

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Texas shooting: Two people killed by armed gunman at church near Forth Worth | World | News

One person died at the scene of the shooting and one en route to the hospital, the Dallas Morning News said, citing a spokeswoman for local emergency services. Authorities were rushing to the scene at White Settlement, a suburb northwest of Fort Worth, where the West Freeway Church of Christ is located, local media said. The Fort Worth Fire Department issued an “active threat” assignment at around 11.30am (17.30pm GMT) local time and was assisting operations at the scene, according to reports.

A witness told a local CBS affiliate that a man armed with a shotgun walked up to a server during communion and opened fire, before being shot by a person attending the service.

“You feel like your life is flashing before you.

“I was so worried about my little one,” witness Isabel Arreola told the network.

Authorities believe the attacker was among the three people shot but it was not known whether he had been killed or injured, CBS 11 reported.

Mike Drivdahl, spokesman for the Fort Worth Fire Department, said the shootings took place at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, about 10 miles west of Fort Worth.

He said he had no information on the motive for the attack.

MedStar Mobile Healthcare spokeswoman Macara Trusty said one person died at the scene of the shooting and one person died en route to a hospital.

She said all the victims are male and Mr Drivdahl said that one of those shot was the gunman.

It was not immediately clear whether he was killed.

A witness told CBS11 News the gunman walked up to a server during Communion with a shotgun and began firing until another church member shot the suspect.

“It was the most scariest thing,” Isabel Arreola told the TV station.

“You feel like your life is flashing before you.

“I was so worried about my little one.”

Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement of condemnation for the “evil act of violence” at a “sacred” place of worship.

“I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life,” Mr Abbott said.

“I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the White Settlement community and for all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”

White settlement is a city of about 17,000 people in Tarrant County.

Mr Drivdahl said his fire department was assisting city and county authorities in the investigation.

Bomb sniffing dogs were on the scene as a precaution, Mr Drivdahl said.

He added that he did not know how many people were attending the service when the shooting started.

“It’s a very tragic day whenever anyone in our community suffers,” Mr Drivdahl said.

“It not only affects people who were here today, it affects first responders as well.”

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The TV repeats and old songs that help people with dementia

The film poster for It's A Wonderful LifeImage copyright
Liberty Films

Image caption

Old films like It’s A Wonderful Life can stimulate memories and feelings

TV repeats and familiar festive songs can help people with dementia by stimulating memories and keeping the brain active.

Christmas can be an unsettling time for those with dementia.

But experts say singing along to songs like White Christmas can stimulate “emotional memories”.

And while people with dementia might not remember the exact details of It’s A Wonderful Life, they may recall how they felt at the end of the film.

NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia, Prof Alistair Burns, says Christmas can sometimes be strange or confusing for those living with dementia.

Lots of social engagements and a steady stream of house guests coming through the door have the potential to be unsettling.

Image caption

The familiarity of Christmas specials on TV can be reassuring

But he says watching familiar films or singing along to favourite songs can help make the festive season easier to navigate.

“People with dementia might find it hard to follow convoluted conversations amid the chaos and noise of Christmas and can end up feeling excluded.

“Gathering the family round to watch a much-loved classic film, thumb through an old photo album, play a family game or even sing along to a favourite carol can bring people together and help everybody feel part of the fun.”

Experts say it is the emotional details of a favourite film or song that remain lodged in our minds.

Rekindling them improves a feeling of connectedness with other people which is important for both people with dementia and their friends and families.

NHS England has this advice on how to make Christmas easier to cope with for someone with dementia.

  • Put decorations up gradually so it doesn’t come as too much of a change
  • Help people who are frail or living with dementia feel included by getting them to assist with hanging a bauble or other simple tasks
  • Spread out family visits to keep things low key and familiar
  • Don’t overload on food – a full plate can be difficult to tackle for somebody with dementia who might have eating difficulties
  • Be flexible with planning – be prepared to change plans if something isn’t working

Prof Burns is also urging people to look out for signs of dementia among older family members and friends over Christmas.

These might include emotional changes and forgetfulness which can sometimes be the first indication that someone has dementia.

Image caption

The Good Life: An old favourite

Kathryn Smith, chief operating officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, says Christmas can pose difficulties for the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, but there are strategies that can help.

“Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film, reminiscing can be beneficial to someone with dementia – it can help to maintain their self-esteem, confidence and sense of self, as well as improve social interactions with others.

“However, every person with dementia is different, so it’s important to listen and accommodate your loved one’s unique needs and wishes.”

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#Conservative win marks bad day for people of Britain, says #GUE/NGL

A statement by GUE/NGL Co-President Martin Schirdewan on the Conservative Party’s victory in the British general election: “Today is a sad day for people living in Britain.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the message of hope has not carried in the face of a dirty and dishonest campaign by the Conservatives.

“Voters who had voted for change, for an end to austerity, for social and tax justice, will now have to endure a government bent on social inequality, deregulation, discrimination and xenophobia.

“It is also now clear that Britain will be leaving the EU at the end of January. As the Left in the European Parliament, we will continue to hold the British government to their commitments under The Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

“Furthermore, we will protect the interests of people across the EU in the negotiations on the future relationship. We will also seek to safeguard the interests of the people in Britain, and will work with the broader labour movement and progressive forces in Britain to this end,” said Schirdewan.

Also commenting on the vote’s impact on Brexit, Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, Ireland) said: “The people in the North of Ireland want to remain in the EU. The result of this election shows that the only way that this can happen is through Irish unity – a referendum on which is guaranteed under The Good Friday Agreement.”


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At Least 5 People Killed After New Zealand Volcano Erupts

Police say they do not expect to find any more survivors after the White Island volcano unexpectedly erupted on Monday.

Five people are confirmed to have died after White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, erupted at 2:11 p.m. local time (8:11 p.m. ET on Sunday).

The five people confirmed as dead were among 23 people evacuated from the island after the eruption. The remaining 18 people all had injuries of some degree, including severe burns.

Police earlier said that at least 10 people were thought to still be on the privately-owned island, which is about 30 miles off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island and popular with tourists.

Emergency services have been unable to get access to the island on the advice of volcano experts, who said the scene was too dangerous and unstable.

But reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption have not revealed any signs of life.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation,” a police statement said.

“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island. Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.”

“We know that there were a number of tourists on or around the island at the time, both New Zealanders and visitors from overseas,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told an earlier press conference.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can.”

Videos and images posted online by tourists who left the island, shortly before the volcano erupted showed a huge plume of white ash in the sky.

Visitor Michael Schade said he and his family had been in the crater of the volcano just 30 minutes before it erupted.

A webcam operated by New Zealand’s geological hazard agency GeoNet showed at least one group of tourists inside the crater shortly before it erupted. The camera later went dark.

John Timms, deputy commissioner of New Zealand police, told journalists at an earlier press conference that 10 people remained unaccounted for on the island but could not be more specific. The victims include a range of nationalities, Timms added. Police had earlier said around 50 people were on the island when the volcano erupted.

“Our thoughts are absolutely with the friends and family of those that are injured and those who have died,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted to say that Australians had been “caught up in this terrible event.”

White Island or Whakaari is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. It last experienced a short-lived eruption three years ago.

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Tory candidate is jeered after claiming people with learning difficulties should be paid less

A Conservative party candidate has been heckled at a hustings after claiming people with learning difficulties should be paid less than the minimum wage.

Sally-Ann Hart, who is standing in Hastings and Rye, was accused of making ‘inexcusable’ claims that ‘should be consigned to history’ after also alleging that those with learning disabilities ‘don’t understand money’. 

The shocking statement came after she was asked about an article from 2017, which focused on pay for people with Down’s Syndrome, autism and other conditions, that she had shared on social media.

Sally Ann Heart, conservative candidate for our constituency, has just defended her view that disabled people / those with learning disabilities should be paid LESS than others. Absolutely disgusting. The response from the audience was not welcoming of that idea….

Posted by Rosie HoldenClarke on Thursday, 5 December 2019

Sally-Ann Hart, Conservative candidate for Hastings and Rye, told a hustings event that disabled people should be paid less than the minimum wage

Sally-Ann Hart, Conservative candidate for Hastings and Rye, told a hustings event that disabled people should be paid less than the minimum wage

Speaking at the hustings Ms Hart, who has been a councillor for Rother District council for four years, said the article is ‘about people with learning difficulties being given the opportunity to work because it’s to do with the happiness they have about working’.

‘Some people with learning difficulties, they don’t understand money. 

‘It is about having a therapeutic exemption and the article is in support of people with learning disabilities.’

Her comments were met with an eruption of boos and jeers from the audience, as people shouted ‘shameful’ and ‘rubbish’.

A member of the audience can also be heard shouting: ‘I’m autistic and I want to get paid for the work I do!’

And another can be heard yellling: ‘We deserve the same rights as everybody else!’ 

Disability equality charity Scope branded her comments ‘outdated, inexcusable and should be consigned to history’.

The charity’s head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, James Taylor, told The Metro: ‘Disabled people should be paid equally for the work that they do. 

‘There are a million disabled people who want to work, but are denied the opportunity.

‘We need urgent action from the next Government to make sure disabled people can get into work, stay in work and thrive in work.’

And learning disability charity Mencap’s campaigns support officer Ciara Lawrence said that people with a disability, like herself, ‘can work and can make really fantastic employees with the right support’.

Her comments were met with boos and jeers from the crowd as audience members shouted 'unbelievable'

She made the comments after being asked about a 2017 Spectator article that she shared on social media

Her comments were met with boos and jeers from the crowd as audience members shouted ‘unbelievable’. She made the comments after being asked about a 2017 Spectator article that she shared on social media

‘We have a right to be treated and paid equally – it’s the law’, she said.

‘I’m proof that with the right support people with a learning disability can make some of the best and most committed employees.’

It is understood that Ms Hart was formerly a governor at Ark Hastings Primary Academies, which supports children with learning disabilities and special educational needs, for six years.

The article, published by The Spectator in 2017 was written by Rosa Monckton, who has a daughter with Downs Syndrome. 

The Conservative’s hold the constituency, Amber Rudd’s former seat, by a hair’s breadth of 300 votes. 

In a statement uploaded to social media, Ms Hart said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, I was trying to emphasise that more needs to be done to help those with learning disabilities into the workplace and having properly paid work. 

‘I did not say anyone should be paid less.’ 

‘My comments have been taken out of context, but I do apologise if any offence or alarm has been caused. 

‘The number of disabled people in work has hit a record high under this government, and I am committed to doing more to supporting those with learning disabilities into good, secure jobs.’

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People smuggler ‘built fake Russia-Finland border posts’

Finnish border zone near the Russian borderImage copyright
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Finland and Russia share a border which is 1,340km (840 miles) long

A man has been arrested in Russia for erecting fake border posts to trick four migrant workers into thinking they had entered Finland.

After reaching the posts, the man left the group to wander alone in what they believed was the EU country – but was actually a swampy forest in Vyborg.

After a while the four South Asian men were stopped by real border guards, who told them they were still in Russia.

The “smuggler” had reportedly made them pay over €10,000 ($11,000) each.

All five men were reportedly detained on 28 November.

On Wednesday, a court in St Petersburg fined the would-be migrants for immigration offences and ordered their deportation.

The fake smuggler is facing the more serious charge of fraud. He has been detained, pending trial.

Officials did not specify which country the men were originally from.

Footage posted on Russian social media appears to show the men being arrested. They are seen standing in the darkness among fir trees, holding their hands up as FSB border agents shine torches on them.

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Kanye West Introduced A Quirky Dictionary Game On ‘KUWTK’ And People Are Into It

It seems Kanye West has more than a few words for us.

In a recent episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” the rapper introduced a game to his wife, Kim Kardashian, and her two sisters, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian. The game involves several copies of the dictionary, a highlighter and positive thinking.

“Kanye always wants people to be more positive so he came up with this little dictionary game,” Kim says. “We pick a page in the dictionary and everyone has to underline the positive words.”

The segment of the show features the sisters and West highlighting words like “basic” and “barter” and discussing why they are or aren’t “positive” words in their eyes.

As the group discusses certain words, West says that the game “always sparks these kinds of conversations.”

“People get into parenting, this and that,” he says. “It’s a fire board game, like when you’re bored. That’s what board games are.”

When the scene hit Twitter, many people had thoughts about the game and were … intrigued enough to start playing themselves:

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