Russian Ice Swimmers Play Chess in a Near-Freezing Urals Lake
In Lake Shartash near the city of Yekaterinburg – the administrative centre of the Urals region which straddles Europe and Asia – Russian ice swimmers have taken to playing chess in just their underwear, as a means of physical and mental preparation ahead of their swim meets. The idea emerged several months ago when the swimmers found files on the winter training habits of their Soviet predecessors, and they played their first games towards the end of last year before returning to the spot at the beginning of this week. Plunging into water of around 5 degrees Celsius and balancing the chess board on loose shards of ice, each game has a time limit of ten minutes. One swimmer named Denis explained:
‘The benefit of this is that you get to work on your physical and mental stamina, to see how your body is prepared to withstand any obstacles that life brings on. Playing in icy cold water, it helps to concentrate. One can even work out a technique to enable one to stay in the water for longer, which is a big benefit of chess.
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Montreal to Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags by 2018
The Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre announced on Monday that the city is to ban single-use plastic carrier bags. The move, which follows a recommendation made by the city’s environmental committee last December, is scheduled to come into force on 1 January 2018. Defending the course of action – which has been criticised by national business groups – Coderre said:
‘You will understand that our plan is the result of extensive analysis and thoughtful reflection. Lightweight bags, which are used by the billions, are volatile and represent a clear environmental concern.’
The ban will apply to lightweight plastic shopping bags, particularly those less than 0.05 millimetres thick, as well as bags that are oxo-biodegradable. Exceptions will be made for hygienic purposes, where bags are used to handle food, or to carry medication or dry cleaning. The aim is to encourage shoppers to carry reusable or recyclable bags, with the city hoping also to encourage a reduction in the use of plastic water bottles and single-use plates and utensils.
After implementing a five cent charge, between 2007 and 2010 plastic bag use in Quebec dropped from 2.2 billion bags each year to a figure of around 1 billion. Plastic bags are already banned in the six smaller Canadian municipalities of Huntingdon, Deux-Montagnes, and Brossard in Quebec, Leaf Rapids and Thompson in Manitoba, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Alberta.
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Sarah Michelle Gellar to Reprise Cruel Intentions Role
On Wednesday Sarah Michelle Gellar confirmed that she will reprise her role as Kathryn Merteuil in the NBC followup to Cruel Intentions. The 1999 cult drama, a modern-day adaptation of the French epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, starred Gellar alongside Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair, and drew $75 million worldwide. Gellar made the announcement via Instagram.
The NBC pilot, picked up last October and given the green light at the start of February, will find Kathryn Merteuil vying for control of Valmont International with Bash Casey (Taylor John Smith), the son of Annette Hargrove and Kathryn’s late stepbrother Sebastian Valmont. The film’s original writer-director Roger Kumble and producer Neal H. Moritz will return to helm the new project. And they will be joined by Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross, the duo behind Cruel Intentions: The Completely Unauthorized Musical Parody, which was first staged at the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles last May with Sarah Michelle Gellar seated in the front row. Sony Pictures, Original Film, and AMBI will produce.
#throwbackthursday (a bit early in Los Angeles) this picture was taken on the eve of production on the original #cruelintentions. Its me #rogerkumble (director) and #nealmoritz (exec producer) and the other is a picture of us now on the eve of production on the new #cruelintentions. That's right "everybody loves me, and I intend to keep it that way" #kathrynmerteuil is back!!! I am happy to say that I will be joining them (and @nbctv ) on the new #Crueltv
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Stephen Curry Breaks NBA Record with Three-Pointers in 128 Consecutive Games
Scoring a three-pointer with 5:45 left on the clock in the first quarter of Thursday’s game against the Orlando Magic, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors broke Kyle Korver’s NBA record for the number of consecutive games with a three point goal. Curry has now made a three in 128 consecutive regular season games: a streak which started back in 2014-15, one game after his previous run of 75 consecutive three-pointers came to an end. Curry is on course to comfortably surpass the 286 three point field goals he recorded last season, with 266 to his name heading into Thursday’s game.
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Moderates Deemed the Victors as Elections Take Place in Iran
Owing to loose coalitions, staggered results, and the fact that thousands of prospective candidates were rejected by the twelve appointed members of the Guardian Council of the Constitution before voting had even begun, the outcome of the elections which took place this week in Iran is difficult to state. But after Iranians headed to the polls on Friday to determine all 290 seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and all 88 seats in the Assembly of Experts which is responsible for supervising and potentially electing a Supreme Leader, news outlets heralded a victory for the moderate allies of President Hassan Rouhani.
Voting was extended three times on Friday owing to the size of the turnout, and as the early results came in they showed that candidates affiliated to Rouhani’s reformist List of Hope had swept all 30 Islamic Consultative Assembly seats in the capital Tehran. Lawmakers from the capital often shape the political direction of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Iranian parliament, often referred to as the Majlis. Beyond the capital the reformists fared less well, and no single coalition is expected to gain a majority in the Majlis by the time the election results are finalised, which could take until the end of April. But with affiliates to the List of Hope supplemented by many moderate independents, it is the moderates who are expected to hold sway in the Majlis at the expense of the conservative Principlists.
These were Iran’s first elections since last summer’s nuclear agreement and the lifting of international sanctions in the middle of January. Prior to the parliamentary election, the Guardian Council rejected around half of the 12,000 people who attempted to register their candidacy, most of whom were aligned with the reformists. As many as 20 women are still expected to win seats in the Majlis, which would be a record for Iran. With more than 54 million registered voters, turnout for the election was recorded at 62%. The official IRNA news agency quoted President Rouhani as saying:
‘The competition is over. It’s time to open a new chapter in Iran’s economic development based on domestic abilities and international opportunities. The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government.’
The Assembly of Experts is a more esoteric affair, as it is contested by mujtahids, recognised Islamic scholars. The Guardian Council is again responsible for determining which prospective candidates to accept and which to reject, and after rigorous testing whittled down around 800 applicants to a group of 166 qualified mujtahids. Preliminary results suggest that allies of Rouhani and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have dominated in Tehran and secured an overall majority of the seats. Conservative hardliners Mohammad Yazdi – the standing chairman of the Assembly of Experts – and Mohammad Mesbah-Yazdi have both lost out.
This year’s Assembly of Experts election is considered unusually important because Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s current Supreme Leader, is now 76 and is reportedly suffering from ill health. It is believed that Rafsanjani – a moderate conservative and the chiarman of the Assembly of Experts between 2007 and 2011 – desires the job of Supreme Leader.
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Cessation of Hostilities Takes Effect in Syria
The road map towards peace in Syria outlined in December in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 has almost inevitably faltered at every step. The resolution called for a ceasefire and talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups to commence on 1 January, but as the date approached these plans were put off until the end of the month.
Talks formally commenced on 1 February as part of the Geneva III process, which follows the UN-backed negotiations of Geneva I on 30 June 2012 and Geneva II which continued across January and February 2014. Yet just a couple of days later, the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura announced their suspension as the Syrian government and opposition refused to sit in the same room, the opposition coalition citing the government’s ongoing military operations in Aleppo, while the government described the opposition as uncooperative and intent only on securing more advanced weaponry from their foreign allies.
In the meantime the participating members of the International Syrian Support Group – established last year, led by the United States and Russia, and including China, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, alongside UN and Arab League representatives – met in Munich on 11 and 12 February to establish a ceasefire task force. And this past Monday the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the ISSG, announced that they had concluded a deal.
A cessation of hostilities was scheduled to begin from midnight local time on Friday, the Syrian government agreeing on the condition that attacks against Islamic State and al-Nusra could still go ahead. A cessation of hostilities is considered a more temporary measure than a formal ceasefire, committing the involved parties to provisionally stop fighting while talks continue, and allowing humanitarian access to cities ravaged by war.
Initial reports after midnight on Friday suggested calm in Damascus, in the southern city of Daraa, and in the Kurdish controlled areas of Syria in the country’s north. But although the cessation of hostilities appeared to be holding for the most part, by Sunday tensions had emerged as both sides alleged a number of violations. The war in Syria, which began with unrest in the spring of 2011, is heading towards its fifth year. More than 300,000 people have been killed, with millions more displaced.
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Milan Fashion Week: Autumn/Winter 2016 Collections
Milan Fashion Week, the most prestigious event in Italian fashion in what vies with Paris, London, and New York for the title of fashion capital of the world, commenced the first of its twice-yearly iterations on Wednesday. The event kicked off with cocktails on Wednesday evening as Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist opened an exhibition of his photographs down Via Montenapoleone. Lasting until the end of Monday, more than 170 shows and presentations will stomp and glide across various runways in Milan, including the autumn/winter 2016 collections of Gucci, Prada, Armani, and Versace, Moschino, Jil Sander, Just Cavalli, and Diesel Black Gold, and Alberta Ferretti, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, and Marco de Vincenzo.