In Damascus, young Syrians try to revive their lives

DAMASCUS By a military checkpoint in Damascus's Old City, just a mile from the battered frontline between government and rebel-held territory, young Syrians sit on a garden wall smoking, drinking beer or soft drinks, and talking about anything but the war. It is a week night, but the Damascenes are keen to head out to a strip of new bars that have opened in the last few months -- some to socialize and others to work in the venues.The revival of activity in this once-vibrant quarter is part of efforts to project an air of normality in the Syrian capital, even as the five-year-old war that has killed more than 250,000 people and created 5 million refugees continues to rage nearby.To the east and southwest, opposition-held Ghouta remains under blockade and bombardment by government forces. In Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, to the south, residents have recently faced starvation as rival jihadist groups al Qaeda and Islamic State battle for control.Shells were hitting Damascus's city center late last year, including near Bab Sharqi gate. Now, people smoke water pipes outside Pub Sharqi -- a play on words that reads the same in Arabic -- or watch football at noisier bar "80's" next door."This is something you certainly wouldn't see two years ago, and it's picked up even more recently," said Nicolas Rahal, a 23-year-old graphic designer, speaking over loud music in a bar.The number of people going out has grown as venues have opened one after the other and employed more people, Rahal said."I can now go to this pub or that nightclub. Places opened and people came."The war is still felt inside the capital. Soldiers carrying assault rifles sweep vehicles for bombs at army roadblocks, causing traffic jams throughout the city, while distant artillery fire can sometimes be heard.Young people in the city are apprehensive about the future. They have lost loved ones to violence and displacement, rampant inflation is making life impossibly expensive, and some young men are anxious to avoid army enlistment.But encouraged by improved security after Russia's intervention strengthened the government's position and a partial truce in February brought some calm, these Damascus residents want to enjoy life where possible."People are tired of war and just want to live a normal life, so they go out, they socialize," said bartender Dana Daqqaq, a 21-year-old with bleached-blonde hair who works at night while studying for her fine art degree."In the last few months it's not just at the weekends, it's every day. Places are crammed. You practically see a cross-section of society coming out." 'I STAYED HERE'Daqqaq said bar life was more than just a way to forget the war, but all the revelers had traumatic personal stories."Family on my dad's side serving in the army were killed under siege in Homs," said Dana Ibrahim, 21, sitting at the same bar as Rahal. "My mum and four sisters live close to the military airport in Mezze." The air base in western Damascus has come under shellfire and is next to the suburb of Daraya, which is besieged by the government side."At times there's been bombing every day. Once a rocket hit right next to the house. I was out of town and didn't hear any news for two days. I thought my family was hit," she said.Ibrahim had thought of leaving, like many friends who have fled for Europe or neighbouring countries. But now, able to socialize, she would rather stay put. "When I started to see life I stayed here. I don't want to be a refugee," she said.Rahal also wants to stay, despite his experiences of conflict. "More than once, near my house, I've seen people get blown apart by shells," he said.He was arrested for protesting in 2011, near the start of the uprising that shifted into a full-scale civil war, and his political views have cost him friendships. Facebook arguments have turned into physical fights on the street, Rahal said."In the early days of the crisis, I had to hang out with other people. I know two brothers who don't talk to each other anymore."COST OF LIVINGOne factor might push him to leave, however. "I haven't done military service. It could happen, I could get called up, and you've no idea where they'll send you or how long you'll be there. I have friends and relatives in the army, Aleppo, Palmyra, for example," Rahal said."If they call me up I'll leave the country. I could try and find work in Beirut."Across the frontlines, young residents have even less choice.Maher Abu Jaafar, a 23-year-old agricultural engineering student living in Western Ghouta, said escalating violence and a siege by government forces mean he cannot leave the town. "At the moment I work at a street stall selling household items. My family is big, we can't guarantee getting essential supplies," he said via an Internet message. "And things are getting worse because of the cost of living."Inflation has seen the Syrian pound lose 90 percent of its value since 2011.In the Old City bar, Rahal tossed notes worth 550 Syrian pounds, or just over $1, onto the table."The situation has improved perhaps a bit for work, but the economic situation is bad. Things are expensive, living standards have fallen," he said.At night, generators whirr outside homes, while blocks are plunged into darkness after perhaps half a day with electricity.Daqqaq, the bartender, said a packet of cheap cigarettes which cost 250 Syrian pounds a few months ago now costs 450.Tonight, though, she and her friends and customers are preoccupied not with the war, the economy or thoughts of migration. They want to drink, listen to the Levantine-Western fusion of "Shamstep", and enjoy life. (Additional reporting by Omar Sanadiki; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Catherine Evans)

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Bill Cosby takes legal hits in abuse cases on both U.S. coasts

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES Courts on both U.S. coasts dealt setbacks to Bill Cosby's legal team on Tuesday, as the comedian kept trying to fight off lawsuits over allegations that he has sexually abused women for decades.A California judge refused Cosby's second attempt to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a woman who accused the entertainer of sexually abusing her when she was 15 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, her lawyer said.In New York, a federal judge ruled against Cosby's effort to compel the publisher of New York magazine to provide access to unedited interviews of six women who are suing him over separate abuse allegations.More than 50 women have publicly accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them, often after plying them with alcohol or drugs in instances dating back decades. Many of the accusations are too old to be litigated, but they have knocked Cosby, 78, off his pedestal as one of the most popular, family-friendly entertainers in America.As star of the long-running hit TV program "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s, Cosby played a loving dad and obstetrician who was widely hailed as a model of responsible fatherhood. The comedian now has acknowledged marital infidelity but has denied ever engaging in non-consensual sexual behavior.CALIFORNIA CASE Gloria Allred, who represents Cosby's accuser, Judy Huth, said in a statement that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan had sided with her client in ruling that the lawsuit was not barred under the statute of limitations, adding she hoped the case could now "proceed to trial."The judge, Allred said, dismissed a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress but agreed to allow Huth to proceed "on our theories of sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress."Cosby lost a previous bid to fend off the same lawsuit on similar grounds last year. Huth, now in her 50s, sued Cosby in December 2014, alleging that he plied her with alcohol and molested her during an encounter at the Playboy Mansion in 1974.There was no immediate comment from Cosby's lawyers to the latest decision in California. In Pennsylvania, authorities charged Cosby in December with sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. A judge on Tuesday scheduled a May 24 preliminary hearing in that case, where prosecutors will outline some of the evidence against Cosby. The scheduling order came one day after a Pennsylvania appeals court rejected Cosby's bid to have the case thrown out.At least nine other women are suing Cosby for defamation, charging their reputations were smeared by his public assertions that their allegations were false. In New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan ruled against Cosby's effort to compel New York Media LLC to provide access to unedited interviews of six women pursuing a civil lawsuit against him.Gardephe said Cosby's subpoena request "bordered on frivolous" and was "wildly inconsistent" with New York's press shield law, which sets a high standard for when litigants can seek information from media organizations."The subpoena, in my judgment, is a fishing expedition," he said in court.Marshall Searcy, Cosby's lawyer in the New York case, declined comment. (Additinal reporting by Piya-Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

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Art detective says female and male model used for Mona Lisa face

FLORENCE, Italy Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile draws millions of viewers from across the world, all eager to see the art world's most famous female face. But is it?An Italian art detective is arguing that research backs his long-standing claim that Leonardo Da Vinci used both a female and male model to create the acclaimed portrait that hangs in Paris' Louvre museum.While the identity of the woman is not certain, historians believe Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, sat for Da Vinci for the painting. But Silvano Vinceti, who heads Italy's National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage, says he used infrared technology to examine the painting and made key findings in its first layer."In that layer we can see that she was not smiling and joyful but looked melancholic and sad," he said, adding the second model was Gian Giacomo Caprotti - Da Vinci's male apprentice, known as Salai. Using Photoshop, Vinceti compared the "Mona Lisa" face to other Da Vinci works Salai is believed to have posed for, including "St John the Baptist". "We have used all the paintings in which Leonardo used Salai as a model and compared them to the 'Mona Lisa' and certain details correspond perfectly; so he used two models and added creative details which came from his own imagination," he said. "I believe that this goes with a long-time fascination of Leonardo's, that is, the subject of androgyny. In other words, for Leonardo, the perfect person was a combination of a man and a woman."Vinceti also bases his theory on claims by 16th Italian art historian and painter Giorgio Vasari that Gherardini's husband hired clowns to try to make her smile for the sitting. Salai's name has in the past been linked to the "Mona Lisa", but other historians have dismissed the claims. (Reporting By Antonio Denti in Florence; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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U.S. appeals court restores Brady's 'Deflategate' suspension

NEW YORK A U.S. appeals court on Monday restored the four-game "Deflategate" suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, handing the National Football League a victory in the latest round in a battle with one of its marquee players.The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed a federal judge's ruling that had overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to penalize Brady, twice the league's most valuable player, over his alleged involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs used in a 2015 playoff game.The Patriots won that game over the Indianapolis Colts, sending them to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the defending champion Seattle Seahawks to give Brady his fourth championship title.Writing for the majority, U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker said that under the players' collective bargaining agreement, Goodell had "especially broad" authority as an arbitrator to decide whether to confirm Brady's suspension."Our review of the record yields the firm conclusion that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player," Parker wrote.Neither the Patriots, nor representatives for Brady were immediately available to comment on the ruling. The National Football League Players Association, the union which pursued the court challenge, said in a statement it was disappointed and would "consider all of our options." Those options could include seeking rehearing from the 2nd Circuit or asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.A statement from the NFL welcomed the decision for recognizing that Goodell "properly exercised" his authority as laid out by the collective bargaining agreement "to act in cases involving the integrity of the game."The ruling came in a 2-1 vote by the three-judge panel, and followed arguments last month where a lawyer for the players' union faced tough questioning that signaled the likely reversal of U.S. District Judge Richard Berman's ruling. U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann dissented, calling it "ironic that a process designed to ensure fairness to all players has been used unfairly against one player."Brady, 38, was suspended in May 2015, four months after under-inflated footballs were used in the Patriots' 45-7 victory over Indianapolis in January 2015's AFC championship game.The NFL suspended Brady after Ted Wells, a lawyer hired by the NFL to investigate the incident, said Brady was "generally aware" that two Patriots employees had conspired to deflate the balls, which could make them easier to grip. Goodell upheld the suspension on July 28, prompting the legal challenge on Brady's behalf. Brady has denied knowing about any plan to deflate footballs. Berman overturned Goodell's decision Sept. 3, allowing Brady to play the full 2015 NFL season. He said Brady "had no notice that his discipline would be the equivalent of the discipline imposed upon a player who used performance enhancing drugs."Berman's decision allowed Brady to play the full 2015 NFL season. The Patriots made the playoffs but did not reach the Super Bowl. (Reporting by Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alan Crosby)

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Apple wins dismissal of lawsuit over MacBook logic boards

Apple Inc won the dismissal on Thursday of a lawsuit accusing it of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook laptop computers that contained "logic boards" it knew were defective, and which routinely failed within two years.U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the plaintiffs, Uriel Marcus and Benedict Verceles, failed to show that Apple made "affirmative misrepresentations," despite citing online complaints and Apple marketing statements calling the laptops "state of the art" or the "most advanced" on the market."Plaintiffs have failed to allege that Apple's logic boards were unfit for their ordinary purposes or lacked a minimal level of quality," Alsup wrote. "Both plaintiffs were able to adequately use their computers for approximately 18 months and two years, respectively."Alsup gave the plaintiffs until Jan. 22 to amend their lawsuit, which sought class-action status, against the Cupertino, California-based company. Omar Rosales, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Apple did not immediately respond to a similar request.The plaintiffs claimed that Apple's sale of MacBooks since May 20, 2010, violated consumer protection laws in California and Texas, where the lawsuit began last May before being moved.They also contended that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was told about the defective logic boards in 2011, but did nothing. Logic boards contain computer circuitry and are sometimes known as motherboards.A separate and still pending lawsuit in California accuses Apple of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook Pro laptops in 2011 that contained defective graphic cards, causing screen distortions and system failures. MacBooks are part of Apple's Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. The company reported unit sales in that business of 18.91 million in its latest fiscal year.The case is Marcus et al v. Apple Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-03824. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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