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TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Oct 20


Kurds Say New Weapons Not Enough to Beat Islamic State in Kobani
(Reuters) The main Syrian Kurdish armed group defending the Syrian border town on Kobani against Islamic State attackers said on Monday arms air-dropped by the United States would not be enough for it to win the battle, and asked for more support.

After Clashes, Hong Kong Students, Government Stand Their Ground Before Talks
(Reuters) Hong Kong students and the government stood their ground on Monday ahead of talks aimed at defusing more than three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have blocked traffic around the Chinese-controlled city, but expectations of a breakthrough were low.

Mexico Feds to Replace 13 Local Police Forces Suspected of Crime Ties
(Reuters) Mexico’s federal forces will take over security in 13 central and southern towns where police are suspected of ties to crime groups, authorities said on Sunday, pointing to widespread gang infiltration among law enforcement in the region.

Australia Set to Help China Seize Assets of Corrupt Chinese Officials: Paper
(Reuters) Australian police have agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt Chinese officials who have fled with hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Monday.

Joko Widodo sworn in as Indonesia’s new president
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP)—Joko Widodo completed a journey from riverside shack to presidential palace on Monday, cheered through the streets following his inauguration by tens of thousands of ordinary Indonesians in a reminder to the opposition-controlled parliament of his strong grass-roots support.

HK leader: ‘External forces’ involved in protests
HONG KONG (AP)—Hong Kong’s leader has claimed that “external forces” are participating in student-led pro-democracy protests that have occupied parts of this financial capital for more than three weeks, but provided no evidence to back his accusation.

Japan trade, justice ministers quit amid scandals
TOKYO (AP)—Japan’s trade and justice ministers resigned Monday after allegations they misused campaign funds in the biggest setback so far for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative administration.

British royal couple’s second child due in April
LONDON (AP)—The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have confirmed that their second baby is due in April—the first time they’ve offered a month for the royal birth.

Thought of the Day

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”—Thomas Edison

Word of the Day

forswear \for-SWAIR\ verb
1 : to make a liar of (oneself) under or as if under oath
2 a : to reject, deny, or renounce under oath
b : to renounce earnestly

Example: Tina forswore flying after the latest airline mishap left her stranded in Chicago for eighteen hours.

Forswear (which is also sometimes spelled foreswear) is the modern English equivalent of the Old English forswerian. It can suggest denial (“[Thou] would’st forswear thy own hand and seal”—John Arbuthnot, John Bull) or perjury (“Is it the interest of any man … to lie, forswear himself, indulge hatred, seek desperate revenge, or do murder?”—Charles Dickens, American Notes). But in current use, it most often has to do with giving something up, as in “the warring parties agreed to forswear violence” and “she refused to forswear her principles.” The word abjure is often used as a synonym of forswear, though with less emphasis on the suggestion of perjury or betrayal of the beliefs that one holds dear.

How a 23-Year-Old Makes $500K Off Twitter

By Matt Cantor, Newser, Oct 18, 2014

If you’re one of its more than 7 million Twitter followers, then you’re already familiar with UberFacts, the account that bills its tweets as “the most unimportant things you’ll never need to know.” What you might not know is that its founder, Kris Sanchez, started the project as a hobby—and now makes $500,000 a year from sponsored links alone, Fast Company reports. That’s thanks in large part to Social Reactor, a service that pairs advertisers with social media figures like Sanchez. Business Insider reports he makes one to three cents per click he gets on said advertiser’s link (these tweets aren’t branded any differently than his other UberFacts). The 23-year-old started the account, which is now also a popular app, for two reasons: as a way to “kill time” in college, and to be closer to Britney Spears, he says.

He joined Twitter to follow the singer (who hasn’t followed him), he tells Fast Company, but found himself unsure of what to tweet about. Tweeting facts seemed as good an ideas as any. After dropping out of college, Sanchez held onto UberFacts as a side project, and it eventually became a real job, and a company with three employees. But it hasn’t been without its hurdles: UberFacts has gotten a fair bit of attention for “facts” that may not be quite true—they’re tweeted as statements with no link to the source material (the Uber Facts site recommends you consult the “Google machine” for answers to any questions). Earlier this year, BuzzFeed cited some “delightful” but inaccurate “facts” it ran: The UberFact that there’s a bridge in Paris made solely of trampolines, for instance, was sadly just a concept.

Mission Unaccomplished: Containing Ebola in Africa

By Marilynn Marchione, AP, Oct 18, 2014

Looking back, the mistakes are easy to see: Waiting too long, spending too little, relying on the wrong people, thinking small when they needed to think big. Many people, governments and agencies share the blame for failing to contain Ebola when it emerged in West Africa.

Now they share the herculean task of trying to end an epidemic that has sickened more than 9,000, killed more than 4,500, seeded cases in Europe and the United States, and is not even close to being controlled.

Many of the missteps are detailed in a draft of an internal World Health Organization report obtained by The Associated Press. It shows there was not one pivotal blunder that gave Ebola the upper hand, but a series of them that mounted.

Nearly every agency and government stumbled. Heavy criticism falls on the World Health Organization, where there was “a failure to see that conditions for explosive spread were present right at the start.”

WHO—the United Nations’ health agency—had some incompetent staff, let bureaucratic bungles delay people and money to fight the virus, and was hampered by budget cuts and the need to battle other diseases flaring around the world, the report says.

In a statement, WHO said the draft document has not been checked for accuracy and that the agency would not comment until it was finished. WHO’s chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, did not respond to AP requests for comment, but told Bloomberg news service that she “was not fully informed” as the disaster evolved. “We responded, but our response may not have matched the scale of the outbreak and the complexity of the outbreak,” she said.

Outside experts say the point now is not to grab necks or find fault, but to learn from mistakes.

“By the time we recognized this was serious, the genie was already out of the bottle,” said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota public health expert. “Nobody is to blame because everybody is to blame.”

Ebola had caused two dozen smaller outbreaks elsewhere in Africa before it appeared in the western part of the continent earlier this year, “so people were caught off guard” by its rapid spread, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “We thought we would do what we usually do and that this would come under control, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.”

EARLY BLUNDERS. The first mistake came Jan. 11 at a hospital in Gueckedou, Guinea, where the grandmother of the first two children known to have died in this outbreak sought care. It was a rare opportunity—most people just seek help from traditional healers. But instead of detecting and stopping the disease, the hospital compounded the problem: Two new chains of transmission began, among patients and health workers, and in another village.

On Jan. 27, local health officials and Doctors Without Borders missed a chance to diagnose Ebola after seeing bacteria in blood samples—they concluded cholera might be the culprit. Ebola wasn’t confirmed until March 21. By the end of the month, it had spread to Liberia.

In April, Doctors Without Borders warned that the outbreak was out of control, but a WHO spokesman insisted it wasn’t. In May, the funeral of a traditional healer in Sierra Leone spread the virus to hundreds of people.

“It was a turning point. It refueled the epidemic in Guinea and it was the start of major epidemics in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” said Dr. Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Little went smoothly. WHO’s Guinea office was accused of not helping a team of experts get visas to that country. Some $500,000 in aid was held up by red tape.

In early July, Piot “called for a state of emergency to be declared and for military operations to be deployed,” he said.

It didn’t happen.

HOW COUNTRIES FELL SHORT. In Guinea, the ministry of health at first would give WHO information only on lab-confirmed Ebola cases, hampering the investigation. Messages to the public about the lethal nature of the disease discouraged people from seeking treatment. When masked teams arrived to disinfect hot zones, people thought they were spraying toxic chemicals and attacked them.

Early international aid was mishandled. Guinean President Alpha Conde set up a panel with the ministers of health, communications and social affairs to fight the disease, but the minister of health couldn’t formulate an effective strategy and little money was dispersed. Finally, a new committee of independent experts was appointed and funds began to flow.

In Liberia, early government messages stressed that Ebola had no cure, so sick people saw little reason to go to a hospital, and the disease spread even more. In August, the government quarantined a Monrovia slum, sparking clashes with security forces that killed a teen. Ultimately, health officials realized they couldn’t track or limit Ebola spreading in the slum. Many bodies were dumped into nearby rivers.

In Sierra Leone, the government sent politicians to warn people about Ebola rather than relying more on charitable groups and medical professionals, said Joseph Smith, a community activist in the capital city of Freetown. Some feared it was a government conspiracy to use Ebola to wipe out opposition supporters ahead of a national census planned for December.

“They believed that the whole situation was a kind of lie,” Smith said.

In Spain, where a nurse got Ebola after taking care of a patient who died of it, debate raged over whether protective gear protocols were being followed. Health workers protested about a lack of training; the government overhauled it and adopted new equipment standards.

EBOLA COMES TO THE US. On Sept. 20, Ebola made a 5,700-mile trip to the United States, when a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew to Dallas. His infection was confirmed on Sept. 30. Two nurses who cared for him before he died now have the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been harshly criticized by many who say it offered shifting advice on protective gear to hospitals and failed to assess correctly what risk Duncan’s infection posed and to whom.

In fact, the CDC had been among the earliest responders when Ebola surfaced in Africa, sending five people to Guinea in late March and two more to Liberia in April. In late May, the situation seemed in hand and WHO advised CDC that its staff could leave.

But cases surged in June and five CDC workers returned to Guinea. In July, more went to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and to Nigeria after an Ebola death occurred there. By late August, 100 CDC staffers were tracing contacts, educating health workers, communicating with the public and training officials on how stop sick passengers from getting on planes.

Gregg Mitman, a University of Wisconsin medical historian who was in Liberia in June, said the response by CDC and others was slow, but noted that WHO and CDC had tight budgets. After the 2008 financial crisis, WHO lost more than 1,000 staff and was left with only two Ebola experts.

“We’re always quick to blame … and ask why wasn’t the CDC on top of this earlier,” he said. “But we’re not looking at the longer picture of how have we supported public health infrastructure.”

Redlener, at Columbia University, agreed.

“It shouldn’t just be WHO that we blame,” he said. “Nobody else, no other countries, were really rushing in to help.”

Life in Quarantine for Ebola Exposure: 21 Days of Fear and Loathing

By Kevin Sack, Jack Healy and Frances Robles, NY Times, Oct. 18, 2014

DALLAS—The refrigerator in Youngor Jallah’s small apartment broke down last week, and it did not take long for the stench of rotting food to grow unbearable. But when she reported the problem to the front office, the complex’s manager said that a repairman would not be sent until Monday.

That is the expiration date for the 21-day, self-imposed quarantine that Ms. Jallah, her partner and her four children have endured since the day her mother’s boyfriend, Thomas Eric Duncan, was hospitalized here with Ebola. Because her mother was at work, it was Ms. Jallah, 35, who last cared for Mr. Duncan, making him tea and handing him a thermometer—but, she said, never touching him—before summoning an ambulance.

The complex’s manager urged Ms. Jallah to move her food to the apartment across the stairwell, which has been empty since a new renter decided against moving in after hearing about the neighbors. When the landlord sent a maintenance man to deliver the key, he arrived wearing two pairs of rubber gloves.

So it has been in Quarantine Nation. As the Ebola scare spreads from Texas to Ohio and beyond, the number of people who have locked themselves away—some under government orders, others voluntarily—has grown well beyond those who lived with and cared for Mr. Duncan before his death on Oct. 8. The discovery last week that two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital here had caught the virus while treating Mr. Duncan extended concentric circles of fear to new sets of hospital workers and other contacts.

Officials in Texas said Thursday that nearly 100 health care workers would be asked to sign pledges not to use public transportation, go to public places or patronize shops and restaurants for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for Ebola. While not a mandate, the notices warn that violators “may be subject” to a state-ordered quarantine.

When officials revealed that one of the infected nurses had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back before being hospitalized, nearly 300 fellow passengers and crew members faced decisions about whether to quarantine themselves. The next day, a lab technician who had begun a Caribbean cruise despite possible exposure was confined to a stateroom. Medical workers, missionaries and journalists returning from West Africa—especially from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where Ebola is rampant—are also staying home.

Dr. Howard Markel, who teaches the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, said the quarantines recalled the country’s distant epidemics of cholera, typhus and bubonic plague.

“Ebola is jerking us back to the 19th century,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s isolating. It’s scary. You’re not connecting with other human beings, and you are fearful of a microbiologic time bomb ticking inside you.”

While a quarantine is designed to protect those on the outside, it also fuels the community’s fear, and sometimes its cruelty.

In Payson, Ariz., paranoia ignited after word spread that a missionary who had traveled to Liberia on a church trip was spending three weeks under a self-imposed quarantine with his wife and four children. The missionary, Allen Mann, strung yellow caution tape and a “No Trespassing” sign around his front door and left a bucket in the yard for neighbors to drop off food and treats for his children.

While most neighbors understood there was scant risk that Mr. Mann, 41, had carried the disease home, rumors nevertheless coursed around town that he had tested positive for Ebola and would soon be medically evacuated. Mr. Mann said an anonymous commentator on a local news website had suggested burning down his house.

“People had this lynch-mob mentality,” he said.

As with other aspects of the Ebola response, the criteria for recommending or requiring quarantine have often seemed ad hoc, random and evolving.

In Dallas, the four people who shared an apartment with Mr. Duncan during his brief visit from Liberia have been the only subjects of a state-mandated quarantine. With their apartment contaminated, they were moved to a residence provided by a local benefactor.

It has been particularly wrenching for Louise Troh, 54, Mr. Duncan’s girlfriend, who has had to mourn his passing in isolation. When her pastor, the Rev. George Mason, arrived to break the news of Mr. Duncan’s death and she collapsed to the floor in tears, he could not console her with a hug. On his regular visits to the house, he stands three feet away and signals his affection by crossing his arms in an X over his chest.

Mr. Mason said it was not yet clear where Ms. Troh and her 13-year-old son, Timothy, would live once their quarantine ends on Monday. Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s top official, said it had been hard to find a willing landlord.

Ms. Troh has taken comfort in cooking Liberian food and talking to relatives by phone, Mr. Mason said. She listens to gospel music on a CD player, while Timothy and the two young men in the house, Oliver Smallwood and Jeffrey Cole, kill time watching action movies.

“They all want to get out,” Mr. Mason said. “They want their liberty and to be able to touch and be human beings. But they fear they’re not going to be normal human beings again. When I asked them if they heard about the second nurse, Oliver looked at me and said, ‘Are they going to blame us for that?’ “

The day after Mr. Duncan’s illness was diagnosed, Ms. Jallah and her family received verbal instructions to stay inside. Her partner, Aaron Yah, who had not been exposed to Mr. Duncan, was cleared by county and federal health officials to leave the apartment after four days, the couple said.

After a week, the officials told Ms. Jallah, who has had no symptoms, that she could take occasional trips to the store but should avoid public transportation. She has left the apartment only a few times, partly out of obligation and partly because of the shunning she faces wherever she goes.

“If I even go to the store and I see a fellow Liberian, they run away,” Ms. Jallah said. “They don’t understand. They think we have the Ebola, that’s what they think—that even by speaking to them, saying hi to them, that they’re going to get it.” She paused: “No one wants to die.”

Ms. Jallah has also had to care for her children, ages 2 to 11, who have been kept out of school, and she and Mr. Yah are still unwelcome at their jobs as nursing assistants. On Friday, she took the children to do laundry for the first time in three weeks, returning with a giant black garbage bag stuffed with clean clothes.

With so many people indoors for so long, their two-bedroom apartment is predictably chaotic. When not trampolining off the couches, 2-year-old Prophet and 4-year-old King are crashing into each other in pint-size plastic cars. Their wailing is punctuated by the incessant chirp of a smoke alarm in need of a battery. Soap operas blare on the giant-screen television, interrupted by occasional Ebola news updates. Shards of cereal and SunChips spatter the carpet.

“I don’t have anything to do,” Ms. Jallah said, “just sit here with these children fighting each other.”

The Rebirth of Tijuana

By Sam Quinones, NY Times, Oct. 17, 2014

Tijuana, Mexico—In Tijuana the other day, I met a waitress named Mari.

Mari had left her home in Acapulco to cross illegally into the United States in 1999, but was deported three years ago to Tijuana. It had been a long time since she had seen her mother, so she went home to visit. But down in Acapulco, wages were low, work was scarce and violence was widespread. Then men raped her on a beach one night.

Mari fled back to Tijuana. Her waitress job, with tips, she told me, allows her to earn far more than she could scrape together in Acapulco, or in a Monterrey factory, where she worked for a time. And, after several years of savage drug violence, there’s peace in Tijuana now.

“This is my land of opportunity,” she said. “There’s more work here and it pays better.”

One reason I love Tijuana is that you can have this kind of conversation here.

Tijuana is not pretty. A city of 1.3 million people, it is chaotic, grimy, unplanned, loud, and it smells bad. It possesses none of the colonial architecture or history of Morelia, Oaxaca City or Zacatecas, across Mexico’s interior. On the contrary, most of its neighborhoods, stacked across alarmingly steep hills, are less than 40 years old.

But Tijuana’s beauty lies deeper, and has to do with why the town is flourishing now.

Only a few decades ago, Tijuana was a blank slate, a small coastal outpost on the California border. It had none of the old elites, family business groups bent on preserving their power and wealth.

Instead, it was folks beaten down by Mexico who came by the millions to, and often through, Tijuana. Desperate and possessing only their own wits and capacity for work, they brought a dynamism that Mexico had stifled but Tijuana found use for. Those who stayed found a new world and many moved up into the middle class in a lifetime.

It helped that Tijuana is the Mexican city farthest from Mexico City. Tijuana tolerated far less of the desiccated pomp and protocol, the reverence for title, that has suffocated so many fine ideas and sharp minds in the capital, which is the center of the country in almost every way, good and bad. To be far from Mexico City, particularly to the north, was once considered to be virtually not Mexican at all. Federal bureaucrats from Mexico City for years only unwillingly left the center of power. They were paid extra to go to Tijuana. But that distance gave Tijuana oxygen. There’s an old saying about Mexico: So far from God, so close to the United States. There’s some truth to that. But the last few decades have shown that, for poor Mexicans, the truer riff is, “Farther from Mexico City, closer to God.”

Immigrants, fleeing north for decades, have demonstrated that. So has Tijuana, which has been Mexico’s best domestic factory at turning the poor into the middle class.

Crucially, of course, the city is face-planted up against the United States. Early in the town’s history, in fact, it was easier to get to Tijuana from San Diego than from elsewhere in Mexico, where the winding road from Mexicali took most cars a week. Until several decades ago, Tijuana used dollars, not pesos.

Ties to the Southern California economy created so many new chances that a poor, ambitious guy couldn’t help but find something new to do with his life. In Tijuana, risk-taking usually paid off. Among the first to learn that were the yeseros—the plaster-statue makers. They learned to shape plaster into everything from bulls to Mickey Mouse, and created an industry selling them to tourists. The misbehavior of drunk and horny Americans was also an opportunity for someone looking for an angle, and many grabbed it.

But Tijuana drew more from the United States than the dollars of debauched American tourists. Tijuanans had the graciousness to overlook tourists’ behavior as they peered north and glimpsed a different way of doing almost everything—art, business, government, education.

Today, the city has a deeper tradition of private giving than most in Mexico, where the central government discouraged philanthropy, seeing it as competition to its own power. Listening to San Diego public broadcasting, and drawing from the example of nonprofit arts groups there, Tijuana’s middle classes have created one of Mexico’s most vibrant opera scenes. They did this with very little government assistance—a rarity among Mexican arts groups. Their Opera in the Street Festival attracts close to 10,000 people every July. It takes place a few blocks from the wall between the two countries in Colonia Libertad, a vast neighborhood where the city’s human smuggling industry first took root and many houses have that sagging-wedding-cake look.

Tijuana does have a brutal, cynical side. Rural folks fled their destitute villages in Mexico’s interior. But in Tijuana, they were quickly mashed into an industrial work force, living in shantytowns without basic services such as sewers or drinking water, and doing tedious production-line work assembling goods for American consumers.

IN addition, Mexico’s corrupt political culture and American tourists’ taste for the forbidden allowed a sinister underworld to develop, trafficking people and substances to gringos. For a while, this side of Tijuana strangled the city.

By 2007, the reigning Arellano Félix family’s drug cartel was disintegrating, and a fight for control ensued. Bodies piled up. Evil men emerged. One’s nickname was El Muletas—Crutches—because he left people crippled. Another cartel member was known as El Pozolero—the Soupmaker. His job was to dissolve the corpses of rivals in a chemical soup; he admitted to liquefying some 300 bodies when he was captured in 2009. Tijuana was paralyzed by curfews, kidnappings of doctors and dentists, and reports of mass slaughters. American tourists ceased coming. Many in the middle class fled.

But the medieval bloodshed receded in 2010, and since then the town’s open and effervescent essence has revived.

The tourist drag, Avenida Revolución, is now repopulating with daring restaurants, microbreweries, boutiques and art galleries. They are owned by hipsters using the strip’s now cheap rents, and the confident risk-taking culture that Tijuana handed down to them, to cater to the local market of middle-class young people just like them.

Ecosystems of high-tech start-ups and avant-garde artists are emerging. So, too, is a new generation of filmmakers, using Canon 60Ds to mine the documentary raw material the city offers.

Decades after rising from the coastal desert, Tijuana finally has something like a history. More important, it has emerged from its darkest days to return to its roots as that rare place within Mexico where poor people like Mari can find refuge and a future.

Sam Quinones is a journalist based in Los Angeles and the author of “Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration.”

Conflict Uncovers a Ukrainian Identity Crisis Over Deep Russian Roots

By Neil MacFarquhar, NY Times, Oct. 18, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine—Ukrainians have long endured a tormented relationship with the novelist Mikhail Bulgakov—a native son who extolled this city’s beauty even while mocking the very idea of a Ukraine independent from Russia.

“We call him the Great Kiev Citizen,” said the director of the Bulgakov museum here, Ludmila V. Gubiauri. Yet she helped bring about the recent, extraordinary government decision to ban as “Russian propaganda” a new mini-series of “The White Guard,” his most important work set in Kiev.

While some Ukrainians are implacably hostile toward Russia, many others are experiencing an identity crisis kindled by the confrontation with Moscow, and the contradiction embodied by Mr. Bulgakov reflects their inner turmoil.

Even among those Ukrainians pleased with the current turn to the West, many are grappling with the almost inconceivable idea that Russia has become a mortal enemy, forcing Ukrainians to draw a line between themselves and what has long been their cultural motherland.

“I considered myself part of the Russian culture—my mother is Russian, my father is Ukrainian,” said Aleksey Ryabchyn, a young economist and journalist from Donetsk who is running for Parliament. “I have lots of Russian friends; I like books in Russian; I speak Russian at home. So I am asking myself, ‘Who am I?’”

The ties binding the two countries form a complex weave—personal, historical, religious, geographical—that stretches back more than a millennium. Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, argues that much of the history was manipulated in modern times to create links where none existed. But myths endure.

The Russian Orthodox Church traces its origins to mass conversions purportedly forced by Vladimir, the grand prince of Kiev, in 988. The name Russia, adopted by Peter the Great for the empire in the early 18th century, was rooted in Kievan Rus, a medieval state that included lands that became Ukraine.

Catherine the Great conquered much of what is now Ukraine for Russia in 1795. In Soviet times, key leaders emerged from here. Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet ruler from 1964 to 1982, was born in what is now Dnepropetrovsk. Nikita Khrushchev, his predecessor, grew up in the now embattled Donbass region.

Kiev feels like a Russian city, architecturally and linguistically. Check into a hotel, signal a waiter, enter a shop, and chances are you will be addressed in Russian. Television talk shows are bilingual—guests speak the language in which they are most comfortable. Taxi drivers still listen to “Russky Chanson,” Russian prison ballads that are something of a cross between gangsta rap and country and western music.

But recent months brought subtle changes. The young consider speaking Ukrainian cool. Some older Ukrainians have adopted the attitude that Russia does not own the culture.

“Some of my friends think that real patriots of Ukraine should not speak Russian because they are enemies,” said Irina Bekeshkina, a sociologist who specializes in political polling. “Why should we identify Putin with the Russian language? Russian language and culture has been around a lot longer than Putin.”

In some ways, the language issue precipitated the entire crisis with Moscow. In February, when hard-line members of Ukraine’s Parliament tried but failed to annul a law that endorsed using Russian as a second official language, the Kremlin seized on the attempt as evidence that Russian speakers needed protection.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and unleashed a relentless propaganda campaign painting the Kiev government as Nazi-inspired fascists bent on killing Russians.

People on both sides of the border say that families and friends experienced the sharpest rift. Entire clans living on opposite sides have stopped speaking to each other.

Many Ukrainians describe how their Russian relatives, watching TV, frantically called to tell them: “We will save you! Come to Russia!” The Ukrainians said they responded with some version of: “What do you mean, save us? You are killing us and stealing our land.” The ensuing breach has rarely been repaired.

In and around Kiev, the struggle to change is perceived as much harder for people over 40, who have long viewed Russia and particularly Moscow as their lodestar. “There was that dream to succeed in Moscow,” said Savik Shuster, Ukraine’s most prominent talk show host. He moved here a decade ago after being barred from Russian TV.

“It is very difficult for them to admit that they have to look for another identity,” he said. “For those in their 20s it is different; for them Moscow is just another city.”

Many do not want to erase the links entirely; Russia is too big and too important a neighbor. Instead, members of that older generation try to distinguish between prose and politics. “You have Pushkin’s Russia and you have Putin’s Russia,” Mr. Shuster said. “Nobody wants to deal with Putin’s Russia.”

Where Mud Is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees

By David M. Herszenhorn, NY Times, Oct. 18, 2014

VELIKY NOVGOROD, Russia—The note, from father to son, was the sort of routine shopping list that today would be dashed off on a smartphone. In 14th century Russia, it was etched into the bark of a birch tree and curled into a scroll.

“Send me a shirt, towel, trousers, reins, and, for my sister, send fabric,” the father, whose name was Onus, wrote to his son, Danilo, the block letters of Old Novgorod language, a precursor to Russian, neatly carved into the wood with a stylus. Onus ended with a bit of humor. “If I am alive,” he wrote, “I will pay for it.”

The scroll and a dozen others like it were among the finds from this year’s digging season, adding to a collection of more than 1,000 birch-bark documents uncovered here after being preserved for hundreds of years in the magical mud that makes this city one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites on earth. “Novgorod for Russia is like Pompeii for Italy,” said Pyotr G. Gaidukov, the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology. “Only Novgorod is still alive.”

Written in conversational language, on everyday topics, the birch-bark documents provide a remarkable human soundtrack to accompany a vast—and still growing—trove of artifacts including coins, official seals, kitchenware, jewelry and clothing. Each year, thousands of items are found amid buildings and streets, once paved with wooden logs, buried in the soil.

There are records of business transactions, demands for payment of debts, inventories of goods, accusations of crimes, convoluted discussions of legal disputes, personal letters among family and friends, even love letters. “Marry me,” a man named Mikita wrote to a woman named Anna in a birch-bark letter dated to between 1280 and 1300. “I want you, and you me.”

Archaeologists say the documents, once deciphered by linguists, breathe life into all of their other findings. “They open a road for us, a window in the everyday life and relations,” said Sergei Yazikov, who led a dig on Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street where many of this year’s birch writings were found. “The people of ancient Novgorod are talking to us through these scrolls.”

Nestled in a curve of the Volkhov River, with the crenelated brick walls of its Kremlin-fortress and the sparkling gold and silver domes of its churches, Veliky Novgorod looks like the setting of a medieval fairy tale.

In a way, it was.

The city was founded, according to legend, by Rurik, a Varangian chieftain, in 859. It is a place where democracy once flourished, where benevolent princes ruled with the consent of a parliament of local elites called the Veche, where markets hummed and international trade thrived, where women were empowered to participate in business and other aspects of public life.

It was a place where children began attending school around the year 1030. Among the most poignant of the birch documents are writings by a boy named Onfim, believed to be 6 or 7 years old. Dated to around 1260, they included school exercises and doodles. In one drawing, Onfim seems to envision himself as a warrior, writing his own name next to a figure on horseback who has slain an adversary. In another, there is a four-legged creature with a tail, and the words, “I, beast.”

In an interview in his office, the city’s mayor, Yuri I. Bobryshev, glowed with pride as he described its history as a major trading post of the medieval Hanseatic League, with strong ties to the European centers of Lubeck, Bruges, Ghent and London.

“It was a union of merchants and the decisions taken by that union were unconditionally carried out by the rulers of all European states,” Mr. Bobryshev said, adding with a sly smile, “Of course, at that time there was no trace of the United States.”

He then boasted about Novgorod’s role, along with Kiev, as one of the two principal cities of Kievan Rus—the original Russian Federation—adding that Moscow could lay no claim to national prominence until Ivan III made it the capital in the 15th century.

“That’s why we speak of Novgorod as the motherland of Russia,” Mr. Bobryshev said. “In Novgorod, the first customs office appeared. The ruble appeared in Novgorod. The first school was in Novgorod, in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise, our Novgorod prince. It was founded not only for the children from rich families, but for everyone. So Novgoroders were absolutely literate people in the Middle Ages.”

“It’s not something I made up,” he said. “Here, I move to the subject of archaeology: all of this has been confirmed by findings.”

The city and its outskirts are dotted with excavation sites, including the Troitsky dig, which has been underway since the 1970s. The first birch-bark scrolls were found in 1951. At the huge pit on Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, which yielded some of the most important finds this summer, Mr. Yazikov bounded down a ramp, descending through hundreds of years of Russian history (with every few steps). Small white pieces of paper marked the layers in the soil corresponding to the different centuries.

Coins, seals and jewelry point to a merchant’s home being on the site for much of its history. There is evidence that in the 10th century the area was mostly used for gardens and an apple orchard. In the 12th century, the city was flourishing, with evidence of large wooden buildings. Experts say the wet, clay soil that lies under Novgorod, and contains little or no oxygen, has the unusual chemical quality that preserves both hard artifacts made of metal and items made of softer material like leather.

Jos Schaeken, the dean of Leiden University College The Hague, who is a professor of Slavic and Baltic languages, said that Novgorod had not received sufficient notice in the West given its importance to archaeologists, linguists and historians.

“It is revolutionary in the sense that it gives you inside knowledge of a medieval city that had international ties with the East and the West, how it was organized and functioned, and how people communicated with each other,” he said. The birch-bark documents date from the 1000s through the 1400s, when paper became more readily available.

In Russia, Novgorod is the place where archaeology students hope to apprentice and professionals seek to make their careers. And the newest birch-bark findings often create a sensation, with hundreds of students and members of the general public attending lectures by Prof. Andrey A. Zaliznyak, a noted linguist, at Moscow State University, summing up the major discoveries.

Dmitri Sitchinava, a linguist who has attended the lectures for the past decade, said they were a theatrical event attracting hordes of fans, professionals and amateurs alike. “We have the voices of people who lived a thousand or so years ago, and they have exactly the same issues to discuss as we do,” he said.

India pushes bank accounts for the poor in bid to share benefits of economic growth

By Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, October 18, 2014

PRANGARH, India—Raj Kumar Sharma, a milk-seller with just one cow, used to think bank accounts were “only for important people.” That changed after he heard a pitchman in the village lane beating a drum and touting an easy new way to sign up for an account.

“Your account can make your destiny,” the drummer announced.

Soon, Sharma had signed up for his first-ever account at a camp run by the State Bank of India in this rural northern village, part of an ambitious government exercise to bring nearly 600 million Indians into the formal banking system by January.

Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the program aims to include the poorest and the most marginalized in India’s economic growth and reverse a recent slide in household savings.

Thousands of bankers and banking agents have fanned out across the country to reach people in far-flung villages and city slums. To open an account, reams of identity documents are no longer needed—and money for a deposit isn’t necessary, either.

Analysts say it is uncertain whether the new accounts will remain active, because India lacks the network to provide service to so many people. Even so, since August, more than 55 million accounts have been opened with a total of almost $750 million in deposits.

“There is a lot of cash-based transactions in India. We want to bring it into the banking system so that the cash becomes productive, the poor get into the habit of small savings and get access to credit,” said Gurdial Singh Sandhu, a secretary in the Ministry of Finance in New Delhi. In the past six years, India’s household savings dropped by 5 percent, he said.

According to the World Bank, only 35 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people have bank accounts; the government says the figure is close to 58 percent. About 73 percent of farming families in rural areas have no access to formal sources of credit, according to a 2013 report by the Reserve Bank of India. Many rely on money lenders or informal women’s groups for small loans.

There are 115,000 bank branches in India, up from 60,000 a decade ago. But vast swaths of hinterland have none.

In the past 15 years, the microfinance industry expanded to bridge the gap to some extent, but the sector gained a bad reputation in recent years because of some agents’ aggressive loan collection practices. Some companies also operated Ponzi-like schemes among the urban poor.

In an e-mail to bank officers in August, Modi called the account-opening drive “a national priority.” It was “untenable,” he said, for so many Indians to be deprived of basic banking benefits.

The new accounts come with a debit card, an accident insurance policy worth about $1,600, and a short-term loan of about $100 after a year.

Modi’s banking push is not India’s first. Past efforts fizzled because the government did not monitor them, and new accounts remained dormant, Sandhu said. But the freebies, Modi’s personal interest and the target of reaching every home are likely to make this campaign more effective, he said.

“Many people are coming in hordes to open accounts because they think government welfare benefits will come their way in the future through these accounts,” said Preeti Mall, a manager at the State Bank of India near Prangarh.

But one lingering question is whether the accounts will survive. Unable to build new bank offices quickly, India adopted in 2006 what has come to be called the “branchless banking” model, a system that has seen some success in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya.

The banks operate through a network of village “business correspondents” who function sort of like human ATMs. They conduct transactions—such as deposits and withdrawals of small amounts—with a cellphone and computer from corner shops.

It has been harder to make the model work in India because banks view business correspondents as unprofitable.

If Modi’s program meets its goal of linking every home to a bank account, tens of thousands more business correspondents will need to be hired, up from 200,000 today.

In the village of Girdharpur, business correspondent and store owner Rakesh Kumar complained that banks do not pay him on time. He said that he has helped open 276 bank accounts since September but that villagers have yet to receive their account numbers or debit cards.

Amid the push, banks have been opening accounts for almost anyone who shows up at the enrollment camps, without checking to see whether they already have accounts or are opening accounts elsewhere. Belatedly, Sandhu said, banks are surveying households to check for account duplication.

As for Sharma, the milk-seller, he said he sees hope—and an opportunity to expand his business.

“Whenever I needed extra cash, my mother went to a neighbor and asked,” Sharma said. “If I can get a loan with dignity from a bank, I will buy another cow.”

For Japan, Small Gesture Holds Great Importance

By Martin Fackler, NY Times, Oct. 18, 2014

TOKYO—The Japanese government has no shortage of issues to worry about—strengthening a faltering economic recovery and trying to persuade a skeptical public to accept a return to nuclear power. But even with all that, the country’s leaders are devoting their energy to a seemingly small gesture: a hoped-for handshake.

The gesture has outsized importance because of the two men who would be joining hands: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China, the tough-minded leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies who have circled each other warily for almost two years. The Japanese hope the greeting, and a possible short meeting to follow, would be the start of repairing relations that have taken a pummeling over disputed islands as well as disagreements over the handling of Japan’s wartime history.

That hope has led to weeks of delicate diplomatic maneuverings, with small gestures parsed for deeper meaning. Japanese officials have begun expressing optimism that the meeting—the first since the men took power—would take place next month on the sidelines of a regional economic summit in Beijing.

Among the promising signs cited by the Japanese side: a recent visit to Tokyo by the daughter of a former Chinese leader who not only met with Mr. Abe, but also sat with him to watch a performance by a visiting Chinese dance troupe.

The final negotiations are still underway, so it is difficult to tell if the behind-the-scenes negotiations and emissaries shuttling between China and Japan are about to lead to a breakthrough as the Japanese officials suggest. But political analysts in Japan and abroad said both nations appeared to share a growing recognition that they had too much to lose, both economically and politically, if they did not find some way to get along.

Both leaders have come under increasing pressure to contain the damage to their nations’ large economic ties. China’s Commerce Ministry has reported that Japanese direct investment in China dropped by nearly half in the first six months of this year from the year before. And sales of Japanese autos and other products in China are still down, although exports to China’s coveted market have recovered somewhat after a steep drop in the first half of last year brought on by the island dispute.

Experts say the two leaders are also loath to be seen as the bad guy in the region or in Washington as they battle each other for influence in Asia.

With neither country willing to yield over the islands, some analysts now speak of a new status quo, in which China and Japan essentially agree to disagree while returning to business as usual in other areas.

In that case, they said, the standoff could become a permanent feature of the security landscape, with both countries continuing to send ships there to make the point that they are in control, while also taking steps to prevent any escalation.

“Japan and China are seeking a new equilibrium,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “The best we can do now is to keep playing this game, but at a lower level, and to find ways to be less confrontational.”

Since Mr. Abe took office in December 2012, Mr. Xi has refused to meet the Japanese leader, an outspoken nationalist whom many in China suspect wants to deny World War II atrocities committed by invading Japanese troops. As a precondition for more substantial talks, some Chinese officials have suggested that Mr. Abe show sincerity by promising not to continue visiting Yasukuni, a Tokyo shrine to Japan’s war dead that many Chinese see as a symbol of Japan’s lack of repentance.

On Friday, China protested after Mr. Abe sent an offering of a potted plant to Yasukuni to mark an autumn festival, though Japanese officials had said they felt the offering would not affect the negotiations as Mr. Abe did not go in person.

New at the Helm of Indonesia’s Government: A Common Man

By Joe Cochrane, NY Times, OCT. 18, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Slumped back in a black swivel chair in Jakarta’s colonial-era governor’s office, Indonesia’s president-elect looked weary.

He does not take office until Monday, but already Joko Widodo faces a hostile opposition coalition in Parliament that has vowed to undermine him at every turn and threatened to investigate him for corruption. Depressing economic indicators include declining growth and an unexpected spike in unemployment, while a national fuel subsidy sucks tens of billions of dollars out of the country’s state budget. And no sooner does he take office than he is expected to attend four major international conferences, starting with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.

But pushing aside a briefing paper, he broke into smile.

“Look at my face,” he said with a cackling laugh and a sudden burst of energy. “Do I look worried?”

Indeed, in an interview last week in his private office he seemed remarkably relaxed and confident, at times carefully explaining the inevitability of his policies with the patience of a schoolteacher, at others dismissing complex problems with a wave of the hand. Parliament, for instance, was not a concern, because he will control a majority there “within six months,” he said.

Whether or not his presidency conforms to these expectations, and Indonesia’s fractious politics has a way of upending a politician’s best-laid plans, he has already set a new tone for the office and what he calls his “people-centric policies.”

Tall, thin and unassuming, Mr. Joko, 53, has a laid-back style and a face he jokingly says resembles that of a village street-food vendor more than the incoming president of the world’s fourth-largest nation.

A former carpenter and furniture exporter who was born in a slum in Central Java Province, he will be the first president in Indonesian history not to emerge from the country’s political elite or the ranks of former army generals. His July election over a former general and son-in-law of the dictator Suharto was characterized by many as a choice between a common man and a throwback to Indonesia’s authoritarian past.

High office has not changed his humble habits. As governor of Jakarta, he eschewed tailor-made suits and ties in favor of plain white button-down shirts and dark slacks, an outfit his presidential campaign team trumpeted in a campaign billboard as costing less than $30. He frequently does not wear socks with his simple loafers, and has given interviews barefoot.

He drew national attention for his daily walking tours through traditional markets and slum areas, where he would talk with residents about bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and traffic, a kind of direct public contact alien to Indonesia’s traditionally aloof politicians.

“When I go on the ground and ask the people, they feel that the elite politicians fight and don’t pay attention to them,” he said in the interview. “So I think this is our opportunity to send a message to the people that we will pay more attention to them, we will give them good programs.”

Some of this he can accomplish without Parliament’s cooperation. During his first week in office, he plans to nationalize a “smart card” program for free health care and financial support for basic education for tens of millions of poor Indonesians, a program that was popular when he was a mayor in Central Java Province and governor of Jakarta. He said he expected the first cards to be mailed across the country by Nov. 1.

He has promised clean, professional government, and has rejected the longstanding practice of trading support for cabinet seats. Such a pledge could make building a governing majority next to impossible, but Mr. Joko acknowledged during the interview that new parties joining his coalition could still be awarded cabinet seats. But he said that they could be filled only by competent political appointees or professional technocrats who are party members.

“I think the main criteria is integrity and then an ability to work with me for the good of our country,” he said.

One major party, the Islamic-based United Development Party, is expected to abandon the opposition in the coming days, and analysts said they expected at least one other opposition party to switch sides eventually and give Mr. Joko a majority.

Meanwhile, the opposition has not squandered its moment in the majority. As Mr. Joko watched helplessly from the sidelines last month, it pushed through legislation eliminating direct elections for provincial governors, district chiefs and mayors, a move analysts said was aimed at preventing a political outsider like Mr. Joko from ever winning the presidency again.

Here again Mr. Joko was confident he would ultimately triumph. The vast majority of Indonesians support direct elections, he said, and he dismissed the opposition’s argument that they were a waste of money.

“Democracy is about listening to the people,” he said. “So when the opposition wants to change that and people don’t want it, then of course I think the people are on my side.”

Japan’s farmers face an existential crisis: Reform or die out

By Anna Fifield, Washington Post, October 18, 2014

YABU, Japan—When tending to her rice paddies in this remote, mountainous part of Japan became too arduous, Sakae Tanigaki brought in some young guys to help out.

Now, a bunch of 70-somethings do most of the work on the terraced hillside. That means the 85-year-old Tanigaki can stick to the flat fields.

“My ancestors developed this land long ago. So as long as I’m able, I feel that I need to work this land and keep it in good shape,” Tanigaki, in a purple flowery smock, said as she sat on a rock in the sun outside her house, about 400 miles west of Tokyo.

After her husband died two decades ago, Tanigaki tended the fields by herself. But now men from the local “silver center”—a kind of temp agency for retirees—are helping out, and she’s been able to cut back her hours to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or so every day.

Tanigaki doesn’t have much choice but to work—there’s no one else around here to do it.

“There are no jobs for young people in Yabu, so they all leave,” said Tanigaki, a great-grandmother whose offspring have little interest in living this kind of labor-intensive life in the countryside.

But now the local government, with support from Tokyo, is launching an experimental reform project aimed at reviving Yabu’s struggling farming base. The authorities hope to make working here more attractive for people and companies, and to loosen the enormously powerful agricultural lobby’s hold on the sector.

Yabu is a patchwork of small fields, wedged between train tracks and houses, that are cobbled together into farms. Many of the houses, some with traditional tiled roofs, have seen better days.

The town suffers from the same demographic scourges as other farming areas of Japan. Its population has been dropping, almost halving in the past 50 years. Meanwhile, the average age is rising: The typical farmer is 70.7 years old.

Even as they are faced with literally dying out, farmers across Japan are resisting changes to their way of life. Their lobby group, the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group—also known as the JA—is also fiercely opposing the changes that would be required if Japan were to sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

For now, negotiations between Japan and the United States, the two biggest players in the proposed 12-nation free-trade bloc, are going nowhere, partly because of Japan’s unwillingness to budge on agriculture.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has promised to protect “sacred cows”—including rice, beef and dairy—from the deal. Rice carries an almost spiritual significance here, not to mention a 778 percent tariff.

But in Yabu, local politicians and farmers aren’t waiting for the trigger of the TPP to make big changes. Japan’s government has designated the area a test bed for much-needed reform in the highly regulated sector.

“Agriculture is the foundation of Yabu, but it’s now at crisis point,” said Sakae Hirose, the mayor of Yabu and the architect of the reforms. “So what I’m trying to do is to revitalize the foundation of this area.”

Most of the farmers around here are part-timers who tend small plots around their day jobs, or people such as Tanigaki, who have farming in their blood. But 12 percent of the farmland around Yabu has been abandoned as residents become too old to tend to it. If someone stops farming a plot of land, the whole system of irrigation is affected, making it harder for neighbors to keep growing.

Bringing in new blood is the key. “We need to create an environment where it’s easier to farm,” Hirose said. “We need to attract new farmers and allow private companies to come in, so we can diversify the people who are farming.”

The plans include giving local authorities the power to take control of abandoned land and consolidate it, and allowing private companies and new farmers to use it.

But perhaps the most important change is to the way that farmland sales are handled. Currently, selling land is a drawn-out, bureaucratic process, often subject to local biases. In Yabu, municipal workers have taken control of the process from the vested interests on the local agriculture committee.

The Yabu committee, which represents farmers, was staunchly opposed to Hirose’s plans in the beginning but slowly came around, realizing they were in a reform-or-die situation.

“If we don’t do anything, then of course the rate of deterioration will increase,” said Tadao Otani, the 69-year-old head of the committee. “We don’t have any time to spare. We don’t know if Yabu will exist in 20 or 30 or 40 years.”

But convincing the JA, with almost 10 million members, to support nationwide reforms will be a much tougher challenge.

The prime minister has singled out agriculture as a key area for overhaul as part of his “Abenomics” plan to drag Japan out of years of stagnation. He has vowed to reform the JA, a cooperative that collects and sells its members’ produce but also runs a huge bank and an insurance company, and manages grocery stores and hospitals, as well as wedding and funeral halls.

The JA is hitting back. It has mobilized thousands of staff and held numerous “opposition meetings” to resist joining TPP.

The JA declined to comment for this report but has publicly said that the government’s reforms would “destroy our organization.”

Aurelia George Mulgan, an expert in Japanese agriculture at the Australian National University, said projects such as the Yabu experiment were “pure political tokenism” on Abe’s part. Japan’s agricultural sector still has potential for growth, she wrote in a recent article, but “unless its myriad problems are seriously tackled,” growth will not occur.

Robert Feldman, an economist at JPMorgan in Tokyo, was more optimistic.

“If Yabu is even partially successful, there will be a lot of communities that will try to do either the same or better,” he said. “Abe is in a good position. He faces no political opposition, and the JA has nowhere else to go.”

On a recent fall day, Toshiaki Uegaki was tending one of his small fields, cut through with neat rows of cabbage, lettuce, onions, radishes and turnips. Nearby, an elderly woman so hunched her body formed a 90-degree angle walked slowly up a hill, while a man wheeling a small cart for his oxygen tank stopped to rest on a doorstep.

While he would like to consolidate his land, Uegaki, 69, has his reservations about the plans.

“If the people who come into this area are really serious about farming, then that’s fine,” he said, leaning on a hoe on the edge of his field. “But if farming companies are coming here just to make a profit, they won’t be interested in trying to make our area better.”

After Ebola, Cholera?

Renaud Piarroux, Le Monde, Oct. 17, 2014

MARSEILLE—Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, are considered vulnerable to another contagious disease, cholera, especially during the rainy season, which lasts through November.

The last serious cholera epidemic, in 2012, seems to have been spread by the travels of fishermen along the coasts of these countries. It affected 30,000 and killed 400 in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

In fact, cholera is not always present on these countries. Since 2012, the situation stabilized and no epidemic has been registered so far this year.

But what would happen if cholera were to return in an area already affected by the Ebola virus? Cholera can be transmitted by body fluids. It can also infect the immediate surroundings of a patient and, at a greater distance, contaminate water sources, making it possible to simultaneously infect a large number of people.

In 2010, the contamination of one river in Haiti was the origin of a huge epidemic that infected more than 700,000 people, killing 8,500.

In case of an epidemic, the first thing to manage is the flood of patients. Diarrheas and vomiting lead to dehydration, which in its more severe forms can end in the patient’s death. Each Cholera Treatment Center with a few dozen beds requires several hundred nursing staff and various personnel working directly with the patients.

Where would we be able to find these workers in countries from which, for fear of Ebola, health personnel have fled? And how could we protect them from a potential contamination from an Ebola patient with diarrhea? Should they also be working dressed as spacemen?

The fight against cholera requires that meetings be organized in neighborhoods and villages to tell the populations how they can protect themselves. But how can these campaigns be set up in a context of general fear and devastating rumors, with teams working to raise awareness being beaten up by villagers convinced that they were responsible for the Ebola epidemic?

Unquestionably, the sum of the two diseases would be a catastrophe in itself, and one would think that major efforts should be underway to prevent it from happening.

Surprisingly, that is not the case. Indeed, a few hundred kilometers east of the area affected by Ebola, a cholera epidemic has begun to spread. The epicenter is located in Ghana, where the threshold of 2,000 cases per week has been reached. From Ghana to Liberia, there’s only Ivory Coast to cross. It’s very little, especially when we think about the porous borders and the importance of human travels in this part of Africa.

We have no idea how to put an end to the Ebola epidemic, and how many lives it will claim. We should at least try to prevent another disaster by intervening urgently to bring the expansion of cholera in neighboring countries under control.

Half-Mumbled Prayers and Friction at Jerusalem’s Holiest Site

Reuters, Oct. 19, 2014

JERUSALEM—Israeli and Palestinian police kept a tight watch over the al-Aqsa mosque compound on Sunday amid high tension between Muslims and Jewish visitors to the holy site and calls from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to defend it by “all means”.

Clashes have flared repeatedly in the past few weeks as increasing numbers of Jews have visited the sacred area during the Jewish holidays, angering Palestinians who see this as part of an Israeli agenda to alter a long-preserved status quo.

The ornate marble and stone compound, known as Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews, is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. It contains the 8th century al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

While the site is ultimately administered by Jordanian religious authorities, Israeli and Palestinian police secure it. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit under close monitoring but are not allowed to pray, a prohibition at the heart of the tensions.

Shortly after dawn on Sunday, a group of 10 Orthodox Jews gathered among dozens of foreign tourists to visit the site situated on a plateau above the Western Wall, where the second Jewish temple stood before it was destroyed in 70 AD.

Under the wary gaze of police, the group was escorted around the compound, sometimes appearing to mumble prayers under their breath as they walked. Any overt praying or efforts to lower themselves to the ground were quickly stopped by police.

As they passed in front of al-Aqsa mosque, where clashes erupted between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters last week, a crowd of Muslim women, their heads and faces covered, chanted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greater”) and the Palestinian police urged the Orthodox Jews to keep moving along.

On a flight of steps leading up to the octagonal Dome of the Rock, which sits in the middle of the 37-acre (15-hectare) tree-lined compound, someone had spray-painted an equals sign between the Jewish Star of David and a Nazi swastika.

It was removed by police within minutes, but not before the Jewish visitors had seen and photographed it.

In recent months, Moshe Feiglin, a far-right member of the Israeli parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has led a drive to encourage Jews to visit and pray at the Temple Mount, despite it being forbidden by the Torah.

His aim is to overturn agreements dating back to the 1967 Middle East War, when Israel seized control of the Old City of Jerusalem, including Temple Mount, before handing responsibility for administering the site to the Islamic authorities.

Because the area is so sacred to both Jews and Muslims, it is frequently the source of friction between the communities.

In 1990, Israeli forces blocked Muslim worshippers from accessing the compound, leading to clashes that ultimately left 20 Palestinians dead and more than 100 wounded.

A visit to al-Aqsa in 2000 by then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon was seen as a serious provocation by Palestinians and a spark that helped ignite a five-year uprising or Intifada.

Last week, as tensions boiled again, Israeli forces restricted access to the area to Muslim men over the age of 50.

Among the Jewish visitors on Sunday was Meyer Beck, 59, who prayed fervently before going up to the plateau, where he walked barefoot in a show of humility under the watchful eyes of police. Asked if he had prayed at the site, he smiled and said he “did what I can”, including reciting prayers in his head.

“It’s about showing who has ownership of the Temple Mount,” he said, adding that he had visited nearly 40 times.

Asked what the ultimate goal was, he replied: “It’s about making the point to the world that this is ours. If we show that we care about this then it becomes an issue, and then the government will have to listen and take a stand.”

That is exactly what Palestinians fear, especially any creeping changes to the status quo, something Netanyahu promised last week would not happen. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not convinced and urged his people not to give ground.

“The (Jewish) settlers must be barred from entering the compound by any means,” he declared on Friday. “This is our Aqsa … and they have no right to enter it and desecrate it.”

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