Thursday ReadsPosted: February 12, 2015
The top story in the news today is the supposed peace deal on Ukraine reached overnight. From The LA Times, Ukraine cease-fire deal reached after marathon talks.
After two days of hard negotiations, four European leaders have agreed on a cease-fire deal in eastern Ukraine, Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced Thursday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin worked nonstop for seven hours Wednesday and for a few more hours Thursday before they arrived at a compromise to stop the violence.
“We agreed on a cease-fire that takes effect Sunday,” Putin said in a televised statement after the talks in Belarus’ capital of Minsk. “The second position which I think is of extreme importance is the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the current front line for Ukrainian troops and the demarcation line agreed upon in the Sept. 19 Minsk agreements for the Donbass armed forces.”
Two regions of Donbass engulfed by the armed conflict will get wider special powers in the course of a constitutional reform yet to be conducted in Ukraine.
The Russian leader complained that the night of the talks was “not the best night of my life.”
But is the agreement real? Most commentators are skeptical. Forbes:
In the talking point of the hour, the newly agreed ceasefire offers a“glimmer of hope” for averting a full-scale interstate war and for cautiously deescalating Europe’s worst security crisis in a generation.
The Russia-Ukraine ceasefire, to be sure, is clearly a lot better than nothing. Given the failure of previous attempts on the part of Germany and France to mediate between Kiev and Moscow it’s clear that there very easily could have been no deal at all. One can quite easily imagine a scenario in which Putin and Poroshenko left that conference without signing anything and in which we’d all be one step closer to world war 3. It’s a small victory, but it is at least movement in the right direction. It even got the Russians to free Nadiya Savchenko, a fighter pilot captured by pro-Russian separatists and then sent to Russia where she is currently on trial for a litany of (largely fictitious) offenses
The problem with the ceasefire, however, is in the details. Probably the single most glaring deficiency is that it doesn’t actually start until Sunday the 15th. Until then, as far as I can tell from reading the relevant press reports, the two sides are free to blast away at each other until their heart’s content. For another few days, then, the status quo ante reigns much as it has for the past several months.
Another huge problem is that it is only after Sunday that both sides are supposed to remove their heavy weapons from the front line. And even after they start to remove these weapons, the agreement allows them a full two weeks to finish the process. Given the nastiness of the conflict to date, and its tendency to flare-up immediately after a lull, quite a lot of mayhem and destruction can happen between now and when the heavy weapons are finally removed to a safe distance.
At Business Insider, Michael B. Kelley writes: The new Economist cover says it all.
“The EU and NATO are Mr Putin’s ultimate targets,” The Economist writes. “To him, Western institutions and values are more threatening than armies. He wants to halt their spread, corrode them from within and, at least on the West’s fragile periphery, supplant them with his own model of governance.”
From Reuters via Business Insider, Ukraine: 50 Russian tanks and 40 missile systems rolled into the country while Putin talked peace.
About 50 tanks, 40 missile systems, and 40 armored vehicles crossed overnight into eastern Ukraine from Russia via the Izvaryne border crossing into the separatist Luhansk region, a Kiev military spokesman said on Thursday.
“The enemy continues to strengthen its forces in the most dangerous areas, especially in northeast Luhansk region and in the direction of Debaltseve,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a daily briefing, referring to a strategic transport hub that has been the focus of heavy fighting in recent weeks.
He said the tanks and other military hardware had crossed the border “despite statements by Russian officials about the absence of Russian military equipment and forces on Ukrainian territory.”
Read the whole article at The Economist, Putin’s war on the West, and read more commentary at Bloomberg View, A Time Bomb Wrapped in a Ukrainian Peace Deal, by Leonid Bershidsky. Also at Bloomberg, a backgrounder: Standoff in Ukraine.
Follow me below the fold for more breaking news.
Last night, long-time CBS News journalist Bob Simon was killed in a car accident in New York City. From CBS News:
Bob Simon, the longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent and legendary CBS News foreign reporter died suddenly Wednesday night in a car accident in New York City.
The award-winning newsman was 73.
“Bob Simon was a giant of broadcast journalism, and a dear friend to everyone in the CBS News family. We are all shocked by this tragic, sudden loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bob’s extended family and especially with our colleague Tanya Simon,” said CBS News President David Rhodes.
“It’s a terrible loss for all of us at CBS News,” 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager said in a statement. “It is such a tragedy made worse because we lost him in a car accident, a man who has escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times.
From The Washington Post, Bob Simon, the embodiment of the fearless foreign correspondent, killed in New York car crash.
He covered wars and violence on every continent. He was kidnapped by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers in Iraq, where he was beaten and spat upon because he was a Jew. He survived, and he searched for more adventures.
“I would have killed him if I could have,” he later told reporters about one of his tormentors. “And I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room.”
The award-winning veteran CBS News correspondent, Bob Simon, the embodiment of the fearless foreign correspondent, was killed on Wednesday night in a car accident on New York City’s West Side Highway.
Simon, best known for his long tenure on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” was riding in the back seat of a hired Lincoln Town Car about 6:45 p.m. when the driver lost control, sideswiped a Mercedes-Benz and ran into a metal median separating traffic on the highway, according to the New York Police Department. When police arrived at the scene, Simon was unconscious and unresponsive with injuries to his head and torso. He was taken to Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where he was pronounced dead. He was 73.
The cab driver was listed in stable condition and the other driver was not injured, police said. New York police are investigating the incident.
The Measles outbreak continues. Reuters reports, San Francisco commuters possibly exposed to measles on train.
Tens of thousands of commuters on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system may have been exposed to measles after an infectious Bay Area resident rode a train to and from work for three days last week, public health officials said on Wednesday.
The rider represents the first case of measles confirmed by Contra Costa County health officials during an outbreak of the disease that began in late December. The infected person also spent time at a San Francisco restaurant and bar on the evening of Feb. 4
Authorities tried to downplay the danger to commuters.
“Although the risk of contracting measles by being exposed on BART is low, Bay Area residents should be aware of the situation,” the county public health department said in a statement.
In the Bay Area case, the infected person was known to have traveled between the Lafayette station in the East Bay and the Montgomery station in San Francisco during the morning and evening rush-hour commutes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
That ride is 35 minutes long, but health officials said the highly infectious, airborne virus could have remained in the air for up to two hours. Because BART cars circulate throughout the Bay area, tens of thousands of people could have potentially been exposed, Trost said.
The infected rider, who was not identified by name, age or gender, also spent time at the E&O Kitchen and Bar in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, potentially exposing others who were in the restaurant between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., health officials said.
Public health officials said they were tracing the movements of the person, who is recovering and not hospitalized, and notifying others known to have had close contact.
From the LA Times, California measles outbreak spreads to Canada.
Ten measles cases in Canada stem from a visit to Disneyland, health officials announced Wednesday, meaning the California-centered measles outbreak has spread to yet another country.
The 10 patients live in Quebec’s Lanaudiere region, and none had been vaccinated against measles, the Lanaudiere health and social services agency said in a statement. It did not specify the patients’ ages or say why they had not been vaccinated.
Although the agency did not mention Disneyland by name, it said it confirmed that “the first case contracted the virus during a visit to a park in California where other cases have been reported.”
What about infants who haven’t yet been vaccinated? Slate’s Melinda Wenner Moyer asks Does Breast-Feeding Protect My Baby From Measles?
A few days ago, a doctor told an acquaintance of mine that, in light of the ongoing measles outbreak, he would never take an infant on an airplane. As a mother who plans to take her 7-month-old across the country next month, I was not pleased to hear his advice. My first reaction was: That’s insane! But, as nearly 1 out of every 3 children under the age of 5 who catches measles ends up in the hospital, how worried should parents of as-yet-unvaccinated infants be? And what can parents do, if anything, to keep their babies safe? Here are some answers.
Is the outbreak really that bad?
It’s pretty bad. So far this year, 121 measles cases have been reported in 17 states and Washington, D.C., which means we are on track to beat last year’s numbers, when we had the most U.S. measles cases in 20 years. The 121 number may not seem like a lot, but with measles, cases can multiply quickly. That’s because the virus is wildly contagious. In an unvaccinated community, each measles-infected person will infect, on average, 12 to 18 other people. Each person infected with the flu, by contrast, only infects one or two others.
With a virus as contagious as measles, more than 95 percent of individuals in a community may need to be vaccinated to prevent an outbreak. As of 2013, there were 17 U.S. states where fewer than 90 percent of children 19 to 35 months old had received a dose of measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. This means that measles may be able to spread quickly in many pockets of the U.S., and among those most at risk for catching the infection and getting really sick are infants, who typically do not receive their first doses of MMR until 12 months of age.
More at the link.
And if you really want all the gory details on Measles, read this long article by science writer Leigh Cowart at Medium, Measles is Just the Beginning. Here’s the introduction:
The great Persian physician Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyāʾ al-Rāzī, often described grandfather of pediatric medicine, was a meticulous man. Before the age of 30, he discovered ethanol thanks to the careful application of the then-new art of distillation. When overseeing the building of a new hospital in Baghdad, al-Rāzī hung raw meat around the city and broke ground where the meat putrefied most slowly. And, in one of the 200 or so books that he wrote, he created the first and most extraordinarily detailed account of one of the most infectious diseases ever known to man.
Since al-Rāzī first carefully documented it, this little strand of RNA tucked in a protein envelope has enjoyed a rare kind of notoriety, even in the shock-and-awe world of infectious diseases. In 1529, the Spanish introduced it to Cuba, killing two out of three natives. Over the next decade or so, the virus ravaged Central America, decimating many populations and killing up to half of all Hondurans. And in 1693 in colonial America, Virginia governor Edmund Andros issued a proclamation for a “day of Humiliation and Prayer” in the hope of waylaying the virus.
It’s not like that today, but the disease is no slouch either. In 2013, according to the World Health Organization, there were 16 deaths from the virus each hour, around the world, for the entire year. It is one of the leading causes of death among young children, despite our ability to safely vaccinate against it. It is estimated that between the years of 2000 and 2013, vaccination has prevented 15.6 million deaths.
Do you recognize it yet?
A little more:
Though best known for its telltale dappled rash, measles is a wildly infectious upper respiratory disease. Like the flu, it’s airborne — and successful. It has a near-perfect infection rate: Put your baby in a room with a measles patient, and 9 times out of 10, measles is coming home with you. In the communal space shared between you and a coughing, sneezing measles-ridden asshole, the sweet oxygenated room air and unavoidable door handles are thought to remain infectious for up to two hours. And measles delivers a double whammy because a person becomes infectious before they even know they have it. Four days prior to the rash is when most people become able to spread the love. Here’s how the virus pulls it off.
So how do you know if you have measles? Symptoms start out like standard-issue wintertime gunk: fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes. A few days of that misery and the decorative stage of the illness starts with a carpet of red lesions that blossoms from head to toe. Speaking of carpets, the Carpet Cleaners Hawaii offers on of the best services in the island. Koplik’s spots may appear before the rash — that’s when the bright, beefy red of the inner cheeks become studded with lots of tiny, blue-white dots. Complications from measles arise in almost one in three reported cases, and range from diarrhea (8 percent) and pneumonia (6 percent) to encephalitis (0.1 percent) and death (0.2 percent).
It gets worse.
After coming in on the air like an old-school miasma, the measles virus jumps in through the upper respiratory tract or the eyes. However, before it can make a beeline for the closest lymph nodes, measles has to get inside the cell. To let you in on a secret, the entire field of molecular biology is basically just the study of the secret handshakes between tiny bits of stuff, and that’s exactly what is happening here. The measles virus is encased in a membrane that has two different surface proteins: hemagglutinin (H), which is like a magic wizard lock picker, and fusion (F), which clearly has the better name. The virus rolls on up to an epithelial cell and mashes its magical lock picker into a receptor site; slip it in the right place and it kicks off a molecular chain of events that wakes up the fusion protein. The fusion protein then blorps the virus into the cell. It’s all very technical.
Cowart says this is the first part of a planned four-part series on Measles.
I’m running out of space, but I just have to include the Jeb Bush e-mail fail. US News says it well: Jeb Bush, Florida’s “eGovernor,” Gets a Social Media F.
For Jeb Bush, who’s trying to build his brand (and a potential presidential candidacy) as a tech-savvy, 21st-century Republican – and by reminding everyone wary of his surname that he’s The Smart One, as opposed to The Decider, his gut-trusting older brother – this week’s had a few epic fails.
On Monday, the man who called himself Florida’s “first eGovernor” released a trove of emails he wrote and received when he held office there from 1999 to 2007, an effort to show transparency, and, arguably, how thoughtful he was when conducting state business.
“Email kept me connected to Floridians and focused on the mission of being their governor,” said Bush, who famously bragged about spending 30 hours a week writing emails, largely on that quaint device oldsters will recognize as a BlackBerry….
Then, Bush’s high-profile transparency caravan hit something it should have seen: Before publishing the emails to the web, his team forgot to redact the senders’ personal information. Names, addresses, Social Security numbers in some cases – just out there for the taking, and the exploitation, by criminal types, without the hassle of hacking some multinational corporation’s state-of-the-art servers.
Gizmodo writes: Jeb Bush Basically Just Doxxed Thousands of Floridians.
In many of the messages, people left their full names and personal information, and their email addresses are plainly available.
While some of these emails are from other political players, many are from ordinary Floridians who wrote to the governor with the intention of communicating with their elected official through email, not through a published public correspondence.
One of the emails, which contains the full name and email address of a person who wrote in to Bush fourteen years ago, explicitly asks the then-governor not to publish his long, personal email: “And please do not make this email public to anybody. I do not want my privacy violated, especially by the media.”
And that wasn’t the only Bush boo-boo that involved social media. He hired a guy with a long history of misogynistic tweets. From Bustle: Ethan Czahor, Jeb Bush’s Chief Technology Officer, Deletes A Series Of Awful & Offensive Tweets
Yesterday, Bush got the message and redacted the personal information and Czahor has “resigned,” but come on. It’s toolittle, too late. Does it matter if a presidential candidate is tech savvy? Yes it does, writes Nathaniel Mott at Pando Daily, Jeb Bush is “technically impaired,” and yes, that is a problem.
Well I really went on and on this morning, didn’t I? What’s on your reading list today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday.