TIME Japan

Strong Quake Strikes Central Japan’s Nagano City

(TOKYO) — A strong earthquake struck central Japan on Saturday night, causing at least one building to collapse and injuring several people, according to Japanese media reports. No tsunami warning was issued.

The magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit parts of Nagano city and surrounding areas the hardest, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake’s magnitude at 6.2.

The earthquake struck at 10:08 p.m. Japan time (1308 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), but since it occurred inland, there was no possibility of a tsunami. An apparent aftershock with a magnitude of 4.3 followed about 30 minutes later.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing fire officials, said several people reported injuries, and at least one building collapsed. It wasn’t clear whether the injured were at the building.

National broadcaster NHK reported that a landslide blocked a road after the quake struck. NHK also said 200 homes were without power, and that Shinkansen bullet train service in the area was temporarily suspended.

TIME Bizarre

Monty Python Song is the Brits’ Funeral Favorite

Baby Boomers in the UK play “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” more than any other track

Correction appended Nov. 22.

Who gets the last laugh? The British, it seems, after a study out Friday revealed that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is the most-played song at funerals in the United Kingdom.

The relentlessly optimistic song was written by Eric Idle and first appeared in Monty Python’s biblical satire Life of Brian in 1979. The song tickled the funny bone of a generation with the juxtaposition of its lyrics—“If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing”—and the characters singing it in the comedy classic, a chorus of people being crucified on a hillside.

The findings come from a survey of more than 30,000 funerals in the UK by The Co-operative Funeralcare.

The irreverent track pushed out more traditional songs for the No. 1 spot, including “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “Abide with Me.”

The song lyrics do strike a particularly comforting note for a funeral.

For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain
with a bow
Forget about your sin – give the
audience a grin
Enjoy it – it’s your last chance
anyhow.

So always look on the bright side… of death.

Other hit classics to make the Top 10 Most-Played list in the humor category include “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Ring of Fire,” by Johnny Cash, “Bat Out of Hell,” by Meat Loaf, and The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”—“Buuuurn baby burn!”

Well played, Britain. Well played.

Here’s a video of the folks from Monty Python singing this very song for one of their own.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the movie in which the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” first appeared and the year it was released. It was Life of Brian in 1979.
TIME Colombia

Colombian General’s Capture Puts FARC Rebels on the Defensive

Members of the Colombian Army patrol the sites of Las Mercedes towship, Choco Department, west of Colombia, on Nov. 18, 2014.
Members of the Colombian Army patrol the sites of Las Mercedes towship, Choco Department, west of Colombia, on Nov. 18, 2014. Luis Eduardo Noriega—EPA

President Juan Manuel Santos's decision to suspended negotiations with the Marxist rebels after they detained a senior military officer has forced the FARC to backtrack, with the group promising to release its high-profile captive

It seemed like the tactical error of a raw recruit, not a Colombian army general who is a former top commander of the military’s anti-kidnapping unit. As he met with villagers in rebel-infested territory on Nov. 16, Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate was dressed in Bermuda shorts, unarmed and without bodyguards. Marxist guerrillas pounced and hauled the general into the jungle.

The consequences of Alzate’s Gomer Pyle-like blunder were immediate. Accusing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, of kidnapping the general as well as two of his aides, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a halt to peace talks with the rebels to end Colombia’s 50-year-old war. “The negotiations are suspended,” an angry Santos declared after learning of Alzate’s capture.

The timing was terrible. The peace talks, which began in Havana, Cuba, two years ago have resulted in far more progress than three previous efforts to disarm the FARC. The two sides have reached agreements on land reform, political participation for disarmed rebels, and on ending drug trafficking. The momentum led to predictions that a final accord could be signed next year.

General Ruben Dario Alzate, who heads the Titan task force in the western department of Choco, in an undated handout photo released Nov. 17, 2014.
General Ruben Dario Alzate. Reuters

But Alzate’s capture brought the process to a halt. Part of the blame lies with the President, who rejected rebel calls for a bilateral ceasefire. He opposed a temporary truce because in the past the FARC has used such time-outs to recruit and train rebel foot soldiers. As a result, even as the two sides met in Cuba, the war in Colombia continued unabated. Since the peace talks began, more than 1,000 army troops and guerrillas have been killed and thousands more have been injured, according to Colombia’s Defense Ministry.

Santos’s excuse for suspending the talks also rang hollow. He cried foul because, at his government’s insistence, the FARC in 2012 promised to stop kidnappings as a pre-condition for launching the negotiations. In fact, the FARC pledged to stop abducting civilians for ransom—but the rebel group considers army personnel fair game and calls Alzate a prisoner of war.

“It makes no sense for the government to declare a war without quarter and then insist that [the FARC] must not lay a hand on its soldiers and officers,” FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez told reporters in Havana after Alzate’s capture.

But the real loser from the whole episode seems to be the FARC. While Alzate was an unexpected war trophy—the rebels had never before captured such a high-ranking military officer—the operation proved to be a grave political mistake. Most Colombians despise the FARC, which has long funded its war through drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion and has been blacklisted by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group. Grabbing the general, who at the time was discussing community development projects for jungle villages, seemed to many like another slap in the face to the cause of peace.

“It strengthened the government’s hand,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “The repudiation for the kidnapping was so widespread that it put the FARC on the defensive.”

So much so that the FARC is apparently reversing course.

On Wednesday, Rodolfo Benitez, a representative of the government of Cuba, which along with Chile, Norway, and Venezuela, is acting as a facilitator for the peace talks, announced that the FARC had agreed to free Alzate, his two aides, and two other recently captured soldiers. Santos, in turn, has vowed to re-start the negotiations upon their release which is expected to take place within a few days.

For all its drama, the Alzate incident shows that the FARC, which has been severely weakened by a long-running military offensive, is serious about demobilizing, says Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO. “They could either keep Alzate or keep the negotiations going – but not both,” Isacson said. “This shows how much the FARC cares about the peace talks.”

TIME Iran

Iranian Officials Seem Cautiously Optimistic About the Nuclear Talks

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014. AP

Releases in Iran's state-controlled media seem to indicate the country is preparing for a deal at the nuclear talks in Vienna

There’s no shortage of pessimism about whether Iran and six world powers can reach a comprehensive deal on the country’s nuclear program by Nov. 24, the self-imposed deadline. Time is short, and as a senior U.S. official said before leaving for Vienna, where the talks began, “we have some very serious gaps to close.” But those looking for optimism need search no further then Tehran’s official media. Tightly controlled by the regime that is the ultimate authority on any pact, the country’s media may be preparing the Iranian public for an agreement.

While hardliners in Tehran grump about the talks, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has clearly aligned himself with the negotiators—even posting an interview with one of the diplomats, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, on his personal website this week

“Araqchi basically said ‘We’re winning this, we’re not giving in,’” says Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian studies department at Stanford University. Milani was astonished by the post. Never before had Khamenei’s office made the site a forum for another official, even one understood, as Araqchi is, to be serving as the Leader’s personal representative. It signaled a full embrace of the talks by the man who, as his title makes clear, holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

“The headline was that the leader has had oversight of the entire negotiating process,” says Milani. “It’s clear to me this was an attempt to make a claim for victory and dissuade the idea that [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is doing this on his own and will get all the credit.”

On the same day as that post, the man Khamenei named to lead Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was widely quoted on government outlets as saying that a nuclear deal was consistent with the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which remains the litmus test for all government endeavors.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander, also appeared to prepare the public for elements of a deal that may not look like a win for Iran. “If it appears that there are aspects of this where we’re accepted humiliation, first of all it’s not true — we are winning,” Jafari insisted. “But those perceptions of humiliation are because of the clumsy management and inexperience of some of our negotiators.”

The goal, the commander said, was the removal of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington and other world powers. “God willing, this goal will be reached,” Jafari said.

There was more. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, which is dominated by conservatives, spoke of “our spirit of resistance” taught by Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei as “the reason or our success, and why in spite of all efforts by the enemy they could not stop our progress on the nuclear front.”

“It is possible to have a deal,” Larijani added. “It’s just important for the U.S. not to ask for new conditions.”

Some in Iran complained that new conditions are just what the U.S. has indeed demanded. One hardline member of the parliament, or majlis, claimed to have seen the contents of an eight-page proposal Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly showed Iranian negotiators in Oman the previous week, and compared it to the Treaty of Turkmenchy, the 1828 capitulation to Russia that Iranians consider the epitome of humiliation, losing not only territory in the Caucasus but even the right to navigate on the Caspian Sea, which forms Iran’s northern border.

But to Iran watchers, what’s truly significant is that such grumbling is only background noise in what appears to be a concerted effort by Iran’s top echelon to set the foundation for a deal—if not on Monday, then if the talks are extended, as they may well be. There may be more riding on it than just escape from economically ruinous sanctions. The New York Times on Thursday quoted Amir Mohebbian, a conservative adviser long tied to the Leader’s office, predicting a nuclear deal as a harbinger of a strategic change in Iran’s entire political orientation.

“If there is a deal, and if it is good, the entire system will go along with it,” Mohebbian said in Tehran. “There will be a huge political shift after the deal. It is my conviction that those who make decisions within the system want it to be alive and supported. For survival, we need to change.”

It’s just such a change that President Obama has repeatedly said a nuclear deal might herald, opening the way for Iran to end its pariah status and return to “the community of nations.” So it’s possible Mohebbian is saying no more than what the administration wants to hear. But the expectations of a deal are running high in Iran, and the government appears to be doing much less than it might to discourage them.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Protest Sites Slammed By ‘Largest Cyberattack Ever’

Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014, in Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

The company that protects the independent media outlets said the attacks are unprecedented in scale

Media websites connected to the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement have been slammed in recent months with what has been described as one of the largest cyberattacks the Internet has ever seen.

The attacks have been leveled against websites for Apple Daily and PopVote, which held a mock-vote for Hong Kong chief executive. One of the protestors’ key demands is a free and open election for chief executive of the onetime British enclave.

The content delivery network Cloudfare, which services the sites, says the Denial of Service—or DDoS—attacks are the largest in the history of the Internet, by far. An attack in Europe brought 400 Gbps in attack traffic against an unidentified victim—the Hong Kong attacks are 500 Gbps in scale, Forbes reports. “[It’s] larger than any attack we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen some of the biggest attacks the Internet has seen,” Cloudshare CEO Matthew Prince said.

“It’s safe to say the attackers are not sympathetic with the Hong Kong democracy movement,” Prince told Forbes, “but I don’t think we can necessarily say it’s the Chinese government. It could very well be an individual, or someone trying to make the Chinese government look bad.”

[Forbes]

TIME United Kingdom

Why a British Politician Resigned Over This Tweeted Photograph

Then-Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry in 2013.
Then-Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry in 2013. Yui Mok—Zumapress

The image showed a house, a van and English flags. What's so controversial about that?

After all the verbiage expended and hot air vented ahead of the Nov. 20 by-election in a constituency in southeast England called Rochester and Strood, a picture turned out to be worth a thousand words — and then some. On the day of the special election, prompted by the defection of a sitting Member of Parliament from the ruling Conservatives to the insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a prominent member of the opposition left-of-center Labour Party tweeted a series of photographs as she toured the area canvassing support for her party’s candidate. One apparently innocuous post encapsulated so many uncomfortable truths — about Britain, its old wounds and new fractures, and the global crisis of trust in the political mainstream — that within hours the tweeter, MP Emily Thornberry, had resigned as a member of Labour’s front bench team. The controversy eclipsed a result that in its own way told the same story of fragmentation and tumult: victory for the anti-immigration, anti-European Union UKIP.

Here is Thornberry’s tweet. Look closely. If you even begin to understand why this picture caused offense, you are either from the U.K. or have spent more than the occasional vacation in its temperate, if increasingly distempered, climes.

So why did this tweet do so much damage?

One answer lies in the medium not the message. The digital revolution is transforming not only methods of communication but the world itself. Politicians have barely started to comprehend what this means for the business of politics, much less for wider society.

Such profound changes have left the slow-moving political mainstream floundering. The Labour Party has its roots in the labor movement and purports to be the party of working people. In finding the sight of a modest terraced house festooned with England flags and with a white van parked on the forecourt noteworthy enough to tweet, Thornberry highlighted the gap between the Westminster elite and ordinary voters. As Britain’s largest red-top tabloid, the Sun, put it, she was “seeming to sneer at a White Van Man’s England flags.”

White Van Man is the Joe Six-Pack or Walmart Mom of U.K. politics, representative of a segment of the electorate mainstream parties are eager to court but find increasingly hard to reach. The White Van Man in this case turned out to be a car dealer named Dan Ware who revealed in a brief interview with the Daily Telegraph that he didn’t even know a by-election was taking place. He said: “I will continue to fly the flags — I don’t care who it pisses off. I know there is a lot of ethnic minorities that don’t like it. They [the flags] have been up since the [soccer] World Cup.”

After more than four years of austerity policies imposed by Britain’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, Labour should be in pole position to win the votes of White Van owners across the nation when Britons elect a new government in May 2015. Instead it is struggling under the hapless leadership of Ed Miliband and a band of metropolitan parliamentarians as apt to flinch from the classes who once were their mainstay as to engage with them.

But this isn’t just a problem of the left. Margaret Thatcher made an easy connection with so-called Middle Britain. Britain’s current Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, posh and urban, has tried unsuccessfully to outsource that job to spin doctors, tabloids and the few members of his team not to come from privileged backgrounds. The Liberal Democrats, who used to attract protest votes that might otherwise have gone to Labour or the Conservatives, sacrificed those potential votes as well as the support of their own well-meaning grassroots by deciding in 2010 to enter coalition with the Conservatives. The outcome of the Rochester and Strood by-election illustrated the scale of their plight: their candidate Geoff Juby got only 349 votes and lost his deposit.

Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system favors big parties and majority governments. When the current coalition took office in 2010 it was the first such arrangement in 70 years. But the weakness of those big parties is making space for others to flourish, such as the Scottish National Party, which came close in September to breaking up the United Kingdom and may yet succeed in that aim; and, in England, UKIP, which is pushing for a break with the European Union. UKIP’s rhetoric on restricting immigration chimes with voters who have seen competition for jobs and housing intensify and the strain on public services increase as the U.K. has battled to reduce its debt and ride out a prolonged period of economic instability.

England’s Cross of St George, the flags that caught Thornberry’s attention with such dramatic consequences, have become symbolic not only of England but England’s struggles — with identity and between increasingly diverse populations. Far-right groups such as Britain First have sought to co-opt the flag, and that may be why Thornberry took the snap. It is often hard to distinguish England flags hung in support of the soccer team from England flags hoisted in anger.

Britain First’s candidate Jayda Franzen took a laughable 56 votes at the Rochester and Strood by-election. By contrast UKIP, which always insisted it is anti-Europe not xenophobic, has shed some of its harder-right elements and has professionalized and broadened its appeal. Mark Reckless, the MP whose recent defection to UKIP from the Conservative Party sparked the by-election, won the ballot comfortably with 16,867 votes (42.1%), compared to the Conservatives’ 13,947 votes (34.81%) and Labour’s 6,713 (16.76%).

Like Thornberry’s tweet, the meaning of the results is open to several interpretations but all of them point in the same direction: to the possibility that the U.K.’s May 2015 elections won’t grant an overall majority to a mainstream party and could leave smaller parties such as UKIP holding the balance of power. The Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe if they win and to try to renegotiate that relationship. UKIP simply wants out, and across Europe parties with similar messages are growing in strength. It may prove, and in more than one sense, that the center cannot hold.

TIME

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

From a dramatic snowstorm in Buffalo, N.Y. and the slaying of worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue to Obama’s immigration plan and the murder of Honduras’ beauty queen, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Companies

Google Just Took its First Step Back Into China

The Google logo is reflected in windows
The Google logo is reflected in windows of the company's China head office as the Chinese national flag flies in the wind in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP/Getty Images

Chinese developers can now sell their apps as exports in Google's app store

Google is trying to woo mobile developers in China.

The search giant has announced that Chinese app developers will now be able to sell apps to Google Play users in more than 130 other countries. It’s one of Google’s first attempts to engage with the Chinese marketplace since leaving the country in 2010 in following conflicts with the government over national censorship policies.

The Google Play Store is severely restricted in China, so app makers in the country will be selling their wares as exports. It’s no surprise that Google is having second thoughts on leaving the country behind: China has more than 600 million Internet users, and that figure is expected to reach 800 million next year.

This olive branch to developers may be the first step in a more ambitious strategy. Google is reportedly looking to partner with a Chinese phone manufacturer or wireless carrier to launch a full-featured version of the Play store in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Nicaragua

Construction Will Begin on Nicaragua’s $50 Billion Canal in December

The project is mostly funded by China

Nicaraguan government officials say the country will begin construction on a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in late December.

The $50 billion project will cut 173 miles through the country, much of it through Lake Nicaragua, the largest fresh water source in Central America. By contrast, the Panama Canal is only 48 miles long.

Opponents of the project include environmentalists who say the canal will wreak havoc on sensitive areas, as well as farmers whose land will be affected.

Government officials say the project could double the country’s GDP.

[The Guardian]

TIME health

New Global Study Calls Violence Against Women ‘Epidemic’

A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014.
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014. Siegfried Modola—Reuters

Governments need to step up their game to protect women, says extensive new research

When it comes to stopping violence against women, actions speak louder than words. So even though there’s increased worldwide awareness about violence against women, the problem won’t be solved unless countries make significant policy and financial changes to support victims, according to a five-part series of studies in The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals.

The series, entitled “Violence Against Women and Girls,” calls the violence a “global public health and clinical problem of epidemic proportions,” and the statistics are bleak. 100-140 million women have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide, and 3 million African girls per year are at risk. 7% of women will be sexually assaulted by someone besides their partner in their lifetimes. Almost 70 million girls worldwide have been married before they turned 18. According to WHO estimates, 30% of women worldwide have experienced partner violence. The researchers said that these problems could only be solved with political action and increased funding, since the violence has continued “despite increased global attention,” implying awareness is not enough.

“No magic wand will eliminate violence against women and girls,” series co-lead Charlotte Watts, founding Director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. “But evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behavior are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation.”

One of the major problems highlighted in the Lancet series is that much of the current research on violence against women has been conducted in high-income countries, and it’s mostly been focused on response instead of prevention. The study found that the key driver of violence in most middle-and-low income countries is gender inequality, and that it would be near impossible to prevent abuse without addressing the underlying political, economic, and educational marginalization of women.

The study also found that health workers are often uniquely positioned to help victims, since they’re often the first to know about the abuse.

“Health-care providers are often the first point of contact for women and girls experiencing violence,” says another series co-lead, Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a physician at the WHO, in a statement. “The health community is missing important opportunities to integrate violence programming meaningfully into public health initiatives on HIV/AIDS, adolescent health, maternal health, and mental health.”

The series makes five concrete recommendations to curb the violence against women. The authors urge nations to allocate resources to prioritize protecting victims, change structures and policies that discriminate against women, promote support for survivors, strengthen health and education sectors to prevent and respond to violence, and invest in more research into ways to address the problem. In other words: money, education, and political action are key to protecting the world’s most vulnerable women. Hashtag activism, celebrity songs, and stern PSAs are helpful, but this problem is too complicated to be solved by awareness alone.

“We now have some promising findings to show what works to prevent violence,” said Dr. Cathy Zimmerman from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We urgently need to turn this evidence into genuine action so that women and girls can live violence-free lives.”

The study comes just in time for the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on Nov. 25.

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