Scientists have made advances in cloning procedures that would conceivably allow them to bring back extinct species. But is "de-extinction" something humans should be doing?
"Other scientists who favor de-extinction argue that there will be concrete benefits. Biological diversity is a storehouse of natural invention. Most pharmaceutical drugs, for example, were not invented from scratch—they were derived from natural compounds found in wild plant species, which are also vulnerable to extinction. Some extinct animals also performed vital services in their ecosystems, which might benefit from their return. Siberia, for example, was home 12,000 years ago to mammoths and other big grazing mammals. Back then, the landscape was not moss-dominated tundra but grassy steppes. Sergey Zimov, a Russian ecologist and director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy in the Republic of Sakha, has long argued that this was no coincidence: The mammoths and numerous herbivores maintained the grassland by breaking up the soil and fertilizing it with their manure. Once they were gone, moss took over and transformed the grassland into less productive tundra."
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3657 words)
A history of politics and betrayal at Russia's Bolshoi Ballet—and an investigation into the acid attack on Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin:
"The liquid was sulfuric acid—the “oil of vitriol,” as medieval alchemists called it. Depending on the concentration, it can lay waste to human skin as quickly as in a horror movie. Scientists working with sulfuric acid wear protective goggles; even a small amount in the eyes can destroy the cornea and cause permanent blindness.
"Filin was in agony. The burning was immediate and severe. His vision turned to black. He could feel the scalding of his face and scalp, the pain intensifying all the time.
"'In those first seconds, all I could think was, How can I relieve the pain?' Filin told me later. 'The burning was so awful. I tried to move. I fell face first into the snow. I started grabbing handfuls of snow and rubbing it into my face and eyes. I felt some small relief from the snow. I thought of how to get home. I was pretty close to my door. There’s an electronic code and a metal door, but I couldn’t punch in the numbers of the code. I couldn’t see them. When I understood that I couldn’t get into the building, I started shouting, "Help! Help! I need help!" But no one was around.'"
PUBLISHED: March 11, 2013
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10917 words)
Technology is rapidly improving our ability to find oil and gas. It means "peak oil" may not be as close as we thought, and the United States is becoming less dependent on foreign oil:
"Right now, the map of who sells and who buys oil and natural gas is being radically redrawn. Just a few years ago, imported oil made up nearly two-thirds of the United States’ annual consumption; now it’s less than half. Within a decade, the U.S. is expected to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to regain its title as the world’s top energy producer. Countries that have never had an energy industry worth mentioning are on the brink of becoming major players, while established fossil fuel powerhouses are facing challenges to their dominance. We are witnessing a shift that heralds major new opportunities—and dangers—for individual nations, international politics and economics, and the planet."
PUBLISHED: March 5, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5609 words)
[Not single-page] Inside the Milwaukee Police Department Intelligence Fusion Center, a high-tech, crime-fighting unit that houses a team of local law enforcement and federal agents and analysts:
"In 2011 – with help from other Fusion personnel – the team of Blaszak and Harms busted a segment of a sophisticated international smuggling operation. The racket, run by an organized crime syndicate based in the Republic of Georgia and Russia, had contracted with a Milwaukee man to steal Apple products. He’d then deliver them to an associate of the organization who would periodically drive in from New York. At the meeting, the associate would collect the electronics, pay the Milwaukee booster, and from there, the Apple products would be smuggled out of the country for sale in former Soviet republics.
"But the Brew City robber got pinched in Illinois, and an executive with Apple security helped to deliver the robber to Fusion. In a scene out of a Scorsese movie, agents escorted the man back to Milwaukee to meet with officers at a church on North Avenue. It was eerily empty when the cops arrived."
PUBLISHED: March 4, 2013
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6802 words)
The writer makes a pilgrimage to Kilgore, Texas, to explore the hometown and Baptist roots of the world-renowned pianist, who died Wednesday:
"After much deliberation, Richter and Gilels nervously took the prominent jury’s final vote to the politburo, the cultural minister, and finally the new premier, Khrushchev. The premier asked, 'Is [Cliburn] the best?' The cultural minister replied, 'Yes, he is the best.' So Khrushchev said, 'In this case, give him the first prize.' The ticker-tape parade in New York upon Van’s return to the U.S. remains the stuff of legends, and as almost every obituary published since his death yesterday at age 78 points out, his artistry was credited with helping to thaw the Cold War.
"But amid all that hoopla and Russian grandeur, Van was also a Texan, a Southerner, a Baptist, a patriot who began each concert with the 'Star-Spangled Banner,' a musical idealist, and a man who loved his parents, his childhood friends, and black-eyed peas as much as I do. We both grew up in East Texas behind the Pine Curtain—he in Kilgore and I in Texarkana—so I always knew that if we met, we’d have more to chat about than my own devotion to the piano, challenged though it is by my perpetual intermediate level."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4122 words)
An American's eyewitness account of the 1996 rocket accident at China's Xichang spaceport, which killed six people and injured 57:
"What Campbell witnessed over the next few days has haunted him ever since. Like most veterans of the Intelsat-708 launch, he hasn’t discussed the event in public. I got to know him while gathering material for a book on the Russian space program, and during one of our many conversations, Campbell mentioned his participation in the 1996 launch. Then he went on to tell the whole story. When I asked why he was willing to talk about it now, he answered, 'The truth shall set you free.'
"The night of the launch, Campbell and his colleagues at the hotel boarded vans and headed to the satellite processing building. As they passed the center’s main gate, they saw a crowd gathering outside to watch the liftoff. 'Everybody was dressed in his or her best clothes,' he recalls. 'It was a party atmosphere. There were many dozens, if not hundreds, of people there.' Despite the previous accidents, it seemed to Campbell that these people must have been accustomed to gathering at this spot to watch launches."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2880 words)
In the summer of 1978, a group of geologists traveled into Siberia and discovered a family that had not had outside contact with anyone in four decades:
"In some respects, Peskov makes clear, the taiga did offer some abundance: 'Beside the dwelling ran a clear, cold stream. Stands of larch, spruce, pine and birch yielded all that anyone could take.… Bilberries and raspberries were close to hand, firewood as well, and pine nuts fell right on the roof.'
"Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders. More often than not, though, there was no meat, and their diet gradually became more monotonous. Wild animals destroyed their crop of carrots, and Agafia recalled the late 1950s as 'the hungry years.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3447 words)
A former DMV employee from Sacramento invents a new language—and a mysterious group of Ukrainians take an interest in what he's created:
"Soon after the publication of the Russian article, Quijada began to receive a steady stream of letters from e-mail addresses ending in .ru, peppering him with arcane questions and requesting changes to the language to make its words easier to pronounce. Alexey Samons, a Russian software engineer based in Vladivostok, took on the monumental task of translating the Ithkuil Web site into Russian, and before long three Russian Web forums had sprung up to debate the merits and uses of Ithkuil.
"At first, Quijada was bewildered by the interest emanating from Russia. 'I was a third humbled, a third flattered, and a third intrigued,' he told me. 'Beyond that, I just wanted to know: who are these people?'"
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9063 words)
A look at the women who work as "Internet cam girls," and the criminal activity that may be occurring behind some of the cam networks:
"'Cam sites are ideal for laundering. The studios are being used to have girls online accepting a financed hand that uses 'dirty' money to buy the private time. The studio gets paid for the private session, the girl gets her (very small) part and so the money comes back clean,' Mila says. As a result, 'most Russian and Romanian studios are Mafia owned,' a claim she extends to the wider developing world. The picture becomes clearer when you remember how scattered and obfuscated these networks' financial structures are—it'd be easier to confusingly launder money through a company that's somehow simultaneously based in both Hungary and Portugal.
"The Eastern Bloc countries that so many cam girls call home are repeatedly mentioned in sex trafficking reports as both sources and conduits of illicit sex work—MyFreeCams has gone as far as banning all models from the Philippines, where conditions are said to be the most brutal.
"The reasoning isn't mentioned, but is easy to surmise. Moving the exploitation online, where girls are under 'contract' to stay in a room for half a day at a time with dubious legal recourse, makes criminal sense."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 18, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4903 words)