A Russian dissident is murdered with radioactive poison:
The doctors treated Litvinenko with a heavy dose of antibiotics. And yet his body continued to break down. Three days after admission, he was being fed through a tube. His hair was falling out, and Marina gathered it in little bundles from his pillow and pajamas. As the medics tested Litvinenko for AIDS and hepatitis, he kept telling them: I’ve been poisoned. On November 11th, ten days after he fell ill, he gave an interview to the BBC Russian Service saying he’d suffered “a serious poisoning”, and implying that it had been carried out by an Italian associate, Mario Scaramella, his lunch companion at the sushi bar that Wednesday.
The next morning, further medical reports arrived. The doctors had run an array of tests. One was for radiation exposure: it came back negative. Instead they found something more complex — and more surprising. Some kind of exotic chemistry, some strange poison, was in his blood. Immediate attempts to identify it left them baffled.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9072 words)
The story of Charles Manson, from Jeff Guinn’s new book Manson:
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson is a cradle-to-grave treatment, though the graves belong to other people. The subject remains in California, an inmate at Corcoran State Prison, where he issues statements his followers disseminate via the website of his Air Trees Water Animals organisation. A recent example: ‘We have two worlds that have been conquested by the military of the revolution. The revolution belongs to George Washington, the Russians, the Chinese. But before that, there is Manson. I have 17 years before China. I can’t explain that to where you can understand it.’ Neither can I. Guinn explains a lot in his usefully linear book. The standard Manson text, Helter Skelter, the 1974 bestseller by his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and true-crime writer Curt Gentry, is a police and courtroom procedural, with no shortage of first-person heroics (‘During my cross-examination of these witnesses, I scored a number of significant points’); the first corpse is discovered on page six. No one is murdered in Guinn’s book until page 232. He brings a logic of cause and effect to the madness.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4620 words)
Alcoholism remains a national epidemic in Russia, but a treatment program like Alcoholics Anonymous has failed to take hold in the country. Leon Neyfakh explores why:
A further obstacle to AA’s growth in Russia is something more philosophical: At a basic level, its premise of sobriety through mutual support just doesn’t make sense to a lot of Russians. In the past, this has taken the form of anti-Western suspicion—“What are the Americans trying to get out of this?” is a question Moseeva used to hear regularly. But more fundamentally, the group-therapy dynamic collides with a skepticism about the possibility of ordinary people curing each other of anything. “The idea that another drunk can help you is asinine to most Russians,” said Alexandre Laudet, a social psychologist who has researched Russian alcoholism.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2526 words)
How a food-trading company based in Germany illegally imported Chinese honey into the U.S.—"the largest food fraud in U.S. history":
"ALW relied on a network of brokers from China and Taiwan, who shipped honey from China to India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, Mongolia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The 50-gallon drums would be relabeled in these countries and sent on to the U.S. Often the honey was filtered to remove the pollen, which could help identify its origin. Some of the honey was adulterated with rice sugar, molasses, or fructose syrup.
"In a few cases the honey was contaminated with the residue of antibiotics banned in the U.S. In late 2006 an ALW customer rejected part of Order 995, three container loads of 'Polish Light Amber,' valued at $85,000. Testing revealed one container was contaminated with chloramphenicol, an antibiotic the U.S. bans from food. Chinese beekeepers use chloramphenicol to prevent Foulbrood disease, which is widespread and destructive. A deal was made to sell the contaminated honey at a big discount to another customer in Texas, a processor that sold honey to food companies."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2747 words)
Entertaining and infuriating exit interview with New York City's mayor, in which Bloomberg defends the rich, criticizes the current mayoral candidates, and trumpets his record across crime, education and quality of life:
"A common theme in the campaign to succeed you has been that you’ve governed primarily for the rich.
"I’m fascinated by these comments—and it is just campaign rhetoric—suggesting that we haven’t done enough for the poor. The truth of the matter is we’ve done a lot more than anybody else has ever done. The average compensation—income—for the bottom 20 percent is higher than in almost every other city. Of course, the average compensation for the top 20 percent is 25 percent higher than the next four cities. But that’s our tax base. If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend, because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else.
"Who’s paying our taxes? We pay the highest school costs in the country. It comes from the wealthy! We have an $8.5 billion budget for our Police Department. We’re the safest big city in the country—stop me when you get bored with this! Life expectancy is higher here than in the rest of the country—who’s paying for that? We want these people to come here, and it’s not our job to say that they’re over- or underpaid. I might not pay them the same thing if it was my company—maybe I’d pay them more, I don’t know. All I know is from the city’s point of view, we want these people, and why criticize them? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6130 words)
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)