August 5, 2015

Nature - History: From blackboards to bombs < 5min

Seventy years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear weapons, David Kaiser investigates the legacy of 'the physicists' war'. ... The Second World War marked an unprecedented mobilization of scientists and engineers, and a turning point in the relationship between research and the state. By the end of the war, the nuclear weapons project, code-named the Manhattan Engineer District, absorbed thousands of researchers and billions of dollars. It sprawled across 30 facilities throughout the United States and Canada, with British teams working alongside Americans and Canadians. Allied efforts on radar swelled to comparable scale. ... the term had been coined long before August 1945, and originally it had nothing to do with bombs or radar. Rather, the physicists' war had referred to an urgent, ambitious training mission: to teach elementary physics to as many enlisted men as possible. ... Both views of how scientists could serve their nations — the quotidian and the cataclysmic — have shaped scientific research and higher education to this day.

BuzzFeed - Inside the Underground Trade to Sell Off Syria's History 5-15min

The trade in stolen antiquities from Syria funds all sides of the civil war that has engulfed the country. BuzzFeed News’ Mike Giglio traveled along its porous border with Turkey to meet the people involved in this black market, from grave robbers and excavators to middlemen and dealers. ... Four years into a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions, Syria’s immense history is being sold off on en masse as looters descend on ruins across the country. An untold number of people have joined Mohamed in a black market that helps to fund armed groups from ISIS to Western-backed rebels to the Syrian regime. Many of the newcomers have no interest other than making money, but Mohamed is enamored with the history of the ancient objects in which he trades. Known among his colleagues for having an expert eye, his phone buzzes endlessly as he receives photos via WhatsApp from sellers trying to catch his interest and fellow traders wanting advice. People ask him to come and “talk” with their artifacts. “Falso,” he says, his voice rising, when he sees a forgery. If he likes a piece, he calls it “fantastic.” ... “We have been living in a war for more than four years, and people will do anything to feed their kids,” said one middleman on the border, guilt-ridden over his role in bleeding Syria’s history. “I don’t care if the artifact is coming from [rebels] or from ISIS. I just want to sell it.” ... diggers around Syria work daily to pull them from the ground. The digs range from backyard affairs by heavy-handed amateurs to skilled excavations. ... The risks of traveling to Syria make the looting all but impossible to witness firsthand, leaving archaeologists with little more than satellite images that reveal a pockmarked landscape.

Bloomberg - The African Startup Using Phones to Spot Counterfeit Drugs 5-15min

A Ghanaian entrepreneur thinks he has the answer to Africa’s fake medicine problem ... Drug Lane runs through a market in the heart of Accra, Ghana. It’s past the office towers going up to the east of the central business district, past the pushy vendors with fake Louis Vuitton luggage, and past the women selling trays of raw beef under the midday sun. The alley bristles with signboards for pills, powders, and other substances. One store is packed to the rafters with boxes of painkillers and antibiotics. On the wall are two posters: One is for Coartem, a malaria treatment made by the Swiss drug company Novartis, and the other advertises something called Recharger, supposedly made from the male silkworm moth. ... Like 85 percent of the people selling medicine in Ghana, he isn’t a pharmacist. Most of his stock comes from China, India, and Malaysia, imported by Ghanaian distributors who supply everyone from “licensed chemical sellers” like him to actual pharmacies and hospitals. It’s a system so porous that as many as one in three medicines sold on Drug Lane could be counterfeit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with about 1 percent in the U.S. and Europe. The fake drugs often have no active ingredient at all, or just enough to pass quality-control tests, and visually they can be indistinguishable from the real thing. ... MPedigree sells software that manufacturers use to label individual packs of medication with a random 12-digit code hidden under a scratch-off panel on the packaging. When a person buys medicine, she can text the code to MPedigree for free and get an instant reply telling her whether the product is authentic.

The New York Times - Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans? 5-15min

How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force. ... the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres ... In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.

The Hollywood Reporter - Vacation ’58 (National Lampoon) 5-15min

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever! We were going to Disneyland. It was a dream come true. The rides! The thrills! The Mouseketeers! I was so excited that I spent the whole month of May feeling like I had to go to the bathroom. When school finally let out on a Tuesday, I sprinted home as fast as I could, even though we weren’t leaving until Friday.