March 22, 2016

National Geographic - In the Arctic’s Cold Rush, There Are No Easy Profits 5-15min

As global warming thaws the Arctic, Russia is leading the rush to exploit the region’s resources. In late 2013, on a platform in the Pechora Sea, Gazprom became the first company to produce oil offshore in the Arctic, after jailing 30 Greenpeace protesters and confiscating their ship. On the east side of Yamal a partnership led by another Russian company, Novatek, is building a giant terminal to liquefy gas and export it to East Asia and Europe by ice-breaking tanker—though over time there may be less and less ice to break. ... Russia is not alone. More than a fifth of the world’s conventional oil and gas that has yet to be discovered lies above the Arctic Circle, according to a 2008 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the region is rich in other minerals too. ... Given the hype on both sides of the argument, what’s striking is how patchy the Arctic rush actually is. Few companies have dipped their toes into Arctic waters, and fewer still are making a profit. Last fall Royal Dutch Shell abruptly abandoned its multiyear, seven-billion-dollar effort to extract oil from the Chukchi Sea off Alaska after drilling a single unpromising hole. Record-low oil prices likely contributed to the decision. So did the astronomical costs of operating in a region where infrastructure is sparse, distances are huge, and the weather remains horrific.

The New Yorker - Exporting Jihad: The Arab Spring has given Tunisians the freedom to act on their unhappiness. 5-15min

Tunisia has many advantages over other Arab states: no deep ethnic or sectarian divisions; no oil wealth that distorts the economy and draws foreign interference; a tradition of moderate Islam; widespread literacy; a small, apolitical army. ... Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. ... Salafis follow literalist interpretations of the Koran and maintain that all spheres of society must be ruled according to strict Sharia law (which, for example, promotes the removal of women from the public sphere). Those who support jihad make selective theological and legal arguments to justify violence against the perceived enemies of Islam. The targets do not change: the West, Jews, Shiites, the secular governments and security forces of Islamic countries, and Sunni Muslims who are deemed apostates. But the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. ... Part of the success of ISIS consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike. ... In Tunisia, leaving to wage jihad has become a social phenomenon. Recruitment spreads like a contagion through informal networks of friends and family members, and the country is small enough so that everyone knows of someone who has disappeared.

Wall Street Journal - Mongolia: Land of Lost Opportunity < 5min

Few developing countries have seen their hopes dashed more by the slump in global commodity prices than Mongolia, this country of three million people that is almost four times the size of California. ... With its vast unexploited reserves of copper, coal and other minerals once estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion, and a neighbor—China—going through a belated industrial revolution, Mongolia looked to have won a ticket into the modern world. ... “We missed the big time; the free ride that we were given,” said Ganhuyag Chuluun Hutagt, Mongolia’s vice minister of finance from 2010-2012. “No matter what happens to China, I thought, we will still find something to sell to them…which was not true, obviously.” ... There is little industry outside of Mongolia’s resources sector and no other country is as reliant on China, to which Mongolia sends nearly 90% of its exports, mostly commodities. ... Residential property prices have dropped by 35% in the past four years, while an estimated 37,000 apartments stand empty across the city, according to estimates from M.A.D. Investment Solutions, a local property group.

Washington Post - The violin thief 5-15min

When he’s gone, the news will shock them all, from the FBI to his family to the daughters of Roman Totenberg, who stand to inherit the instrument. They will ask how this once-promising, later penniless eccentric stole an 18th-century violin worth millions — and got away with it. After all, he was the only suspect when it was taken in 1980. As death approaches, Johnson, usually the loudest voice in the room, keeps his mouth shut. It is the fall of 2011. This has been his secret for 31 years. ... Johnson, who was never able to hold a job, a mortgage or a relationship, somehow accomplished something most everyone thought impossible: He played Totenberg’s Stradivarius in plain view until the end. ... He did this through chaos and control, by building an impenetrable wall between his past and present. Those who suspected Johnson of the crime lost track of him. Those who knew him during the last two decades of his life had never heard of the Totenberg theft. They just thought Johnson had an old violin. ... Experts estimate that of the 1,000 or so violins crafted before Stradivari’s death in 1737, about 500 survive today. ... Johnson was never meant to be a journeyman. At one time, he was thought by many, including his college teacher Joseph Silverstein — one of the great orchestral violinists of the 20th century — to be a dynamic player with considerable promise.