September 13, 2016

Politico - ‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’ 55min

Nearly every American above a certain age remembers precisely where they were on September 11, 2001. But for a tiny handful of people, those memories touch American presidential history. Shortly after the attacks began, the most powerful man in the world, who had been informed of the World Trade Center explosions in a Florida classroom, was escorted to a runway and sent to the safest place his handlers could think of: the open sky. ... For the next eight hours, with American airspace completely cleared of jets, a single blue-and-white Boeing 747, tail number 29000—filled with about 65 passengers, crew and press, and the 43rd president, George W. Bush, as well as 70 box lunches and 25 pounds of bananas—traversed the eastern United States. On board, President Bush and his aides argued about two competing interests—the need to return to Washington and reassure a nation and the competing need to protect the commander in chief. All the while, he and his staff grappled with the aftermath of the worst attack on American soil in their lifetimes, making crucial decisions with only flickering information about the attacks unfolding below. Bush struggled even to contact his family and to reach Vice President Dick Cheney in the White House bunker. ... The story of those remarkable hours—and the thoughts and emotions of those aboard—isolated eight miles above America, escorted by three F-16 fighters, flying just below the speed of sound, has never been comprehensively told.

Foreign Policy - China’s Gold Rush in the Hills of Appalachia 17min

In December 2014, Presnell became the first person in North Carolina to be convicted of felony ginseng larceny on private property. He joined other thieves across Appalachia — the mountainous strip of territory extending from southern New York through the Carolinas down into Mississippi — who’ve been arrested, fined, even imprisoned for various ginseng-related crimes, including poaching, illegal possession, and unlawful trade across state lines. ... Cornett went into business for the same reason poachers are keen to rob him. The global market for ginseng root, popularly used as an herbal supplement, is estimated at more than $2 billion. Long a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng products are also ubiquitous in Korea and increasingly popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries with large ethnic Chinese populations. These days, most ginseng is mass-produced on large, pesticide-sprayed farms under the artificial shade of wood and fabric canopies. Wild ginseng, which tends to grow in temperate forests, is considered more potent and fetches a higher price. Plants like Cornett’s, cultivated in the woods, are closer to wild than to conventionally farmed ginseng. ... Dwindling supply and robust demand have inflated wild American ginseng’s value. In 2014, according to public and academic data, the 81,500 pounds that were legally exported commanded an average wholesale price of $800 per dried pound. That was almost 15 times more than the going rate for farmed roots. Nearly all exports go to China, where a burgeoning middle class is willing to pay marked-up retail prices — sometimes even thousands of dollars per pound. ... Scientists believe ginseng is native to both East Asia and North America because some 70 million years ago, the two land masses were part of a single megacontinent known as Laurasia

Newsweek - How Satellite Imaging Will Revolutionize Everything From Stock Picking To Farming 12min

In 1609, Galileo wowed Venice’s big cheeses by letting them use his telescope to see ships way out at sea, a good two hours before their owners would see them enter the port. The Venetians were impressed (they doubled Galileo’s salary and gave him lifetime tenure at the University of Padua) because they immediately saw the huge financial and military advantages offered by this visionary device. A few hundred years later, we are on the cusp of an equally radical transformation in how information is gathered, analyzed and monetized. ... Seattle-based BlackSky Global is planning to launch six spacecraft; Terra Bella, a Google-Alphabet subsidiary, has two satellites in orbit and promises video that can “see objects up to the size of a car,” while Spire owns 17 orbiting satellites and plans to track ships in the world’s oceans. These and other upstarts are chasing imaging giants like DigitalGlobe, and Airbus, who have hundreds of millions of dollars of hardware floating miles above our heads. But no one has launched as fast and as often as Planet, a startup running out of an old gray warehouse in San Francisco’s Mission District. In a neighborhood filled mostly with vintage furniture stores, hip restaurants and coffee shops, Planet has 62 satellites in orbit, the world’s largest private collection, and by the end of the year it will have 100, enough that every nook, cranny and keyhole on Earth will get its own medium-resolution photo every single day. This avalanche of images will create an unprecedented database of the entire planet, one that can be used to stop forest fires and maybe even wars.

Bloomberg - This College Football Team Doesn’t Want to Join the Big Leagues 6min

Moving into the FBS, which the team has faced increasing pressure to do, would give the Bison the chance to play against the Alabamas, Ohio States, and Oklahomas of the college football universe, grab more media attention, and possibly rake in huge financial rewards—but it could also cost them money and championships. Stay put in the FCS, and the Bison should keep winning. ESPN stops by. The executive director of the booster program, Pat Simmers, continues to receive $250,000 donations from fans who don’t want to wait for season tickets. What’s a ridiculously dominant small-town football team to do? It’s a question with the potential to roil the Bison faithful and ruin this overachieving team’s role as ambassador for an overachieving city. ... Right now, Larsen’s budget is $22 million. The nation’s top programs have kitties in excess of $120 million, built largely on the billions networks pay for broadcast rights. Each school in the Southeastern Conference—the one Alabama plays in—raked in $31.2 million last season, mostly from TV. North Dakota State won’t be paid to have ESPN broadcast its opener—nor any of its contests against Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents—mainly because there aren’t enough eyeballs on its games when FBS games are being broadcast at the same time. Moving up to the FBS wouldn’t guarantee that revenue will pour in, but if NDSU established itself, it could make millions.