MIT Technology Review - Spotting Cancer in a Vial of Blood 5-15min

He watched his brother die from a cancer that no drug could cure. Now one of the world’s most renowned cancer researchers says it’s time for Plan B. ... The answers Bert Vogelstein needed and feared were in the blood sample. ... Vogelstein is among the most highly cited scientists in the world. He was described, in the 1980s, as having broken into “the cockpit of cancer” after he and coworkers at Johns Hopkins University showed for the first time exactly how a series of DNA mutations, adding up silently over decades, turn cells cancerous. Damaged DNA, he helped prove, is the cause of cancer. ... Now imagine you could see these mutations—see cancer itself—in a vial of blood. Nearly every type of cancer sheds DNA into the bloodstream, and Vogelstein’s laboratory at Johns ­Hopkins has developed a technique, called a “liquid biopsy,” that can find the telltale genetic material. ... The technology is made possible by instruments that speedily sequence DNA in a blood sample so researchers can spot tumor DNA even when it’s present in trace amounts. The ­Hopkins scientists, working alongside doctors who treat patients in Baltimore’s largest oncology center, have now studied blood from more than a thousand people. They say liquid biopsies can find cancer long before symptoms of the disease arise.

Ars Technica - How the feds took down the Dread Pirate Roberts 5-15min

The Dread Pirate Roberts, head of the most brazen drug trafficking site in the world, was a walking contradiction. Though the government says he raked in $80 million in commissions from running Silk Road, he allegedly lived under a false name in one bedroom of a San Francisco home that he shared with two other guys and for which he paid $1,000 a month in cash. Though his alleged alter ego penned manifestos about ending "violence, coercion, and all forms of force," the FBI claims that he tried to arrange a hit on someone who had blackmailed him. And though he ran a site widely assumed to be under investigation by some of the most powerful agencies in the US government, the Dread Pirate Robert appears to have been remarkably sloppy—so sloppy that the government finally put a name to the peg leg: Ross William Ulbricht.

Playboy - Ryan Leaf's Jailhouse Confessions, Written By His Cell Mate 5-15min

I’d heard about a celebrity inmate on temporary time-out from addiction treatment making his way around the rotisserie. His name, I admit, meant nothing to me. I’m an import from England; we don’t swaddle ourselves in body armor prior to playing a game. American football, to me, is overly refereed rugby for the squeamish. Even real football, what you Colonials insist on calling soccer, means little to me any longer. I’ve grown too old and brittle for hooliganism, so there hardly seems any point. I am simply not a sports fan. ... This was to serve me well with Leaf. After a couple of days he crawled out of both his doldrums and his tiny, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all bed at about the same time. We began some stimulating conversations, on any topic other than football.

Bloomberg - The Ketamine Cure 5-15min

On the seventh floor of a building overlooking the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan, two medical clinics share an office. One is run by a podiatrist who’s outfitted the waiting room with educational materials on foot problems such as hammer toes and bunions. The other clinic doesn’t have pamphlets on display and offers a much less conventional service: For the advertised price of $525, severely depressed and suicidal patients can get a 45-minute intravenous infusion of ketamine—better known as the illicit party drug Special K. ... Patients receive a low dose of the drug: about one-tenth of what recreational abusers of ketamine take or about one-fifth of what might be used as a general anesthetic. ... During the infusions, which are gradual rather than all at once, patients often experience strange sensations, such as seeing colors and patterns when they close their eyes. ... The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved ketamine for the treatment of mood disorders, but dozens of medical studies show that it can quickly alleviate severe depression.

GQ - Pablo Escobar Will Never Die 5-15min

The Colombian cartel boss who once supplied 80 percent of America’s cocaine has become an unlikely tourist draw. Jesse Katz pays a visit to Pablo-land. ... Villains come in all shapes and sizes, but there is always something curious about evil geniuses who turn out to be less imposing than their reputations. His chins were legendary, square hunks of padded bone engulfed by a thick, doughy ring, like a man who had swallowed his travel pillow. His mustache expanded by the year, from a tight Burt Reynolds to a flowing Joseph Stalin, usually framing a distrustful smirk. ... His hair was long and curly and cleaved by a side part, the way lesser-known nineteenth-century American presidents wore it, and at five feet five he appeared shorter than his teenage bride and a good many of his later mistresses. Pablo Escobar—once the most hunted man on the planet—was, we can say it now, kind of a schlub. ... Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behind. ... The commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them. With his Faustian slogan plata o plomo—accept the bribe or get pumped full of lead—he turned Medellín into the murder capital of the world (6,349 killings in 1991), a badland no right-minded tourist would have visited, and pushed Colombia to the brink of a narcocracy.

GQ - Willie and the Weed Factory 5-15min

“I’ve bought a lot of pot in my life,” Willie Nelson tells me, “and now I’m selling it back.” ... Willie Nelson has this kind of answer—stock, pithy—for all kinds of questions, and he’s been using them for decades. Bring up his brief abortive stint at college studying business administration? Invariably he’ll soon say, “I majored in dominoes.” Mention the massive sum he owed the IRS in the early ’90s—somewhere between $17 million and $32 million—and you’ll get the one about how it isn’t so much “if you say it real fast.” ... As time passes, the world offers up new questions, and so sometimes new answers are required. Once he reached the age when people began asking about retirement, Nelson would reply that he doesn’t do anything but play music and golf: “I wouldn’t know what to quit.” And now that one of America’s stoner icons is going into the pot business and planning to launch his own proprietary brand called Willie’s Reserve, this bought-a-lot-of-pot-in-my-life line is already on instant replay and you can confidently expect to hear Nelson use it for the next few years, anytime the subject is raised in his vicinity. In fact when we first meet, on the tour bus where he likes to do interviews and live much of his life, less than ninety seconds pass before he deploys it.

The New York Times - How to Invest in Dope 5-15min

Brendan Kennedy and Michael Blue, private-equity financiers, settled into a downtown Seattle conference room in March to meet with a start-up. Both wore charcoal blazers and polished loafers. Kennedy, 41, is the former chief operating officer of SVB Analytics, an offshoot of Silicon Valley Bank. Blue, 35, learned his trade at the investment-banking firm de Visscher & Co. in Greenwich, Conn. Two years ago they quit comfortable posts to form Privateer Holdings, a firm that operates on the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts model: they buy companies using other people’s money and try to increase their value. What sets them apart is the industry in which they invest. Privateer Holdings is the first private-equity firm to openly risk capital in the world of weed. Or as the Privateer partners prefer to call it, “the cannabis space.”

Reuters - The mafia and a very special flower arrangement < 5min

To traders at the famous Royal FloraHolland flower market near Amsterdam, Vincenzo Crupi was just another businessman helping to make the Netherlands the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. ... To the police, Crupi was a mafia suspect allegedly concealing drugs worth millions of dollars alongside fragrant bouquets he trucked to Italy. By last year they were hot on his scent. So they bugged his offices at the flower market. ... In conversations recorded by hidden microphones and cameras, the 52-year-old Italian was heard speaking at length about mafia affairs, according to previously unpublished details of the investigation contained in 1,700 pages of Italian court documents reviewed by Reuters. ... Crupi was heard allegedly discussing drug deals, arms shipments and a lethal power struggle between mafia members in Canada. ... Police and prosecutors say the case sheds new light on the ‘Ndrangheta – the Calabrian mafia – and the way it has spread its tentacles from southern Italy into dozens of countries across five continents. ... For much of the last century, the Calabrian mafia made its money from extortion and kidnappings. Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s the group, which consists of about 160 patriarchal clans, bet big on the cocaine trade. ... Its success at drug smuggling catapulted the ‘Ndrangheta past its more storied Sicilian rival, the Cosa Nostra, in both wealth and power. Italian authorities now consider the ‘Ndrangheta to be Europe’s single biggest importer of cocaine.

Pacific Standard - The Addicted Generation 13min

These are the thoughts that plague the medicated, the adults in their twenties who take prescription stimulants for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have done so since childhood. By some accounts, the number of 26- to 34-year-olds taking ADHD medication rose roughly 84 percent between 2008 and 2012 alone. ... Prescription stimulants like Ritalin were considered a godsend when they first started being used to help hyperactive, unfocused kids succeed in school. So many children were on ADHD drugs in the ’90s that lines would form outside the school nurse’s office, where students went to take their midday doses. But almost 20 years have passed since Diller predicted that the tidal wave of prescriptions written in the ’90s would come to shape an entire generation. Now, those children are all grown up and living on their own. As adults, many find themselves unable to get off the drugs. Some fear losing their jobs, while others fear losing the only self they have come to know — a self with a prescription drug dependency that’s difficult to kick.

ESPN - The Waiting Games 13min

Olympic officials and anti-doping advocates tout the ever-lengthening frontier of drug testing as a deterrent and an assurance that they will pursue athletes who dope, even years after the fact and right up to the statute of limitations. But the system for disqualifying those athletes, reshuffling results and reallocating medals is so cumbersome and prolonged that, by the time it plays out, economic and psychic payoffs for the new recipients have long since evaporated. ... "The reality is that the only people to get punished in the sport from doping [are] the clean athletes." ... Delayed medals never quite add up to full gratification for athletes. Instead, they symbolize the butterfly effect of an altered trajectory. The difference between gold and silver alone can swell to seven figures over a career. Prize money can sometimes be restored, but that's generally a pittance compared to the contractual and commercial opportunities that vanish, impossible to re-create. And there's no way to reconstitute the pomp and emotion of the moment. ... Only half of the summer sports medalists disqualified over that period had positive drug tests during Olympic competition. The other medals were stripped based on retests up to eight years after the fact, or evidence unearthed by law enforcement (such as in the BALCO investigation) or the scrubbing of a sanctioned athlete's results over a period of time, as was done in Lance Armstrong's case. WADA's statute of limitations is now 10 years.

Nature - Busting the billion-dollar myth: how to slash the cost of drug development 8min

The DNDi is an unlikely success story in the expensive, challenging field of drug development. In just over a decade, the group has earned approval for six treatments, tackling sleeping sickness, malaria, Chagas' disease and a form of leishmaniasis called kala-azar. And it has put another 26 drugs into development. It has done this with US$290 million — about one-quarter of what a typical pharmaceutical company would spend to develop just one drug. The model for its success is the product development partnership (PDP), a style of non-profit organization that became popular in the early 2000s. PDPs keep costs down through collaboration — with universities, governments and the pharmaceutical industry. And because the diseases they target typically affect the world's poorest people, and so are neglected by for-profit companies, the DNDi and groups like it face little competitive pressure. They also have lower hurdles to prove that their drugs vastly improve lives. ... Now, policymakers are beginning to wonder whether their methods might work more broadly. ... If successful, the work could challenge standard assumptions about drug development, and potentially rein in the runaway price of medications.

1843 Magazine - The Real Spectre 14min

Brazil does not produce cocaine. But it plays a crucial role in the international trafficking of the drug, which even Brazilians know little about. Cocaine is smuggled by the Colombian cartels and other South American producers through Brazil’s porous borderlands, which stretch for almost 17,000km. ... The drugs are most likely to end up in Santos, a sprawling, rundown place 50 miles south of São Paulo. No city of its size – it has a population of less than half a million – has such a prominent position in Brazilian history. Santos FC nurtured Pelé, Brazil’s greatest footballer. It was in Santos that most of Brazil’s European immigrants landed, and it was from Santos that most of its coffee departed. In the ornate but decrepit city centre you can still visit the old coffee exchange where dealers used to sit in throne-like chairs and negotiate prices. ... The ’Ndrangheta (pronounced ehn-DRANG-eh-ta, with the stress on the second syllable) originated in Calabria, the toe end of the Italian “boot”. Over the past 20 years its reach has extended to the farthest corners of the world. ... A study from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, commissioned by the Italian interior ministry and presented in 2013, concluded that the earnings of the ’Ndrangheta rivalled the Camorra’s, and were almost double those of the Sicilian Mafia. But there was a significant difference that set it apart from its rivals. Whereas the other two groups derived an estimated 40% of their revenue from outside Italy, in the case of the ’Ndrangheta that figure rose to 80%.

The New Yorker - When a Populist Demagogue Takes Power 32min

He compared his forthcoming transformation to that of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. “If you are the President of the country, you need to be prim and proper,” he said. His inaugural speech, in June, was obscenity-free. ... The resolution didn’t last. Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people, drawing condemnation from human-rights groups and Western governments. ... Duterte does not, as he has put it, “give a sh*t” about human rights, which he sees as a Western obsession that keeps the Philippines from taking the action necessary to clean up the country. He is also hypersensitive to criticism. ... Duterte has an eighty-six-per-cent approval rating in the Philippines, but his break with America has proved controversial. Opinion surveys regularly find the Philippines to be among the most pro-American countries. ... Although he styles himself a revolutionary, Duterte seems uncertain about what kind of order will replace the one he aims to overthrow, or whether he will be around to see it. He often intimates that he may not live to finish his term, whether because of overwork and age—he is seventy-one—or something more sinister. “Will I survive the six years?” he asked recently. “I’d make a prediction: maybe not.”

Rolling Stone - Gridiron Gangster: How a Vigilante Gambler Took Down an Alleged Crime Boss 25min

If in his public life Hanson gave the impression of an ambitious young man who worshipped money and emulated pro athletes, his downfall as a kingpin, to judge from court records, stems from a need to develop a more sinister self-image, building his empire through ruthless intimidation, paid beat downs and baroque death threats. In his criminal shadow life, he even went so far as to adopt an alias befitting a mafia don. … The story of how Robert Cipriani became entangled with Owen Hanson – the story, that is, of how a vigilante gambler unwittingly helped bring down a USC athlete turned accused crime boss – can be appreciated from any number of angles: as a clash of misguided egos, a glimpse into the turbulent psyches of former athletes or as a cautionary tale, quintessentially American, about what can happen to a certain breed of individual bent on chasing the sort of dreams that burn especially bright in places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It begins, however, in Sydney, where back in 2011 Hanson, inhabiting his alter ego as DeLuca, showed up at Cipriani's room at the Four Seasons with $2.5 million in Australian dollars (worth $2.7 million in U.S. dollars at the time) stuffed into suitcases. ... Hanson was a member of Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity that was banned from pledging on campus. They briefly reformed as an underground society known for throwing wild parties called the Stumpos Raiders – so named, according to rumors, because they were raided by an LAPD officer with the last name Stumpos.

Bloomberg - The Preposterous Success Story of America’s Pillow King 13min

As so many great entrepreneurial success stories do, the tale of Mike Lindell begins in a crack house. ... It was when he realized that abusing crack and running a business weren’t compatible in the long term and vowed to get better. ... Lindell is sober and phenomenally successful. He quit everything after one final party on Jan. 16, 2009, and presides over an empire that’s still growing precipitously. Last year he opened a second factory, saw sales rise from $115 million to $280 million, and almost tripled his workforce, to 1,500. To date he’s sold more than 26 million pillows at $45 and up, a huge number of them directly to consumers who call and order by phone after seeing or hearing one of his inescapable TV and radio ads. ... He’s an unusual manager, governing largely on instinct and by making seemingly wild gambles that he swears are divinely inspired. … Throughout his life he’d sought the perfect pillow. He never slept well, and things kept happening to worsen the problem. ... When Lindell imagined his perfect pillow, it was micro-adjustable but would keep its shape all night. He bought every variety of foam and then asked his two sons to sit on the deck of the house with him and tear the foam into different-size pieces that they’d stuff into prototypes for testing. ... When desperate, he counted cards at the blackjack table to pay for materials. He was good at it. Eventually, all the casinos within a day’s drive banned him. ... In six months, he grew from 50 to 500 employees and sold almost $100 million in pillows. ... Lindell was losing $250,000 a week. ... What saved the entrepreneur was FedEx. It hadn’t occurred to him to negotiate shipping rates; he just paid retail with a bunch of different shippers.

Mosaic - How much does it hurt? 18min

Aching, throbbing, searing, excruciating – pain is difficult to describe and impossible to see. So how can doctors measure it? ... During that period of convalescence, as I watched her grimace and clench her teeth and let slip little cries of anguish until a long regimen of combined ibuprofen and codeine finally conquered the pain, several questions came into my head. Chief among them was: Can anyone in the medical profession talk about pain with any authority? From the family doctor to the surgeon, their remarks and suggestions seemed tentative, generalised, unknowing – and potentially dangerous: Was it right for the doctor to tell my wife that her level of pain didn’t sound like appendicitis when the doctor didn’t know whether she had a high or low pain threshold? Should he have advised her to stay in bed and risk her appendix exploding into peritonitis? How could surgeons predict that patients would feel only ‘discomfort’ after such an operation when she felt agony – an agony that was aggravated by fear that the operation had been a failure? ... There seemed to be a chasm of understanding in human discussions of pain. I wanted to find out how the medical profession apprehends pain – the language it uses for something that’s invisible to the naked eye, that can’t be measured except by asking for the sufferer’s subjective description, and that can be treated only by the use of opium derivatives that go back to the Middle Ages.

HCN - Busting the tree ring 17min

Cutting bigleaf maple is generally legal, with the right permits, on private and state land in Washington. In national forests, however, protections on old growth keep the tree strictly off-limits. But in Gifford Pinchot, the law’s arm didn’t reach too far. Malamphy, who’d served as an officer with the U.S. Forest Service since 2000, patrolled the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, a rough triangle formed by Mount Adams, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. His jurisdiction covered 575,000 acres — one cop, responsible for an area almost twice the size of Los Angeles. He cruised the woods alone in a Dodge pickup, inspecting meth paraphernalia dumps, checking hunting licenses, conducting traffic stops. In some ways, the job has changed little since the early 20th century, when Pinchot himself dispatched a ragged band of recruits to help a strange new agency called the Forest Service wrangle illegal loggers and miners. Everyone Malamphy met in the woods carried a gun or a knife, and usually both. Backup was hours away. In 2008, a Forest Service officer was murdered by a tree-trimmer down a remote road on the Olympic Peninsula. Malamphy was a tough customer — he had an offensive lineman’s physique, and hands that could crack walnuts. Still, he kept his Glock .40 close. ... Forest Service documents suggest that tree thievery costs the agency up to $100 million each year.

Rolling Stone - The Brutal Rise of El Mencho 23min

A former Jalisco state policeman who once served three years in a U.S. prison for selling heroin, Mencho heads what many experts call Mexico's fastest-growing, deadliest and, according to some, richest drug cartel – the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG. Although he's basically unknown in the U.S., Mencho has been indicted in a D.C. federal court on charges of drug trafficking, corruption and murder, and currently has a $5 million bounty on his head. Aside from perhaps Rafael Caro Quintero – the aging drug lord still wanted for the 1985 torture and killing of a DEA agent – he is probably America's top cartel target. "It was Chapo," says a DEA source. "Now it's Mencho." ... CJNG have been around for only about half a decade, but with their dizzyingly swift rise, they have already achieved what took Sinaloa a generation. The cartel has established trafficking routes in dozens of countries on six continents and controls territory spanning half of Mexico, including along both coasts and both borders. ... CJNG specialize in methamphetamine, which has higher profit margins than cocaine or heroin. By focusing on lucrative foreign markets in Europe and Asia, the cartel has simultaneously maintained a low profile in the U.S. and built up a massive war chest, which some experts estimate is worth $20 billion.