Graeme Wood

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Need a Lawyer, Stat

Sub-Saharan Africa has it bad. The Lancet notes that it “carries 25% of the world’s disease burden yet has only 3% of the world’s health workers.” The doctors tend not to get paid on time, and they often have to fight the world’s ghastliest diseases with the medical equivalent of bows and arrows. A tropical disease specialist in London once advised his patient to save airfare: rather than visit the Congo, he said, just open your mouth and leap into a cesspool. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, , ,

Hagatna, Mayday

Over a billion dollars, and all that’s left is a pit of ashes.  Defense appropriations is tricky, and there are hidden costs to funding — or not funding — programs.  Will the B-2 prove indispensable in a war with Iran?  Is the US edge over its competitors in an air war too slim to permit slacking off in our quest for the most fearsome, and fearsomely expensive, plane the world has ever seen?
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Filed under: Atlantic Monthly

Unencrypted?

Data remain safe, most of the time.  The attacker needs access to the computer minutes after the user has walked away, and if he arrives later the data stay locked.  If the user guards the computer jealously, by clutching it close to the chest, or, as Atlantic employees with company-issued laptops are required to do, entrusting it during nights and weekends to a Gurkha security team, then even the geeks of Princeton can’t get in. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly,

Elsie’s Revenge

Workers at the Westland-Hallmark beef factory poked very sick cows, prodding them into the abattoirs with with the prongs of forklifts.  What makes a cow non-ambulatory?  Mad cow disease, for one thing.  The dreaded kuru relative attacks the central nervous system and leads to immobility and a terrible demise.
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Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, , , ,

Why We Fight

The New York Sun

Review of Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory (Princeton University Press).

Violence is rarely what we expect it to be. “It was so new and senseless that we felt no pain, neither in body nor in spirit,” Primo Levi wrote of his first experience of Nazi brutality. “Only a profound amazement.”

Sociologist and amateur martial artist Randall Collins starts his wonderful, rambling book, “Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory” (Princeton University Press, 584 pages, $45), by pointing out that violence baffles us, and that it rarely resembles our imaginations, or what we see in films. Between individuals, combat often looks goofy and undignified, more slappy flailing than solid punches. For group violence, the saloon brawls in Westerns have taught us to expect bystanders to join in and smash chairs over each other’s backs; but in real life, bar patrons tend to back off from the melee, staring inertly.

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Filed under: New York Sun, ,

Mengele in Paraguay

The Smart Set

On the jungle trail of the Nazi doctor.

Eugene, a Belgian computer programmer, has retired to a cottage in southern Paraguay, and the pride of his golden years is his view. From his stone patio, he sees forested hills, the fringes of yerba mate plantations, and, in the distance, the crumbling ruins of a Jesuit settlement two centuries old. “Like a picture,” he says, and I nod to agree, even though my mind is not on the beautiful vista, but on the dark figure who once shared it.

The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele cheated justice for decades by hiding out in South America, sometimes in these very hills. Had he stayed in Germany he would almost certainly have died by the noose. Jews and Gypsies at Auschwitz called him “the Angel of Death”: He killed men and women for the dubious medical value of dissecting them, and for pleasure. He injected dyes into children’s eyes to see if he could change their color. When he ran out of Jews, he sent memos asking for more, and he got them. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Smart Set, , , ,

Let’s Harvest the Organs of Death-Row Inmates

GOOD magazine, issue 009 (“All You Can Eat”)

An unfortunate side effect of hanging or poisoning a man is that his organs go sour before they can be transplanted. Death-row inmates have repeatedly asked to donate their organs, but their requests are always denied. The simple reason is that execution generally ruins organs before they can be harvested. By the time you cut someone down from the gallows or pronounce the injection lethal, the heart and lungs will have thumped and puffed for the last time. Soon after, the kidneys start rotting, and before long nothing is useful but the corneas. Even with beheading— still practiced in Saudi Arabia—the heart and lungs probably wouldn’t make it, says Douglas Hanto, chief transplant surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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Filed under: GOOD, , ,

6 Baby Names You Probably Shouldn’t Give Your Kid

Mental Floss, February 2008

Forget Apple and Pilot Inspektor. If you really want to give your kid a hard time growing up, just pick from the following list.

1. BATMAN.

Venezuelans are among the world’s most creative namers. In fact, according to their own government, they’re too creative. In September 2007, after hearing about babies named Superman and Batman, state authorities urged parents to pick their names from an approved list of 100 common Spanish monikers. Those conventional names (such as Juanita and Miguel) quickly acquired a patrician ring, ironically giving rise to more novel names, like Hochiminh (after the Vietnamese guerilla) and Eisenhower (after the president). There are also at least 60 Venezuelans with the first name Hitler.

2. ECLIPSE GLASSES.

In June 2001, a total solar eclipse was about to cross southern Africa. To prepare, the Zimbabwean and Zambian media began a massive astronomy education campaign focused on warning people not to stare at the Sun. Apparently, the campaign worked. The locals took a real liking to the vocabulary, and today, the birth registries are filled with names like Eclipse Glasses Banda, Totality Zhou, and Annular Mchombo.

3. NAAKTGEBOREN.

When Napoleon seized the Netherlands in 1810, he demanded that all Dutchmen take last names, just as the French had done decades prior. Problem was, the Dutch had lived full and happy lives with single names, so they took absurd surnames in a show of spirited defiance. These included Naaktgeboren (born naked), Spring int Veld (jump in the field), and Piest (pisses). Sadly for their descendants, Napoleon’s last-name trend stuck, and all of these remain perfectly normal Dutch names today.

4. VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY.

a.va.jpg The people of Iceland take their names very seriously. The country permits no one—not even immigrants—to take or keep foreign surnames. So what happened when esteemed Russian maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy asked to become an Icelandic citizen? Well, the government finally decided to make an exception. Vladimir Ashkenazy is now on the short list of approved Icelandic names.

5. YAZID.

Imam Husayn ibn Ali is one of the holiest figures in the Shi’ite Muslim faith. In the 7th century CE, he lost his head on the orders of the Sunni caliph, Yazid, and the decapitation initiated the biggest schism in Islamic history. While the name Yazid remains common among Sunnis, it is disdained throughout the Shi’a world. The stigma attached to it is equivalent to naming one’s son Stalin or Hitler. Speaking of which…

6. ADOLF.

Memories of death camps and fascism have kept parents from christening their kids Adolf for quite some time. But one unlucky youngster acquired the name in 1949. He was the son of William Patrick Hitler—the dictator’s nephew, who moved to America in the 1930s to fight against his uncle. It isn’t clear why William preserved the name, but his four sons (including Alexander Adolf Hitler, now 57) made a pact to never have children in an effort to stunt der Fuehrer’s family tree at its branches.

Filed under: Mental Floss

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