Graeme Wood

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Dutch ways of seeing

I reviewed Laura Snyder’s new book, Eye of the Beholder, in the Spring American Scholar (subscription required).

Filed under: American Scholar, ,

The African country where compasses go haywire

UNTIL THE LAST YEAR, when the Central African Republic’s civil war became a humanitarian crisis too dire to ignore, most Americans thought little about the country at all. It has a low global profile in part because it is exceedingly poor, with four out of five people living on less than $2 a day. It has some natural resources, but because it is landlocked by other troubled countries—Chad, Sudan, Congo, and Cameroon—even if a lull in the war allowed it to extract those from the ground, it would still face formidable problems in exporting them.

But for one group, the Central African Republic is anything but ignorable, and in fact is home to an enduring scientific mystery. Geophysicists who map the earth’s magnetic fields have identified a disturbance in the earth’s natural magnetic fields within the Republic. They still have few clues about what causes it, but at least some think it could be key to understanding one of the most dramatic events in the history of the planet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Boston Globe, , ,

Atomic Holiday

I’ve always wanted to visit Mercury, Nevada, site of numerous huge holes in the ground from when the US government blew up nuclear weapons there. Here I report from the proving grounds for The Atlantic.

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

Brain Power

Doctor solves mystery of ‘silent killers’ linked to mad cow disease

Originally appeared in The Daily.

A staple of kung fu movies is the “silent killer” punch that feels like a tap when delivered but that minutes, hours or years later causes the victim to keel over, stone dead. Biology has many such silent killers, such as cancer and HIV, but none is stealthier or more insidious than the family of diseases uncovered by American neurologist Stanley Prusiner in 1982. And, he found, to deal a death blow, these diseases needed nothing more exotic than a plain old delicious steak. Read the rest of this entry »

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Far-Future Shock

In the Boston Globe Ideas section, I consider what will happen to the human species a billion or more years from now.

Filed under: Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, ,

Tragedy at a Nuclear “Playground”

Originally appeared in The Daily.

The Idaho Falls meltdown killed three, but American nuclear experiments continued

 

According to the United Nations, the plume of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors has already started hitting the United States, starting with Alaska and reaching California this weekend. The doses of radiation will be minute, scientists say — ranging from completely undetectable to detectable but harmless, similar to the amount one gets from eating a few healthy supermarket bananas. In other words, when it comes to radiation exposure, the American West has had worse. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Daily, , ,

The Olfactory Menace

A brief history of Smell-o-Vision.

Originally appeared in The Daily.

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The Life and Death of Smell-o-Vision

Originally appeared in The Daily.

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