A Russian dissident is murdered with radioactive poison:
The doctors treated Litvinenko with a heavy dose of antibiotics. And yet his body continued to break down. Three days after admission, he was being fed through a tube. His hair was falling out, and Marina gathered it in little bundles from his pillow and pajamas. As the medics tested Litvinenko for AIDS and hepatitis, he kept telling them: I’ve been poisoned. On November 11th, ten days after he fell ill, he gave an interview to the BBC Russian Service saying he’d suffered “a serious poisoning”, and implying that it had been carried out by an Italian associate, Mario Scaramella, his lunch companion at the sushi bar that Wednesday.
The next morning, further medical reports arrived. The doctors had run an array of tests. One was for radiation exposure: it came back negative. Instead they found something more complex — and more surprising. Some kind of exotic chemistry, some strange poison, was in his blood. Immediate attempts to identify it left them baffled.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9072 words)
Stephanie Lee, a 36-year-old Iraq War widow with two children is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and told she has just a few years to live. A group of pioneering cancer specialists at the Icahn Institute at Mount Sinai use genetic data to figure out alternative treatments to "the standard of care" that could give her her life back:
His name was Ross Cagan. He did not work for Schadt; he worked as a professor at Sinai. But they met every week, and after Schadt called on October 1 to tell Cagan about Stephanie Lee, he listened to Cagan's idea for her. A month earlier, Cagan had started doing something that he said "had never been done before." He started creating "personalized flies" for cancer patients. He took the mutations that scientists like Schadt had revealed and loaded them into flies, essentially giving the flies the same cancer that the patient had. Then he treated them. "Why a fly? You can do this in a fly. You can capture the complexities of the tumor."
A day after Cagan spoke with Schadt, Stephanie became the fifth person in the world to have a fly built in her image—or, rather, in the image of her cancer. In an ideal world, Cagan would have created as complex a creature as possible, burdening the fly with at least ten mutations. He gave Stephanie's fly three, because "Stephanie is on the shorter course. We're making the fly as complex as possible given her time." By October 11, however, Cagan already had "one possible drug suggestion for her"—or one possible combination of drugs, since he always tests at least two at a time. "In this center, the FDA will not allow us to put a novel drug in patient. To get a novel drug into a patient, we have to do a novel combination of [known] drugs. We have to use novel drug combinations that people have never seen before."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 20, 2013
LENGTH: 60 minutes (15090 words)
Andrew Romano sets out to debunk Malcolm Gladwell's argument in Outliers that the Beatles made their success through the "10,000-hour rule"—in this case, spending thousands of hours of playing in Hamburg:
But this isn’t even the real problem with Gladwell’s theory. The real problem is that while the Beatles’ marathon stints in Hamburg did transform them as a band—they were so vibrant, so tight, and so unrecognizable when they returned from their first campaign that the crowds in Liverpool mistook them for a blistering new German combo—the “complex task” they had now “mastered” was not the same task that would eventually earn them world domination.
Being able to mach schau in a small club was a pivotal part of the Beatles development: it won them a fanatical following in Liverpool, which in turn drove their debut single “Love Me Do” up the charts even when the suits in London refused to promote it, and it was also the reason the Fabs were able record an LP as a thrilling as Please Please Me in a single ten-hour workday. But beyond that, Gladwell is wrong. The Beatles’ “excellence at performing” is not “what it took” for them to become the greatest rock band of all time. In fact, the Beatles were stuck in a rut even after they returned from Hamburg in 1961—and their live expertise was not enough to get them out of it.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 11, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3502 words)
A look at mob boss "Whitey" Bulger's last days while living in an apartment complex in Los Angeles:
Catalina Schlank, who is 90, has lived at the Princess Eugenia since moving there in 1974, a decade after arriving from Argentina. To her the pair had a storybook quality. “They were nice neighbors and courteous with me,” says Schlank. “They were elegant. You could just picture them as a young couple.” She remembers how Greig would place tenants’ mail on their doorsteps, since the letter carrier usually dumped onto the floor whatever didn’t fit into the tiny boxes. Schlank still has some of the notes Greig gave her, written in tall, clear cursive letters, to express appreciation for the occasional pieces of fruit or a pocketbook the older woman had given her. “Many thanks for the American Hero stationery.” “Hope you have a great month. (March already!)” Bulger had written thank-yous as well. Schlank found him nothing but a courtly, caring figure of a man who insisted on carrying her luggage should he see her with a suitcase and who once, without warning or explanation, came over and enthusiastically hugged her.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5621 words)
A look back, and ahead, at how the Internet is evolving to capture our data—and what organizations will do with it next:
"There is no doubt that the Internet—that undistinguished complex of wires and switches—has changed how we think and what we value and how we relate to one another, as it has made the world simultaneously smaller and wider. Online connectivity has spread throughout the world, bringing that world closer together, and with it the promise, if not to level the playing field between rich and poor, corporations and individuals, then to make it less uneven. There is so much that has been good—which is to say useful, entertaining, inspiring, informative, lucrative, fun—about the evolution of the World Wide Web that questions about equity and inequality may seem to be beside the point."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4244 words)
More than 25,000 North Korean defectors have escaped to South Korea to build new lives for themselves, but transitioning to a foreign way of living isn't always so easy:
"Defectors arriving in South Korea are debriefed intensively by security agents before going to the Hanawon rehabilitation complex, where they are given training in the skills considered necessary to lead a normal life in the South. Adapting can still be a struggle: many North Korean defectors are dumbfounded by the slang they encounter in the South, with its plethora of loanwords from English, while their distinctive accent instantly marks them out from the rest of the population. They are also confronted by a maze of unfamiliar technology; one charity worker tells of the humiliation of a middle-aged female defector who stood prodding helplessly at an automated teller machine while those waiting behind her sniggered impatiently."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3235 words)
In 1862, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII fled a sex scandal and took a trip to the Middle East. At the last minute, he was joined by a photographer named Francis Bedford, who proceeded to capture some of the earliest images of the Egyptian ruins. His work is featured in the new book Cairo to Constantinople
"The royal journey’s motive, too, may have been more complex than suggested. Ostensibly it was a private, informal expedition. It was urged by Queen Victoria for her son’s education (pretty much a lost cause, according to his guardian) and she ordered that the Prince go incognito, with no ceremonial encounters. But the itinerary seems to have been planned above all by the Prince Consort Albert, as a diplomatic initiation for the young man and to foster goodwill."
PUBLISHED: July 6, 2013
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1646 words)
Fifty years ago, a microbiologist named Leonard Hayflick developed a strain of cells named WI-38 from the lungs of an aborted fetus. The strain of cells have been used to produce life-savings vaccines worldwide, but have also had a history riddled with controversy:
"The cells have played 'a very critical role in studying cellular senescence,' adds Rugang Zhang, who works in this field at the Wistar Institute. That's because they so reliably stop replicating after about 50 divisions and because scientists have, over time, built up a wealth of knowledge about the reasons why. In the 1990s, for instance, WI-38 was used to discover the most widely used marker of cellular senescence10. More recently, Zhang's team used the cells to discover a pathway by which the complex of DNA and proteins known as chromatin controls cell proliferation11.
"But the controversies surrounding the cells have rumbled on. Back in July 1973, Hayflick received a call at home from a senior medical officer at NASA. Skylab 3 had taken off several hours earlier from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bound for the Space Station. The NASA physician was contending with anti-abortion demonstrators who were protesting about the presence aboard of WI-38 cells, which were going to be used to detect the effects of zero-gravity on cell growth and structure. Once Hayflick explained that the abortion from which the cells were derived had occurred legally in Sweden, the physician said that he would defuse the situation — but concerns among anti-abortionists about WI-38 have lasted to this day."
PUBLISHED: June 28, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4468 words)
How Time Warner Cable's NY1 became an iconic news channel in New York City:
Roma Torre: I would have been in the office at nine o' clock because that's when I arrive. But because it was a primary election day, and I was covering politics at the time, they told me to come in at two o'clock on September 11th. I was at home, and my daughter had just started kindergarten. My husband ran in and said, 'Turn to CNN!' I heard the woman who replaced me at the anchor desk speaking on CNN and that's because CNN's antenna was knocked out because they were on top of the World Trade Center. NY1's was on top of the Empire State Building. For a while, we were the only game in town. CNN was putting us on their air because they had no means of transmission. I got dressed so fast and jumped in the car and started driving, which was kind of foolish because I didn't have a game plan. Of course, from Jersey, all roads were closed getting into the city. I did a u-turn in Route 46 and decided to go North and went to Tarrytown and parked the car because I heard on the radio that Metro North was running. When I got to Grand Central Terminal, I miraculously found a cab and got one block until firefighters stopped the cab to ask if he could please let them in to take reinforcements to the tower. I was like, 'Of course!' So I walked to the west side. I really didn't get into the office until about seven or eight o' clock that night and I set out from my house at 10 a.m.
PUBLISHED: May 23, 2013
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10896 words)