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Alaska’s Law Enforcement Crisis

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In 2005, the only public safety officer in Russian Mission, a village of 340 people in Alaska, committed suicide. Russian Mission hasn’t had a “permanent, certified police officer” since Simeon Askoak died. As Kyle Hopkins reports at Anchorage Daily News in a joint report effort with ProPublica, residents have been left to fend for themselves in a region with the highest accidental death and homicide rate in Alaska.

He was the only law enforcement officer in Russian Mission, a village of 340 people where he was born and raised. He’d worked as a village public safety officer for the previous 13 years, and while the state of Alaska covered his salary, he lacked equipment, resources and respect.

“It’s degrading me,” Askoak said of the constant search for money to pay for the basic necessities of his job. He described how his city government couldn’t afford utilities for the police station, so he dug into his own pocket to buy heating oil to warm the jailhouse. When his family of seven could no longer afford the bills, the pipes at the jail froze. Soon the water and sewer would be shut off too, he warned.

“We are the first responders,” Askoak said, describing the unique role VPSOs play in the state. They bust drunken drivers, bootleggers and drug dealers. They listen to children tell of being molested, stand between abusers and domestic violence victims, and pull bodies from the rivers. Always unarmed and usually without backup.

Having told his story, Askoak left the meeting and flew home in a rattling bush plane above a tangle of streams and spongy tundra. Two days later, he followed a trail to a lagoon 100 yards from his front door and shot himself in the chest.

He was 50 years old. A boy found his body shrouded in newly fallen snow.

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The Link Between Hurricane Katrina, Emmett Till, Racism, and Climate Change

This is a photo taken of one of the many homes damaged by hurricane Katrina in the lower 9th ward. (Getty Images)

As Mary Heglar remembers the chaos, human suffering, and racist radio coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — which hit the day after the 50th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till — she considers how racism, discrimination, and climate change are inextricably linked. Read her beautiful essay at Guernica.

The other thing often forgotten, but which I can never forget, was that Katrina descended the day after the 50th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. If you are black, and especially if you grew up in the South, the name “Emmett Till” brought immediate, arresting, gruesome images to mind. The name sank to the bottom of your stomach like a bag of rocks—or like the cotton gin fan that weighed down his barely pubescent body to make it surrender to the Tallahatchie River.

I remembered the meteorologists explaining how hurricanes start off the coast of Africa and gather strength as they cross the Atlantic, following almost exactly the route of slave ships.

I wondered if Katrina was really a 14-year old boy named Emmett.

I never thought that I’d see the Mississippi my grandfather had known when he was my age, or even the one my mother saw. The Mississippi that brutally murdered a 14-year old boy for a wolf whistle that we now know never happened. But Katrina revealed things that I could never unsee.

I didn’t know it then, but that vision formed the lens I would bring to the climate movement a decade or so later. I can’t help but see the layers of injustice that led to our current situation. The climate crisis is covered in the fingerprints of slavery and Jim Crow and colonialism and genocide and patriarchy. It’s what happens when large swaths of people are not only systematically “left out,” but forced to be their own gravediggers and pallbearers. I can’t help but see how those same layers complicate and exacerbate the crisis. Who is saved and who is abandoned. Whose bodies litter the road to the “greater good.”

Like my grandfather, New Orleans became more fragile, more tenuous. I saw the things that made them both—the pressure that made the pearl—in a way that I never had before. They became more beautiful, more precious. And I couldn’t unsee it.

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Encrypted Phones, By Criminals, For Criminals

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Murder in broad daylight. Torture. Attempted car bombings. It seems Scottish crime lords James and Barrie Gillespie, known as “the Brothers,” will stop at nothing to preserve their drug trafficking enterprise. At Motherboard, Joseph Cox reports on MPC, the telephone company they built to make their own encrypted phones for the ultimate in untraceable, impenetrable criminal communication.

Martin Kok had already dodged death once that day. As the 49-year-old Dutch convict turned successful crime blogger left a late lunch at an Amsterdam hotel in December 2016, a hooded man ran up to him, aimed a handgun at point blank range at the back of his head, and prepared to pull the trigger.

But either the assassin lost his nerve or the weapon jammed. CCTV footage later revealed the man ran off across the street, nearly getting hit by two cyclists, and disappeared into the city. Kok continued walking, oblivious.

After leaving the hotel, Kok met with an associate named Christopher Hughes, known as “Scotty” for his heavy Scottish accent. Hughes worked for MPC, a company that made special, encrypted phones. MPC marketed these devices to the privacy-conscious, even using black and white portraits of Edward Snowden in advertisements. MPC was sponsoring Butterfly Crime, posting ads and flaunting MPC-branded hats and other memorabilia on the site and its social media. For Kok, it was easy money.

“MPC phone delivers multiple levels of encryption over a closed secure network,” one tweeted advert from the company reads.

Hughes and Kok spent the evening in Boccacio, a sex club on the outskirts of Amsterdam. After their session, and as the puffer-jacket wearing Kok stepped into a Volkswagen Polo, a hooded figure jumped from the dense shrubbery around the parking lot and fired into the Polo, killing Kok. Hughes walked away from the scene, according to CCTV footage previously published by the Dutch police.

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Olympic Destroyer: The Cyberattack on the 2018 Winter Games

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As the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics began, a cyberattack crippled the games’ digital infrastructure, jeopardizing WIFI connections, event tickets, and even the Olympics app, packed full of information on event schedules, maps, and hotel reservations. At Wired, in this excerpt from his book, Sandworm, Andy Greenberg unravels this digital whodunnit. Who was bent on creating chaos at the Olympics to publicly embarrass South Korea? Was it China? North Korea? Or was it Russia?

Over the next two hours, as they attempted to rebuild the domain controllers to re-create a more long-term, secure network, the engineers would find again and again that the servers had been crippled. Some malicious presence in their systems remained, disrupting the machines faster than they could be rebuilt.

A few minutes before midnight, Oh and his administrators reluctantly decided on a desperate measure: They would cut off their entire network from the internet in an attempt to isolate it from the saboteurs who they figured must still have maintained a presence inside. That meant taking down every service—even the Olympics’ public website—while they worked to root out whatever malware infection was tearing apart their machines from within.

For the rest of the night, Oh and his staff worked frantically to rebuild the Olympics’ digital nervous system. By 5 am, a Korean security contractor, AhnLab, had managed to create an antivirus signature that could help Oh’s staff vaccinate the network’s thousands of PCs and servers against the mysterious malware that had infected them, a malicious file that Oh says was named simply winlogon.exe.

At 6:30 am, the Olympics’ administrators reset staffers’ passwords in hopes of locking out whatever means of access the hackers might have stolen. Just before 8 that morning, almost exactly 12 hours after the cyberattack on the Olympics had begun, Oh and his sleepless staffers finished reconstructing their servers from backups and began restarting every service.

Amazingly, it worked. The day’s skating and ski jumping events went off with little more than a few Wi-Fi hiccups. R2-D2-style robots puttered around Olympic venues, vacuuming floors, delivering water bottles, and projecting weather reports. A Boston Globe reporter later called the games “impeccably organized.” One USA Today columnist wrote that “it’s possible no Olympic Games have ever had so many moving pieces all run on time.” Thousands of athletes and millions of spectators remained blissfully unaware that the Olympics’ staff had spent its first night fighting off an invisible enemy that threatened to throw the entire event into chaos.

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The Great Fiber-Optic Fraudster of Alaska

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Why secure actual signatures from partners on multi-million dollar contracts to install fiber-optic cable at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean when you can just forge them? At Bloomberg Businessweek, Austin Carr reports on scam-artist extraordinaire Elizabeth Pierce, the former CEO of Quintillion Subsea Holdings LLC. Pierce created fictitious contracts to fund an Anchorage telecom startup, fleecing investors for a billion dollars before getting caught.

Arctic fiber has been an entrepreneurial fantasy for decades. Soaring demand for broadband helped drive companies, including Google, Facebook, and, to spend tons on high-speed underwater cables that keep customers watching Netflix and YouTube with minimal delay. But many of those lines run in parallel in the Atlantic and Pacific along well-established ocean routes, leaving the world’s internet vulnerable to earthquakes, sabotage, and other disasters both natural and human-made. A trans-Arctic route would help protect against that while offering a more direct path, potentially making internet speeds much faster.

Pierce scribbled her first forged signatures on contracts with the Matanuska Telephone Association, which services south-central Alaskan towns such as Wasilla, in May and June 2015. Although Matanuska CEO Greg Berberich had been reluctant to strike a deal, Pierce assured her investors in New York in an email that Berberich was “nervous but very committed.” The next day she uploaded a contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with what looked like Berberich’s signature to a personal Google Drive account she shared with Murphy, the CIP managing director. Pierce also said she was close to locking in another gigantic sale with the nonprofit Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, whose customers include residents of remote Inupiat communities and the city of Utqiagvik. Soon she sent Murphy a contract with a phony version of the Arctic Slope CEO’s signature, too.

Pierce executed similar deceptions at least eight times, and the fraudulent contracts totaled more than $1 billion, according to court filings. Sometimes she completely fabricated deals; other times she negotiated real contracts, then changed key pages with more favorable terms.

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Why did the FBI Betray Billy Reilly?

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Billy Reilly was a confidential source who worked part-time for the FBI’s counterterrorism unit, paid to use his language and computer skills to infiltrate terror and criminal networks. When Billy went missing during an operation in Russia, the FBI feigned ignorance about his activities and whereabouts. Billy’s parents, William and Theresa Reilly, were undaunted by the agency’s stonewalling and silence. As Brett Forrest reports at The Wall Street Journal, they traveled to Russia themselves to unravel the mystery and bring their son’s remains home.

The FBI’s counterterrorism work grew to preventing attacks. To help, the agency recruited workers like Billy Reilly, part-timers with the right skills to infiltrate terror or criminal networks, either in person or through online chat rooms and social media.

These sources work in a dangerous world, with little training and fewer of the institutional protections afforded full-time FBI agents. They draw no government benefits beyond an occasional paycheck and a pat on the back. Yet they are critical to the FBI’s work to see plots in the fog of international jihad.

But over the course of four years, the Reillys would learn that no one in government wanted to take responsibility for their son’s work or for his safety, and that the families of confidential sources have little recourse when the FBI severs ties with their loved ones.

The Journal posed more than 100 questions to the FBI. Brian P. Hale, a spokesman, responded in an email: “The FBI never directed William Reilly to travel overseas to perform any work for the FBI.”

The Reillys spied the framed photos of FBI agents in jackets and ties as they passed into the waiting room. The woman behind the bulletproof glass asked why they wanted to see Agent Tim Reintjes. It had been a year since they had spoken with him.

“He knows us,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The woman left and in a few moments returned. “He has nothing to say to you,” she said.

“We have things to say to him,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The receptionist waved them off. “He doesn’t want to hear what you have to say,” she said.

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Korean Director Bong Joon-ho on How to Laugh in the Face of Horror

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 07: Director Bong Joon-Ho of 'Parasite' attends The IMDb Studio Presented By Intuit QuickBooks at Toronto 2019 at Bisha Hotel & Residences on September 07, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

In this Vulture profile ahead of the release of the his new film Parasite, Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) talks to E. Alex Jung about the menace of Harvey Weinstein, having full creative control over his films, and how laughter helps release the anxiety of living in a modern dystopia.

Bong’s work reflects anxieties he feels every day — about the climate crisis, the widening income gap. “My films generally seem to have three components: fear, anxiety, and a kekeke sense of humor,” he says, using the Korean equivalent of “ha-ha.” “Humor comes from anxiety, too,” he adds. “At least when we laugh, there’s a feeling that we’re overcoming some kind of horror.” In his view, our world is already a dystopia, and all tragedy and comedy flows from this fact.

Parasite, in particular, hits a nerve, tapping into the persistent feeling that we are on the brink of social collapse. “The true horror and fear of Parasite isn’t just about how the present-day situation is bad but that it will only continue to get worse,” he says. “That’s my own fear in my life. I’m 50 now, so I’m going to die in about 30 years. My son is 23 now. When he reaches middle age, after I die, will it get better? I don’t know. I’m not so hopeful. Still, we have to try to live happily. We can’t cry every day.” (He’s surprisingly sanguine about all of this.)

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Greenland’s Deepening Ecological Grief

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With glacial ice retreating and formerly reliable sea ice becoming more and more treacherous for winter hunting and social trips, the people of Greenland understand climate change first hand. As Dan McDougall reports for The Guardian, a study of 2% of Greenland’s population by the University of Copenhagen and the Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Economic Research reveals that Greenlanders are experiencing greater anxiety and a special sort of ecological grief as direct results of climate change eroding their traditional ways of life.

“There is no question Arctic people are now showing symptoms of anxiety, ‘ecological grief’ and even post-traumatic stress related to the effects of climate change. The impact of climate change on mental health is a looming public health crisis. So if a Greenland-wide survey points to anxieties around food security and way of life it’s another red line between climate change and mental health,” says Howard. “We are searching for terms to capture this deep feeling of pain in Arctic nations – words like eco-anxiety or ecological grief – but for me, something called ‘solastalgia’ perfectly sums up how people living on the frontline of climate change feel. It was coined by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It is also related to an Inuit word that refers to a friend behaving in an unfamiliar way. It means feeling homesick when you are home. Many of these islanders are in mourning for a disappearing way of life.”

In Ilulissat, Claus Rassmussen is stirring a foul brew of oily blood and fish. “Seal stew,” the sled-dog hunter says. Strung out in a row, his family carry buckets of the murky soup to feed to the dogs – a nightly ritual for Rassmussen and his five daughters.

Over the past two decades, Greenland’s sled dog population has halved to around 15,000 with the numbers still falling. Greenland’s unique sled dog culture and the specialised training technology and knowledge is in danger of disappearing.

An interview with Rassmussen proves more emotional than anticipated. In his modest home, an old wooden cottage among social housing blocks, his face is contorted. Instead of the Greenlandic way – long silences and monosyllabic answers – there comes an outpouring.

There are six of us crouched in the room, including three of his daughters, as he talks about the decision to kill his beloved dogs because he could no longer afford to feed them. As he talks about shooting one, a dog given the name “my son” in the local language, the teenagers burst into tears – a shocking explosion of grief in a culture where emotion is rarely shown. In Inuit culture, strength, silence, and self-sufficiency are admired traits.

“I had a blood clot last year and couldn’t hunt,” says Rassmussen. “Here in Ilulissat we have the ice fjord and, for now, it’s strong enough to hold us, but I was unable to walk for nine months. The trouble was nobody wanted my dogs so I had to kill eight of 13.

“I killed my favourites. To spare them possible cruelty. That was my decision. The others were given away to people I knew. They weren’t dog people, but were interested in having animals – but perhaps they weren’t looked after in the way they should’ve been. I managed to take some back and since then I have been building up a new dog team.”

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The Symbiotics of Harvesting Eider Down

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In an adaptation from his forthcoming book, Harvest: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects at The Guardian, Edward Posnett reports on the give-and-take relationship eider ducks have with human harvesters in Iceland. When eider ducks nest, they line their homes with precious down to protect and warm their young. During nesting season, Harvesters keep watch against predators, collecting the down only after the ducks and their young have left.

In a cafe in Ísafjörður, the pastor explained how he harvests eiderdown. As part of his parish duties, he runs a small farm, a throwback to earlier times when pastors in remote areas would survive off the land. Every June, he said, about 500 ducks arrive from the sea and waddle to his farm. Eiders do not naturally nest in such large colonies, but will congregate close to human settlements to seek shelter and protection. The ducks nest anywhere: in tyres, doorways and even houses. “I always take a lot of flags with me and I put a flag beside each nest so I will be able to find it again. Because they are incredibly camouflaged, these ducks. You can almost step on them,” he said.

At night, the pastor guards the flock of eiders from their predators: seagulls, foxes and mink. “I was quite lucky in that I got interested in guns when I was just a little over 20,” he said. “It was before I started studying theology.” If he were to fall asleep, a fox would have a feast of sitting ducks. “It’s more than a financial loss, it’s also like they are depending on me. So I don’t want to let them down. I used to be a night watchman, so I have a little bit of experience staying awake.”

In the middle ages, pelicans were thought to pierce their own breast to draw blood to feed their young. The mythical act was known as vulning, a Christ-like act of self-sacrifice. On the pastor’s land, the eider, too, makes herself vulnerable for her offspring, although it is down, not blood, that she draws from her breast. From this down she builds a nest for her eggs; her own bare skin, freshly revealed, covers them with warmth. She sits on her eggs for some 28 days, during which she may lose a third of her body weight; some mothers starve to death.

Later, as we made our way back to the church, the pastor let out a cry and pointed to a nest that he had missed during the previous gathering. Covered in moss, grass and broken eggs, it looked like a furry grey omelette or pancake. He wedged his stick under the down, easing it gently from the grass, and picked it up. Laden with seaweed, twigs and dirt, it reminded me of the contents of a vacuum cleaner, half fluff, half debris. Unlike the clean down my wife had held, it had a pungent, mouldy aroma, suggestive of the sitting duck from which it came. Looking closely, I saw the remains of several eggs caught up in the down. Rendered rubbery by rainfall, their fragments were proof of what the pastor had said; he always allowed the ducklings to hatch before collecting their bedding. “Take it as a gift,” he said.

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Companion Fair?

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In 1987, Steven Rothstein bought a pass that allowed him to fly first class on American Airlines for life for $250,000. As his daughter Caroline Rothstein recounts at Narratively, until American unceremoniously cancelled it, the pass not only allowed Steven to see the world, it bought him a place to grieve the death of his only son Josh, protected by the vacant seat he’d buy with his companion fare that provided the space he needed to cry amid the anonymity of the first class cabin.

In September 1987, five months after my brother, Josh, was born, and three months after we moved from downtown Chicago into the north suburbs, Dad bought his unlimited lifetime AAirpass. The cost was $250,000, which the agreement stated was based on his age. My father was 37 years and four days old when he dated the check.

Two years later, which was one year before my younger sister, Natalie, was born, he added a companion feature to his AAirpass, allowing him to bring another person along on any flight. The cost was $150,000, based on his being 39 years old. This changed the game, not only for him, but our entire family.

I understood the weight and privilege as a kid. I understood — we all did — that the AAirpass meant my father could travel and do business in unprecedented ways, and it allowed our entire family to travel in ways few people on earth could. We got the privileges, all of them, all of us.

As I get on the subway, he writes me an email detailing how when he purchased the companion feature “it was 100 percent contemplated that [he] would buy a seat for nobody to keep it empty.” They gave him examples of empty seats for legal documents, an extra carry-on, or even musical instruments.

“The example given to me was that Yo-Yo Ma, with whom I flew more than twice and whom I met in several hotel lobbies, flew with his [cello] in the next seat. Under those terms I bought the extra seat.” He thought it would be Mom, my siblings, me, Uncle Shelly, a business associate, or someone he “met at the airport. Anyone I wanted. Anyone. Documents.”

He goes on, “After they told me not to buy an empty seat they knew that I was in a huge depression in the actual MEDICAL SENSE. IT WAS A SERIOUS DEPRESSION. I was incoherent, crying several times daily, drinking liquor which I never did before and if I got in a seat I didn’t want to explain why I was crying to anyone.” So he wanted it empty. He wanted to be alone, just as had always been his booking practice on many airlines, even well before the AAirpass days. He liked his space. He liked access to bringing extra carry-on bags. He liked some privacy. The airplane was his home. It’s where he lived. It’s where he got to do work, or catch up on sleep, or regenerate. Then, once Josh died, it’s where he grieved. He was at home.

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