Meet the Airmen Who Watch Over America's Nukes

The Air Force monitors the world’s most powerful weapons with equipment made during the Space Age, not the Information Age. But these old launch systems are holding up better than most people think. “To build something that has withstood the test of time and continues to be a marvelous engineering system is just nothing short of genius,” Klotz says. “The 1960s designers really did think this through very carefully and designed in a lot of redundancy.”

It takes thousands of dedicated airmen at three Air Force bases—Malmstrom, F.E. Warren in Wyoming and Minot in North Dakota—to keep the nation’s ICBM silos operational. Since 2000, the Pentagon has spent more than $7 billion on ICBM renovations. None of the money went to launch facilities; the Air Force instead amped up base security, improved command and control cryptography, updated missile guidance systems and replaced rocket fuel. (The same warheads, deployed in 1979, sit in the ICBMs’ noses, but this February the National Nuclear Security Administration began studying a replacement, to be produced in 2021.) Klotz says the Air Force has upgraded “every inch” of the Minuteman III missile since replacing its predecessors in the 1970s.

The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon

More than 2 million troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Tens of thousands have returned with a bedeviling mix of psychological and cognitive problems. For decades, doctors have recognized that soldiers can suffer lasting wounds from the sheer terror of combat, a condition referred to today as post-traumatic stress disorder. They also have come to know that blows to the head from roadside bombs — the signature weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan — can result in mild traumatic injuries to the brain, or concussions, that can leave soldiers unable to remember, to follow orders, to think normally.

Now it is becoming clear that soldiers like Savelkoul are coming home afflicted with both conditions, in numbers never seen before. Studies have estimated that about 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury while deployed. Of those, anywhere between 5 percent to nearly 50 percent may suffer both PTSD and lingering problems from traumatic brain injuries. It is an epidemic so new that doctors aren’t even sure what to call it, let alone how best to diagnose and treat it.

Cannibals Seeking Same: A Visit To The Online World Of Flesh-Eaters

This is what happened: A little over ten years ago, on March 9, 2001, 39-year-old Meiwes, a computer technician living in the German village of Wüstefeld, brought home, had sex with and killed 44-year-old Brandes, a Berlin man who lived about 250 miles away. Meiwes then ate 44 pounds of his flesh over a period of ten months. While that may sound like murder, there’s something else that should be mentioned: Brandes wanted it all to happen.

Meiwes and Brandes first communicated in February 2001, when the soon-to-be cannibal responded to Brandes’ online ad looking for someone to eat him alive—“no slaughter, but eating.” Soon they were sending daily emails to one another describing explicitly what would happen when they met. Brandes, writing as “Cator,” wrote to Meiwes, a.k.a. “Antrophagus,” on Feb. 5, saying, “I hope you’re really serious about it, because I really want it and have already met enough cyber-cannibals.”

Schemes of My Father

My father didn’t let on that anything was amiss. I knew nothing about the real estate crash, of course, or that savings and loans like my father’s were going bankrupt all over the country, the calamitous tide of fraud and reckless lending that would become the S&L crisis. I didn’t know that it would culminate in the failure of 1,043 S&L’s or cost taxpayers over $120 billion to repair the damage. In Baltimore, at least, my dad had taken me to his office occasionally, a breathtakingly messy place that smelled like fast food and B.O. and Xerox ink, the floor carpeted with documents I wasn’t allowed to step on. Strangely, though, after we moved, he never once brought me to his work. To this day, my own mother can’t tell me a thing about what he was doing those years in California. As far as I was concerned, the secrecy added to his glamour. But even before more things began to disappear—the pool table and tennis lessons and Ferrari sedan he kept in the garage—the truth of my father’s failure came out in subtler ways.

Rules of Misbehavior

It’s not every day that a sitting president takes cues from a sex columnist who once licked Gary Bauer’s doorknob. But for all his prowess as an advice writer and viral activist, Savage’s most lasting influence on American culture may ultimately register in a deeper and more enduringly significant realm: ethics. While he built his following by talking without fear or euphemism about the technical aspects of intimate life, Savage has moved inexorably over the years toward focusing on the moral ones. In so doing, he has carved a unique place for himself in the culture’s discourse about sex. For years, there have been moralizing voices on the right standing athwart the rush of sexual freedoms yelling “Stop,” and there have been others whose policy is to remain nonjudgmental toward sex as a form of expression. Savage yields to no one in his sexual libertarianism, but he has not been content to relegate the ideas of right and wrong to cultural conservatives. Wading deep into the free-fire zone of modern sexuality, he has codified a remarkably systematic—and influential—set of ethics where traditional norms have fallen away. The question is, into what kind of world do his ethics lead us?

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself To See

Bats, of course, use echolocation. Beluga whales too. Dolphins. And Daniel Kish. He is so accomplished at echolocation that he’s able to pedal his mountain bike through streets heavy with traffic and on precipitous dirt trails. He climbs trees. He camps out, by himself, deep in the wilderness. He’s lived for weeks at a time in a tiny cabin a two-mile hike from the nearest road. He travels around the globe. He’s a skilled cook, an avid swimmer, a fluid dance partner. Essentially, though in a way that is unfamiliar to nearly any other human being, Kish can see.

This is not enough for him. Kish is seeking — despite a lack of support from every mainstream blind organization in America — nothing less than a profound reordering of the way the world views blind people, and the way blind people view the world. He’s tired of being told that the blind are best served by staying close to home, sticking only to memorized routes, and depending on the unreliable benevolence of the sighted to do anything beyond the most routine of tasks.

1 million workers. 90 million iPhones. 17 suicides. Who’s to Blame?

My tour guides don’t mention the nets until I do. Not to avoid the topic, I don’t think—the suicides are the reason I am at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, a bustling industrial city in southern China—but simply because they are so prevalent. Foxconn, the single largest private employer in mainland China, manufactures many of the products—motherboards, camera components, MP3 players—that make up the world’s $150 billion consumer-electronics industry. Foxconn’s output accounts for nearly 40 percent of that revenue. Altogether, the company employs about a million people, nearly half of whom work at the 20-year-old Shenzhen plant. But until two summers ago, most Americans had never heard of Foxconn.

That all changed with the suicides. There had been a few since 2007. Then a spate of nine between March and May 2010—all jumpers. There were also suicides at other Foxconn plants in China. Although the company disputes some cases, evidence gathered from news reports and other sources indicates that 17 Foxconn workers have killed themselves in the past half decade. What had seemed to be a series of isolated incidents was becoming an appalling trend. When one jumper left a note explaining that he committed suicide to provide for his family, the program of remuneration for the families of jumpers was canceled. Some saw the Foxconn suicides as a damning consequence of our global hunger for low-cost electronics. Reports from inside the factories warned of “sweatshop” conditions; old allegations of forced overtime burbled back to life. Foxconn and its partners—notably Apple—found themselves defending factory conditions while struggling to explain the deaths. “Suicides in China Prompt Damage Control,” blared The New York Times.

The Stutterer

It’s hard to describe the feeling of stuttering to anyone who has always spoken smoothly. It is not a nervous impulse. It is not, despite appearances, a spastic feeling. Stuttering starts in the voice box and the upper lungs with something like a pressure clench, the sensation of some valves closing against a flow, a trap tripping its release at the wrong moment. (John Updike described it11 as the feeling of “a kind of windowpane suddenly inserted in front of my face while I was talking, or of an obdurate barrier thrust into my throat.”) The clench occurs suddenly, irreversibly—in the final instant before beginning a sentence, in the middle of a phrase—making the experience of being a stutterer somewhat like the chronic knowledge that your clothes may explode off your body any moment.

The Radical

By day, he studied potential treatments for gastrointestinal cancer — work that invariably required the use of animal models. By night, he crusaded against such animal research, sabotaging companies with links to it. Within a month, Harris would be caught vandalizing another company. Ultimately, he would become the first person in the United Kingdom to be convicted under a law intended to crack down on activist extremism.

The judge overseeing the case lamented a career destroyed and a scientist lost. “It may well be that your future inability to continue your research into gastrointestinal cancer will be a great loss to those who suffer that disease,” said Judge Ian Alexander when he sentenced Harris to three years in prison. Harris was released within a year, and has now agreed to speak to Nature about what drove him to commit his crimes.

The New Virology

In the physical world, they have nothing in common. Stuxnet is computer code, bits of binary electronic data. The swine flu virus is a biological organism, a unique remix of genes from older influenza viruses. But they share one fundamental characteristic: They spread themselves and attack before their targets know what is happening. And in that way, they offer a glimpse of a rapidly evolving class of dangerous threats that former U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Danzig once described as instruments of “nonexplosive warfare.”

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