MAGAZINE: IN FOCUS

 

The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth, by Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR

The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and 60 percent are preventable. The death of Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal nurse, in the hospital where she worked illustrates a profound disparity: the health care system focuses on babies but often ignores their mothers.

What does it mean to be human? by Gaia Vince

Reconstruction of a Homo neanderthalensis man and woman, in the Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, Germany. Photo credit: UNiesert - Sariling gawa/WikipediaBy understanding more about our cousins, the prehistoric Neanderthal peoples, we can learn about who we are as a species today. Our ancestors’ experiences shaped us, and they may still hold answers to some of our current health problems, from diabetes to depression.

Have I Inherited the Trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution? by Shayla Love

Shayla Love’s mother and grandparents lived through China’s Cultural Revolution – now, in a tale that traces its lineage from Chairman Mao’s brutality to scientific research on epigentics, she seeks to know the biological traces of their trauma she carries within her today.

Healing the Divide: Israelis help ill Palestinians, by Shaul Adar

Every day, hundreds of Israeli volunteers drive ill Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to hospitals in Israel. Shaul Adar joins them on the road and learns why they see their neighbourly help as a step on the journey to peaceful coexistence.

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible. The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016New York’s Colour Line, Between Black and Blue, by Ruth Hopkins  Magazine 

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible.
The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Ruth Hopkins reports from New York

A Father’s War, A Son’s Toxic Inheritance. By Stephen M. Katz for ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot, as told to Mike Hixenbaugh and Charles Ornstein  Magazine

The package from my father delivered a warning: A handwritten note attached to a stack of Veterans Affairs medical records. During the war, before I was born, Al had sprayed Agent Orange along riverbanks in Vietnam, often soaking his uniform in the herbicide. The exposure, he wrote, had caused him serious health problems, including a neurological disorder, and he believed it also might have harmed me. My mind raced as I thought of my own troubled medical history.

Gunfight in Guatemala: and insider’s tale of Latin America corruption. By Sebastian Rotella

Big or small, leftist or rightist, rich or poor, with only a few exceptions, Latin American nations struggle with a crime problem that threatens political stability and security; many are in a struggle between the rule of man and the rule of law. This is one man’s story in the large, long-running war.

Marquita Smiley and her son, Zaidan. (Bob Miller for ProPublica)Marquita Smiley and her son, Zaidan. (Bob Miller for ProPublica)Pharmaceuticals in pregnancy are untested. How safe are they? by Nina Martin  Report

A healthy baby is the universal goal of pregnancy, shared by women and doctors, researchers and regulators alike. But  the same desire to protect each fetus deters scientists and drug makers from studying expectant mothers. When it comes to drug safety, pregnancy is a largely research-free zone, women’s health experts say. The consequence? Treatment that often is based on informed guesswork rather than solid evidence, in which medications that have never been approved for use during pregnancy, and whose long-term dangers may not be known, become the standard of care.

 

Dead man’s sperm, by Jenny Morber

When the partners of men who have died to try and have their babies, they enter the legally and ethically fraught world of post-mortem sperm donation.  Some countries have laws in place. Some don’t. Some are permissive. Some aren’t. It’s a global mess.

Figure-1AI: The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez

In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.

AI: A one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts

I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.

Khamis, 24, (Back) and Khlouf, 25, prepare an artificial limb inside a mobile truck clinic in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria March 20, 2016. Two university students forced to interrupt their studies have learnt to make and fit hundreds of new limbs in the past four years in opposition-held areas of Syria. A mobile clinic operating from a truck has gone some way to improve access to treatment. While most patients are between 15 and 45, the clinic also helps children and the elderly with replacement limbs. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi SEARCH "SYRIA AMPUTEE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESSyria’s mobile amputee clinic, photo-essay. By Khalil Ashawi

In what looks like an ordinary white truck, two men are helping victims who have lost limbs in the conflict in Syria to walk, play, and even herd sheep again.  The five-year war between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and insurgents has killed at least 250,000 people and wounded many more. Most of the wounded are between 15 and 45, but the clinic also fits children and the elderly with replacement limbs.

The animals that sniff out TB, cancer and landmines. By Emma Young

Rats can smell tuberculosis. Dogs can smell cancer. Now they’re being trained to save your life.

The Diplomat and the Killer. By Raymond Bonner

In December of 1980, Salvadoran soldiers brutally raped and murdered four American churchwomen. A young U.S. diplomat singlehandedly cracked the case, cultivating an improbable source who risked everything to gather the key evidence.

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The Whistleblower’s Tale: How An Accountant Took on Halliburton. By Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

If you want to know why whistleblowers can seem a little crazy, it’s because anybody who is not a little bit crazy would back away from the ordeal of confronting a corporate behemoth or grinding government bureaucracy. Meet Tony and Ondy Menendez — who were not crazy, but gave years of their lives to a long and agonizing fight against a powerful corporation. Theirs is a story of what it takes to be a whistleblower in America – and what it takes out of you.

Broken on the Wheel: the gruesome 18th C case that turned Voltaire into a crusader. By Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project

 On the night of Oct. 13, 1761, cries rang from the shop of Jean Calas, a cloth merchant who lived and worked in the commercial heart of Toulouse, in the south of France. The eldest of Calas’s six children, Marc-Antoine, a moody, handsome man who was fond of billiards and gambling, had just been found dead. The family said he had been murdered – perhaps stuck with a sword by someone who slipped into the darkened boutique from the cobblestoned street. A crowd gathered outside the front door as investigators were summoned. A doctor and two surgeons, called to examine the body, found only a “livid mark on the neck.” They signed a report refuting the family’s account of some intruder with a blade, concluding that Marc-Antoine, 29, had been “hanged whilst alive, by himself or by others.” Those last five words, by himself or by others, began an enduring mystery and a true cause célèbre, one that might have been the “crime of the century” for the 1700s had the cliché been in use back then. Voltaire, the philosopher, dramatist and propagandist – “the greatest amuser of his age” and the greatest polemicist – became obsessed with the case, and for years worked to eradicate what he considered to be a stain on his country, church and courts. Finally, a panel of 40 judges sat in Paris to hear the case against Calas once again. The verdict they issued, 250 years ago this month, “echoed and re-echoed”3 in Europe and beyond. Voltaire, by appealing directly to the people, helped established the power of public opinion as a tool to fight injustice. To some legal scholars, the infamous case also marked the first stirrings of the global movement to end capital punishment.

J32/Rhapsody © Melisa Pinnow

J32/Rhapsody © Melisa Pinnow

The Animal “Kingdom of the Dead.” By Deborah Jones, F&O

 All the attention on killer whales — the grotesque mutilation of a dead female named Rhapsody in Canada, the controversies over their use in trained-animal shows, the orphans who turn up periodically — has done no more to save a unique population of Orcinus orca than it has helped to slow pandas and polar bears and elephants on their own slides toward extinction. And that brings us to the fact that Rhapsody’s story is one small part of a far bigger saga: the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of the world.

Losing Louisiana, a two-part series 

A fishing boat in the St. Bernard Parish town of Delacroix, Louisiana on August 8, 2014. Its wetlands battered by energy development and robbed of river sediment due to levees, most full-time residents did not return after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Photo by Edmund D. Fountain, ProPublica/The Lens

The Drowning of the ‘Amazon of North America.’ By Bob Marshall, The Lens, and Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw, ProPublica

Scientists say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the history of the United States — the rapid land loss occurring in the Mississippi Delta — is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion. Southeast Louisiana is one of America’s — and the world’s — economic linchpins. It’s home to half of the oil refineries in the United States, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people. And, at a rate of a football field every hour, Southeast Louisiana is drowning.

$50 billion ‘moon shot’ targets Mississippi Delta restoration. By Bob Marshall, Al Shaw, Brian Jacobs

As Brig. Gen Duke DeLuca wrapped up his 32-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August, he contemplated the key to Louisiana’s massive, 50-year, $50 billion effort to prevent the southeastern portion of the state from being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. DeLuca, an expert on the many threats facing the coast, said: “It will take a moon-shot type of investment in the science.” Many in Louisiana’s coastal scientific community believe DeLuca’s description is right on the mark, capturing the undertaking’s daunting uncertainties. The mission could not have been set on a more challenging landscape, at a more inopportune time.

Storm of complaints pounds disaster work by American Red Cross. By  Justin Elliott , Jesse Eisinger , and Laura Sullivan 

In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks. Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job. They were wrong.

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© Edmund D. Fountain

America’s Freedom Summer. By Nikole Hannah-Jones, ProPublica

Ghosts of Greenwood

In 1947, my father, along with his mother and older brother, boarded a northbound train in the American city of Greenwood, Miss. They carried with them nothing but a suitcase stuffed with clothes, a bag of cold chicken, and my grandmother’s determination that her children, my father was just 2 years old, would not be doomed to a life of picking cotton in the feudal society that was the Mississippi Delta.

Brutal Loss, Enduring Conviction

On June 21, 1964, at the launch of Freedom Summer, three civil rights workers went missing in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Forty-four days later, United States federal agents searching an earthen dam confirmed what many had already suspected: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner had been murdered, and in time the Klan would be found responsible. While her husband and his fellow civil rights workers became martyrs, Rita Schwerner, then 22, became a widow.

One day at Wembley: a soccer fanatic reflects. By Sheldon Fernandez (Public access)

Stadium

Wembley: the cathedral of soccer

In  June, the largest global audience in history will tune in to watch the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, a quadrennial carnival rivalled only by the Summer and Winter Olympics. Many will live and die by the progress of their teams, with hearts-in-mouths and lumps in throats. Tears, shrieks and all the rest will combine into smorgasbord of emotion that only soccer can induce. What is it about the game that gives it such widespread appeal? Against the backdrop of club football, Sheldon Fernandez searches for the answer …

Lionel Messi darts into the penalty area with preternatural swiftness, the ball tied to his feet via an invisible string that less gifted men term ‘genius’ or ‘magic’. Suddenly and somewhat arbitrarily he aborts his explosive run towards the goal and stops as three defenders – world class athletes in their own right – wobble anxiously amidst his cunning feint.

Cancer: Where Are The Low-Cost Treatments? By Jake Bernstein, ProPublica

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Matthew Healey photo

Increasingly, Big Pharma is betting on new blockbuster cancer drugs that cost billions to develop and can be sold for thousands of dollars a dose. In 2010, each of the top 10 cancer drugs topped more than $1 billion in sales, according to Campbell Alliance, a health-care consulting firm. A decade earlier, only two of them did. Left behind are low-cost alternatives — therapies like Retsky’s or existing off-label medications, including generics — that have shown some merit but don’t have enough profit potential for drug companies to invest in researching them.

Heroes of the Revolution? The Cuban Five. By Stephen Kimber

Cinco_heroes_cuban_five_2In 1998 Fidel Castro had his good friend Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel prize-winning Colombian novelist, carry a top secret message to American President Bill Clinton about a terrorist plot against Cuba. But American authorities arrested the Cuban agents who uncovered the plot – and the group became known as the Cuban Five. In Cuba Gerardo, René, Antonio, Ramón and Fernando today rank only below Fidel and Ché in the revolutionary pantheon: they are certified, certifiable, first-name Heroes of the Revolution. In America, however, the stories about the Cuban Five dramatically differ. What the myriad tales do have in common — aside from spies, terrorists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, cops, mercenaries, politicians, heroes, villains, journalists, and innocents — is a larger narratives about Cuban-American relations, about the war on terror, about hypocrisy, about truth and fiction, about right and wrong.

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan

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© 2013 Neil Zeller

The mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was about to give a speech in Toronto when an aide drew him aside to tell of trouble brewing back home. Floodwaters were surging in the Rocky Mountains. Towns upstream of Calgary were already under water, and Calgary would be inundated within a matter of hours. “Get me on the next plane out of here,” said the mayor, Naheed Nenshi. “This is serious business.” He delivered his speech while his staff scrambled to get him on the four-hour flight back to Calgary. Seven hours later, Nenshi was on the ground in his city’s emergency management centre, answering media questions about a calamity that could define his entire mayoralty. Just as Hurricane Sandy drew widespread attention to the leadership skills of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and 9/11 belonged to Rudy Giuliani, the Calgary Flood of 2013 could become the crisis that established Nenshi as Canada’s mayor.

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking. By Chris Wood

Bouncy music and colouring book graphics introduce A Look Underground, a short video uploaded to YouTube1 by the Calgary-based Encana Corporation “to educate children about natural gas development.” In the demonstration, engineer Mark Taylor explains the principles of hydraulically fracturing shale and recovering natural gas to a dozen kids ranging from toddlers to preteens. The children stand gathered around a structure built from cupcakes arranged in a horseshoe, its top iced a vivid green and decorated with plastic trees and farm animals. A thick layer of white icing represents the shale layer below. Taylor shows how drillers push steel pipe down deep through the chocolate “earth” to the coveted shale, an operation depicted with plastic tubing. Next, he says, “we basically load it up with explosive charges like big firecrackers, and we blast holes into spots all along the way, so the gas can come out of the white shale here and into our well.”

Mexicans with Sweaters: On the road with Newfoundland’s migrant workers. By Greg Locke

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© Greg Locke 2013

Contrary to what mainland North Americans may think of us, a plane-full of Newfoundlanders heading to well-paying jobs in Alberta’s oil sands was never going to be a “Party Plane” full of happy people heading to a new, bright future. They might have been surprised that most passengers on Air Canada’s new direct 7:00 AM flight from St. John’s to Fort McMurray were middle-aged men with grey hair, in a somber mood for having to leave behind wives, children, grandchildren, and homes, because there is no room in the new Newfoundland economy for them and their primitive resource and trades-based skills. No, this was not a party plane. It was a plane filled with people resigned to a new life they don’t want.

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Vancouver: Fool’s paradise – or 21st Century model? By Deborah Jones (1996)

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© Gavin Kennedy 2013

High-tech hotbed Seattle has Bill Gates. Manhattan, city of comebacks, has Donald Trump. Vancouver has David Duchovny of The X-Files, the happening sci-fi TV series filmed in B.C.’s happening Lower Mainland. As civic icons go, Duchovny might be the most fitting of those three examples. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the booming Greater Vancouver area has a paranormal personality to match a TV program built on special effects and suspended disbelief. But the city’s powers to be a body double are certainly being tested. U.S. actor Duchovny and the rest of the Hollywood crowd use Vancouver’s stunning scenery as a backdrop for stories that are set anywhere but here. Hong Kong expats are drawn to the city for its advertised civility and balmy climate. Transplanted Americans expect to find a more caring society. As a magnet for software writers, medical researchers, New Age ecologists, financiers and film-industry entrepreneurs from around the world, Vancouver is confronted with the task of adjusting to its status as one of the most dynamic of North America’s major cities–and the expectations that come with that mixed blessing. Probably no other city on the continent — possibly excepting New York during its great waves of immigration early in this century — has been asked to be so many things to so many people from so many places.

The Bullies of Moser River By Deborah Jones, January (1994)

The plaster in Dorothy Findlay’s living room is pocked with bullet holes, macabre souvenirs of a lengthy battle between her husband Donald and a group of young men in this beleaguered coastal village. Coffee cup and cigarette in one hand, Mrs. Findlay points to the scars and describes how community hostilities eventually led to Donald’s murder and destroyed her life. “My husband, my best friend is gone,” she says, tears in her eyes. Donald Findlay was beaten to death in a Halifax-area jail minutes after he arrived to serve time for a minor offence.  The people who live in the community of Moser River, 150 kilometres north of Halifax, believe the killing was the result of a long-standing dispute between the town’s few hundred families and a lawless band of 20 to 32 hooligans from Moser River and the nearby hamlets of Ecum Secum, Port Dufferin and Necum Teuch.