Category Archives: Reportages

Electric food – the new sci-fi diet that could save our planet

It’s not about “them”, it’s about us. The horrific rate of biological annihilation reported this week – 60% of the Earth’s vertebrate wildlife gone since 1970 – is driven primarily by the food industry. Farming and fishing are the major causes of the collapse of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Meat – consumed in greater quantities by the rich than by the poor – is the strongest cause of all. We may shake our heads in horror at the clearance of forests, the drainage of wetlands, the slaughter of predators and the massacre of sharks and turtles by fishing fleets, but it is done at our behest.

As the Guardian’s recent report from Argentina reveals, the huge forests of the Gran Chaco are heading towards extermination as they are replaced by deserts of soya beans, almost all of which are used to produce animal feed, particularly for Europe. With Jair Bolsonaro in power in Brazil, deforestation in the Amazon is likely to accelerate, much of it driven by the beef lobby that helped bring him to power. The great forests of Indonesia, such as those in West Papua, are being felled and burned for oil palm at devastating speed.

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Posted by on October 31, 2018 in Reportages


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Come nasce una teoria del complotto e come affrontarla, seconda parte

Seconda puntata di un’inchiesta in due parti sulle teorie del complotto. La prima si può leggere qui.

QAnon alla Casa bianca
Il 31 luglio 2018 una folla entusiasta ha accolto Trump a Tampa, Florida, indossando magliette di QAnon e alzando cartelli con scritto “Noi siamo Q”. Hanno rubato la scena al presidente, e i giornalisti hanno parlato solo di loro. È stata la definitiva irruzione di QAnon nelle cronache nazionali e, di lì a poco, internazionali. Su 8chan, Q ha commentato: “Benvenuti nel mainstream. Sapevamo che questo giorno sarebbe arrivato”.

Se prima di Tampa il presidente poteva aver ammiccato ai “fornai” scrivendo “17” in un paio di tweet, ora gioca col complotto in modo scoperto. Il 24 agosto 2018 Trump riceve nello studio ovale Lionel Lebron, sessant’anni, conduttore radiofonico e apostolo di QAnon. Lebron pubblica subito la foto in cui appare, gongolante, in posa col suo eroe.

In pratica, Trump ha accolto alla Casa Bianca un tale che accusa due suoi predecessori – Obama e Clinton – di capeggiare una setta satanica di pedofili. Accusa estesa all’intera opposizione e ad alcuni repubblicani, come il senatore John McCain, che proprio in quelle ore sta morendo.


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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in Reportages


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The Inside Story of the BICEP2 Experiment

“You may speculate from the day that days were created,
but you may not speculate on what was before that.”
—Talmud, Tractate Hagigah 11b, 450 A.D.

To go back to the beginning, if there was a beginning, means testing the dominant theory of cosmogenesis, the model known as inflation. Inflation, first proposed in the early 1980s, was a bandage applied to treat the seemingly grave wounds cosmologists had found in the Big Bang model as originally conceived. To call inflation bold is an understatement; it implied that our universe began by expanding at the incomprehensible speed of light … or even faster! Luckily, the bandage of inflation was only needed for an astonishingly minuscule fraction of a second. In that most microscopic ash of time, the very die of the cosmos was cast. All that was and ever would be, on a cosmic scale at least—vast assemblies of galaxies, and the geometry of the space between them—was forged.

For more than 30 years, inflation remained frustratingly unproven. Some said it couldn’t be proven. But everyone agreed on one thing: If cosmologists could detect a unique pattern in the cosmos’s earliest light, light known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a ticket to Stockholm was inevitable.

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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in Reportages



From Lithuania, with love

In February 2015, a cryptic email reached me from around the globe and across 28 years.
“You have participated in the protest meeting of Ribentrop-Molotov 1939 agreement in Vilnius, August 23, 1987.”

“Do you still keep the tape records of that day?”

I was not a “participant,” but I was at the protest in Vilnius on August 23, 1987, a day etched deep in my reporter’s memory. Yes, I was pretty certain I still had the cassette tape I’d recorded as NPR’s correspondent.

But who would want that tape now? Only a few hundred people had attended the protest. Just a year later, the same anniversary of the pact that led to Soviet annexation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia drew tens of thousands, making the 1987 meeting look like not much more than a backyard gathering. And from 1988 on, the numbers kept swelling until, by March 1990, it seemed as though most of the republic’s nearly four million people were in the streets supporting the vote by Lithuania’s Parliament to declare independence—the first republic to formally challenge Soviet rule.

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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in European Union, Reportages


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Has wine gone bad?

If you were lucky enough to dine at Noma, in Copenhagen, in 2011 – which had just been crowned as the “best restaurant in the world” – you might have been served one of its signature dishes: a single, raw, razor clam from the North Sea, in a foaming pool of aqueous parsley, topped with a dusting of horseradish snow. It was a technical and conceptual marvel intended to evoke the harsh Nordic coastline in winter.

But almost more remarkable than the dish itself was the drink that accompanied it: a glass of cloudy, noticeably sour white wine from a virtually unknown vineyard in France’s Loire Valley, which was available at the time for about £8 a bottle. It was certainly an odd choice for a £300 menu. This was a so-called natural wine – made without any pesticides, chemicals or preservatives – the product of a movement that has triggered the biggest conflict in the world of wine for a generation.

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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in Reportages



Come nasce una teoria del complotto e come affrontarla

Prima puntata di un’inchiesta in due parti sulle teorie del complotto.

Fuoco sul quartier generale (di YouTube)
Il 20 settembre 2018 l’Fbi arriva a Cave Junction, un piccolo centro dell’Oregon occidentale che ha poco più di mille abitanti. Gli agenti cercano uno di loro, William Douglas, 35 anni. Non lo trovano a casa, ma lo intercettano davanti a un emporio, lo arrestano, lo portano via.

Douglas è accusato di aver minacciato di morte su Twitter l’amministratrice delegata e i dipendenti di YouTube, il terzo sito più visitato al mondo. “Vengo a beccarti, #prega”, ha scritto a Susan Wojcicki, poi ha annunciato di voler andare alla sede centrale dell’azienda per fare una strage: “Se volete più vittime, aka #sparatoria, vedrò quel che posso fare”.

Scrivendo “più vittime”, Douglas si riferiva a un episodio di qualche mese prima.

San Bruno, California, 3 aprile 2018. Una donna entra nel cortile della sede di YouTube durante la pausa pranzo e apre il fuoco con una pistola semiautomatica. Ferisce tre persone, una in modo grave, poi si uccide sparandosi al cuore. Si chiamava Nasim Aghdam. Due giorni dopo avrebbe compiuto 39 anni.

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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized


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Finally, a cure for insomnia?

We live in a golden age of sleeplessness. The buzz of the all-night streetlamps, the natter of 24-hour news anchors, the scrolling Niagaras of social media feeds have built a world that is hostile to sleep. Night is no longer clearly delineated from day. The bedroom is no longer a refuge from the office. The physical and psychic walls that once held back the tides of work and social interaction have failed. As the essayist Jonathan Crary put it, sleeplessness is the inevitable symptom of an era in which we are encouraged to be both unceasing consumers and unceasing creators.

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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized


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A giant crawling brain: the jaw-dropping world of termites

In July 2008, I rented a small yellow car in Tucson, Arizona, and drove it south towards Tombstone. My passengers included an entomologist and two microbial geneticists, and I was following a white van with government plates carrying nine more geneticists. We also had 500 plastic bags, a vacuum flask of dry ice, and 350 cryogenic vials, each the size and shape of a pencil stub. We had two days to get 10,000 termites.

The goal was to sequence the genes of the microbes in their guts. Because termites are famously good at eating wood, those genes were attractive to government labs trying to turn wood and grass into biofuels (“grassoline”). The white van and the geneticists all belonged to the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute. Perhaps by seeing exactly how termites break down wood, we’d be able to do it too.

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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized


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How to change the course of human history

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

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Posted by on October 16, 2018 in Reportages


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Anarchy in the GDR

Burning Down the Haus, a new book by journalist Tim Mohr, details how a small group of East German teens kick-started a movement that contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 1970s were oppressive years in the German Democratic Republic; there was no space, literal or philosophical, to live outside the system, let alone criticize it. Upon hearing The Clash and the Sex Pistols via forbidden British military-radio broadcasts, a handful of young people began to embrace the punk mentality, dressing differently, and shaking the foundations upon which authority had been built. And despite the best efforts of the East German secret police, aka the Stasi, the movement grew throughout the 1980s, as punks developed their own little world, disconnected from society. Punk was the soundtrack to the million-person demonstration on November 4, 1989. A few days later, the Wall came down.


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Posted by on October 12, 2018 in Reportages


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