September 25, 2013 9:42 am
The U.S. is investing in a $102 million dollar biosecurity lab to study some of the most deadly pathogens that could potentially by used in bioterrorism attacks. Rather than locating the new facility in Washington, D.C., or some secure tract of land in Nevada, however, the lab will be built near Almaty, a Soviet-era outpost in Kazakhstan, National Geographic reports.
The unassumingly-named Central Reference Laboratory is slotted to open in 2015 and will securely store and study highest risk diseases such as plague, anthrax and cholera. Having contained samples of those pathogens readily available will speed the process of diagnosing and treating potential outbreaks, NatGeo writes.
The U.S. also hopes the facility will get scientists in that region of the world off the streets, so to speak. Giving gainful employment to talented researchers in the region may make them less likely to sell their services to groups who want to create biological weapons, a source form the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency told NatGeo.
The Agency has just under two dozen offices and facilities scattered around the world to keep an eye out for would-be biological weapons, including in Georgia (the Caucasus rather than deep South one), Armenia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Russia. Before the USSR broke up, the Soviets were known to have weaponized plague and were tinkering with other potential biological weapons, though what became of those deadly cultures remains unclear. As such, biological weapons expert Raymond Zilinskas told NatGeo, “There’s a real biosecurity threat in countries of the former Soviet Union, and the Russian government is remarkably uncooperative in this area.”
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September 19, 2013 10:27 am
Infographics feel like a relatively new form—a creation of the internet era, where ample screen space and automated apps mean it’s easy to transform information into occasionally illuminating muddles of pie charts. But infographics, beautiful ones, predate the web. American engraver John Warner Barber carved the one above in 1871. It’s a beautiful image tracing the major events of the American Revolutionary War.
The war is broken down by year, on the horizontal axis, and state, on the vertical one. But Barber included more subtle touches tracing the course of the war, too. Starting in Virginia in 1775, where George Washington was commissioned to lead the Continental Army, a thin dotted line follows the path of Washington and his troops. “Washington was selected over other candidates such as John Hancock based on his previous military experience and the hope that a leader from Virginia could help unite the colonies,” says the Library of Congress. In the boxes representing the war’s later years, Barber added more dotted lines, tracing General Benjamin Lincoln as he wound his way south, taking command of the Southern army, and General Nathaniel Greene, who did the same.
The copy of the chart seen above belongs to Todd Andrlik, the head of the Journal of the American Revolution.
Here’s the thin dotted line that follows Washington’s path:
The chart gives a sense of the scale of the war, and of how many things were going on in so many places, even away from the main paths forged by the Continental Army’s leading generals:
Later in the war, Washington meets Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the comte de Rochambeau, the leader of a French military wing that helped the American forces in their war against the British.
If you haven’t already, you’ll really want to click through to see the image in full, or see this high quality scan from the Library of Congress.
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September 16, 2013 2:04 pm
The most recent millennium of European political history was wrought with war and conquest. Borders shifted; empires rose and fell. In the video above we see Europe’s evolution from 1000 A.D. to the modern era, a three-and-a-half minute crash course in modern European history, all set against that song from Inception that everyone loves.
Update: Frank Reed, who’s the creator and head cartographer of Centennia Historical Atlas, got in touch with us to say that this top video is actually an un-authorized video capture from his software—which he describes as ”a detailed guide to the history of Europe and the Middle East from the year 1000 to the present including maps and map animation as its central feature.” It’s a “dynamic atlas” that features these sort of time-lapsed maps—in the actual software, you can zoom in to greater detail and down to a time frame of a tenth of year, or zoom out to the continent level seen here. (Which is to say, there’s a lot more where this came from.)
Where the Europe we know today is made up of a number of large, relatively stable states, that was not always the case. Look to the central European region, where what is now Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and others was fragmented into myriad tiny regions.
That trend toward smaller, independent political states carried over from the preceding millennium. Here’s a map showing a longer period of time, from 1 A.D. to 2000 A.D., made using maps from Euratlas. At the beginning of the common era, Europe was dominated by the Roman Empire. You can see the fragmentation beginning, starting around 400 A.D.
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August 30, 2013 9:20 am
On Tuesday, police raided an exhibit at St. Petersburg’s Museum of Authority, taking several works of art. Among them was a portrait of Vladimir Putin in a negligee and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sporting a busty female body. The police, apparently, did not see the humor in the satirical painting. The artist has fled the country in the interest of safety: he fears criminal charges as authorities “have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist,” Agence France Presse reported.
The artist, Konstantin Altunin, might have been right in his assumption that getting out of town was the best plan of action. Earlier this summer, Russia passed a law that, effectively, outlawed any discussion or representation of homosexuality. In late July, Dutch filmmakers became the first tourists arrested under the new law, Salon reports, after they were caught interviewing young people about their views on homosexuality for a documentary they’re making about human rights. One of the other paintings Altunin contributed to the exhibit—at the gallery’s request—was of a lawmaker who had led push to ban “gay propaganda,” The Wall Street Journal reports:
One painting depicted St. Petersburg politician Vitaly Milonov – who spearheaded a local “gay propaganda” law that became inspiration for similar national legislation – against a rainbow background. The law bans people from expressing support for “non-traditional” lifestyles in front of minors. A national version of it was signed into law in June.
Mr. Milonov accompanied police at the gallery, according to Mr. Donskoi. The officers confiscated the portrait of Mr. Milonov – which was hanging on the wall between two sexually-explicit paintings, according to photos – as well as the painting depicting Messrs. Putin and Medvedev in women’s underwear.
Authorities also took two other works of art. One was a painting of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill with criminal-style tattoos mixing Soviet and religious iconography. The other was one of Yelena Mizulina, the Kremlin-allied Duma deputy and morality crusader who led the drive to pass Russia’s “gay propaganda” law nationally. That painting was entitled “The Erotic Dreams of Deputy Mizulina.”
Altunin’s painting of Putin and Medvedev, however, wasn’t even meant to comment on the law, he said. It was inspired by the two officials’ “job swap with Putin returning to the Kremlin and Medvedev becoming prime minister,” the AFP says. Russia’s Interior Ministry has said that the four “paintings that have been sent off for analysis, on the basis of which a procedural decision will be made,” the Journal reports.
Gay-themed works are not the only pieces of art in peril in Russia. either. On June 21, a gallery curator lost his job after refusing to censor a politically charged exhibition that used the symbols of the upcoming Sochi Olympics to portray a darker, more sinister vision of the new Russia.
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August 29, 2013 12:29 pm
A story released by South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo indicates that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un executed a dozen popular singers last week. Among the victims, the Chosun Ilbo writes, was Kim’s ex-girlfriend, the pop propaganda singer Hyon Song-wol.
Sources in China said singer Hyon Song-wol as well as Mun Kyong-jin, head of the Unhasu Orchestra, were arrested on Aug. 17 for violating North Korean laws against pornography and were executed in public three days later.
The victims of the atrocity were members of the Unhasu Orchestra as well as singers, musicians and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band.
They were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos. The tapes have apparently gone on sale in China as well.
A source said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents.
When Kim announced his marriage last year, many expected Hyon to be his betrothed. But that turned out not to be the case. The Atlantic detailed what we know about Kim’s relationship with Hyon:
One thing we did learn is that Kim’s wife is not, as long speculated, North Korean pop star Hyon Song Wol. Rumors — yes, we are reduced to rumors, and we’re to lucky to have even that — say that Kim and Hyon got involved a decade ago, but the relationship was shut down by then-leader Kim Jong Il. She hasn’t been seen publicly in years despite her high-profile music career; some observers speculate she had to leave the public eye in order to stay close to Kim Jong Un, or for her own safety as boyfriend Kim got closer to his father’s throne.
The simple fact that analysts still have to glean such basic information from years of obsessive analysis and speculation, as if they were the coordinates of uranium enrichment sites, tells you something about just how little we know about North Korea.
Kim’s current wife, Ri Sol-ju, also knew Hyon from her days in the orchestra. Here’s the Chosun Ilbo again:
Whether she had any hand in the executions is unclear. The Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band have apparently been disbanded due to the latest scandal.
“They were executed with machine guns while the key members of the Unhasu Orchestra, Wangjaesan Light Band and Moranbong Band as well as the families of the victims looked on,” the source said.
Here, you can see Hyon Song-wol’s video, “Excellent Horse-Like Lady,” which won her some notoriety in the West and extolls the virtues of hard work. Messages of “rest in peace” have already started to flood in from YouTube commenters:
Kim ascended to power after his father died in 2011, and while his education outside of North Korea led to some hopes he would have a different leadership style, that hasn’t proven. ”The new leader is acting in ways a bit more extreme than his father, who was colder and more calculated,” one U.S. official told CNN earlier this year. Last fall, the Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim executed several military officials via body-obliterating mortar for not properly mourning Kim’s late father. The Washington Times reports:
The North Korean People’s Army uses Warsaw Pact 82 mm mortars that fire artillery shells that weigh as much as 7 pounds and produce a killing radius of about 17 yards on impact.
The officer was placed at the aiming point of a mortar range, where an artillery shell exploded and blew him to pieces, the newspaper reported.
The Chosun Il was the only outlet to report the mortar story, and so far, the only one to report on this latest atrocity. Unfortunately, it will probably remain that way. As New York Magazine writes:
Frustratingly, when dealing with news from inside the closed state, it’s both impossible to fully believe anonymously sourced reports such as this one, and often impossible to obtain anything more concrete.
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