Swedes to Norway: Get Over Here

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May-Britt Jenssveen is the “Last Norwegian,” the holdout. While most of her countrypeople have visited Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö or other corners of Sweden, this sports-loving mother of two simply has had other things to do — a problem Sweden intends to fix.

Jenssveen is not the only one, of course, but the blond, blue-eyed 48-year-old from Lillesand on Sørlandet has just been nominated to represent the remaining few.

A whopping 97 percent of Norwegians have been to Sweden.

Seven percent have never stayed the night, but 4 percent of those have mustered at least a day trip, according to Swedish tourist information bureau VisitSweden, which means nearly all Norwegians can claim they’ve breathed some Swedish air. Thinking that everyone should have a chance to escape the fjords and mountains for a bit of Swedish shopping, castles and architecture, Axel Wernhoff, Sweden’s ambassador to Norway, recently signed a contract with VisitSweden’s Norwegian tourist manager called “Zero Vision.” The deal says any Norwegians who wish to visit Sweden should be able to go. To English speakers, the campaign’s name sounds uninspired, but it’s a common Swedish expression that means “we’re gonna go all the way,” says Louise Winberg, VisitSweden’s Oslo-based PR manager. 

Sure, it’s a shameless marketing ploy for Swedish tourism, but it also highlights something Winberg says is “unique in the world.” Finns and Danes tour Sweden in huge numbers, but not at Norwegian levels, whose overnights account for a quarter of all Swedish stay-overs (a whopping 3.5 million last year alone). And do Swedes return the favor? Not so much — Norway doesn’t collate those numbers, Winberg says, but estimates peg the figure at around 50 percent. The tradition just isn’t the same; Swedes tend to go to Norway to work or see the fjords, while Norwegians go to Sweden to relax, tour and shop. Some Norwegians nip over the border simply to buy groceries, thanks to lower Swedish food prices.

VisitSweden’s hunt for the holdouts began last month on national television in Norway, with calls for those who’d never been to fess up and explain why. Stories ranged from fear of flying to having always gone further afield and simply never gotten around to visiting their neighbor. Which brings us to Jenssveen. Far from a homebody, this holdout has visited most European countries, the Caribbean, the U.S., Canada, Australia and even Korea. She has also managed to live abroad, in Switzerland, and was a hostess at the Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988 — such is her international street cred. But Sweden? She admits that she’s tended to look for “sun, beach and stable warm weather” for her holidays, so “Scandinavia was not an option.”

The “Last Norwegian” status is about to change, though. Jenssveen is going on a weeklong trip, stopping at Sweden’s big cities, with such highlights as having the entire Liseberg amusement park to herself, meeting Sweden’s national soccer team, cooking with Michelin-starred chefs, staying in a castle and visiting Bohuslän, the famed wilderness archipelago on the west coast.

Are U.S. Elections Free and Fair? Let Foreigners Decide.

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In Toliara, a rural town in the far southwest corner of Madagascar, the locals ask about U.S. politics. Same thing in Tanjung Selor, in Indonesia’s remote north, and in Haiti’s farthest reaches and the villages of India: No matter where in the world we go, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, we can’t escape American politics.

As it should be. The United States is, after all, the most powerful country on Earth. Our trade policies and geopolitical pursuits affect almost every inch of the globe. The very mood of our commander in chief can spell bounty or destruction for some of the poorest nations. So why shouldn’t their citizens play a role in ensuring that the leader of the free world is elected fair and square — by monitoring our elections?

As it happens, election observation goes the other way around: Rich nations tend to send observers to poor countries. In polling season, Westerners descend upon Lagos, Caracas, Cape Town, Kingston. They scrutinize voter registration and privacy provisions, preside over the counting of ballots and triple check the accuracy of transmissions. Now, imagine foreign academics and policy wonks filling swanky hotel bars and regaling one another with tales of endless lines in Arizona, or hanging chads in Florida, or the thousands of New Yorkers mysteriously removed from the voter rolls.

Of course, our democracy isn’t fraught with voter fraud, violence and intimidation, which is the norm in countries like Zimbabwe. But it has issues, around voter ID, gerrymandering and access to polls. “No democracy is perfect,” says David Carroll, director of democracy programs for the Carter Center, known for its election observation work abroad. In response to “frequent inquiries” from domestic citizens and officials, the Carter Center is undertaking a massive study on what foreign election observation missions would look like in the U.S. These missions are “designed to help improve election integrity, opening [the system] up to review and assessment,” Carroll says. 

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A billboard of Donald Trump in the backyard of George Davey’s home on Jan. 31, 2016.

Source Charles Ommanney / Getty

Although the U.S. signed a 1990 agreement to allow observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor its elections, such observers have played a mostly symbolic role — and some people hate on them anyway. When OSCE monitors planned to observe the 2012 elections in Texas, the state attorney general lashed out, threatening to arrest any monitors in the vicinity of polling places. (A representative for the Texas secretary of state directed OZY to a letter to the OSCE that stated that “groups and individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere with the election process in Texas.”) 

But why hide if there is nothing to hide? We’re the greatest democracy in the world. Let’s make sure we keep it that way.

Do you think the U.S. should practice what it preaches? Or is this a gross violation of our sovereignty? Let us know in the comments. 

Flack Attack! New York City’s PR King

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Like a scene from an apocalyptic movie, rows of people inhaled white smoke billowing from luminous cubes. Others, wrapped in emergency space blankets, gazed at a glass wall smeared with a red substance later discovered to be 55 gallons of lipstick. But this was no film set. It’s the opening night of an art exhibition in New York, a carefully orchestrated Adam Abdalla–trademarked event in which the space blankets are actually printed press releases.

Abdalla, the smiling, bearded publicist to New York City’s art and culture elite, is not your average public relations flack. For one, artists actually like him. Shunning antiseptic PR tactics for one-on-one meetings, he’s earned himself a reputation as a connector and the go-to guy in the art and culture world. At just 30, Abdalla is the head of Cultural Counsel, a communications company he founded last July after spending years working under the helm of Nadine Johnson, one of the few prominent publicists who works with the arts. His client roster has included everyone from rapper will.i.am to Creative Time, the nonprofit arts organization behind artist Duke Riley, who in May began releasing 2,000 pigeons over New York’s East River every weekend as part of an exhibition. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” Abdalla shrugs, speaking from Cultural Counsel’s white-walled office, housed in the same building as Red Bull Studios (one of the energy drink’s 12 contemporary art and music locales). “I came into it from the perspective that you’re not just a press office, and a lot of people value that,” he says. His company’s website, which bears only his email address and the double C logo for Cultural Counsel, shows there’s little need for self-promotion for the arts man about town.

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Adam Abdalla and Patrick McGregor attend the 2015 Whitney Art Party at 99 Gansevoort on November 10, 2015, in New York City.

Source Slaven Vlasic/Getty

Abdalla’s genius, according to people who’ve worked with him or know him, is his seemingly effortless ability to reel in aloof artists with a disarming charm and sincere knowledge about art. That comforts contemporary artists, gallerists and curators, people who have traditionally shied away from the PR world, considering the industry tacky or a costly extravagance. The received wisdom was that if a gallery had good artists and exhibitions, the press would come clamoring. But that’s all changed as the number of galleries in Manhattan quintupled, from around 100 in 2000 to today’s 500 or so. Now, an artist needs more. “There’s been a sea change,” says top curator Neville Wakefield, who has worked with Abdalla on a series of exhibits in Switzerland’s Gstaad mountains, favored by the rich for vacations. “Artists have become more adept at self-promotion,” he says.

While PR firms can charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a month for a retainer, Abdalla occasionally gets paid in paintings, and has built himself an impressive private art collection from artists including Scott Reeder and Mark Flood. Others, like pieces from Laura Owens and Jim Shaw, he buys himself. He says he’s not in it for the cash, and only takes on artists he admires. “That would be boring for me,” he says. “Somebody else can do that job.” He claims he doesn’t “really do celebrity PR,” though he’s taken on higher-profile clients — like will.i.am’s optics brand ill.i, which released a collaboration with Chinese artist Xu Zhen; that work, he says, was all about the design. Abdalla is fiercely eager to show he’s neither into the mainstream nor into writing repetitive press releases. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a PR company,” he says. Abdalla’s plan is to expand his business (and the currently blank website) by combining promotions with events, strategic art collaborations and an editorial bent, publishing essays on the art world.

 

Born to an Egyptian father and an American mother, Abdalla stumbled into communications. He started out working with New Orleans nonprofit The Green Project, which helped rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He and some seven artists helped organize a pop-up art exhibition in an abandoned storage facility, where the group also lived for three months, and he became the exhibitors’ de facto publicist. He later landed a position on the front desk of art communications giant Susan Grant Lewin’s firm. “I was basically a receptionist,” he says. But his knowledge of the contemporary art world led to a quick ascent to senior account executive. “He cut his teeth here,” Lewin told OZY, of Abdalla’s two-and-a-half-year stint at her company. Now, she says, “I don’t think he’s interested in being just an employee anymore. He’s beyond that.” If anything, she’d consider an offer to merge firms, she said.   

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. His departure from Nadine Johnson’s firm after five and a half years was soured with disputes over who kept which clients. It meant several of the clients he worked with as the senior vice president of arts and culture could not jump ship with him to his new gig until a noncompete agreement had expired, according to a few people familiar with the situation. (Johnson did not respond to requests for comment; meanwhile, Abdalla said he had “no basis to comment.”)

Last month, during an elaborate spring gala in a hangar at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Abdalla, hair slicked back, sporting a light pink blazer, was mingling with well-dressed guests. Then, Johnson arrived. His friends pointed out in hushed whispers: “Nadine’s here.” He waved them off, eyeing her just a few meters away, before swiftly moving to the opposite corner of the hall. Going rogue in the world of art PR can be a dangerous business if you’re on the wrong side, but Abdalla’s deluge of friends and partners appears to be standing with him in good stead.

“He’s a PR guy that I actually don’t hate,” says Nic Rad, a Brooklyn artist who attended the gala. “That’s pretty hard to believe.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Xu Zhen.

My Neighbor the Prostitute

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Devon Van Houten Maldonado is a writer and artist based in Mexico City, where he stumbled into a career in journalism. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, he developed an endurance-running habit atop the Rocky Mountains. 

I was too busy basking in the real and imagined cultural riches of my adopted bohemian megalopolis of Mexico City to see the obvious. Immersed in the counterculture and my work as a journalist, I never imagined my across-the-hall neighbor was a lady of the night, until I had her Wi-Fi password.

One day, when Democracy Now! wouldn’t buffer with my laptop pegged against the kitchen wall closest to my neighbor’s apartment, I crossed the third-floor landing, where exposed wires and graffiti decorated the walls, to reset the modem. A hazy curtain of incense and marijuana smoke enveloped me as I passed through her doorway. The drapes were drawn and the apartment was filled with a damp red light, which somehow still didn’t tip me off.

Tune in Tuesday at 11/10C for PBS’ new late-night series Point Taken to see OZY co-founder Carlos Watson moderate a spirited debate on the legalization of prostitution.

On her kitchen table, I noticed a puddle of black candle wax, incense, figurines and a stack of tarot cards. She offered to read my fortune and asked if I wanted to be her roommate. She said she could get me a job as a stripper. I imagined myself gyrating in a banana hammock stuffed with grimy pesos and laughed out loud. Her heavy Argentine accent made it difficult for me to understand everything she said, but we managed to complain at length about the relentless water shortages that left the building high and dry and smelling of raw sewage for days at a time.

Suddenly it all made sense — men in cheap suits calling for the “señorita” at all hours of the day and night …

During one of these awkward visits, we exchanged cellphone numbers, strictly for Wi-Fi business. Her explicitly pornographic profile picture raised an eyebrow, and then I noticed her status: Solo por dinero (Only for money). And suddenly it all made sense. Men in cheap suits calling for the “señorita” at all hours of the day and night, her ungodly hours of operation, the fact that she always seemed to be home, the inappropriately loud telenovelas and, of course, the smoky red light beckoning to the streets below.

There are as many as 250,000 women and underage girls working in the sex industry in Mexico City, where the local government has set up official “tolerance zones,” according to Publimetro and a study by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s unclear how many are forced into sexual slavery, and how many turn tricks by choice, like my onetime neighbor. 

It was impossible to guess my neighbor’s age. Rounds of plastic surgery had made her ageless and, as far as I could surmise, her breasts, butt and face had all been upgraded. Before noon, wearing sweats and without makeup, she looked at least 40, but then she began a daily metamorphosis into a work of art.

I became accustomed to her routine through casual observation. She started the day with a joint, pungent incense and meditation. Droning chants and smoke seeped around her door and into the hallway. Then she’d eat at the fanciest of several restaurants below our apartments, while I ate at the cheapest. I wouldn’t see her again until the late afternoon, installed at the hair and makeup salon around the corner, where she began to morph into her nocturnal form. Once, as I was returning home around midnight and she was heading out into the city, I didn’t even recognize her from across the street, but I do remember thinking she looked beautiful.

Another late night, I came home to find my apartment ransacked, the lock picked and everything of value gone. Of course, no one had seen or heard anything. There had been the usual deafening noise — jackhammers, honking, whistling, sirens — throughout the day, the neighbors said. The usual suspicious characters had been hanging around the construction offices upstairs, they said, and it must have been one of them. As a foreigner and a reporter — Mexico is among the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist — I worried about getting thrown into an unmarked van and disappearing. I decided to leave Villa Bohemia ASAP.

I suppose she’s still there, doing her thing. Smoking Marlboro Reds, wrapped in that dim red light or in the salon being primped and preened, transforming into a butterfly in the night. Solo por dinero.

These Scientists May Have Found a Way to Stop Nuclear Meltdowns

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Big brains are racing to save our power-hungry planet. While solar, gas and wind are increasingly playing a role, many say there’s no escaping the need for nuclear power to maintain our tech-heavy worlds. Lucky for us, scientists believe they’ve found a way to eliminate smog-inducing coal production and reduce the risks and costs of nuclear power.

The answer? A renaissance fueled by molten salt reactor (MSR) technology, a way of dissolving uranium pellets in molten salt and transforming them into a liquid that can be safely kept in reactors for decades. So far, Beijing has proven the biggest gambler — investing a whopping $350 million — but researchers and firms in the U.S., Canada and Europe are also running full speed ahead, and global deployment of full-scale test reactors is expected before 2030. Experts reckon this revolutionary system could be cheaper to use than coal, and, because the liquid can be drained into tanks and quickly cooled in emergencies, MSR holds the promise of a future free of Chernobyl-style meltdowns.

When we produce power cheaper than coal-fired plants, demand will be huge.

–Moltex lead engineer Rory O’Sullivan

Nuclear power currently provides 11 percent of the world’s energy. But that number needs to grow to 17 percent to hit the globe’s targeted carbon dioxide emission reduction levels by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. And the robust and reliable nature of CO2-free nuclear power complements the expansion of more intermittent renewable energy, lowering demand for fossil-fuel generation. But to safely deliver, nuclear plants can’t carry the costs, safety or political baggage of existing sites. There are six leading technologies among the so-called fourth generation of nuclear power plants — all of them offer improvements, but MSR promises the best economy, some experts say. “[MSR has] a reasonable chance of being the winner” in the race, says Stephen Tindale, director of the U.K.-based Alvin Weinberg Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating the use of advanced nuclear technology.

The process operates at temperatures in excess of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and at low pressure, which means it can produce more heat and extract more power from the fuels without the risks of today’s high-pressure systems. Also, radioactive gases don’t exist with MSR, which means that any nuclear fallout is contained within the plant and doesn’t hurt the surrounding area. Reactors can also be designed to burn plutonium or thorium, the latter being a scalable material well suited for energy-intensive industries such as cement and desalination.

Born in the 1950s at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, MSR was initially floated as a way to power long-range bombers and deliver nuclear weapons. Led by Weinberg, Oak Ridge’s test reactors in the 1960s resulted in power plant deployment proposals in the 1970s. Critically though, MSR doesn’t easily produce weapons-grade material, and the U.S. favored building the power reactors we have today to secure a constant supply of such material during the Cold War. Research continued in the U.S., Russia, Japan and the U.K., but building plans were all but abandoned as the industry was struck by soul-searching disasters such as Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.

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MSRE diagram

Source Public Domain

But the prospects of climate change and the need to find a clean, cheap and abundant power source is now breathing new life into nuclear energy, especially for high-demand growth markets like China. This has led to burgeoning hope in MSR’s potential, culminating in a string of deals and research efforts worldwide that has vastly shortened its development period by at least a decade. “When we produce power cheaper than coal-fired plants, demand will be huge,” says Rory O’Sullivan, lead engineer at Moltex, a British company that’s proposing a simpler version of MSR.

The technology still needs to be proven, of course, but multilateral collaboration is taking off. Oak Ridge, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is still at the heart of research efforts and is helping China, which has 700 nuclear experts working full time at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics on the targeted delivery of a functioning MSR pilot plant by 2020. This will be followed with a demonstration plant by 2025, and a commercial one five years later. But there are also two other proposed designs Oak Ridge is helping get off the ground — one from Canadian startup Terrestrial Energy and another from Alabama-based Southern Company in partnership with the Bill Gates–backed nuclear developer TerraPower, based in Washington state.

“MSRs will be up and running by 2030,” O’Sullivan says. And while Tindale agrees they’re coming soon and will be cheaper than conventional reactors, he warns that it’s still unclear when MSR will be less costly than coal. Much of the uncertainty about MSR can be blamed on regulatory holdups. Getting any nuclear effort off the ground requires government support and guaranteed long-term returns for private investment. 

So who will cross the finish line first? There is no technical reason that front-runner China would take more time, says David Eugene Holcomb, a nuclear researcher at Oak Ridge. The problem is simply that China “hasn’t decided yet” whether to double down on its investment in MSR and likely won’t until results are in from the early efforts currently underway, he says.

Tindale says the U.K. is also struggling under regulatory red tape. “If we can remove the bottlenecks, we could have a demonstration plant by the mid-2020s and commercialization by 2030,” he says. But Tindale and his colleagues have an ace up their sleeve: Britain has 140 tons of plutonium — the world’s biggest stockpile — that it may be eager to convert into energy via MSR. “That’s why I’m confident it will get off the ground,” Tindale adds. 

70 Years Later, They’re Still Homeless

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Photo essay by Smita Sharma 

As 86-year-old Maharani Pudahar steps out of her terra-cotta brick home to say hello, her neighbor Robi Das laughingly remarks that she looks like Mahatma Gandhi. Wearing cotton cloths wraped loosely across her torso, with just one jaunty yellow tooth remaining in her smile, Pudahar is hunched over a cane-like wooden stick — not unlike Gandhi.

It’s a dark reference, seeing as some might blame Gandhi for Pudahar’s shabby living conditions. Pudahar, along with some 20 other families, is here at the Ranaghat Mahila Camp in West Bengal, existing in the long shadow of an event much of modern India would like to forget and which Gandhi never forgave himself for: the 1947 partition that split the country along Hindu and Muslim lines, displacing an estimated 15 million people and killing more than a million. Pudahar is a Hindu whose childhood home became Muslim turf. 

They were leaving a country where Hindus were thrown into rivers, raped and roasted alive — often in response to Hindus attacking Muslims across the border in India.

On the other side of India, in Punjab, bordering Pakistan, most of the refugees were resettled in the 1960s. But here, nearly 70 years later, a handful of women in Pudahar’s cohort remain in limbo. They continue to live on government-allotted plots for refugees; several say they are still awaiting their government-promised 3 kathas of land (approximately 720 square feet). 

“There’s no water, no food,” says Ashok Chakraborty, who spearheads the government’s United Central Refugee Council in the state. “They have the right to be rehabilitated” — in the form of 10 kathas. But, Chakraborty says, policymakers have been too busy with the state’s spring elections to follow through on promises. Which explains one year of mistakes — not 70. So why the different treatment for refugees in Punjab and Bangladesh? Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, a researcher at the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, explains that the government was not initially sure Hindu migrants would remain in India. She says some refugees still describe themselves to her as from East Bengal: “Our desh” — country — “is someplace else, someplace we cannot return.”

But what can rehabilitation mean for people whose homeland has been repainted not once but twice? Modern West Bengal, an Indian state, borders Bangladesh; but Bangladesh is the second incarnation of East Pakistan. The women in Ranaghat Mahila Camp and the neighboring Cooper’s Camp — plus a handful of others in the area — are legacies of the first national divorce, says Chaudhury. 

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Geeta Das, 65, lives alone in extreme poverty at the camp.

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

They’re mostly from lower-caste and lower-class rungs of society, Chaudhury explains. The wealthy fled East Pakistan first, shortly after Gandhi’s somber day of silence objecting to the impending partition. They had the most to lose: honor and money. When they arrived in India, they quickly found their way out of the transition camps and resettled in cities, making themselves comfortable with new jobs and homes thanks to a cushion of “social capital.”

The less fortunate only found their way to India in the 1950s, Chaudhury says. At first, Hindu-Muslim relations in Bengal were less bellicose than in their western counterpart, until the 1950 Barisal Riots, the culmination of several years of mounting tensions. Then came the trail of poorer people, making their reluctant egress, not to save their pride but their lives; they were leaving a country where Hindus were thrown into rivers, raped and roasted alive — often in response to Hindus attacking Muslims across the border in India.

And here they are today, those who haven’t yet died and their children, some of whom were raised in the camps. A strange immigrant economy persists — 49-year-old Arugula Soma’s parents came from Andhra Pradesh in south India during partition because of the promise of work. They cooked and cleaned, and Soma never left; her son, a member of a slivered third generation in Ranaghat, is studying gloomily for his police academy exams. There’s not much work here, and he doesn’t want to stray far because this is home. 

The women in Ranaghat and Cooper’s Camp don’t have history on their tongues. Sixty-something Geeta Das shows us her present-day home. It’s dank, and snakes have made themselves comfortable on the dirt floor. She unearths the single sari the government gives her every year: It’s made of rough pink cotton, no petticoat included. Other women in the camp are wearing their saris without blouses, their breasts spilling out. Are Das and her friend Lili Roy — who makes extra income selling goats for meat — angry about the partition, Lord Mountbatten’s orchestration of it or Gandhi’s failure? They shrug. They’re familiar with the geopolitics that brought them here. 

“We don’t need sympathy,” Das says. “We need someone to fight for our rights.”

Your Presidential Candidates … for the Milky Way

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This is the first story in a multipart series about under-the-radar campaign issues. 

A long time ago, in a galaxy not that far away, Hillary Clinton was still Hillary Rodham, and going through a “tomboy stage,” as she describes it nowadays. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s soaring promise to land a person on the moon, and echoing the fears of her father — who worried that America would fall behind Russia — the 13-year-old sat down to pen a letter from her home in Illinois. “I wrote to NASA and asked what I needed to do to try to be an astronaut,” the former secretary of state recalled during a speech honoring Amelia Earhart several years ago, though she and NASA say they no longer have their original correspondence. “NASA wrote me back and said there would not be any women astronauts. And I was just crestfallen.” 

Maybe that’s why Clinton has spoken about space only six times during more than a year of campaigning, according to a speech tracker from the Planetary Society, a space advocacy group. She’s hardly alone. Few contenders who’ve gone after their political party’s presidential nomination — whether Bernie Sanders or those on the Republican side, when they were still in the race — have even mentioned space, and Donald Trump has yet to announce a space strategy or committee. “That is the political black hole,” says Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society.

But while space hasn’t been a major campaign issue so far, there are reasons it should be, some experts argue. There are pragmatic points, such as advancing research, as well as addressing aspirational desires — like inspiring a new generation of scientists. Others hope space can help solve questions about the very genesis of life itself, or serve as the ultimate Plan B in case extreme fears over climate change come to fruition. “Think of how we communicate, how we navigate, how we produce food and energy,” says U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who serves on the House Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology committees. “This is important to the presidential race because we, as a country, are dependent on space for our very way of life.”

At its height, NASA received the equivalent of 4.4 percent of the national budget through federal funding — worth almost $44 billion today. And, to be sure, space hasn’t been a standard stump-speech topic since the Kennedy-Cold War days. But now the space agency’s budget hovers around half a percent of national spending — bipartisan stinginess that’s persisted through multiple legislatures and presidents since the early 2000s. And this election cycle there’s another pressing question burning over at NASA: Might a new president toss out old projects?

 

Missions to send a manned flight to Mars and launch the James Webb Space Telescope continue even while the presidential race rages, representing a “once in a generation” transition. “It’s a risky time,” Dreier says, especially for unproven programs subject to the whims of a new Oval Office tenant. Just look at what happened the last time the White House switched hands: After the Columbia disaster in 2003, George W. Bush retired the space shuttle but promised another manned mission to the moon called Constellation — which was promptly shuttered in Barack Obama’s first term.

Going forward, Obama-era endeavors are likely to be safer under a Clinton administration, which would probably make only “changes on the margins,” says space advisor Jason Callahan, whose research studies the history of NASA funding. And what might happen under a Trump-run White House? “He’s talking about much larger, sweeping changes to government … and one would expect NASA to get caught up in that.”

Indeed, as a real estate mogul, Trump criticized Obama, who he said “gutted” the space program and made America “dependent on the Russians.” Yet today, as the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Trump has insisted that before we can reach Mars we must “fix the potholes.” He wants to expand privatized space exploration, headed by fellow billionaires like Elon Musk and his SpaceX program. It’s hardly a partisan idea; similar partnerships began with the Obama administration.

The value here isn’t just in sharing elbow room on flights to the cosmos — sharing wealth and research could allow public orgs to tap into the data troves of private company satellites, which help everything from weather forecasts to national defense. “In some cases, we can get better data,” says Bridenstine. But, more important, diversifying protects government institutions from shutting down if their own satellites are ever taken out of the picture.

The most out-of-this-world visions of space involve mining the moon for precious materials, rather than fracking our backyards, or building a colony on, say, Mars to escape an Earth poisoned beyond repair. But there are simpler steps worth taking, says John Logsdon, a Space Policy Institute professor at George Washington University. When funded, he notes, space research “sends a message that we’re still a future-oriented society.” 

The Deadliest Passage for Migrants? The Mediterranean Isn’t Even Close

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Huddled together in rickety boats, the masses fear for their lives as they embark on perilous journeys. These refugees aren’t likely to drown, die in stormy seas or be eaten by sharks — although that’s all possible. But for these unfortunate people, it’s more likely to be the beatings, cramped conditions (they’re stuffed in holds designed for 20) and disease that kill them. Such tales evoke images of African and Syrian refugees fleeing for Europe.

But the refugees and migrants braving maritime crossings in Southeast Asia are three times more likely to die than their Europe-bound counterparts.

According to a recent UNHCR report, roughly 33,600 refugees and migrants — primarily Rohingya and Bangladeshis en route from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia — traveled through the region by sea last year, mostly through the Bay of Bengal. Of these, 370 died before reaching land, falling victim to “starvation, dehydration, disease and abuse,” the report says. This means roughly 1.1 percent of those setting off perished, while in the Med, 3,771 of an estimated 1.4 million died, for a rate of .375 percent, according to U.N. figures.

In Southeast Asia, the main culprit is “abuse by smugglers,” says Keane Shum, head of UNHCR’s regional maritime movement monitoring unit, whether that’s deprivation of food and water or by “being beaten or shot to death on board.” Most of these sea journeys should take about a week, but if the captains hit trouble disembarking — as happened last May — then they can be on the boats for months, Shum explains, noting that journeys can also be slowed by migrants’ inability to pay. Fleeing spiked in the wake of Rakhine State (aka Arakan) violence in 2012, which included conflicts between Rahkine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. But the Rohingya have long faced persecution and now feel they have no choice but to leave, says Frankfurt-based Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin. “Either they stay there and die, or they take the risky journey to Malaysia or Thailand,” he says. In recent decades, the Rohingya’s rights have been stripped away, to a point now — since the 2012 killings — where they require permission just to move from one parish to another within the same town, Lwin explains, adding that violent raids and rape are not uncommon. 

 

Vivian Tan, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Bangkok, agrees that those in the internally displaced camps “don’t see much prospect for improvements.” Authorities have been helping some displaced people to return home, but it’s a small number of them, and more than 100,000 remain in the IDP camps. “We’re hoping this will grow,” Tan says, referring to the improvements. Last year, Shum notes, the number of those making the journeys dropped significantly. “The push factors haven’t changed,” he says, referring to the human-rights issues. But the “means by which they can get out have changed,” he explains, noting how official scrutiny has brought a crackdown on smuggling rings. Also, the Rohingya community is growing increasingly wary of rumored worse conditions in Malaysia, as well as the dangerous Bay of Bengal crossings.

Many may also be taking a “wait and see” approach, says Tan, regarding what the new government of Myanmar might do for the Rohingya. For now, thousands remain trapped, deprived of legal status, and their routes to freedom are downright deadly and increasingly being blocked.

How a Tiny Indonesian Island Changed American History

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When Major William Thorn, a British officer touring Dutch colonial Indonesia, came upon the tiny, nutmeg-rich island of Pulau Run in the Banda Sea in 1812, he was looking at the last link of the Netherlands’ lucrative supply chain. It was there, in the far reaches of Southeast Asia, that this “small and thinly peopled” island, as he described it, had once found itself at the center of a long, bloody war between two naval superpowers — the outcome of which changed world trade and American history.

The Bandas’ soil, Thorn wrote in The Conquest of Java, was great for the “culture of the nutmeg-tree, which flourishes not only in the rich black mould of all these isles, but even among the Lava of the Gunung (volcano).” Nutmeg, the small tropical species of evergreen native to the region, is little more than a holiday spice today, often relegated to the forgotten corners of kitchen cabinets. But 400 years ago, this little brown seed changed the world.

The spices helped serve as an engine for a kind of global connection.

Southeast Asian expert Eric Tagliacozzo

Europeans had become enamored with spices for turning their once bland dishes into flavorful affairs. Long before the advent of refrigeration, these magical powders masked the taste and smell of decaying food, even helping to preserve some by killing off harmful bacteria.

By the 1600s, the spice trade was a highly structured global enterprise that gave birth to the world’s first multinational corporation, the Dutch East India Trading Company, and with it the world’s first stocks. Early explorers, driven by a lust for spices and the fortunes they could bring, had already mapped much of the globe. “The spices helped serve as an engine for a kind of global connection,” says Eric Tagliacozzo, a Southeast Asian expert and history professor at Cornell University. At the time, he explains, spices “were sought after more than anything else by an entire side of the world.”

And few were more successful at delivering them than the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was something of a monster in its time — part corporation, part sovereign nation, with the power to establish colonies, wage war and topple kingdoms in its quest for profit. The company had established an outpost on the Indonesian island of Java, centering its activities in the city of Batavia, modern-day Jakarta.

It was there that the head of the Dutch East Indies, a man named Jan Pieterszoon Coen, had a dream of conquering the nutmeg, mace and clove markets with a total monopoly. But there was a problem: The spices came from the Banda Islands, deep into a disputed part of Indonesia where Portuguese and British traders had already established outposts.

Coen’s dream “pivoted on Holland’s takeover of the Bandas, Moluccan flyspecks placed in history’s crosshairs by a unique soil that made them the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace,” wrote William J. Bernstein in A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World. The British East India Company was already trading in the Bandas; the English, nervous after Dutch traders cornered the pepper market in the 1500s, were aggressively pursuing the spice trade. In 1616, the Dutch attacked nearby Pulau Ay, where the Brits had a trading post, slaughtering the natives. The British fled and set up camp a few miles west on Pulau Run — a move that incensed Coen.

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Italy, 17th century. Descriptio Medicamento Confetionem. Plate: Virtues of nutmeg.

Source Getty

“At this point Coen, who had been appointed the local VOC commander in Bantam on Java a few years earlier, warned the English that he would consider any further support of the Bandanese an act of war,” Bernstein wrote. As it turned out, Coen died long before the Dutch could seize control of Pulau Run. But 50 years later, the two superpowers were embroiled in a long, stuttering war. And in 1666, British soldiers marched into the Dutch territory of New Amsterdam and renamed the island New York, while out in the Bandas, the Dutch controlled Pulau Run, commanding a near-total monopoly on the nutmeg trade.

On July 31, 1667, the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Breda. The Dutch dropped their claims to New Netherlands, ceding it to the British in exchange for Pulau Run and Suriname. The treaty handed the British control of a region that ran south from Rhode Island to Delaware, cementing their claim over the New World and changing the course of early American history. But, technically, the Dutch had won the war.

“At that time Manhattan was totally low-lying forest; there was very little here,” Tagliacozzo says, explaining how the long, thin island once seemed to have far less earning potential than the Spice Islands. “But Manhattan became an economic powerhouse,” he says — with the nutmeg trade paling by comparison.

What Journalists Really Need Are Guns

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Smoke billowed in the Iraqi sky. David Enders heard the staccato of sirens, explosions, gunfire. Earlier that day, a local politician showed him the bullet holes left by an AK-47, like moth holes in the thin curtain drapes. That night, Islamic State forces marched toward the military compound in Ramadi, where Enders was holed up. Soldiers started calling their loved ones. 

Enders didn’t have a gun to defend himself. That was by design.

Like many journalists in conflict zones, Enders — a friend of OZY who spent a decade reporting from the Middle East — chooses not to arm himself. Rules set in the Geneva convention have long advised that journalists shouldn’t carry weapons because it might compromise their status as noncombatants. Media organizations, from The New York Times to CNN, have barred employees from packing heat. But the practice of war has changed drastically in recent years, with militants targeting journalists for kidnapping and highly publicized beheadings. Should news gatherers and international press agencies reconsider their ban on reporters carrying protection?

The question was posed to me recently by a former State Department official who had seen the way terrorist brutality created a chilling effect on reporting in Syria. But “the problem with carrying a weapon is you lose your ability to claim that you are a noncombatant,” argues Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. Enders experienced this firsthand in February 2013, when he was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda. He was able to secure his release only after convincing his captors that he was not a spy. “If he had a gun, they would never have believed him,” says Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “What keeps journalists safe in most situations is their vulnerability” — the idea that they are there to listen to combatants, not intervene.

Some journalists decide to blur those lines anyway. In World War II, Ernest Hemingway was accused of storing bazookas and grenades in his Parisian hotel. Both Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera and then–New York Times Baghdad chief Dexter Filkins — nicknamed “Six-Shooter Dex” by other correspondents — carried guns into conflict, to great controversy in the 2000s (neither responded to requests for comment). The journalists most at risk, CPJ’s Simon says, are local reporters who target crime syndicates and government corruption. In those situations, strapping a pistol is less uncommon and more understandable, Simon says, even if he wouldn’t recommend it. “A lot of these international correspondents are in danger for a relatively short period of time. If you’re a local journalist in Columbia or Uruguay or Mexico, this is your home and it’s much more difficult to say, ‘This is too dangerous,’ and leave.”

War itself has changed drastically in recent decades, complicating things. Militants often target journalists for kidnapping. “If you’re a Westerner, you’re an ATM,” Simon says. And if you’re captured by jihadist rebel groups, the situation could be much more dire, as was the case for Steven Sotloff and James Foley, journalists beheaded by ISIS in 2014. Last year, Reporters Without Borders reported that 110 journalists died in the line of duty, and battle zones like Syria (11 fatalities) and Iraq (10) topped that list. Yet it’s in the fog of war — where countless lives are at risk — that the light needs to be shone the most. So what’s better: reporting that comes with the hazy moral gray of a handgun or no reporting at all?

Back in Ramadi, with ISIS forces approaching, Enders did what he had never done before: He relented and, somewhat cheekily, asked for a gun. “That was being faced with the almost certain likelihood of a gruesome death my family would have to avoid on YouTube in perpetuity,” Enders says. “At that point, issues of integrity are not your biggest concern.” He survived, but only after the terrorist combatants weren’t able to cross a bridge between them and his hideaway.