August 9, 2015

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If you travel to remote places, the services of Global Rescue or a similar firm, may have critical value. Wired Magazine profiles the firm as it reacts to the earthquake in Nepal last April.

… Global Rescue, which positions itself as a nimble eject button for those who frequently find themselves in tough spots, has in the past decade established a lucrative client base of large corporations, government organizations, hunters, and adventure travelers. The company has offices in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pakistan, and Thailand and a staff that might make some countries’ armies blush. Its roster of 200-odd employees includes wilderness paramedics and former military personnel, some of them ex-Special Forces and Navy SEALs. The company’s Nepal posting is a busy one. Every spring, climbers and trekkers, many of them Global Rescue clients, come to test their mettle in the Himalayas. In 2013 and 2014, the company evacuated 28 clients and repatriated the remains of three more who perished in the mountains. …

… And then news of the disaster broke on television in Bang­kok. Then Kathmandu’s cellular network went down, over­loaded by the volume of calls, and Line stopped working. On cue, Global Rescue’s phones lit up. Uber, a corporate client, had three employees in Kathmandu. Another corporate client, Condé Nast, WIRED’s parent company, called: A climber was on assignment for Glamour. Another call came from VirginiaCommonwealthUniversity in Qatar, which had staff in Nepal. Two Global Rescue analysts began sifting through Twitter feeds from Everest climbers they’d been following. But there was precious little to report. Wi-Fi was down in Kathmandu, cell phone service was sporadic, and satellite phones went in and out. …

… The company’s founder and CEO, a former Wall Street executive named Dan Richards, awoke on Saturday morning to many voicemails. He was on vacation in Los Angeles; back in Boston and New Hampshire, his team was awake and scrambling. Analysts eventually determined that at least 100 clients were in Nepal. Their specific locations, though, were less clear. Climbers on Everest were moving slowly up the mountain, spread between Base Camp, at 17,600 feet; Camp 1, at 19,800 feet; and Camp 2, some 2,000 feet higher. Early Saturday morning in the US, the first reports had emerged of a massive and deadly avalanche of rock and ice at Base Camp. Richards had no idea if his clients were among the deceased. He contacted his associate director for security operations, Scott Hume, who then instructed Drew Pache, a security operations manager for Global Rescue and former US Army Special Forces operative, to leave the New Hamp­shire office and get on a plane for Kathmandu. …

… In an age when travelers can land in Paris or Jakarta and book a ride with Uber before the plane reaches the gate, Global Rescue’s existence hardly seems remarkable. Why shouldn’t we be able to hire private armies to ensure our safe return home from vacation? Fast convenience has never been so valued, and Global Rescue represents a logical extension in the app era: security guaranteed with the click of a sat phone. That’s what the company sells, anyway—absolute control in situations that are by definition uncon­trollable. The truth is slightly more complicated. “It’s a bit like a swan in the water,” Fraser told me. “It looks graceful on the surface, but underneath, the legs are going crazy.”

The fact that well-heeled travelers can summon Green Berets and wilderness paramedics almost instantaneously can present an ethical conundrum. The places where Global Rescue operates are often poor and short on resources; the company’s business model is predicated on delivering goods and services to its clients first. It makes an effort to help locals when possible, but as Richards puts it, “We are not the Red Cross. We don’t have the ability to just deploy our services to people who haven’t paid a member­ship fee.”

A graduate of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Rich­ards founded Global Rescue in 2004 following a successful career as a private equity adviser at Thomas Weisel Capital Partners. He saw a niche that needed filling. …




Speaking of high altitudes, National Geographic reports on studies to determine how snow leopards get enough oxygen.

Despite living at elevations of more than 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), these spotted big cats breathe in the same way as other feline species that live at sea level—notably your pet kitty.

Anyone who has ever tried to run even a short distance on a mountain has felt the effects of high elevation. The difficulties people and other animals have breathing isn’t due to lower oxygen, but rather low air pressure at high altitudes. Each breath takes in less oxygen and fewer air molecules overall.

Without adequate oxygen, mammals can’t stay warm, run to chase prey, or escape predators. To get around this, other high-dwelling animals have evolved coping strategies—in particular, many of them have more efficient hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in the blood.

Scientists wondered if snow leopards had the same adaptation. But the new research, published August 5 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, reveals they don’t. …




Speaking of big cats, (Notice our series of deft segues?), a Zimbabwean, studying in the US, tries to point out the foolishness of Cecilmania.

Winston-Salem, N.C. — MY mind was absorbed by the biochemistry of gene editing when the text messages and Facebook posts distracted me.

So sorry about Cecil.

Did Cecil live near your place in Zimbabwe?

Cecil who? I wondered. When I turned on the news and discovered that the messages were about a lion killed by an American dentist, the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine.

My excitement was doused when I realized that the lion killer was being painted as the villain. I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States.

Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?

In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror. …



Normally Craig Pirrong doesn’t show up on science days, but he has pointed thoughts about nuclear fission.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In commemoration, we are being bombarded with moralizing criticisms of the US’s actions. Japan is playing the victim card for all it is worth, and it is getting considerable support in the predictable quarters of the US and Europe.

These criticisms only survive in a vacuum in which history begins on 6 August, 1945.  Put into proper historical context, Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is readily understood and easily defended.  Real decisions require an understanding of the choices at hand, and Truman’s choices were grim.

The alternative to the bomb was a continued relentless air assault on Japan with conventional weapons, likely culminating with a series of invasions of the home islands, combined with a Soviet assault in Manchuria and then into China. The human toll of this alternative would have far exceeded that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially in Japanese lives.  Curtis LeMay’s firebombing campaign inflicted horrific casualties: the firebombing of Tokyo on 8/9 March, 1945 alone killed over 100,000 Japanese civilians. The collective toll of the conventional bombing campaign was over 300,000 from November 1944-August 1945, and its continuation would have killed more Japanese than the atomic bombs did. …

… Some weeks ago, Obama said “ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas.” There is at least one instance where that is true. In August, 1945, the violent ideology of Bushido was defeated by an idea. The better idea was nuclear fission.