I Got My Personal Genome Mapped and It Was Bullshit
Last Friday, the FDA forced personal genomics company 23andMe to stop marketing its tests to the public in their current form. Before the order came in, customers would send a spit sample to the firm, who would sequence the DNA and look for genes indicating a risk of up to 254 diseases and conditions, providing a breakdown of any issues.
The FDA cited a lack of supporting evidence for some of the claims made and expressed particularly serious concern over their assessment of the BRCA gene, which is linked to breast cancer, suggesting 23andMe’s tests might result in false positives that could lead to women undergoing traumatic and unnecessary surgery. The FDA’s actions have led to an explosion of opinion across the science blogosphere, but in all of that commentary a big question remains unanswered: What exactly is the point of personal genomics?
My first experience with the industry came about three years ago, when I was offered the chance to have a test done with Navigenics, a firm since taken over by a biotech firm called Life Technologies. Being a curious sort of guy, I jumped at the chance. A sample tube arrived via Fedex a few days later, which I duly spat into and sent back for analysis.
The results came back in the form of a sort of “wall of death”—a breakdown of all the things that might harm or kill me over the coming decades, detailing how likely I am to have each condition. Drilling into the figures, I can see that I have a higher risk of prostate cancer than 95 percent of the population and a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s—twice the average risk. So I’ll probably get cancer, but on the plus side I’ll be too forgetful to care about it.
Geriatric Nuclear Reactors Could Kill Us All
In America, you need a license to drive an automobile, to operate heavy machinery, to hunt and fish, but apparently not to run a nuclear reactor. Entergy Corp. is slated to become the first company in history to operate a reactor without a license this fall. The Louisiana-based energy corporation’s rogue reactor is located at its Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, NY—just 24 miles from Manhattan. Entergy Corp’s license to run its Indian Point 2 reactor expires on September 28. The regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is charged with overseeing the civilian use of nuclear power, says it is prepared to grant the license but its hands are tied by legal challenges mounted by New York State and a federal court ruling last year. The ruling dismissed the agency’s radioactive waste management plans as inadequate.
Most of America’s nuclear plants were built in the 60s and 70s. They were given shelf lives of 40 years. It was assumed by the industry at the time of their construction that when the millennium rolled around there would be new plants up, running, and ready to replace the old fleet. But between then and now interest in nuclear power has waned due to cost and the public’s reaction to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and other nuclear calamities. Instead, the energy industry has sought to renew the licenses on the reactors they already operate, while keeping the cost of infrastructure improvements to a bare minimum. They’ve encountered little resistance from the NRC, which has approved 73 separate license renewals and only denied one single application in its history.
Barnaby Jack Could Hack Your Pacemaker and Make Your Heart Explode
VICE: Hi Barnaby. So, why did you decide to reverse engineer the pacemaker?
Barnaby Jack: I was intrigued by the fact that these critical life devices communicate wirelessly. I decided to look at pacemakers and ICDs (implantable cardioverter defibrillators) to see if they communicated securely and if it would be possible for an attacker to remotely control these devices.
And you found it was possible?
Yeah, the software I developed allows the shutting off of the pacemaker or ICD, reading and writing to the memory of the device, and in the case of ICDs it allows the delivering of a high voltage shock of up to 830 volts. I wanted to look at these devices with the aim of demonstrating and raising awareness of the issues I found, then hopefully spark the manufacturers into implementing a more secure design.
Is it difficult to hack into these devices?
It does take a specialized skill, but with more and more security researchers concentrating on embedded devices, the skill set required is becoming more common. It probably took me around six months, from reverse engineering and finding the flaws through to developing software to exploit the vulnerabilities.
If, say, a government official used a pacemaker, would they be vulnerable to assassination from hackers, like in that episode of Homeland? Or do they use better defended devices?
I wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating about such a scenario, but as far as I’m aware there are no differences in the implantable devices issued to officials as there are to the general public.
Read the whole interview
MEXICO CITY: WAS THE PEMEX BLAST A BOMB OR AN ACCIDENT?
The executive skyscraper at the headquarters of Pemex—Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly, where an explosion this January killed 37 people—is 51 stories tall, plus an elevated helipad at the top. The entire glass exterior has turned a flat metallic yellow from Mexico City’s brutal smog. I’ve lived in Mexico for more than five years, and I always think that at sunset, the helipad looks like it could be a sacrificial platform.
Which is now a terrible thought. The victims of the explosion at the Pemex headquarters on January 31 were mostly regular, everyday office workers. They were secretaries, maintenance guys, accountants. One of the dead was a nine-year-old girl named Dafne Sherlyn Martinez who reportedly went to visit her father that day at work. They both died.
According to official sources, a gas leak caused the explosion. But this official narrative has been called into question and some suspect it was a political attack—another deadly salvo in the hall of smoke and mirrors that is Mexican politics.
Why would anyone try to blow up Pemex? The company is the eighth largest producer of oil in the world, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It’s also a state-run monopoly, making something like $580 billion dollars a year in oil exports, or about a third of the entire country’s GDP. Mexico expropriated its oil industry from all foreigners in 1938, lionizing forever the president responsible for this, Lazaro Cardenas. The constitution still strictly forbids foreigners from owning any of the oil here, and the popular leftist leader, Andres Manual Lopez Obredor, who narrowly lost the last presidential election in Mexico, promises to “defend” Pemex from “privatization” with everything he’s got, which basically adds up to street protests if his record on the matter offers any guidance. Critics like to say that Mexico is now more adverse to foreign investment than the state-owned oil company of Cuba, a Communist-governed country that gets most of its oil from Venezuela and does permit some foreign investment in its oil holdings.
The ATL Twins Would Like to Introduce You to the Li’l Twins
The world has always been a terrifying place, but few have the bravery to stick there head into the vilest and most dead-end aspects of the human condition and document it. As far as we can tell, this is the thesis ofVrille, a twisted-ass video series directed by Matt Swinsky. We found out about Vrille by way of our favorite stripper-banging, double-penetrating duo, the ATL Twins. They helped Matt put the inaugural “episode” together, which features their childhood friends Adam and Andrew Gates—who also happen to be twins and go by the collective “Suave” and “Cutesy,” aka the Li’l Twins.
The ATL Twins and Matt first met the Li’l Twins at a young age via the skateboarding scene of Atlanta. But over the years the Gates boys went off in a peculiar and depressing direction, devolving into boozing hermits who spend their days watching obscure films on a near-broken TV, smoking cigs, and, on the rare occasion when they’re feeling social, hanging out with the dregs of society. You can tell after the first few moments of this clip, which is shot on gritty VHS tape within the Li’l Twins’ dilapidated home, that the two boys have seen some really fucked up shit in their day.
We won’t completely spoil the story contained within this video for you, but we will say that it involves an alleged murderous KKK member who has skinned a few folks (whether they were alive or dead at the time of the skinning has been lost to the sands of time). We also want to make it clear that the gnarly-ass tale told by the Gates Twins is believed to be gospel by both the ATL Twins and the director Matt. The ATL Twins and Matt also want everyone to know that this document is not meant to be exploitative in any way, and the Li’l Twins gave them full approval to shoot it—in other words, it’s “just real shit.”
VICE: How’d you guys meet the Li’l Twins?
The ATL Twins: When we first moved to ATL, we moved to this neighborhood and we met them they were skaters and they were twins. The whole crew was little kids, we were young too, but they were younger—like 16 or some shit—but we got with them and started skating and became really good friends with them. Eventually we became roommates with them and worked with them and shit. Actually, they used to be really amazing skateboarders.
In the interview Chris Nieratko did with you a couple of years ago that sort of introduced you to the world, you guys said something like “fuck other twins.” So I’m surprised you were so close with these two.
Yeah well, we never really ever met any other twins to be honest with you. Other than the Li’l Twins, we haven’t kicked it with any twins. We can relate to them in a lot of always; they were different, they would fight, they were close, but they would also get into fights. One of them knocked the other one’s tooth out. They werebad. They were also really close. We really clicked with them—skateboarding, movies, and shit. We always saw eye-to-eye on everything, they were really cool.
The guy who’s been injecting himself with snake venom for 20 years (and stars in our recent doc Venom Superman) is doing a reddit AMA. Go ask him a question.
How Canadian Police Overlooked a Serial Killer
Back in December 2011, while producing an article about the state of First Nations women in Canada we interviewed Anishinaabe activist Audrey Huntley. She gave us some valuable insights into Vancouver’s infamous crime and drug-riddled Eastside, then told us something we couldn’t believe: “I have a friend who went to the cops in 1998 and told them about Robert Pickton’s whole farm. They called her a ‘junkie ho.’” For the record, police didn’t catch Pickton, the so-called “Pig Farmer Killer,” until 2002.
Not only was her friend right, but now she’s backed up by the recently released missing women inquiry, undertaken by former B.C. Appeal Court Justice and B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal, which found some pretty damning evidence of gross negligence on the part of cops during the investigation of Pickton. As in, they were outright told about a psycho who was killing prostitutes on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam and they did absolutely nothing about it.
The report was spurred on by public complaints against the mishandling of the Pickton case by the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP. After two years of proceedings it’s now a 1,448-page document (and obviously a total bummer), so we decided to give you some of Oppal’s more important findings to spare you the details:
Oppal delivering his report to the public.
- Between 1998 and 1999, four people told police about Pickton’s alleged activities. Informant Lynn Ellingsen even said she saw Pickton butchering a woman in his slaughterhouse. Apparently Police didn’t act because these witnesses were potential drug addicts and often changed their stories.
- Police failed to connect the huge and very obvious dots. When Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of a sex worker in 1997, an episode which somehow was not considered a warning sign for cops when he was then implicated as a serial killer by four people in 1998.
- Some senior VPD officials refused to consider there was a serial killer in their midst even when their own officer, geographic profiler Kim Rossmo, theorized it as early as 1998 and wanted to warn the public about it.
- When the families of missing women attempted to file missing person reports they faced what Oppal called “degrading and insensitive treatment” by police. In some cases they were told their daughters were transient drug addicts, probably perfectly fine, or on vacation and out partying. READ MORE
Swedish photographer Mårten Lange is of that rare breed of people to whom you can give a camera and, no matter what he takes a picture of – be it a shower curtain, a puddle or a cavity in a rock – he’ll make it look so great it’ll give you goosebumps. I could reel off a whole list of adjectives to describe his work, like “inspiring”, “universal”, “sentimental”, “larger-than-life”, blah-blah-blah, da-da-da, but what’s the point when you can just admire the photos above and make up your own mind?
More Photos + Interview
We Went to Blackout Halloween and Got a Penis Placed Upon Us
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a thing about how I was offered a couple of passes to the infamous Blackout Haunted House, and could literally not find a single VICE staffer to drag their pussy ass through it. This year, I resolved to not only force myself to confront my biggest fear (having a foreskin presented to me), but to force my co-workers to go along with me on what ended up being a true fact-finding mission; that fact being that Blackout really is just a bunch of flaccid penises, with also at least three sets of boobs thrown in for fun.
When I sent out my email to the creators of the Blackout event, asking if we could be granted upwards of ten passes for free, I was honestly hoping that they’d say no, or at least say that yes, we could come, but in like a month or something. When I got an almost immediate reply saying that we were all set and could pick a date to come as soon as a week away, I wanted to cry, crap, and then die in my own crap. The weeks leading up to us going were spent exchanging fearful stares and head shakes. Only an idiot would want to go through this thing. Good thing we’re all idiots.
The day that it was all set to go down included three immediate flake outs (I won’t name names, but you can email me if you want to know who the yellow-bellied VICE staffers are) and about 57 beers a piece. The sun set way too soon, and we all piled into a car and headed over to get tortured for fun.
I would hate to ruin the event for others by going over the details of what happened during the 30 minutes you spend ALONE inside of Blackout, but I will share the post-event interviews I conducted with the poor chumps I made go with me. Maybe this will help you determine if you’re brave (or sick) enough to make it through.
What made you want to do this?
Harry: Everyone was talkin’ ‘bout this haunted house like OH MY GOD THE TERROR THEY WILL EAT YOUR DICK or something. Seemed fun?
Jonathan: I hadn’t been to a haunted house since like 5th grade and I remember being really freaked out by some parts of it. Since this is supposedly the scariest haunted house in the city, I guess I was hoping I’d get spooked like I did when I was a kid. Also, I hear tickets are like 60 bucks or something and I’m a cheap bastard so I’ll do pretty much anything that normally costs money if I don’t have to pay.
Sasha: I wanted to do this because I was almost positive that I couldn’t. I wanted to feel fear in ways I never have before. Also, I knew everyone would be a dick to me if I didn’t.
Kathleen: At first I didn’t even consider going, but I read too many accounts online and got really curious. Then I had a few drinks and was convinced by the bravery of everyone else.
Josh: A few things. one, I like taking advantage of living in New York. New Yorkers pass up on more arts and culture, and general experiences, than almost anyone, only because we have so much offered to us.
Ryan: I’m always up for something weird and free.