"I just want everyone to know who Matthew LaPlante is... Matthew LaPlante isn't a journalist. He's out to hurt you... I believe this man is an ideologue who's out to hurt you, and he shouldn't be working in any major newspaper."
- Bill O'Reilly

"I don't have any idea if he's credible or not."
- Glenn Beck

Photo by Keith Johnson

On the furthest, thinnest edges of the bell curve are vast and exciting secrets about everything else. Yet for most of our scientific history, the biggest, fastest, strongest and whatever-est things of our natural world have been dismissed as oddities and outliers. Recently, though, that has begun to change, and superlative organisms are offering tremendous insights into our environment — and our place within it.

In a tiny village in southern China, a renowned cardiologist facing myriad personal health problems discovered a simple formula for lifelong well-being. Bringing those lessons home to the United States, he completely changed his own life — and has begun helping countless others to do the same.

From his patients' bedside, a geneticist explains how our emerging understanding of epigenetics is impacting how we live. 

In a narrow space between rows of gleaming steel refrigerators, the dance of the dead has begun. The slender body of a 14-year-old boy, not yet stiff with death, is dragged from the back of a coroner's van onto a metal gurney, still wet with the fluids of its last passenger. medics shuffle the other body carts, left then right then left again, lifting and rolling the plastic-wrapped corpses from one gurney to another to make room for the next body. It is early in the afternoon at the Institute of Legal Medicine in El Salvador's volatile capital city, on what will become one of the most violent days of the most violent year in the most violent nation in the Western Hemisphere. 

Carmen de Jesus rose from her bed, night after night, to shake off her nightmares and check on her teenage daughter. She could hardly bear to look at the sleeping girl. The day she would send her daughter north was approaching. And de Jesus was overcome with guilt and fear.

ON BRAZIL'S NORTH COAST, REGGAE'S PROTECTORS SEEK TO PRESERVE ITS PLACE AS THE SOUNDTRACK OF REBELLIONIn advance of what could be a severe political shift for South America’s largest country, the employees of a new museum are hoping to preserve all of reggae's roles. But none, perhaps, is more important than the music's roots as the soundtrack of rebellion.

His top teeth came in before his bottom teeth. That is how elders of the Kara tribe determined that a healthy baby boy needed to be killed. The child was "mingi" — cursed, according to their ancient superstitions. With every breath, they believed, the boy was beckoning an evil spirit into their village.
Bullet-riddled and mortar-scarred, the walls of the Ramadi government center tell its story. The damage is both old and new: From American troops, as they secured this city in the spring of 2003, and from insurgents, as they have tried to wrest control away from the Americans ever since.

The young teacher was seething. "Fidel!" he spit. "Let me tell you about Fidel!" He shifted from broken English into Spanish, letting fly a few profanities from his native tongue. In a seaside bar crowded with young Cubans, Alejandro Peña did not bother to lower his voice. "Fidel was a coward." On billboards and in shop windows, in magazines and on television, Fidel Castro's iconic image is as ubiquitous here as ever. But nearly a year after the ailing leader officially ceded power to his brother, his aura has lost its luster among many on this troubled island.

He had been in Iraq only a few weeks, but Brett Schlifka already had grown used to seeing death laid out on the operating table before him. And yet something was different on the morning of Dec. 14.

Colleen Parkin had taken no more than three steps onto Iraqi soil when her legs collapsed beneath her. She fell to the ground, weeping. But when she rose, she wore a smile as bright as the desert sun. More than five years after the death of Cpl. Matthew Smith in Iraq, an airplane carrying the fallen Marine's mother and a delegation of women who have shared her sorrow touched down at a small airport in the northeast corner of this war-torn country. One by one they stepped off the aircraft. One by one they touched the sacred soil of the nation in which their children served and sacrificed. And one by one they began seeking out the spirits of their sons and daughters.

Green and tan, steel riveted to steel, menacingly large black guns mounted to the roofs, six gun trucks rumble toward the gate, stopping in a suffocating cloud of dirt and dust. Out from the first vehicle, out from the dusty air, steps a tall, angular man in a bulky flak jacket. A knife is strapped to his chest. He presses a full magazine into his rifle and turns to make sure his men are doing the same. From the guard tower above him, in brown letters, hangs a simple, somber warning: "Complacency Kills." Hefting himself back into the truck, he nods to the driver. It's 1300 hours in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. Lt. Charles Bradley Triplett, 35, is about to go "outside the wire" for a 24-hour patrol.
The sun hangs high, unrelenting in the cloudless desert sky.

He moves as if divining water — three steps this way, two steps that — through a crowd of anxious soldiers, feeling his way through their expressions, body language and voices. Searching. A few paces ahead, a wide-eyed and baby-faced private, 19 years old if that, stands staring blankly in the direction where, moments earlier, a mortar fell amid a rapid barrage of explosions.

Tomorrow, when the sun rises above the bright white ridges of the Wasatch Mountains, Bryant Jacobs will wake up, shower, place a single sneaker into a small travel bag, and drive to the veteran's hospital. There, he will go to sleep. And when he wakes up, his right leg will be gone.

Nine men. One plane. Falling from the sky. Falling to the sea. This is the scene, as it played out in Norman Workman's dreams, again and again, until dementia finally - maybe mercifully - stole it from him, a year or two ago. This was his cross, his great regret. Those nine men were supposed to be 10. He was supposed to be on that plane.

In Vietnam, Jim Ogden flew through clouds of Agent Orange. In Desert Storm, he hovered past burning oil fields. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, he worked near a thick black plume of burning plastic, metals, chemicals and medical waste. Along the way he took injection after injection and swallowed pill after pill. He breathed in herbicides and pesticides. And he never questioned whether all of those drugs, toxins and poisons might someday do him harm. Not until he lost his eyesight.

At least a dozen families at Hill Air Force Base have reported infections, allergies and respiratory illnesses they believe to have been caused or aggravated by mold in their on-base homes. But their efforts to find help and obtain answers have been stymied - particularly by a private contractor to whom the Air Force ceded control of its residential properties in 2005.

For one year, Mario Urquia guarded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, protecting American service members and diplomats in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Now Urquia is living on the edge of homelessness in Ogden - illegal in the nation he once stood to protect.

Every evening, as the local imam's crescendoing song reached out for the stars and Iraq's intolerable desert days melted into merely uncomfortable desert nights, Joe Lappi knelt in his dilapidated concrete barracks and prayed.
For safety. For peace. And, most often, for his wife and children in Utah.

Rabeh Morad removes his right leg. And then the left. He sets aside the prosthetics and pulls down an elastic sock, exposing a shriveled stump, just below his knee. "This," he says, "is what I gave to America."

In what Diyar Al-Bayati calls "the future of my past" he wanted to be a businessman. At his Baghdad high school, he took classes in economics, accounting and English, in hopes of getting a good job rebuilding his war-torn nation. In the future of his present, all he wants to do is walk.

Nestled alongside Coots Slough, near the southwest corner of Fish Lake in Utah’s Sevier County, this aspen clone spans more than 430,000 square meters—more than four times the size of New York’s Yankee Stadium. And deep in this hundred-acre wood is a mystery that scientists are now rushing to solve. What is killing this great and ancient thing? And can it be stopped?

She was born 27 years ago in the wilds of Africa. By the time she was a year old, she had been ripped from her family. Penned, chained and shipped to a noisy new world, her California keepers allowed her to roam only a few paces this way and a few paces that. She was bullied and dominated. She lost a baby. She was poked, prodded, cut and left in pain. Misha the elephant died Tuesday on the concrete floor of a cinderblock building in a lot behind her most recent home at Utah's Hogle Zoo, some 10,000 miles from where she was born. No one is certain yet what caused her death, at what could be described as "middle age" for an elephant. But one of Misha's former trainers has a strong suspicion: "She lost her will."

It was El Dia de Guadalupe, a day for feasts and celebration for millions of Catholics—and a reminder that even the lowliest peasant can be an instrument for the greatest of miracles.
But now, among many in Cache County, Dec. 12 is a day associated with horror and heartbreak.
It is el día que esta esperanza se murió.
The day that hope died.

It’s easy to feel complacent here. There are 10 ski resorts within an hour of downtown Salt Lake City, and I’ve had best-day-ever experiences at most of them. Salt Lakers can be in the backcountry in minutes, stalking untracked powder even days after a storm. A two-hour trip north puts us at one of the nation’s best mom-and-pop snow resorts. Three hours south and we’re in red rock ski country, a study of contrasts so unique that saying it is incomparable is a ridiculous understatement. So why on God’s white Earth would I feel compelled to point my Mazda west on Interstate 80 for Lamoille, Nevada?

The Olympic Legacy Plaza, Mitt Romney told a crowd of about 300 people, should stand as “a tangible memory” of this Olympics. As part of that memory, the names of 28,000 Olympic workers and volunteers would be inscribed on the plaza’s west wall. But under Romney’s orders, two names would be left out. The banishment of Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, the two men most responsible for bringing the Olympics to Salt Lake City, was, as it turns out, a rather ironic attempt to sanitize history. Because in the decade that followed, no one has done more to remind the world of the questionable ethical origins of the 2002 Olympics than Romney.
An analysis of pay records reveals a decades-old system that secretly and disproportionately benefitted a mayor, his administrators and their department heads.

Over the past 30 years — through at least a half-dozen attacks on elderly women — charging decisions and plea negotiations have ensured that Floyd Maestas has never been convicted of a single violent crime.

Even as Defense Logistics Agency officials were finalizing the details of a $64 million deal for military contractor EG&G Inc. to oversee the distribution of missile and aircraft parts at Hill Air Force Base, Defense Department inspectors were learning of serious problems with the company's performance at a similar facility in Georgia.Now, military investigators are examining EG&G's role in the wrongful transfer of ballistic missile fuses to Taiwan and members of Congress are calling into question the amount of oversight placed on the company and others like it.

Aside from the uniforms, which are two different shades of blue, they look much the same:
Large, muscular men. Square jaws and large mustaches. Five o'clock shadows at noon. Firefighters, a half-dozen of them huddled around a large gray table cluttered with newspapers and crossword puzzles.
When the alarm sounds — as it does six, seven, eight times a day here —they share the same dangers.
But twice a month, the firefighters of Station 43 are reminded that their similarities end where their pocketbooks begin. On payday, the men in dark blue — employees of the Unified Fire Authority — will take home an average of $230 more than their light-blue-clad counterparts from South Salt Lake.

The Army's "one-for-one" exchange program in Iraq trades lesser armored vehicles for newer models with stronger shells. Just one catch: The old vehicles must have been severely damaged or destroyed in battle.
Commanders say that means their troops must be shot at or bombed in order to get a newer, safer vehicle. And maintenance workers report that the threshold of replacement is so high that they have had to repair some vehicles that have been struck in roadside bomb attacks in excess of five times.

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real of perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts. 

INCOME: I am a tenured associate professor of journalism at Utah State University, a taxpayer-, donor-, and tuition-supported institution of higher education. I write and co-write books that have been or are scheduled to be published by Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Grand Central Press and BenBella Books. I freelance for various news organizations. I consult for Graduation Alliance, which partners with schools and other community partners across the nation to provide educational and career-training opportunities to underserved Americans.

AFFILIATIONS: I sit on the board of directors of the Reaching At-Promise Student Association, which serves educators who work with underserved students. I am a veteran of the United States Navy. My wife teaches in the Salt Lake City School District, where my daughter attends school. I am a member or former member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Military Reporters and Editors. I donate to multiple public radio stations. I am an unaffiliated voter, although I reserve the right to temporarily join a political party for the purpose of engaging in the democratic process vis-a-vis primary elections.

ADVOCACY: I am an unabashed supporter of equity in educational opportunity, women's rights, LGBT+ rights, science, destigmatizing mental illness, and the political power of sports. I do my best to call out hypocrisy where I see it—including in my own life, where it exists in droves.

INVESTMENT: I own multiple blind investment products, and property in Salt Lake City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

• Soccer: Utah Royals and Real Salt Lake.
• Baseball: A's and Giants.
• American Football: 49ers.
• College: Oregon State University, The University of Utah, Stanford University, and Utah State University (in that order.)