SCI has 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada, 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of $4 billion. Should a company this large have this much control over how we care for the dead?
“‘We are going to be poised to benefit from the aging of America, the baby boomers,’ Foley said. Deaths in the U.S. are forecast to increase at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent over the next five years. At SCI, earnings per share rose 26 percent in the first half of 2013. ‘This growth,’ Foley said, ’was driven in large part due to the strong flu season’—i.e., a lot of old people got sick and died last winter.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3673 words)
The life and death of Roy Sullivan, a park ranger for Shenandoah National Park who was struck by lightning seven times:
"A gentle rain fell on April 16, 1972. The Spark Ranger was in a small guardhouse atop Loft Mountain, registering carloads of visitors who were arriving at the campground. Not so much as a coo of thunder riffled the air. Then … KABOOM! Lightning annihilated a fuse box inside the guardhouse. 'The fire was bouncing around inside the station, and when my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling,' Sullivan told a Washington Post reporter who contacted him a week later. 'It was my hair on fire.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5142 words)
Even in the 1980s, the comics industry was troubled. Here is a 1989 speech by Calvin & Hobbes
creator Bill Watterson, on the comics that inspired him as a child, and the problem with a business that was being dominated by a very small group of syndicates and newspapers that prevented artists from retaining the ownership of their work:
"By having complete control over the comic strip, the syndicate can ruin the work. Although there has never, ever been a successor to a comic strip half as good as the original creator, passing strips down through generations like secondhand clothes has been the standard practice of the business since it began. Incredibly, syndicates still today tell young artists that they're not good enough to draw their own strip, but they are good enough to carry on the work of some legendary strip instead. Too often, syndicates would rather have the dwindling income of a doddering dinosaur than let the strip die and risk losing the spot to a rival syndicate. Consequently, the comics pages are full of dead wood. Strips that had some relevance to the world during the depression are now being continued by baby boomers, and the results are embarrassing."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5309 words)
The writer visits West, Texas, the town where he grew up, and talks to residents who experienced the fertilizer plant explosion that destroyed its surrounding area on April 17, 2013:
"Less than a minute later, he saw a bright flash and heard a deep boom. 'I thought I was imagining this, but others saw it, too: for a split second, I could see wavy, ripple-y air,' he says. 'It was the shockwave. I could see it hover. I could see it come right above the treeline.' Then he was blown onto his back on the driveway. Out front, Becky was thrown into the grass. And inside, Abby was buried under collapsed drywall. A ceiling fan fell on her, too.
"Jeff doesn’t know how long he was on the ground. When he was able finally to go back to the house days later, he saw what could have been. On the driveway, maybe a foot from where he had been standing, there was chalky residue from where a piece of concrete had landed, before smashing against the back of his house. In his mother Carolyn’s backyard there was a 16-foot length of auger pipe, a foot in diameter, thrust into the back wall, near the roofline. Judging from its path—where it clipped a tree, smashed through a fence, and landed hard enough to gouge a foot-deep gash in Carolyn’s lawn before cartwheeling into her house—it, too, had been headed straight for him."
PUBLISHED: June 25, 2013
LENGTH: 34 minutes (8531 words)
A visit to Iceland and CCP Games, the company behind the sci-fi video game Eve Online. The game has grown to 500,000 users and $65 million in revenue:
"Economists have written dozens of papers celebrating the sophistication of Eve’s economy and the amazing level of industry among the players, who basically create everything within the game from scratch. 'It feels like a real economy instead of one rigged by a gaming company,' says Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the London School of Economics who’s studied virtual games since 2004. 'Since there’s no legal system, the economy resembles that of a developing nation where people trade based on trust and social relations.'
"The thought of Eve advancing economic teaching provides some measure of comfort for Icelanders who’ve grown to detest the presumed economic whizzes in the real world. Just down the road from the CCP headquarters, the Harpa, a giant glass opera house, glows in different colors at night. It symbolized Iceland’s banking boom. Now it may have to be torn down, because it’s too expensive for the country to maintain. CCP held its most recent Christmas party there."
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2872 words)
In 1983, three whitewater guides attempted a record-breaking speed run down the Colorado River in dangerous waters. Their story is adapted from The Emerald Mile
, which will be published in May:
"For Grua, Petschek, and Wren, getting tossed was brutal and blunt. 'The flip was instantaneous—there was nothing rhythmic or graceful or easy about it at all—it was just boom
,' said Petschek, who was summarily dumped into the river.
"Grua was holding his oars as tight as he could. As the boat toppled, they flew from his hands, and he followed Petschek into the current. But the worst punishment was reserved for Wren."
PUBLISHED: April 8, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6159 words)
On the future of drones in America:
"But the drone industry is ramping up for a big landgrab the moment the regulatory environment starts to relax. At last year's Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Las Vegas, more than 500 companies pitched drones for filming crowds and tornados and surveying agricultural fields, power lines, coalfields, construction sites, gas spills and archaeological digs. A Palo Alto, Calif., start-up called Matternet wants to establish a network of drones that will transport small, urgent packages, like those for medicine.
"In other countries civilian drone populations are already booming. Aerial video is a major application. A U.K. company called Skypower makes the eight-rotored Cinipro drone, which can carry a cinema-quality movie camera. In Costa Rica they're used to study volcanoes. In Japan drones dust crops and track schools of tuna; emergency workers used one to survey the damage at Fukushima. A nature preserve in Kenya ran a crowdsourced fundraising drive to buy drones to watch over the last few northern white rhinos. Ironically, while the U.S. has been the leader in sending drones overseas, it's lagging behind when it comes to deploying them on its own turf."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4623 words)
Why are violent crime rates still dropping, even during the recession? The latest evidence suggests lead—in the air, in our gasoline, in our paint—was responsible for the rise in crime in the 1960s & '70s, and the drop in the 1990s:
"And with that we have our molecule: tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines. As auto sales boomed after World War II, and drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to 'fill 'er up with ethyl,' they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.
"It was an exciting conjecture, and it prompted an immediate wave of...nothing. Nevin's paper was almost completely ignored, and in one sense it's easy to see why—Nevin is an economist, not a criminologist, and his paper was published in Environmental Research, not a journal with a big readership in the criminology community. What's more, a single correlation between two curves isn't all that impressive, econometrically speaking. Sales of vinyl LPs rose in the postwar period too, and then declined in the '80s and '90s. Lots of things follow a pattern like that. So no matter how good the fit, if you only have a single correlation it might just be a coincidence. You need to do something more to establish causality."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5326 words)
On the life and career of writer Nelson Algren, one of the most prolific—yet underappreciated—writers of the last century:
"For my money, no book more elegantly describes the world of men and women whom the boom years were designed to pass by. In the decades after Golden Arm, the country obsessed over the behaviors and fates of women and men like Algren’s characters—and dedicated millions to altering them through wars on poverty and drugs—but in 1949 Algren was nearly alone in reminding the country that having an upper class requires having a lower class. For the skill and elegance of its prose, its compassion, and its prescience, I’d rank Golden Arm among the very best books written in the twentieth century. Before Algren’s fall from favor and the onset of his obscurity, many people agreed with that assessment. The book received glowing reviews from Time, the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, even the New Yorker. Doubleday nominated it for the Pulitzer, and Hemingway, who had declared Algren the second-best American writer (after Faulkner) when Never Come Morning was published, wrote a promotional quote that went too far for Doubleday’s taste but pleased Algren so much he taped it to his fridge:
"Into a world of letters where we have the fading Faulkner and that overgrown Lil Abner Thomas Wolfe casts a shorter shadow every day, Algren comes like a corvette or even a big destroyer… Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful… Mr. Algren, boy, are you good."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8997 words)