A visit to the island nation of Kiribati, which could be the first country to be lost from rising tides due to global warming:
Kiribati is a flyspeck of a United Nations member state, a collection of 33 islands necklaced across the central Pacific. Thirty-two of the islands are low-lying atolls; the 33rd, called Banaba, is a raised coral island that long ago was strip-mined for its seabird-guano-derived phosphates. If scientists are correct, the ocean will swallow most of Kiribati before the end of the century, and perhaps much sooner than that. Water expands as it warms, and the oceans have lately received colossal quantities of melted ice. A recent study found that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than they have at any point during the past 10,000 years. Before the rising Pacific drowns these atolls, though, it will infiltrate, and irreversibly poison, their already inadequate supply of fresh water. The apocalypse could come even sooner for Kiribati if violent storms, of the sort that recently destroyed parts of the Philippines, strike its islands.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7040 words)
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)
Our story picks of the week, featuring Texas Monthly, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Times Magazine, Washingtonian and Paris Review, plus a guest pick by Drew Grossman.
In an excerpt from his new book The Everything Store
, Brad Stone explores how Jeff Bezos turned Amazon into an online retailing giant—and tracks down Bezos's biological father:
"I found Ted Jorgensen, Jeff Bezos’s biological father, behind the counter of his bike shop in late 2012. I’d considered a number of ways he might react to my unannounced appearance but gave a very low probability to the likelihood of what actually happened: He had no idea what I was talking about. Jorgensen said he didn’t know who Jeff Bezos was and was baffled by my suggestion that he was the father of this famous CEO.
"I mentioned Jacklyn Gise and Jeffrey, the son they had during their brief teenage marriage. The old man’s face flushed with recognition. 'Is he still alive?' he asked, not yet fully comprehending.
"'Your son is one of the most successful men on the planet,' I told him. I showed him some Internet photographs on my smartphone, and for the first time in 45 years, Jorgensen saw his biological son. His eyes filled with sorrow and disbelief."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7280 words)
Pierson, nearly killed by a drunk driver, has recovered to become the head of a new tech company called Declara:
"Over time, and more than 100 surgeries, Pierson’s body improved. She had procedures to fix her eye socket, nose, and teeth. 'One of my doctors did Wilt Chamberlain’s nose,' Pierson says. 'My face seemed to come together well. Part of my butt is in my face.' Her skills improved, too, and she realized it was time to try and leave the home. 'I just kept moving forward,' she says.
"We’ve all met people who seem to make more of their years than the rest of us. They become experts at whatever they try and collect friends wherever they go. Driven, in part, by a maniacal fear that she had fallen behind the world, Pierson became one of those people."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3576 words)
How a food-trading company based in Germany illegally imported Chinese honey into the U.S.—"the largest food fraud in U.S. history":
"ALW relied on a network of brokers from China and Taiwan, who shipped honey from China to India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, Mongolia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The 50-gallon drums would be relabeled in these countries and sent on to the U.S. Often the honey was filtered to remove the pollen, which could help identify its origin. Some of the honey was adulterated with rice sugar, molasses, or fructose syrup.
"In a few cases the honey was contaminated with the residue of antibiotics banned in the U.S. In late 2006 an ALW customer rejected part of Order 995, three container loads of 'Polish Light Amber,' valued at $85,000. Testing revealed one container was contaminated with chloramphenicol, an antibiotic the U.S. bans from food. Chinese beekeepers use chloramphenicol to prevent Foulbrood disease, which is widespread and destructive. A deal was made to sell the contaminated honey at a big discount to another customer in Texas, a processor that sold honey to food companies."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2747 words)
How the electric car maker managed to survive, and even thrive, while pursuing new opportunities with a growing network of battery charging stations around the U.S.:
"While Tesla was figuring out how to keep its cars from exploding, it also had to come up with ways to get them to go farther and recharge faster. Higher-end versions of the Model S can go up to 300 miles on a charge, which has helped separate Tesla from rival vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, which run about 75 miles before needing more juice. Musk has hinted that Tesla has a 500-mile battery pack in the works. At the company’s solar-powered Supercharger stations, Tesla owners can replenish about 200 miles of range in 20 minutes for free. (Most electric cars take hours to recharge.) Or customers can opt for the battery swap, which will cost about what they’d pay for a tank of gas, and be back on the road in 90 seconds. 'The only decision that you have to make when you come to one of our Tesla stations is do you prefer faster or free,' Musk said at the charging event. The company expects to have 100 stations along major highways in the U.S. and Canada by yearend, with more to follow."
PUBLISHED: July 18, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3322 words)
How a British businessman named James McCormick made millions selling fake bomb-detectors to the Iraqi government:
"When Dale Murray arrived in Denver a few weeks later, he knew he’d seen the Mole before. It was identical in every way to the Quadro Tracker—down to the patterns of stippling on the plastic handle. 'It looked like someone had taken the injection molding from one location to another and just put a different label on it,' he says. Although he was confident the Mole was as ridiculous as its predecessor, Murray subjected it to a carefully devised double-blind experiment, with Balais seeking a sample of C4 explosive hidden in the offices. 'I knew that without doing a rigorous scientific test, there would be people that would be unconvinced,' Murray says. 'So we treated it exactly the same way we would any other piece of scientific gear.'
"Only Balais seemed surprised when the Mole failed. At the start of the trial, when he could see where the C4 had been placed, the equipment scored perfectly; once the double-blind sequence began, it performed no better than chance. When Sandia published its results, Balais, McCormick, and the manufacturers in the U.K. were furious. They protested that the experiment had been mishandled. Balais lost his franchise arrangement, and the manufacturers withdrew the Mole from sale soon afterward. But another detector just like it soon appeared on the market under a new name, the GT200."
PUBLISHED: July 11, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4650 words)
Our picks this week include BuzzFeed, Mother Jones, The Stranger, Tin House, Bloomberg Businessweek and a guest pick by Sarah Bruning