This week's picks include Fortune Magazine, the Dallas Observer, Priceonomics, Project Wordsworth, the Toronto Sun, fiction from The New Yorker and a guest pick by Emily Schultz.
The inside story of Ranbaxy, a generic drug maker that committed criminal fraud by fabricating data to win FDA approvals:
"Thakur knew the drugs weren't good. They had high impurities, degraded easily, and would be useless at best in hot, humid conditions. They would be taken by the world's poorest patients in sub-Saharan Africa, who had almost no medical infrastructure and no recourse for complaints. The injustice made him livid.
"Ranbaxy executives didn't care, says Kathy Spreen, and made little effort to conceal it. In a conference call with a dozen company executives, one brushed aside her fears about the quality of the AIDS medicine Ranbaxy was supplying for Africa. 'Who cares?' he said, according to Spreen. 'It's just blacks dying.'"
PUBLISHED: May 15, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9759 words)
A patent for a simple medical device has made its inventors, its marketers, and a university rich—which is why everyone wants a piece of it:
"For Wake Forest University, which licensed the VAC patents to KCI, the device has meant about $500 million in royalties. Based almost entirely on the VAC deal, the university was ranked fifth by the Association of University Technology Managers in its most recent survey of licensing income, trailing only Columbia, New York University, Northwestern, and the University of California system. In recent years the KCI payments have propped up the bottom line of the university's medical center, and the VAC money has paid for research, recruiting, and construction that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.
"As you might imagine, all that success gave KCI and Wake Forest a powerful incentive to build a fence, to protect the patents at all cost. And it gave everybody else an equally powerful incentive to find a way through the fence.
"This is the story of what happens when there are billions of dollars wrapped up in a prosaic piece of technology that at its core is closer to your kid's science-fair entry than the Human Genome Project, one that despite all the commercial success and some 4 million or so patients still has its share of doubters in the medical community. It's a story about luck and timing and the squeezing of the health care dollar. It is about betrayal and wrangling over patents. And mostly it is about invention, the tenuous and uncertain act of breathing life into an idea that may or may not have been yours all along."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3893 words)
The making of the boy and girl groups that are leading the international K-pop explosion:
"Lee founded S.M. in 1989. His first success was a Korean singer and hip-hop dancer named Hyun Jin-young, whose album came out in 1990. But, just as Jin-young was on the verge of stardom, he was arrested for drugs. Russell writes that Lee was 'devastated' by this misfortune, and that the experience taught him the value of complete control over his artists: 'He could not go through the endless promoting and developing a new artist only to have it crash and burn around him.'
"In effect, Lee combined his ambitions as a music impresario with his training as an engineer to create the blueprint for what became the K-pop idol assembly line. His stars would be made, not born, according to a sophisticated system of artistic development that would make the star factory that Berry Gordy created at Motown look like a mom-and-pop operation. Lee called his system 'cultural technology.' In a 2011 address at Stanford Business School, he explained, 'I coined this term about fourteen years ago, when S.M. decided to launch its artists and cultural content throughout Asia. The age of information technology had dominated most of the nineties, and I predicted that the age of cultural technology would come next.' He went on, 'S.M. Entertainment and I see culture as a type of technology. But cultural technology is much more exquisite and complex than information technology.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 3, 2012
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7351 words)
How Lisette Lee, a privileged young woman with ties to the Samsung fortune, turned to drug trafficking:
"Lee would go on to tell federal authorities a lot of things about herself: that she was a famous Korean pop star as well as the heiress to the Samsung electronics fortune; she was so emphatic on this last point that on police paperwork agents listed 'heiress' as her occupation. Back at home in L.A., Lee called herself the 'Korean Paris Hilton' and played the part of the spoiled socialite, with two Bentleys, a purse-size lap dog and, especially, her commanding, petulant personality that kept her posse of sycophants in check. It was as though Lisette Lee had studied some Beverly Hills heiress's handbook: how to dress, how to behave, how to run hot and cold to keep people in her thrall – in short, how to be a modern celebrity. But all of that would begin to unravel – amid the crowd and confusion on the Columbus tarmac that June 2010 evening – once a drug-sniffing German shepherd padded over to the van and sat down, signaling a hit.
"Agents threw open the van doors. Inside the suitcases were more than 500 pounds of marijuana in shrink-wrapped bricks. In Lee's crocodile purse were three cellphones, $6,500 in cash, a baggie of cocaine and a hotel notepad scrawled with weights and purchase prices totaling $300,000: a drug ledger."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 31, 2012
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8007 words)
A writer digs through his personal library of quitting-smoking books as he attempts to quit smoking:
"Step 3: Go to the Strand. Buy a book you already own—Richard Klein's Cigarettes Are Sublime. (Your old copy—a gift from one of the girls next door senior year, the same 'friend' who another time gave you a carton of duty-free Dunhill Reds—has been in storage recently because your den has become a nursery.) It was published in 1993 by, very perfectly, the university press at Duke: A school endowed by tobacco fortune sponsored an excellent silk-cut riff on the cultural logic of coffin nails. Its title toys with Kant’s idea of 'negative pleasure': 'Cigarettes are bad. That is why they are good—not good, not beautiful, but sublime.'
"Klein, a scholar of French by trade, sinuously riffs on Sartre and Baudelaire, on Bizet’s Carmen andRick’s Café, by way of delivering a cultural critique with a practical purpose: 'Writing this book in praise of cigarettes was the strategy I devised for stopping smoking, which I have—definitively; it is therefore both an ode and an elegy to cigarettes.'
"Linger for a while over the idea of the elegy. Where a conventional smoking-cessation preacher tells the reader he has nothing to lose but his chains, Klein acknowledges that to quit is to experience a loss, and takes his time mourning a dying idea of fun."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 3, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3066 words)
The life of the great English novelist, as documented in a biography by Claire Tomalin:
"The great drama—which is to say, the abiding trauma—of Dickens’s childhood was his year-long stint in a rat-infested blacking factory near the Thames, when he was twelve years old, following the arrest of John Dickens for debt in 1824 and his incarceration in the debtors’ prison at Marshalsea. Much has been written about this long-secret episode in Dickens’s life, including, most recently, Michael Allen’s heavily documented Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory (2011), a work of some three hundred pages of interest primarily to Dickens scholars, but very likely impenetrable to Dickens readers in its concentration upon historical minutiae only tenuously related to Dickens and his novels. Another recent book, Ruth Richardson’s Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor (2012), gives a more intimately evoked view of Dickens’s childhood and the New Poor Law of 1834 by which workhouses became 'a sort of prison system to punish (the poor).'
"For the child Dickens, the shock of this change of fortune was all the more in that his seemingly loving parents so readily agreed to the enslavement of their bright young son:
"'No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.'"
PUBLISHED: July 31, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3891 words)
An investigation into how the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) became accused of intentionally allowing American firearms to get into the hands of Mexican drug cartels:
"Voth grew deeply frustrated. In August 2010, after the ATF in Texas confiscated 80 guns—63 of them purchased in Arizona by the Fast and Furious suspects— Voth got an e-mail from a colleague there: 'Are you all planning to stop some of these guys any time soon? That's a lot of guns…Are you just letting these guns walk?'
"Voth responded with barely suppressed rage: 'Have I offended you in some way? Because I am very offended by your e-mail. Define walk? Without Probable Cause and concurrence from the USAO [U.S. Attorney's Office] it is highway robbery if we take someone's property.' He then recounted the situation with the unemployed suspect who had bought the sniper rifle. 'We conducted a field interview and after calling the AUSA [assistant U.S. Attorney] he said we did not have sufficient PC [probable cause] to take the firearm so our suspect drove home with said firearm in his car…any ideas on how we could not let that firearm "walk"'?"
PUBLISHED: June 27, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6709 words)
Why was New York Times CEO Janet Robinson fired? A look inside the political battles and financial troubles that led Arthur Sulzberger to let Robinson go (with a $24 million exit package):
"Interviews with more than 30 people who are intimately familiar with different aspects of the Times’ business (none but a spokesperson would speak for attribution—this is the paper of record, after all) have made it clear that Gonzalez’s rise and Robinson’s fall, and the ensuing leadership vacuum inside the paper, were symptomatic of larger forces at work. Even as a new pay wall was erected on the Times’ website last spring to charge customers for access, the company’s performance, including an alarming dive in print advertising when other media companies were beginning to recover, was faltering, and Sulzberger was under pressure both financial and familial to throw Robinson overboard.
"As the paper’s stock price has declined in recent years, there has been increasing unease among the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, who control the paper through a special class of shares. Three years ago, facing huge debt problems, the company suspended the lucrative stock dividend that once flowed quarterly to the family’s 40-plus members, intensifying the need to solve the intractable advertising problems of the newspaper in the digital age and figure out a way to turn the family’s cash spigot back on. Janet Robinson, the company’s advertising brains, found herself caught between her increasingly remote boss and a frustrated family worried over the future of its 116-year-old fortune."
PUBLISHED: May 28, 2012
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5085 words)