August 26, 2016

The Atlantic - Is America Any Safer? 60min

This is the story of the first 15 years of how we have dealt with that newfound fear—how we have confronted, sometimes heroically and sometimes irrationally, the mechanics, the politics, and the psychic challenges of the September 12 era. ... Have we succeeded in toughening up what overnight became known as “homeland security”? Absolutely. But not without a series of extravagant boondoggles along the way. ... Are we safer? Yes, we’re safer from the kind of orchestrated attack that shocked us on that September morning. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular if they do. But we have not plugged some of the most threatening security gaps. Worse, as the Orlando massacre reminded us, the world has become more populated by those who want to exploit those gaps, including those living among us—and who, in the United States, can easily obtain military-grade weapons. They are not deterred by the prospect of their own death, and they are happy to commit acts less ambitious than those of 9/11. That makes their attacks much harder to detect in advance. Our defenses are far stronger, but what we have to defend against has outpaced our progress. ... Have we adjusted, politically and emotionally, so that we can make rational decisions as a government and as a people to deal with the ongoing threat? Not yet. In a bitterly divided democracy, where attention spans are short and civic engagement is low and the potential for oversimplification and governing-by-headlines is high, that is hardly a surprise.

Bloomberg - The Disastrous $45 Million Fall of a High-End Wine Scammer 12min

One of the biggest players in the fine wine market, Premier Cru had $20 million in annual revenue in the mid-to-late 2000s. ... wines were being offered on “pre-arrival,” defined on the company’s website as “wines we have purchased (typically abroad) that have not yet arrived. Depending on the particular wine, the arrival time is typically 6+ months to over two years.” ... This practice isn’t that unusual. Pre-arrival is a way for collectors to lock in allocations of highly sought-after bottles that might sell out—and often on favorable terms. To many clients, this arrangement had another advantage. Premier Cru sold mostly young wines; rather than having to age them in their own cellars, buyers were happy to let Premier Cru hold on to them. Better yet, its owner, John Fox, never charged for storage. ... Fox promised clients access to these nuanced beauties through a gray market. This means buying from brokers and other secondary merchants, mainly in Europe, as opposed to working with official importers. Although it’s legal in California, the gray market has its share of shady operators. Poor storage and handling is a common problem. The discounted bottles that Fox obtained, though, were always pristine, according to the four clients interviewed for this story. The trade-off was that Premier Cru was slower to deliver. Other gray-market retailers usually kept customers waiting no more than four to six months; with Premier Cru, the waits ran to years. ... Fox, it would be revealed, easily bilked wealthy bankers, experts who’d amassed fortunes reading the market, of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He led less wealthy oenophiles into deluding themselves they’d found a too-good-to-be-true source. And Fox, now 66, managed a remarkable juggling act for more than 20 years, all while fitting into his complex financial contortions a series of twentysomething girlfriends he found and paid online. In the end, he owed former clients $45 million.

National Geographic - The Miracle of the Modern Banana (Part 1) 3min

The banana’s parent plant isn’t a tree but an herb, and the fruit itself is a berry. The trajectory of bananas is a story of immigration, from obscure jungle species in Southeast Asia to the largest fruit crop and the fourth-most valuable food crop in the world, behind only wheat, rice, and milk. ... In a globalized way, there is only one banana. There were once thousands of varieties—fuzzy ones, striped ones, ones that tasted like strawberries. And in some parts of the world, there still are. But the story of the banana is the story of how humans hyper-optimized food production. More than any other industrialized food like beef, eggs, or bread, the modern banana is a miracle of biology, and because of this, an incredible biological risk. ... Of the thousands of bananas that have grown on Earth, the only one with truly global reach is called the Cavendish, which is neither the king nor queen of bananas. To most of the world it is simply the banana, cloned so many times that a banana you buy in Rome is identical as one in Rochester. This would be exciting news to Duke William George Spencer Cavendish, who first propagated the plant in 1834 and gave it his name.

New York Magazine - Boomin! A day in the life of 16-year-old rare-sneaker dealer Benjamin Kickz 8min

Ben brags that he’s on track to make $1 million in sales this year just from the normals who shop his collection every day online at sneakerdon.com. “What I make in one day on the website I can’t make in a month with the rappers,” Ben says, but they give him the satisfaction of working alongside his favorite celebrities. Plus, they function as brand ambassadors, offering free, well-placed mini-billboards that float across social media. ... imposed scarcity, not style, is the most reliable driver of value, he will do whatever it takes to get you the sneaker you want — a high-end, single-product TaskRabbit so monofocused on the job of finding the right shoes that he now employs four others to do things like manage his website and ship his goods while he hustles connections with celebrities and distributors.