The Colombian cartel boss who once supplied 80 percent of America’s cocaine has become an unlikely tourist draw. Jesse Katz pays a visit to Pablo-land. ... Villains come in all shapes and sizes, but there is always something curious about evil geniuses who turn out to be less imposing than their reputations. His chins were legendary, square hunks of padded bone engulfed by a thick, doughy ring, like a man who had swallowed his travel pillow. His mustache expanded by the year, from a tight Burt Reynolds to a flowing Joseph Stalin, usually framing a distrustful smirk. ... His hair was long and curly and cleaved by a side part, the way lesser-known nineteenth-century American presidents wore it, and at five feet five he appeared shorter than his teenage bride and a good many of his later mistresses. Pablo Escobar—once the most hunted man on the planet—was, we can say it now, kind of a schlub. ... Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behind. ... The commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them. With his Faustian slogan plata o plomo—accept the bribe or get pumped full of lead—he turned Medellín into the murder capital of the world (6,349 killings in 1991), a badland no right-minded tourist would have visited, and pushed Colombia to the brink of a narcocracy.
In short, FPAQ—the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers—is OPEC. Formed in 1966, the federation was tasked with taking a business in which few could make a decent living—the price went north to south with the quality of the yield, which went north to south with the quality of the spring—and turning it into a respectable trade. This was accomplished in the classic way: quotas, rules. You control supply, you control price. You limit supply, you raise price. Because Quebec makes 72 percent of the world’s maple syrup, it’s been able to set the price. As of this writing, the commodity is valued at just over $1,300 a barrel, 26 times more expensive than crude. ... By making syrup production seem like a good business instead of just an eccentric survivalist hobby, it has brought a great increase in production, much of it in the U.S. Just like OPEC, which, with its near monopoly, spurred the search for new sources. With oil, it’s the deep deposits reached only by fracking. With syrup, it’s forests in Vermont, New Hampshire, and especially New York State, which, Canadians tell you with a shudder, has three times more maple trees than all of Quebec’s maple farms combined. The French province produces 72 percent of the world supply, but if the Americans ever make the push to self-sufficiency, French Canada is cooked. ... nearly 540,000 gallons of syrup had been stolen—12.5 percent of the Reserve—with a street value of $13.4 million.
Bangalore has a problem: It is running out of water, fast. Cities all over the world, from those in the American West to nearly every major Indian metropolis, have been struggling with drought and water deficits in recent years. But Bangalore is an extreme case. Last summer, a professor from the Indian Institute of Science declared that the city will be unlivable by 2020. He later backed off his prediction of the exact time of death—but even so, says P. N. Ravindra, an official at the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, “the projections are relatively correct. Our groundwater levels are approaching zero.” ... Every year since 2012, Bangalore has been hit by drought; last year Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, received its lowest rainfall level in four decades. But the changing climate is not exclusively to blame for Bangalore’s water problems. The city’s growth, hustled along by its tech sector, made it ripe for crisis. ... Through the 2000s, Bangalore’s urban landscape expanded so quickly that the city had no time to extend its subcutaneous network of water pipes into the fastest-growing areas, like Whitefield. Layers of concrete and tarmac crept out across the city, stopping water from seeping into the ground. ... 44 percent of the city’s water supply either seeps out through aging pipes or gets siphoned away by thieves. ... Everywhere, the steep ascent of demand has caused a run on groundwater. Well owners drill deeper and deeper, chasing the water table downward as they all keep draining it further. The groundwater level has sunk from a depth of 150 or 200 feet to 1,000 feet or more in many places.
In the winter of 1951, Alfred Eliasson’s company, Icelandic Airlines, was about to go under. The founder and his executive team had decided to pull out of the transatlantic market just a few months prior, after established carriers like Pan-Am proved to be tougher competition than expected. Low domestic demand in Iceland, a country of just 200,000 inhabitants at the time, also proved to be a challenge. By December of 1950, the airline known as Loftleiðir in Icelandic had only one scheduled route. It was between the capital city of Reykjavik and a small group of islands off Iceland’s east coast. ... That year, most of the company’s revenue came from odd jobs that Eliasson scraped together. He spotted schools of fish from the sky for local fisherman and shipped cargo for local businesses. By New Year’s it appeared the six-year-old airline would have to fold.