I read a lot of articles, probably more often than I’m reading books. I go on r/indepthstories, r/longreads, and r/longform every night to find new articles to add to Pocket (an app for saving articles). In the process I’ve read hundreds of articles, some better than others.
This is a collection of my favorite articles from the past however many years I’ve had Pocket.
Last Updated November 2021
The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins
Throughout 2020, the notion that the novel coronavirus leaked from a lab was off-limits. Those who dared to push for transparency say toxic politics and hidden agendas kept us in the dark.
It’s so easy to disregard the idea of a lab-leak as the origin of COVID 19. The media wouldn’t even consider the idea and if it’s brought up, you’re made to feel like a conspiracist. But Vanity Fair, and now many other publications, have done a great job covering this potential and giving it a good hard look, rather than just saying “no” right from the get-go. This article pushed me to really consider this theory as a potential origin, we probably won’t ever get details from China, so we may never know, but we should keep it in mind as we start seeing more labs doing research on these types of things.
A Translation Crisis at the Border
For migrants who speak Mayan languages, a grassroots group of interpreters is often their only hope for receiving asylum.
I got interested in this article because part of my girlfriend’s family lives in Guatemala, a country with many Mam speakers. Guatemalans are coming across the border and being treated the same as those from any other Spanish-speaking country which is hurting those indigenous immigrants that don’t speak Spanish.
“Incels” are going under the knife to reshape their faces, and their dating prospects.
Facial reconstruction surgery isn’t just for women. Incels have started going to one Indiana doctor in particular to look more masculine and improve their odds with women. I can sympathize with their efforts. If you feel like your face is what’s holding you back from living a better life, why not spend $30k to improve it? The community can be quite toxic, though. I would be interested to hear some how some of these guys fared in the dating world.
There is also a podcast episode about this story. This is what happens when online witch hunts have real-world consequences. It focuses on a real estate agent who becomes the target of harassment and threats and how she discovers who is behind it and why.
The state said a 19-year-old with an intellectual disability wasn’t equipped to look after her baby and whisked the newborn off to another family just after birth—a decision the mother was ready to fight. But how smart do you have to be to raise a child?
This article brings up a divisive topic: who should be allowed to have kids? Here they focus on the story of a woman with intellectual disabilities who becomes pregnant. Should she be legally allowed to raise the kid? Does the government have the right to take that away from somebody?
I’ve read a few articles about Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt. It’s a real-life treasure hunt that nobody has solved yet. It has also led to some deaths and suspicions that the hunt is fake. I can see the allure of the hunt. Who wouldn’t want to find buried treasure using their wits to solve the puzzle that nobody else has solved yet?
When I first heard about this topic it was from a Frontline Dispatch podcast episode. I had no idea marriages this young were legal in certain states in the US and, while not huge, the number of these marriages surprised me. According to this article, 207,459 minors have been married between 2000 and 2015 (data is from 41 states). While most are 16 or 17, some are even younger and it’s mostly young girls married to adult men (86% of minor marriages are to adults). In Alaska, the minimum age to get married is 14.
I’m not recommending this story because of the writing, but just to bring to light that child marriages are a thing in the US. Though it’s not as big of an issue as in other countries where even younger kids are married out (in the US they’re generally 15-17 years old), there are still quite a few instances of 12-14 year olds marrying adults. This causes me to ask: why allow this? The podcast is quite enlightening about one story of a very young girl (age 14) who gets pregnant by a 25 year old. The family is Christian and wants them to get married for religious reasons and as a way to keep the boyfriend out of jail for statutory rape. They even cross state lines to get a marriage license, even without consent of one of the girl’s parents.
This is a look at the ingenuity of a community to overcome the lapses in what the government should be providing. Although these electricity brokers are likely charging more than what the government would, they are providing a useful service for a much needed utility.
One of the world’s most hazardous jobs is known for its intense pressure.
A look into a very obscure job I had no idea about.
In countries that have previously, and still, prefer boys over girls, we are now seeing the consequences of these birth decisions. There are now too many men in China and India and they are having a harder time finding a girlfriend or wife. This is especially hard in these two countries that value marriage and taking care of family members. This article covers men and women in these countries and how they are impacted by decisions made when they were born.
A recording salvaged from three miles deep tells the story of the doomed “El Faro,” a cargo ship engulfed by a hurricane.
If you haven’t heard of the sinking of this cargo ship, you should read this. As much as we rely on technology and satellites and weather tracking, we are still fallible in our decision making and deadly incidents like these can still happen.
How do you live after unintentionally causing a death?
I have a few articles under “crime” that focus on what happens when someone accidentally kills someone. But this article talks about the emotional toll it takes on the person that has killed someone by accident. There are not many resources for these people. Some feel guilt over the deaths with no way to ever overcome it. If this happened to me, I have no idea how I’d live with myself but I know my life would be changed forever.
This woman’s parents disappeared, ending up in detention centers in Xinjiang. They didn’t do anything wrong, but they still ended up there. The Uighur detention centers don’t get enough coverage, I even told a cousin at a wedding last year and she had no idea what I was talking about. We’re so afraid of the backlash of China that nobody wants to intervene, even when it’s shown they’re locking people up just for being Muslim or Uighur.
This is really fascinating, because could there really be people all these people who “think” they have something wrong with them but it’s all in their heads? But when you think of the placebo effect, you realize the mind really does have the ability to cause us to feel and think certain things about our bodies.
Many people know the dangers of payday loans. But “installment loans” also have sky-high rates and work by getting borrowers — usually poor — to renew over and over. We take you inside one of the biggest installment lenders, billion-dollar World Finance.
Unless you live in a world where you need quick cash to cover an expense of a few hundred dollars, you never hear about all the new ways financial companies are targeting the poor. I’m always fascinated by the amount of greed with these companies and the ways they find to get more money out of people who already have so little.
The creativity of people is astounding. This story covers a few people who found ways to beat the lottery system. If you’ve ever wondered how to beat a “system” you’ll like this article.
Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?
The strange fate of a group of skiers in the Ural Mountains has generated endless speculation.
This is one of those mysteries that involves theories about everything from Aliens to American spies. But now it finally appears to have been solved.
Learn about a group of random people that have one thing in common: they hate psychics. Psychics prey on the vulnerable which makes them easy to dislike. This group goes undercover to expose these psychics, which they believe are checking the social media of the event attendees to use during their shows.
I never knew how much I could dislike TurboTax, but they’ve been working on ways to make it hard for people to file taxes for free for 2 decades! They not only use dark patterns on their site (and got caught) but they’re the reason there’s not a free government online filing tool.
The centerpiece of Intuit’s anti-encroachment strategy has been the Free File program, hatched 17 years ago in a moment of crisis for the company. Under the terms of an agreement with the federal government, Intuit and other commercial tax prep companies promised to provide free online filing to tens of millions of lower-income taxpayers. In exchange, the IRS pledged not to create a government-run system.
So many years after it happened and there’s still no definitive conclusion. This article gives a good explanation as to what might have happened. I’m still not 100% convinced, since there’s no black box, but still a worthwhile read.
Rapture of the Deep
Carried away by love—for risk and for each other—two of the world’s best freedivers went to the limits of their sport. only one came back.
Such a good read about freediving, love, and two people trying to be the best at an extremely dangerous sport.
They thought that they’d found the perfect apartment. They weren’t alone.
These stories are always so fascinating because it’s so hard to imagine being this big of a scammer. This guy was “renting” his apartment for a too-good-to-be-true price. But this guy ended up being so greedy, he was telling multiple people they got the apartment at the same time.
Dan Mallory, who writes under the name A. J. Finn, went to No. 1 with his début thriller, “The Woman in the Window.” His life contains even stranger twists.
He seemed like the next big thing in the suspense novel world, but allegations have surfaced about extensive lying. The article alleges he’s lied about having cancer and a brain tumor, to attending Oxford, to having a brother who died from suicide, and his mom dying from cancer.
Two meteorite hunters end up squaring off with a small town in South America over a new specimen. These guys are really fascinating and the whole meteorite hunter group is something I’d like to read more on.
Such a well written story about a family that chose to stay in their home during Hurricane Harvey and how reliance on the emergency system ended up affecting their lives. What I took away from it is that when there’s a storm like this (earthquake, whatever) you really need to assume you’re on your own and that the police, medics, fire department can’t come to your aid. Living in Florida I’ve evacuated a few times for hurricanes. Recently during Irma, I flew to Florida to evacuate my mom because of warnings of flooding. She had wanted to stay, but in a real emergency who can come save you? You have to expect that nobody is coming.
It’s really one of the best stories I’ve read recently and I don’t want to spoil it, so just read it.
For years he used fake identities to charm women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then his victims banded together to take him down.
For the past four years, Jahi McMath has breathed with the help of a ventilator. A neurologist described her as “an extremely disabled but very much alive teenage girl.”
Nobody wants to see a loved one die. This story of a young girl being kept alive by her family is sad and also questions when it’s right to allow someone to die and how long you should keep them alive, and at what cost.
The Billion-Dollar Shack
In a ferocious tropical heat, I stood a few feet from the front door of the building — a shack, really — that some say brought Russia to its knees and destroyed it as a modern nation.
The Taste Makers
The secret world of the flavor factory.
More than half of Givaudan’s business—which generates nearly four billion dollars in revenue a year—is built on deceiving our senses when we eat. The consumption of food flavorings may stand as one of the modern era’s most profound collective acts of submission to illusion. When you watch a movie or look at photographs or listen to an iPod, you tend not to forget that what you are taking in has been recorded and re-created for you in some fashion. Flavor additives are no less a contrivance; in fact, flavor re-creations typically have less fidelity than digital photography or MP3s.
Snapple’s use of kiwi-strawberry flavoring in a juice drink may seem unusual (and the sum flavor of it may barely approximate real strawberry combined with real kiwi), but we can imagine that the flavor is authentic—that it captures some platonic gastronomic truth.
A growing number of self-proclaimed experts promise they can teach anyone how to make a passive income selling cheap Chinese goods in the internet’s largest store. Not everyone’s getting rich quick.
One of my passions (is passion too strong of a word?) is finding scammers and hucksters online. In the Amazon FBA and dropshipping space there are dozens all claiming the same stuff as the two guys profiled in this article. They all sell the dream of making it big on Amazon with not that much work. If you don’t do well, they say you didn’t work hard or picked the wrong product. They’ll show off their cars, house, jewelry in an attempt to get you to believe they’re making millions off Amazon, when they’re really making a bulk of their money selling you a course. If I lost you at FBA and dropship, you should read this.
Since I’m a sucker for anything relating to scams or dishonesty online, I liked this article about how cutthroat the Instagram influencer space is.
I want to recommend this article because I found it crazy that there are still jobs out there that require polygraphs. Private companies are not allowed to require them, but for whatever arcane reason government jobs are able to require them. Science has shown that these are not accurate and they can be gamed. Who are they helping and who are they hurting?
JD.com is expanding its consumer base with drone delivery and local recruits who can exploit villages’ tight-knit social networks to drum up business.
In high school and college I had a fascination with China. I learned some of the language and got really into the culture. I enjoy reading things like this about the country and how it’s transforming. Since I’m in the eCommerce space this is especially interesting to me. Even if you’re not that interested in either China or eCommerce this is a good read to see how other countries are innovating ahead of the US.
What happens when you hack the Xbox and try to profit off of it? What about when you hack into Microsoft to gain access to the unreleased Xbox One? And what happens when Microsoft and the FBI actually come after you for it?
I love stories like this that teach me something new. I didn’t know how important sand is, and very particular sand, for our tech needs. It’s excerpted from a book called The World in a Grain which I have on my to-read list.
Crime & Law
Robbing the Xbox Vault: Inside a $10 Million Gift Card Cheat
A junior Microsoft engineer figured out a nearly perfect Bitcoin generation scheme.
I’m always so fascinated by how people use their brains to try to make “easy” money. People are so clever, but they eventually become too confident in their ability to get away with things.
The Obsidian Serpent
A homeless father, a Marine’s death, and the making of a serial killer.
A very sad story that covers the topic of what makes a serial killer and the impacts of war and PTSD.
Several hours before dawn on June 6, 1993, two Park Service police officers were patrolling the road next to Jacob Riis Park, a long stretch of beach on the Rockaway peninsula, in Queens, when they were startled by two Asian men flagging them down. As the officers got out of their car, they heard the sound of screams coming from the beach. The moon was full, and about a hundred yards offshore the officers saw a hundred-and-fifty-foot tramp steamer that had run aground. The ship’s deck was crowded with people, and, as the officers watched, men and women jumped over the side, falling twenty feet into the surging waves below. Dozens of figures bobbed in the water, some managing to clamber ashore, others flailing wildly, apparently unable to swim. The officers radioed for backup.
When a Witness Recants
At fourteen, Ron Bishop helped convict three innocent boys of murder. They’ve all lived with the consequences.
Anytime someone is let out of prison after being wrongfully convicted it’s extremely sad. This story is about 3 people let out, after being convicted as teens. One of the witnesses (a fellow student) comes forward to admit he lied on the stand, right his wrong, and try to get forgiveness.
An epic tragedy on a small block in Queens.
This is a very well-written piece about one Chinese woman who was working in a “massage parlor” in Queens. It focuses on her family, how she tries to support them after her husband’s restaurant failed, and how the police target sex workers as opposed to the bosses and Johns.
A Father Took His 10-Year-Old Fishing. She Fell in the Water and Drowned. It Was a Tragic Accident — Then He Was Charged With Murder.
This is a really sad, well-written story of when something that sounds like a deadly accident involving a child turns into a case against a father. You can see why the justice system has a hard time figuring out the truth. In this case, I don’t see 100% certainty that he did it, but I can see how a jury could see past any doubts and convict.
Is Joe Bryan an innocent man, wrongfully imprisoned for the past 30 years on the basis of faulty forensic science?
From the New York Times, this very long, in depth 2 part investigation covers one of the many cases in which someone who doesn’t sound guilty is found so based off forensic evidence that isn’t all that clear.
In many homicides, police believe they know the killer’s identity but can’t get a witness to cooperate.
This story from the Washington Post does a great job of showing just why some witnesses won’t cooperate with the police. The witness in this case wants to provide justice but the toll it takes on his family is tremendous, so I can see why the easier thing to do would have been to say nothing. It brings to light the issues the police face in trying to get witness cooperation and how they need to do much more for these witnesses if they want their help.
Plantz, a former emergency room doctor, was sued for medical malpractice in 2009 after the death of one of his patients two years earlier. Against the urging of his insurance company, Plantz refused to settle the case and move on. The legal fight that resulted has lasted for nearly a decade.
It’s the conundrum faced by many people sued over something and wanting to fight back to get justice. In this case it’s a doctor who gets sued for malpractice and ends up obsessing over it for years. The legal system is tough on people who want justice. The process is long and complicated, costs lots of money, and even if you know you’re right the ruling can end up in the other party’s favor. Is it worth the fight?
A car crash in Kentucky left a 13-year-old girl dead. A Sudanese refugee was charged with her killing. Could anyone get justice?
A very sad story about what happens when someone gets charged with a death in a car accident. Especially interesting because it involves a refugee who is involved in their new community, but the accident happened in another state.
Another story about a car crash that ends up being deadly. Someone is charged but it’s not clear if that person was 100% at fault. It’s interesting to see both sides: the family of the person killed wanting to see justice, and the person that is being charged who knows their actions led to someone dying but didn’t purposefully do it. How do you come to a resolution in a case like this and the thousands of car accidents that happen?
This story captured my attention because we all remember that McDonald’s Monopoly game. As a kid I collected some of those hoping to win. But then I read this article and come to find that the real winners were an insider, his cronies, and his family.
In a country with one of the lowest murder rates in the world, the killing of a 20-year-old woman upended the nation’s sense of itself.
Iceland has a very low murder rate, so when a murder actually occurred it impacted citizens that didn’t even know the victim. It’s an interesting look into what happens when crimes occur in other countries. In the US, it’s so rare for a murder to make an impact on people outside of that person’s community.
Inside one of America’s most corrupt police squads.
“You’ve got your whole life in front of you. You’re pretty, you’ve got this house — well, you don’t have this house anymore. This house is my house.”
This scammer has the legal right to squat and take people’s homes from them. If you feel like getting angry at how the law can let people get away with certain things, then you’ll like this story.
Jared Johns found out too late that swapping messages with the pretty girl from a dating site would mean serious trouble. If only he had known who she really was.
What would you do if you thought you were talking to an adult and then they tell you they’re underage and they’re going to press charges?
Society loves to blame the parent for leaving a child in a car. “I’d never do that,” they say. But I think I would. It must be upsetting to make a huge mistake like that and then be accused of doing it on purpose. How do you know if someone did it maliciously or not? You really can’t know.
The F.B.I. tried to recruit an Iranian scientist as an informant. When he balked, the payback was brutal.
How many of us can say if we went to a foreign country and were told to be an informant or else we’d get locked up, that we’d say no?