Posts from the “Feature Stories” Category

Saving the New Mothers of Nepal

Posted on December 21st, 2012

A family next to me is holding a newborn baby wearing a necklace with a locket. Inside the locket, is a tiny cylinder. I ask the mother about it. “My baby wears this necklace to connect us. Inside of it is a piece of our umbilical cord. So that he doesn’t forget me, he wears this his entire life.” The umbilical cord serves as a reminder of the previous physical connection between mother and child. Unlike Western culture, which unceremoniously discards umbilical cords, Nepalese culture has a very different perspective of childbirth. Nepalese also have significantly more challenges. High maternal mortality rates during childbirth result from a combination of factors, particularly scarcity of medical resources and existing social mores that put expectant mothers at…

Beatboxing, a Different Type of Street Music

Posted on September 11th, 2012

As a young man in his early twenties Benjamin Stanford, aka Dub Fx, set out to liberate himself. Through beat boxing, the art of vocal percussion, he found a way to travel to over forty countries and earn a living wherever he goes. Forever moving my body’s always grooving The sounds are always soothing And my heart is always using The love that I feel when I bounce in time I’m free like a bird in the sunshine I crouch down to the sound if I like the bass I put my hands in the air and I scrunch up my face I dance till my legs get weaker To the rhythm that I hear from the speaker Street performers typically play in metros…

A Hive With a View

Posted on July 30th, 2012

I was armored with a full-body white beekeeper’s suit but I was still nervous as the bees pelted the back of my head, clearly annoyed I had invaded their space. And who wouldn’t be? I was encroaching on their private pad, their outside terrace perched on top of the city of San Francisco. Jardiniere Restaurant, one of the city’s finest culinary establishments, is home to thousands of bees that live on top of the two-story brownstone on Hayes Street. The hives have only been there since May, but the bees are already producing honey thanks to the abundant food sources at the nearby Hayes Valley Farm. Terry Oxford, owner of UrbanBeeSF, manages these hives, and several other bee communities, or apiaries, located on top…

Putting a Face to Refugees Worldwide

Posted on June 21st, 2012

During the height of sectarian violence in Iraq, many Iraqis left their country to find solace in Syria. Yasir Imad, 29, was one of them. In 2006, Imad was almost killed when a road bomb exploded on his car in Iraq. Later that same year, he was kidnapped and held captive for three days without knowing why. Ten days after he was released by his kidnappers, he received a note telling him to flee the country or risk being killed. “Some people think it might be because I worked for a telecom company and also for my religious views,” said Imad. “My family said you have to go now. We love you, but we don’t want to lose you.” The grim reality of war,…

A Brief History of Science Fiction

Posted on June 14th, 2012

Last week science fiction author Ray Bradbury passed away on the same day as the incredibly rare astronomical phenomenon the transit of Venus was taking place. The coincidence could not be more fitting nor more bizarre. A real life occurrence that played out like a scene from one of Bradbury’s own novels. Which is what makes science fiction stories so wonderful, the outlying possibility that what we are reading, or watching, could in fact happen one day. One only need to view an episode of the original Star Trek television series from the late 1960s to see that some of the TV props of yore have manifest in the technological wonders we use today. In these contemporary times science fiction is often associated with…

The 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge

Posted on May 26th, 2012

The Golden Gate Bridge represents a multitude of experiences and emotions. For some, it’s a sign of homecoming, to others, it’s an escape. For thousands, it’s part of a daily commute. But to everyone, it is an icon which that celebrates its 75th anniversary on May 27. The bridge was completed in an exceptionally fast four years, with cutting edge calculation devices that included an abacus and a slide rule. Connecting San Francisco and Marin counties, the Golden Gate Bridge has withstood countless earthquakes, the daily strain of thousands of cars, and perhaps most perilously, nearly 800,000 people on its deck during the last anniversary celebration 25 years ago. More than 3,000 miles away in Roebling, New Jersey, the company that made the thick…

The Slaves in the Shadows of America

Posted on April 25th, 2012

Hidden in the shadows of polite society in America are thousands of enslaved men, women, and children. This modern day slavery is known as human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of State, there are 14,500 to 17,500 victims trafficked each year into this country. These numbers are often under-reported because the victims live in obscurity, hidden from the general public and are afraid to speak out. A common myth is that human trafficking only refers to forced prostitution. Yet trafficking often occurs in legitimate settings like farms, factories, hotels, nail salons, restaurants, and even private homes in ordinary towns. I spoke to a human trafficking survivor Arti (her name has been changed for her protection) about her experience coming to the United States.…

Water, Water Everywhere, Just The Way I Like It

Posted on April 12th, 2012

Heather Perry doesn’t know this, but when I called her to interview her about her latest underwater pictures, I was wearing a swim suit. It only felt right. Miss Perry seems to have spent more time in the water than on dry land, and I wanted to fit in. Photo Heather Perry It all started somewhat innocently for Perry. When she was in college, in spite of being prone to ear infections, she got herself on the swim team. Then, as part of her biology major she was required to get certified for scuba diving. It was the beginning of an obsession with the water that would become the foundation for the rest of her life. Soon after she graduated from college she landed…

The School of Hard Knots

Posted on April 5th, 2012

In 2010 Jordan Romero followed in the footsteps of famed mountaineer Edmund Hillary, climbing five and a half miles into the sky to step onto the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal. Many men have made that formidable trek to plant their flag on the highest peak on earth, but this trip was different. Romero conquered Everest at age 13. Photo Charles Allmon | National Geographic Stock Over the past few years the world has watched Romero and several other teen sportsmen chase ambitious, sometimes record-setting, goals. The journeys they’ve embarked upon would be thrilling and more than a little frightening for even adults at the top of their game. Earlier this year, 16-year-old Laura Dekker of Holland pulled into port after sailing around…

Cricket: the myth exploded

Posted on March 22nd, 2012

Picture this: it’s 1992 and you’re a tourist in some quaint and picturesque English village. It’s a midsummer’s day and you’re snoozing in your deck chair, basking in the late afternoon sun. The distant ‘clunk’ of a leather ball meeting a willow blade is followed by a smattering of polite applause. You open your eyes and see a number of white clad figures walking off the smooth greensward and disappearing into the wooden pavilion, prettily framed by oak and elm. After six hours of play the game is over. Photo William Albert Allard And now picture this: it’s 2012 and you’re ears are bombarded by the shouts and screams of 50,000 fans as techno music thuds and blares through the cacophony. Down below, cheerleaders…

Just Another Tequila Sunrise

Posted on February 17th, 2012

French philosopher Rene Descartes once said, “When it is not in our power to follow what is true, we ought to follow what is most probable.” It was this sentiment that occurred to me as I sat amidst the dark burled wood of the main dining room of Horizons restaurant staring out at the same Sausalito California view that inspired Otis Redding to write his posthumous 1968 #1 hit “(Sittin on) The Dock of the Bay.” As I watched the tide roll away, I wasn’t wasting time; I was there to investigate claims that the famous Tequila Sunrise cocktail was invented in that very room just a few years after that song was written. Mark Lomas is tall, taller than most, and coupled with…

The Great Online Migration

Posted on January 19th, 2012

We are currently witnessing two of the largest migrations in human history. In China, 120 million people have moved from the countryside to urban areas, drawn by economic opportunity. Where these Chinese used to spend their time outside engaged in agricultural work, or socializing with extended family in a small village, they now spend their days indoors in factories, typically living dormitory-style with thousands of other workers. Each year, that’s almost a trillion hours of human experience that have shifted from the pace of rural life to the rush of urban industrialization. Photo Randy Olson On the other side of the world, 184 million Americans are leading the next big migration. They’re spending an average of 13 hours a week online – or a…

The Alarming Vulnerability of the Haitian Women

Posted on January 12th, 2012

Plagued by frustration and insufficient security, Haiti’s Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps are now the breeding ground for rape and sexual violence against women, young girls, and even infants. Gender-based violence was already a problem in Haiti. However, according to KOFAVIV (which stands for Commission of Women Victims for Victims in Creole), a grassroots organization established by and for rape survivors from the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, there has been an alarming increase of sexual violence and forced prostitution in the camps since the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Photo Ben Horton With the help of an interpreter, I spoke to Josie Philistin, 38, a director at KOFAVIV and a survivor of three sexual assaults. She and others in the organization work to raise awareness,…

A World Without Malaria

Posted on December 3rd, 2011

It has plagued humankind for tens of thousands of years. It killed people in Plato’s Greece, in the Pharaohs’ Egypt, and throughout all the ancient Chinese dynasties. Delivered by a prehistoric insect, it is responsible for 800,000 deaths each year; a number roughly equal to the population of San Francisco. Today half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria. The disease has a had such a significant impact on the human population as well as the economies of developing countries, the effect of the abolition of the disease is much more far reaching than simply saving lives. Pharmaceutical company GalaxoSmithClyne, in partnership with PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), has developed a promising vaccine candidate. The data from Phase III of their…

Voices of the Invisible People

Posted on October 13th, 2011

There are millions of invisible people in the world. These are people who have no country, no legal status, and no nationality. They are stateless, not recognized as citizens anywhere in the world. It’s hard to imagine the precariousness of not having a citizenship because it is given to us at birth and rarely questioned or changed, especially if one is born in a first world nation. “Some 12 million people do not have the right to be recognized as citizens of a country which can have a traumatic result… not having any papers, not having a legal identity, not having the right to have your children in school, or to go to the public health services, not being allowed to own property or…

Bourbon

Posted on September 20th, 2011

Whiskey historian Oscar Getz spent a lifetime assembling an impressive collection of whiskey memorabilia covering American whiskey from it’s beginnings in the 1600’s all the way up to the decade post Prohibition. Situated in an old brick building near distiller’s row in Bardstown the museum is home to pieces of George Washington’s original rye whiskey still, has a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s days as a tavern keeper and features every sort of American whiskey memorabilia you can think off. Located in Kentucky it naturally leans pretty heavily towards bourbon whiskey, ninety seven percent of which is produced nearby. Many people make two mistakes when they think of bourbon whiskey. One: that all bourbon comes from Kentucky. And two: that bourbon comes from specifically Bourbon…

Songs from the Shed

Posted on August 28th, 2011

We have a love affair with awesome things that come from simple places. Every Olympics there is a story of an athlete who comes from a modest background. A person with a dream to be an Olympian but who does not have access to high tech training facilities. So they make due with what they have in the environment in which they live and manage to make it big. Against the odds. We never want these stories to stop coming. In part they are a validation of the human spirit. If there is a will there is a way. These stories are also a reassuring reminder that maybe there is a touch of magic in these places where great things start. Something intangible, that…

The End of a Space Era

Posted on July 25th, 2011

It’s 3.45am, I’m battling not only with mosquitoes, but also a swarm of photographers each trying to claim good spot to set up their camera to capture the final shuttle landing. We squeeze ourselves into a prime section of the balcony overlooking the 2.8 mile long runway on which the shuttle is due to land in just over two hours. A combination of smiling sweetly, being small and success with human Tetris secures me a minute spot for my camera. We’re all happy, so long as nobody dares move even a hair’s width from their position. I’ve barely slept and am already melting in the Florida heat and humidity. Two hours spent waiting to get on a bus to take me to the shuttle…

The Russian Wealth Divide

Posted on June 16th, 2011

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s richest have more than doubled their wealth. Yet a recent study by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, (HSE), says that 60% of the country’s population is either no better off or poorer today than they were 20 years ago. The gap between Russia’s richest and poorest is widening while possibly intensifying class-based tensions. Photo Gordon Wiltsie In large cities like Moscow, Western capitalism has raised the standards of living for the top tier of Russian society. On the other hand, pensioners and those living is smaller cities are falling behind, disillusioned with the reform’s promise of a better life. During the Soviet-era, healthcare, education, and housing were subsidized by the government. These days, people…

How Distillation Became the Water of Life

Posted on June 9th, 2011

At Charbay one immediately gets a sense of place. And a sense of purpose. Perhaps it’s the giant antique copper stills that stand guard in front of the building, or perhaps it’s the long winding road to get there, or the quiet isolation, or perhaps it’s because that trickling sound was actually brandy, not yet aged, coming from the still. A clear brandy which the French call “eau de vie” or in English “water of life”. Photo Jodi Cobb “Distilling is the very essence of life on this planet,” says the elder Karakasevic as we all raise a glass of his deep golden brandy. Originally it was clear, like its trickling cousin behind me, but now it has turned color by nearly three decades…

Haiti, One Year After the Earthquake

Posted on May 18th, 2011

It has been over a year since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti. While the media’s attention has shifted to more recent world events, the most vulnerable children of Haiti continue to face severe malnutrition, lack of healthcare, abandonment and neglect. UNICEF estimated there were 380,000 orphans in Haiti before the earthquake. It is believed that post earthquake that number has doubled. Sadly, according to USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, many of the children have been abandoned or simply left on the street by their parents because of extreme poverty or disease. Haiti’s shattered infrastructure has left families who were already very poor with even fewer resources to survive. However, in times of tragedy, unexpected heroes have emerge. Jesika Bishop, a 26 year…

The English Kid Who Became an Irish Saint

Posted on March 17th, 2011

I learned of the true history of Saint Patrick from an Irishman in an English pub in London. I asked him why Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated. He told me that it wasn’t celebrated until the 1970s when the Irish-Americans turned what was a minor holy day in Ireland into a revenue generating holiday in the States. “Did we Americans invent the Irish Saint Patrick as well?” I asked. He took a long draw from his beer. “If you buy me another one of these, I’ll tell you the whole story, includin’ the part about Patrick…” He leaned in a little closer and spoke in a hushed tone. “The thing of it is, Patrick was a Brit.” Photo Jim Richardson Around 390 AD Patrick…

Discovery’s Last Flight

Posted on February 28th, 2011

It was the sign I had waited 115 days to see: “Days until launch: 0”. Driving towards the press site I was asking myself, “is this it? is this the day that Discovery will finally launch?” The last time I was here, I watched tearfully as Discovery’s flag was ceremoniously lowered from the flagpole beside the mission countdown clock. The launch had been scrubbed due to a hydrogen leak and all my hopes were dashed. Today though, the sun was shining, the press trucks were out in force, and I was ready to see this bird fly. Photo Joel Sartore There was a nervous pause as we heard that the countdown clock had been stopped. A problem with range control meant that at that…

It Never Rains in Los Angeles

Posted on January 7th, 2011

People move to Southern California for the weather. They may try to tell you otherwise (how many time have we heard that “I’m doing it for my career” line), but I’m pretty sure they’re doing it for the blue skies and endless sunshine. Photo Stephen Alvarez That’s why I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I couldn’t deal with the consistent change in weather, the weeks of grey rain, clouds hanging low in the summer sky. I wanted a given, and that given needed to be SUN, SUN, SUN. So, you can imagine how traumatizing it was for me (and the rest of the So-Cal population) to spend half of December watching as rain deluged Los Angeles. Nearly 13 inches of rain fell…

Do You Know Where Your New Years Eve Cocktail Comes From?

Posted on December 30th, 2010

After a long workweek a business colleague and I decided to salve away our ills with a few cocktails. She ordered some sugary newfangled confection and I, being seasonally nostalgic, opted for the hot weather classic, a gin and tonic. Once prepared and sipped upon she leaned forward slightly. “I have a confession to make,” she said as she whisked a stray hair from in front of her eyes. “I don’t like gin and tonics,” she said. “They taste so…so…medicinal,” she added while twirling that self-same errant hair. “Well there’s a good reason for that,” I said, taking a long sip. I then began to tell her why. The problem with the origins of classic cocktails is that often those cocktails were developed by…

Sliding Home

Posted on September 2nd, 2010

At the age of 12, I had an epiphany on a baseball diamond at a park near my house. I was in the batter’s box and was suddenly keenly aware of the absence of my presence. I could no longer hear the clapping hands of the coach as he belted out orders, or the encouraging hollers of the Saturday morning crowd. Nor did I hear the tinny thud from the bat that launched my ball toward left field. Aside from the fact I hated softball, all I could think of was, “I want to be anywhere else but here.”  France was always on the top of my list. Switzerland and Italy sounded pleasant too, and I had had recurring dreams about pin-balling my way…

The Great Experiment, Prohibition Continues

Posted on August 19th, 2010

There we were, a virtual mosaic sampling of the states that make up this great United States of America: One Tennessean, a Texan, an Arizonan and me, a native Pennsylvanian. Realizing that Labor Day and the end of summer was fast approaching; we crammed ourselves into an SUV, along with all of our camping gear, and headed off, out of state, for a late summer weekend. Midway to our destination the telltale sound of an aluminum can opening called our attention to the backseat. Photo Gordon Wiltsie Our born and bred Texan brother had opened himself a can of beer. Screeching brakes was the next sound that was heard by all. “Are you freakin crazy, you can’t drink a beer in the car,” we…

The hackers life – my weekend at Defcon

Posted on August 6th, 2010

I’m walking with Nico through the hallways of the convention area of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. There is a distinct old school feeling at the Riviera that reminds one of the days when Las Vegas was run by the family. Walking swiftly Nico tells me that we might see security expert Chris Paget get arrested during his presentation. “Arrested?” As we get closer to the hall where Paget is presenting, I can hear someone yelling, “if you have a GSM cell phone, your call may be intercepted. If you do not want this to happen, then turn off your cell phone.” The vociferous warning is supported by the flyers I see haphazardly taped to the walls. Photo Lou Lesko Using a laptop,…

The Return of the Honest Reporter

Posted on July 29th, 2010

The right and the left in America don’t agree on much, but for decades, they’ve shared one basic belief: You can’t trust the mainstream media. On the left, it was the New York Times and the big TV networks beating the drums about weapons of mass destruction and leading us in to the Iraq War. Or it was the corporate control of the major media, and the consolidation of ownership. Or it was Rupert Murdoch. On the right, it was, of course, the famous “liberal media.” And for those who came of age with the blogosphere, it was the hated “gatekeepers”, those elite, arrogant editors who controlled what made it onto the front pages – and more important, what didn’t. Photo Jodi Cobb I’m…

The Map and the Mind

Posted on July 22nd, 2010

Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, examines how our intellectual technologies—the tools we use to find, store, and share information—influence the way that we think, from the map and the clock to the book and the Internet. In this excerpt, Carr looks at the map’s far-reaching effects on the intellectual lives of our ancestors. Photo Ira Block A child takes a crayon from a box and scribbles a yellow circle in the corner of a sheet of paper: this is the sun. She takes another crayon and draws a green squiggle through the center of the page: this is the horizon. Cutting through the horizon she draws two brown lines that come together in a jagged…

An Acquired Taste

Posted on June 23rd, 2010

I bellied up to the little downtown bar intent on proving the hard drinking journalist cliché true. My peripheral vision spied out my territory, two big haired brunettes straight out of a The Real Housewives of New Jersey episode to one side, and two checkered dress shirted financial types to the other. The proverbial rock and hard place. Soon it further dawned on me that I had happened to sit between an ongoing discussion between the two different groups of people. The kind of argument not held directly, but manifested in loud conversation seemingly directed at no one in particular. “No one with any class drinks blended Scotch,” said one banker type to the surrounding air. “Blended Scotch is so smooth,” said one of…

The Spirit of the Sepik in Papua New Guinea

Posted on June 17th, 2010

While thumbing through the Port Moresby Post-Courier newspaper on my flight down to the Sepik River, my eyes fell to the headline under Positions Vacant on the Careers page: “Head Hunters.” Noting the headhunters@global email, I was relieved to see it followed by an ANZ bank symbol, and not an actual ad for those degreed in cannibalism. Photo Alison Wright During our cruise down the Sepik River on the MV Sepik Spirit, even though–thanks to missionary influence–I caught the occasional glance of Calvin Klein underwear bands rather than penis sheaths on the men, I discovered that life on the river still pretty much exists as it has for the last few generations. Life evolves around the daily hunting, gathering and foraging for food. The…

Stolen River

Posted on February 2nd, 2010

The last drop of water evaporated into the heat, and the Savuti Channel in Northern Botswana stood barren and dry, a skeleton of the lush river it had once been. It was the year 1982, and Beverly and Dereck Joubert were on assignment for National Geographic, documenting the gradual demise of one of Africa’s great rivers. Although they had known this moment would come, it wasn’t until the last of the water disappeared, that the heaviness of the situation came to full fruition. This was a key moment in history,an event that would change not only the surrounding landscape, but also affect the wildlife that had come to depend on the channel for its sustenance. Much of this devastating change was documented in the…

The Hairy Loch

Posted on January 5th, 2010

The islanders on Skye call it the Hairy Loch. I call my image of it Skye Pan I. The photograph was stitched together from frames 14, 691, 14,692 and 14,693. I’ve always loved the Hairy Loch and have driven past it often. The intricacy and regularity of the reeds in the loch was always alluring, but at the time I had no idea of just what a complex and storied place it was. That would come later when I explored the history of the Hairy Loch, properly called Loch Cill Chroisd. Photo Jim Richardson For all the times I had seen it, I had never really gotten a picture of it until this morning when I was hurrying to the Glasgow airport to take…

Romance in the Lighthouse

Posted on November 25th, 2009

Here are Larry and Pauline Butler, keepers of the Galley Head Lighthouse in County Cork on Ireland’s rugged and remote south coast. Larry and Pauline were both third generation lighthouse keepers. When I visited there years ago I saw the picture on the wall and asked who all those people were. “Oh, those are our children,” said Larry. “Really”, I said, “how many”. “Oh, fourteen,” said Larry! So we took them and the picture outside to do a portrait and while we were standing there talking about all the children, fourteen of them in a lighthouse, Larry gave this explanation. He flexed his muscles and said with a wry grin, “What else are you going to do at a lighthouse?” At which point Pauline…