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A short history of the billionaire

Thu, 2014-05-08 11:51

The following is part of a collection of essays in "But Enough About You."

Cassius Binocularius Anthrax
Residence: Capri, 3 B.C.
Net Worth: 90 million aureii.  
Source of Wealth: Off-circus betting, slave trading.

Nickname "Buddy" bestowed on him by the emperor Tiberius during a three day Lupercal drinking binge.

Said to have fixed the 1 B.C. chariot race at the Circus Maximus between Ben Hur and his rival Messala. Pocketed enormous winnings after Messala (favored 50-1) was trampled under Ben Hur's chariot.

Parlayed windfall into franchise betting operations in Parthia, Dacia, Iberia and Germania, using a highly controversial system of reporting Roman chariot race results.

Forced to shut down Germania operations after tribes torched his betting shops (with the concessionaires inside) following years of consistent losing.

Bounced back; established a slave-trading network (Jeevus Dottus Commus) that kept patrician homes from Rome to the Amalfi Coast supplied with prized Britannic butlers.

Gilead (Sam) Starbuck
Residence: Boston, 1775.
Net Worth:140,000 dollars to 160,000 dollars (silver)
Source of Wealth: Tea

In December 1773 Starbuck was purser on the New Bedford whaleship Incontinent when it put into Boston Harbor to offload. Observing a crowd of Bostonians oddly dressed as Native Americans and hurling bricks of valuable English tea into the harbor, he lowered one of Incontinent's whaleboats and rescued some of the 45 tons of jettisoned tea.

Opened his first tea shop in Braintree several days later, serving a beverage called "Sal-Tea." When Sal-Tea failed to catch on, he rebranded it "Patrio-Tea," which did eventually find acceptance with Boston's tea-starved public.

Subsequently struck a deal with the East India Company to supply (that is, smuggle) non-salty tea to Massachusetts.

His string of tea shops prospered, but scholars argue that Starbuck made a mistake calling them "Gileads" instead of some other catchier name.

Why the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott could backfire

Thu, 2014-05-08 11:40

Hollywood's concerns over the enactment of strict Islamic law in Brunei may fall on deaf ears.

Demonstrators gathered across the street from the historic Beverly Hills Hotel to protest against Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, who announced strict sharia law in his country would go into effect on May 1. Reports indicate the penal code provides for the imprisonment of those who miss Friday prayer, amputation of the limbs of robbers, and stoning to death of homosexuals.

The sultan owns the Dorchester Collection, a British company that runs--along with other hotels across Europe--the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air.

The Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, owned by the Dorchester Collection.

David McNew/Getty Images

"When this law became known, it started to spread on social media and within the celebrity community," says Sharon Waxman, founder of The Wrap. "What has happened is that this has boomeranged against the hotel."

Celebrity protestors include Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Branson, and Jay Leno. But despite all this star power backing the cause, the CEO of the Dorchester Group, Christopher Cowdray, released a statement saying that this boycott is misguided.

"He's trying to defend the interests of his hotel and his employees, which has nothing to do with the policy and laws being passed in Brunei," Waxman said. "And he has no power over that. That's his boss, that's his owner."

But the economic plea on Cowdray's part appears to have had no effect on the efforts of the boycott. As for the sultan himself, he has said nothing so far.

"He's in the economic position where he can say, 'I don't care,'" Waxman said.

Double charged: The true cost of juvenile justice

Thu, 2014-05-08 10:50

Double Charged is a special investigation into the U.S. Juvenile Justice system, produced by Youth Radio. This is part one of a two-part series:

Standing in the hallway outside a hearing room at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, you see benches filled with teenagers and their families--waiting to appear in court-- many dressed up in button down shirts and ties, looking their Sunday best. There are a lot of moms, too, and little brothers and sisters who’d clearly rather be elsewhere.

Families and youth wait in the hallway outside juvenile courtrooms, San Leandro, California. 

Brett Myers/Youth Radio

Many teens are here for trials and probation hearings, but on any given day, others are trying to negotiate fines and fees.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you're arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000. 

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states. 

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen. 

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.”

At the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California, Joshua Hopkins is sitting on a bench waiting to be called into a hearing. Hopkins is 13, but he looks a lot older.

“People mess with me and then they get me frustrated, and then they just like to push my buttons. And when they push my buttons, I get very upset and I fight,” Hopkins said .

The fighting has led to time in juvenile detention. And that adds up to a lot of fees, according to his mom, LaPorscha John.

“So basically this is my statement of account. So I owe a total of $736,” she said.

Because of a mental health issue, Joshua lives in a private group home. But his mom is still responsible for the court fees when he messes up. So LaPorscha John owes the money, even though her son is not in her care.

“He is my son… But I’m getting hurt, because it’s financially creating hardship,” she said.

Terry Wiley, Assistant District Attorney for Alameda County’s Juvenile Division, said, “That’s part of being a parent. You’re responsible for your kids and their actions.”

If young people and their families have a problem paying, Wiley said there’s a straightforward solution: “Don’t be committing crimes and you won’t owe any money. Very simple.”

For Zoe Mathews, it’s not simple at all.

In 2010, her son DeShawn Morris was incarcerated for the better part of a year. Months after being released from jail, he was shot and killed. Her son was dead, but the debt lived on, including ongoing calls from county collections.

“It's a constant reminder that, no -- he's not here anymore,” she said.

Mathews’ son was locked up for 208 days at a cost of almost $30 per day.

Zoe Mathews (right) and her mother Jackie stand in front of a wall of family photos, including childhood pictures of Zoe's son DeShawn Morris. DeShawn was killed several months after being released from Juvenile Hall and years later, his mother is still paying the fees for his incarceration.

Teresa Chin/Youth Radio

“By being incarcerated, you're paying your debt back to society. So then they're going to charge you an additional per-night stay as if there were some options?” said Mathews. “The bills are additional stress to already a very painful situation that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life.”

Mathews said the county has agreed to reduce her monthly payment, but won’t reduce the total bill: More than $7,500 for her deceased son’s fees.

Infographics by: Teresa Chin and Jenny Lei Bolario of Youth Radio.

Everything else you wanted to know about olives

Thu, 2014-05-08 10:04

Turns out a lot of people had always wondered why black olives come in cans, but green olives come in jars. Since, of course, one wondering leads to another, our Facebook and Twitter have been alight with questions...

The science: What made black olives in jars so good for botulism?  Why don’t green olives have the same problem?

 Yes, we skipped this part. Here’s the basic deal: Acid and salt retard botulism’s growth. California Ripe Olives are lower in acid than other olives, and the brine isn’t as salty.

 That, plus the low-oxygen environment, makes a black olive in a sealed-up jar so good for botulism. Unless you kill the bacteria with high heat.

 Hey, wait a minute! You can heat up a glass jar to 240 degrees. Home canners do it all the time.

 True! Thanks for pointing that out. I bet I know what you’re asking next…   

 So, why don't the black olives come in jars?

 Turns out, we may owe Mort Rosenblum an apology. He guessed that it was because green olives are prettier. He was half-right.

 We turned here to Kristin Daley, vice president for corporate development at the Musco Family Olive Co.-- one of the two big olive canneries in California.

 Daley says black olives are darn cute. Their brine, not so much.

 “The brine is so dark that it’s barely translucent,” she says. “It’s not very attractive. So there’s not a huge benefit to putting the product into a glass jar.”

And, she says, there are costs: Jars are heavier, so shipping them is more expensive. And there’s more waste from breakage.

At this point, you may be wondering: Why is the brine so dark?

Because the olives got cooked in it, says Eric A. Johnson, a bacteriologist at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in botulism — or, as he calls it for short, “bot.”

“The heat treatment for bot spores is gonna decay some of the tissue,” he says.  

Mother's Day turns 100 (not-so-subtle reminder)

Thu, 2014-05-08 09:06

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Friday, May 9:

In Washington, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology holds a hearing titled, "Space Traffic Management: How to Prevent a Real Life 'Gravity'."

The Labor Department releases its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for March.

The Commerce Department reports on wholesale inventories and sales for March.

On this date in 1961, then FCC chairman Newton Minow referred to television as a vast wasteland. Today you can watch TV on your Smartphone.

Here's an opportunity to thank those married to the nation's men and women in uniform. It's Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Always the Friday before Mother's Day.

And Mother's Day was declared a national observance 100 years ago by President Woodrow Wilson. Make those brunch reservations.

Double Charged: Teens on house arrest on GPS

Thu, 2014-05-08 08:00

Double Charged is a special investigation into the U.S. Juvenile Justice system, produced by Youth Radio. This is part two of a two-part series:

Seventeen-year-old Elisa Morris-Jackson is sitting on the couch in sweatpants and a hoodie. It’s 7 p.m. and she’s watching the TV show “Dancing With The Stars”. Each evening, 7 is also the time when about 130 other juvenile offenders in Alameda County, California are required to plug in and sit down for their mandatory two-hour battery charge.

“I’m going to be so excited to get this thing off of me,” she said.

Jackson has a GPS monitor fastened around her ankle with a rubber strap. It’s part of her probation. The GPS unit is black and plastic -- about the size and shape of a computer mouse -- with three LED lights and a big button. Its purpose: to track her every movement.

17-year-old Elisa Morris-Jackson showing her GPS ankle monitor.

Youth Radio

Where does that information end up? At the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California. A probation officer named Chris showed me how GPS monitors work.

“We use Google Maps, and it shows real time. So this kid we released today...this shows us that he was here at the Juvenile Justice Center,” he said, pointing at the computer screen.

We are looking at the digital breadcrumbs of one teenager’s movements since he was released from juvenile hall, just an hour or two ago, and fitted with a GPS monitor.

The map shows the teen’s path out of the building to the parking lot. Then, down the hill to the freeway.

“It’s very high tech,” said Chris. The officers can even tell if a teenager is in the front yard or backyard of their home.

The probation officer drags a green circle over the kid’s home. On the screen, it’s about two inches, but in real life it represents a radius of 150 feet – the zone the kid is restricted to. Outside of that, it would be a GPS violation and a judge could send him back to juvenile hall or lengthen probation.

Teens on GPS monitoring have to call their probation officer before they leave for school in the morning. And anything outside of school and home – like a job – requires special permission at least 48 hours in advance. So, it’s basically house arrest.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley says GPS monitoring saves money because it costs a lot less than incarceration. In fact, locking a kid up in juvenile hall costs about $429 per day. GPS costs only $85. O’Malley credits the surveillance technology for helping to keep young people at home with their families and out of incarceration.

“When they were originally building a juvenile justice center, the original idea was that it was going to be more than 500 beds,” said O’Malley. “And I think that on any given day now, there are less than 200.”

While incarceration is down, use of electronic monitoring like GPS has increased, more than tripling in the last ten years. And the devices cost families up to $15 a day.

Dominique Pinkney is a juvenile public defender in Alameda County. He’s glad to have more kids out of jail, but he has big problems with GPS: “It’s absolutely overused,” he said. Pinkney argues that judges assign it almost reflexively, even to teens who never would have been sent to juvenile hall. Not only that, Pinkney says it’s too restrictive and teens get in trouble for silly reasons, like not keeping their device properly charged or hanging out with friends.

The consequence of these violations? Lengthening teens’ probation, or even sending them back to juvenile hall.

“When you extend the consequence beyond some rational period, it becomes abusive. It makes kids angry. It actually has the opposite effect,” said Pinkney. “So you engage in a battle instead of sending a corrective signal.”

Nearly half of the young people who are electronically monitored end up violating the terms, according to a study cited by the American Bar Association. A quarter cut the device off entirely.

Sixteen-year-old Manny Velazquez is waiting outside of a courtroom. Besides his towering spiked hair, the most noticeable thing about him is the GPS monitor strapped around his
ankle.

Manny Velazquez, 16, after a court appearance in the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California. 

Brett Myers/Youth Radio

“I am ashamed of it. But that’s not stopping me from…being myself, of the way I dress,” he said.

Velazquez has been on GPS for more than two months. He says the worst part is the isolation.

“It’s just the same routine over and over,” he said. “Go to school. Come home. Sometimes I do get frustrated because I feel like I’m trapped in my own house. Just last night, I felt like the walls were closing in on me.”

One courtroom away, 15-year-old Cameron Lopes had just met with a judge. He was caught carrying a pocketknife in school and spent five days in juvenile hall. Then he was strapped with a GPS unit for 30 days, after missing a court date. Today he and his dad, Jamie, were hoping they could get the device taken off.

Jamie walked out of the courtroom as the heavy wooden doors thumped shut behind him and his son. “He didn’t get his GPS off today,” he said.

Cameron was angry: “I’ve been trying real hard and they just throw all the bad stuff in there and never the good stuff.”

Jamie added, “It’s just little stuff that happened at school. If he got mad at school, they brought it up. If he yelled at somebody, they brought it up. They didn’t bring up that he was on the honor roll... It’s just a lot of negative stuff. So, another 30 days.”

Judges, DAs and public defenders are in rare agreement about GPS tracking as a good alternative to incarcerating teenagers. And it does save money.

But for the young people being monitored, the technology may be solving one problem and creating others, like extending their time in the criminal justice system.

Velazquez says he's ashamed of his GPS ankle monitor.

Brett Myers/Youth Radio

Read Part 1: The true cost of juvenile justice.

Photos and infographics by Youth Radio.

PODCAST: Size does matter for FedEx

Thu, 2014-05-08 07:31

The great mover of packages known as FedEx is shifting to what it calls "dimensional weight pricing." It's about size as well as heft and more money for FedEx. A FedEx spokesman gave this quote to Bloomberg News: "We felt like we weren't receiving the correct compensation for the services we were providing." Marketplace's David Weinberg explains.

President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services appears before the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Sylvia Burwell's nomination will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. There will be plenty of political questions about the future of Obamacare. But what questions would healthcare executives and policy wonks want to ask? We got in touch with a few to find out.

Meanwhile: Google. Amazon. Walmart.com—These aren’t the first places that people think of when planning a funeral service. But more people are shopping online for cremation urns.

PODCAST: Size does matter for FedEx

Thu, 2014-05-08 07:31

The great mover of packages known as FedEx is shifting to what it calls "dimensional weight pricing." It's about size as well as heft and more money for FedEx. A FedEx spokesman gave this quote to Bloomberg News: "We felt like we weren't receiving the correct compensation for the services we were providing." Marketplace's David Weinberg explains.

President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services appears before the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Sylvia Burwell's nomination will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. There will be plenty of political questions about the future of Obamacare. But what questions would healthcare executives and policy wonks want to ask? We got in touch with a few to find out.

Meanwhile: Google. Amazon. Walmart.com—These aren’t the first places that people think of when planning a funeral service. But more people are shopping online for cremation urns.

How long will your retirement savings live?

Thu, 2014-05-08 04:39

What's scarier than dying young? Well, for some, it's living longer without having enough money saved to ensure a good quality of life during retirement. 

Marketplace economics contributor Chris Farrell joins Morning Report host David Brancaccio with tips about how to make sure your savings live as long as you do. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

What would you ask about Obamacare?

Thu, 2014-05-08 02:54

President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services appears before the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Sylvia Burwell's nomination will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

There will be plenty of political questions about the future of Obamacare. But what questions would healthcare executives and policy wonks want to ask? We got in touch with a few to find out.

Sonya Schwartz, Georgetown Center for Children and Families Research Fellow:

Q. You are known to be a management superstar, do you have ideas about how to improve HHS's work with contractors so that healthcare.gov does not inspire the film "Frozen II?"

Q. Verifying identity online continues to be a major roadblock for people applying for coverage on healthcare.gov – particularly for people with low incomes and limited credit history. How would you tackle this problem?

Q. HHS has been working on greater transparency and data sharing. Can you discuss points in your career where you made information more transparent even though you risked alienating some important stakeholders?

Q. Last year’s coverage goal was 7 million and HHS exceeded that mark, do you have a number in mind for 2014-2015?

Dr. Robert Wachter, University of California, San Francisco:

Q. Hospitals and physicians are reeling from the profusion of quality, safety, and efficiency measures they’re being asked to submit – and some experts have begun to call for a moratorium on new measures. Do you feel like we need to slow down the process of promulgating new measures until we have sorted this out?

Q. Now that HITECH has succeeded in wiring the American healthcare system — what do you see as the things that HHS can do that it couldn't before. And where do you see new potential hazards that we need to be mindful of?

Health economist Amitabh Chandra, Harvard: 

"I want to know a lot more about how she will get the exchanges to work better. The exchanges are central to reform. Right now, when we think of an exchange working, we often think of it working in the narrow IT sense. But what we really need to be thinking about, however, is whether price competition on the exchanges is able to reduce health insurance premiums. If it's not able to do this, the fact that they work in the IT sense is no good."

Q. Central to getting price competition to work in the exchanges is taking out a bunch of lard that is in the current exchange plans; a lot of what we call 'essential health benefits' aren't essential at all. As long as junk like this is being covered, the exchange plans will be expensive. What are [your] proposals to increase price competition on the exchanges and second, make the exchange plans leaner?

Robert Restuccia, Executive Director Community Catalyst:

Q. The first open enrollment period surpassed expectations in terms of the number of people enrolled. These numbers are due in large part to in-person assisters who helped consumers navigate healthcare.gov and make the best health care enrollment choice for their needs.  Funding from HHS was critical in providing this type of assistance.  What are your plans for supporting in-person assistance?

Q. With so many new enrollees, many of whom have never had insurance or haven’t had it for a long time, consumer assistance will be very important, but federal support for Consumer Assistance Programs (CAPs) has lapsed.  What are your plans to support people so that they can make effective use of their new coverage?

Q. The ACA has moved us forward by expanding coverage, but consumers are still grappling with costs- higher copays and deductibles. There are also still many cracks in the system. Consumers aren’t sure about the quality of the care they are getting. How would you push hospitals, doctors and insurers to provide better care at lower costs?

Finally, what about you? Tell us what questions you have on Twitter, on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Rich and looking to invest? Don't buy a mansion

Thu, 2014-05-08 02:52

The highest end of the high end real estate market is buzzing. Already this year three homes in the U.S. have sold for more than $100 million. 

Just last week, a property in the Hamptons (outside New York) sold for $147 million -- the most ever paid for a single-family house in the U.S. Still, UCLA's Eric Sussman says real estate that gets this kind of attention is full of risk.

"I don't think any economist, any real estate expert ... would say that buying a $100 million home is a safe place to put your money. Because let's face it you're talking about a very scarce asset with very few potential buyers," says Sussman.

Below is a list of the top real estates sales in the U.S.: 

Address City State Price paid Date of sale 60 Further Lane East Hampton N.Y. $147,000,000 May 2014 Blossom Estate Palm Beach Fla. $140,000,000 Dec 2012 Broken O Ranch Augusta Mont. $132,500,000 2012 Copper Beech Farm Greenwich Conn. $120,000,000 April 2014 360 Mountain Home Road San Francisco Calif. $117,500,000 January 2013 Further Lane Hamptons N.Y. $103,000,000 2007 The Fleur de Lys Los Angles Calif. $102,000,000 2014

Credit/Compiled by: Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers

Jonny Greenwood's radio moves

Thu, 2014-05-08 01:36

Yeah, I'll admit it. I'm a Radiohead fan

We're a devoted lot, and because of that, we're pigeon-holed, stereotyped, etc. But everybody should have that one band they love, right? And because "The Bends" came out when I was in high school, Radiohead was that band for me.

I actually liked the later stuff better -- "Hail to the Thief" is my favorite album, the peak before the band's lesser works of recent years. But even better than the recordings were the live shows. Somehow, here was a group of musicians that was doing stadium rock without the Aquanet and tights.

A Radiohead live performance was truly odd and yet still had mass appeal. But I saw guitarist Jonny Greenwood do something in the early 2000s that really blew my mind. It gave me a new understanding of both improvisation and the art of making every performance unique. 

Greenwood pulled out a radio at the beginning of the song "National Anthem" and just started madly switching channels. Static spat, voices barked, music played over his brother Colin Greenwood's driving bassline -- it was awesome. And the beauty of it was that every time he pulled the move it was different.

In Germany, it was German radio. In Japan, the voices chirped in Japanese. Here's an example. 

 

Jonny Greenwood's move was part of the inspiration for this week's Marketplace Tech series Playing With Machines. Musicians are great ambassadors and early adopters of technology. Unless you're a staunch classicalist or a virtuoso on an acoustic instrument, you're always trying to figure out ways to make new sounds or bring forth new ideas.

That can mean picking up an instrument you don't understand, or trying to push an instrument you know to the limit for a surprising result. It can mean something as simple as playing to a metrinome, or something as complex as composing music for a robot guitarist with 78 fingers.

Like most artists, good musicians are a wonderful mix of technical ability and whimsy. So the way they think about and interact with technology is a treat to witness. 

Computers are jerks: a conversation with Dan Deacon

Thu, 2014-05-08 01:00

If you're going to see a Dan Deacon show, chances are the composer and electronic musician won't ask you to put your cell phone away. In fact, he'll probably encourage you to keep it handy. That's because having a smartphone loaded with Deacon's app turns the audience into a makeshift light show.

It looks something like this (skip to :55 to see the start of the show):

The app, made in conjunction with Wham City Lights, reacts to a tone which then syncs your phone to the next song in the set. It blurs the line between audience and performer in a way that Deacon enjoys -- rather than just going to see a show, attendees contribute to the performance. The app also invites smartphones into a concert setting, an area in which it is usually strictly banned. It's part of Deacon's M.O.: to use technology in a way that enhances his vision of what a Dan Deacon show should look and sound like.

This in spite of the fact that he also refers to the computer as "the biggest jerk I've ever worked with."

It overheats, it is unreliable, and it quits unexpectedly. Deacon points out, though, that it also has a right to be as fickle as it is, seeing as its advanced capability allows him to do so much with his compositions.

He also feels that technology is putting the music world on the precipice of its next big change:

"The last 100 years saw such an insane change in music, it's almost impossible to think about the next 100 years having any less. There was a time before music, there was a time before opera, and there was a time before what we're about to enter into."

More Americans going online to find cremation urns

Wed, 2014-05-07 22:00

Google. Amazon. Walmart.com—These aren’t the first places that people think of when planning a funeral service. But more people are shopping online for cremation urns. 

David Thompson lives in Carson City, Nevada, and he buys a lot of stuff on Amazon. Recently, he bought an urn a few days before his wife passed away. He was looking for a wider selection than what the funeral home offered.

“To be honest, I was really glad to be home, near my wife, while I was going through this process of finding her cremation urn,” he says. “The one that I chose just jumped off the computer screen and told me essentially that, ‘This is the right thing. This matches your wife’s personality'."

Cremation has become commonplace. Two years ago, 43 percent of Americans were cremated. By 2017, it’s expected, there will be more cremations than burials. 

In Traverse City, Michigan, Stardust Memorials has built its entire business around selling cremation urns online. Owner Jordan Lindberg started the company four years ago, after his father got sticker shock while looking for an urn for his grandmother. 

“I wasn’t interested in selling any kind of normal product, anything that you’re likely to find when you go into Target,” he says. 

Potter Phil Wilson is molding clay into an urn on the wheel. He and Gretchen Palmer of Spinner Ceramics are creating a line of ceramic urns for Stardust Memorials. 

Palmer says the handmade aspect offers a personal touch. “These are not made by a machine. They're all made by hand by Phil, with glazes that he mixed and he designed,” she says. Neither potter said they would purchase a cremation urn online. But the new work has made family members think about their final wishes. 

“When I told my mom and her husband what I was doing, they were like, ‘Oh, I wonder what color urn I would like.’ I was like, ‘Mom, seriously?'," she says.

Stardust Memorials did $1 million in sales last year, and expects to double that this year.

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