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Rwanda and the Little Cafe

I tend to write grim and depressing stories, but even amidst those, there are often people who stand out for their light and insight; I forgot to post this piece about a few such characters in New Haven, who helped to bring some of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide to light via a fax machine at Lulu’s cafe, a little shop in East Rock. Lulu and her surgeon friend, John Sundin, created their own sort of fascinating version of conflict correspondence via a coffeehouse bulletin board/notebook, in the pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram era. You can check out the story on

Hiroshima: An Anniversary

Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother), but also her own?

Read my interview with Shoji and her family for The New Yorker here — it’s a story about the inter-generational transmission of trauma, which many war survivors/veterans and their families may recognize. Photograph via Popperfoto/Getty.

What can journos learn from lawyers, and vice versa?

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 5.37.40 PMI’m looking forward to being part of a public conversation at Penn Law School this coming Monday, for a whole slew of reasons:

1. The talk came about at the invitation of Prof. Louis Rulli, the school’s Director of Clinical Programs who is also a particularly creative thinker in the realm of public interest law.  In my recent story on police abuses of civil asset forfeiture laws, I highlighted the work of Rulli’s civil practice clinic in defending Philadelphia families who’ve had their homes seized without much due process.  Some of the cases his students have worked on are pretty jaw-dropping. I’m eager to learn about the other sorts of issues they’re tackling, within and beyond civil forfeiture.

2. I like the question Prof. Rulli has posed for the occasion, which, to put it loosely, goes something like: “What are we to make of the relationship between public interest lawyers and journalists?” What insights can journos glean from lawyers — what methodological tricks of the trade, what concrete knowledge about where systems of governance are working and where they aren’t, etc.? And what can public interest lawyers take away from feature reporters — about the powers of narrative, for instance, and its impact on public perceptions of a given policy or set of facts? There are interesting sub-questions, too, about how to preserve fairness, objectivity, and complex independent thinking when working as a reporter in tandem with litigators who have a different set of professional  imperatives.

3. It’s going to be a conversation, rather than just a talk. And I like that, a lot, because there’s plenty I’m eager to hear and learn from professors and students — down to the nitty-gritty of how they chose their cases, how/whether they think about legal complaints through a narrative lens, etc.

4. They made a really nice poster.  To sum up, the event is Monday, Nov. 4th, from 4:30 – 6:30 PM, in Silverman Hall, Rm. 240A.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2012

I’ve been meaning to announce the debut of “The Best American Magazine Writing 2012,” in which you’ll find my New Yorker story on labor abuses of third-country nationals in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some powerful reporting by a handful of friends (Matthieu Aikins) and journalistic heroes (Lawrence Wright, John Jeremiah Sullivan).  It’s available here.


Muckreads Podcast — Talking “War on Drugs” with ProPublica

Back in October, I sat down with the managing editor of ProPublica, Steve Engelberg, to talk about my story on the deaths of young confidential informants — and, more generally, about the challenges of long-form reporting on topics that inherently lend themselves to secrecy.  I forgot to post it back then, so I’m taking the liberty to offer the link now: you can find the recording here, along with other MuckReads podcasts with the likes of David Simon (creator of The Wire) and Fortune’s Mina Kimes.

2012: The Year in Almosts

I tend to share Emily Nussbaum’s skepticism about the annual “Top Ten list” ritual and the sketchy sausage production it entails.  That said, I just posted my year-end list on The New Yorker‘s site this evening, and it was, in the end, a fun exercise.  You can find my round-up — of 2012’s “Almosts, Half-Starts, and Nearly-There’s” — here, along with a stand-out list of Mexican cartel’s outlandish feats by Patrick Radden Keefe, a handy cocktail party survival checklist by Jane Mayer, and more.  (Quick preview: my list deals with drones, Republican rape gaffes, and the war on drugs. Oh, and everyone’s favorite Ikea monkey in his shearling coat.)


Sex and the Wounded Soldier

amps001For Veteran’s Day, I wrote a brief story for the Dart Society Reports on “sex and the wounded soldier.”  It’s about a lot of overlapping themes — my friendship with a wounded soldier (now dead) who worried a lot about war’s impact on his intimate life; an amputee dance troupe from World War II, called “The Amputettes”; the U.S. military’s long-standing awkwardness about matters of sex, heart, and family.  It all seems a bit more timely with the Petraeus love triangle (quadrangle?  pentagon? hexagon?).

The other stories in the issue are well worth reading.  Lee Hancock has an exceptional piece about the ethical minefields that come with reporting on sexual assault within the military, called “The Rape Was Not The Only Problem.” And conflict photojournalist John Moore has a photo essay on veterans recovering from major burns at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.


Image credits: “‘Amps’ Shake a Shapely Leg” and “’Amputees’ Present a ‘Gay 90s’ Review” clippings.  The Canham Collection. Otis Historical Archives.  National Museum of Health and Medicine.


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