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Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

The Politics of Polio

A “Daily Comment” for The New Yorker on how, and why, the map of polio’s resurgence is a map of modern political violence. Photograph via Polio Canada/Ontario March of Dimes.

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 Throwaways

Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants.  But the work is high risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.  In the Sept. 3rd, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, I tell the stories of four young people who were killed working as informants — Rachel Hoffman, Shelly Hilliard, LeBron Gaither, and Jeremy McLean — and follow their families’ pursuit of accountability.  Read the article here.

Photo by Peter Van Agtmael.

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.


Sex and the Wounded Soldier

For 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”; and the U.S. military’s long-standing awkwardness about matters of sex, heart, and family.

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.


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