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Published: 11/28/2011
In The Picture
The images of eyes, unblinking and the size of buildings, stared down from the slum on a hill—Rio de Janeiro's oldest favela, Morro da Providencia—and into the heart of the city. They emerged mysteriously, in the summer of 2008, not long after three young men from the community were murdered. The Brazilian Army and a powerful narco-mafia were implicated, and, when the news broke, residents of the favela rioted. For years, they had been living in near total social isolation; taxis did not go up the hill, nor did ambulances, not even the police. Half a dozen buses were destroyed during the riots, but afterward an uneasy calm took hold, and that is when the eyes began to appear. ///continue///
Published: 07/04/2011
Project Neon
This winter, Kirsten Hively, an architect, was walking down First Avenue in midtown when she noticed a sign belonging to Cork & Bottle, a liquor store. The letters were in pink neon—warm, humming, handmade—and they struck her as objects of neglected beauty. Neon signs have been a feature of New York for nearly a hundred years. (The first patent for them in America was filed in 1911, by a French inventor who opened a factory in Queens.) But these days they are a commercial art form in retreat. ///continue///
Published: 03/14/2011
The Gulf War
The boat captain—an elderly man in coveralls who had spent most of his life on the water—was travelling along one of the main passes through the Louisiana marshland. He had steered his vessel, a rectangular flat-bottomed outboard, from a dock in St. Bernard Parish, navigating among the roseau cane and black mangroves. The sky was a pale-blue dome suspended over motionless white clouds. It was a June morning, and under a hot sun the bayou was permeated with quiet unease. ///continue///
Published: 08/30/2010
The Laughing Guru
The cameras and spotlights were positioned overhead, and millions of people in different parts of the world—Los Angeles, London, Kigali, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Mumbai—were watching him, the Indian doctor from the tiny village of Mohrewala, as he stood beside Goldie Hawn on a shiny circular platform that was lit up like a pearl. The doctor was at the center of an arenalike set, constructed at Sony Pictures Studios, in Los Angeles, with a live audience sitting in tiers around him. In the other countries, crowds of people could see him by satellite onto large screens. ///continue///
Published: 08/09/2010
The P & J Oyster Company of the French Quarter, in New Orleans, belongs to two brothers, Al and Sal Sunseri, who took over from their father. The senior Mr. Sunseri, also named Sal, ran the business after his father, Al, gave up work as a dock manager to join the company, in 1937. P & J was then owned by a relative, Joseph Jurisich, and his business partner, John Popich, a Croatian fisherman who had migrated to Louisiana in the eighteen-fifties. The company is the oldest oyster distributor and processor in the United States. "We're a fifth-generation company," Sal Sunseri said the other afternoon in his office. His nephew was sitting at a nearby desk, but no one was working much, owing to the lingering effects of the BP oil spill. "We shut down our shucking operation," Sunseri said. "We're still paying our bills, or trying to." He sighed. "I need a plan."///continue///
Published: 06/07/2010
No Secrets
The house on Grettisgata Street, in Reykjavik, is a century old, small and white, situated just a few streets from the North Atlantic. The shifting northerly winds can suddenly bring ice and snow to the city, even in springtime, and when they do a certain kind of silence sets in. This was the case on the morning of March 30th, when a tall Australian man named Julian Paul Assange, with gray eyes and a mop of silver-white hair, arrived to rent the place. Assange was dressed in a gray full-body snowsuit, and he had with him a small entourage. "We are journalists," he told the owner of the house. Eyjafjallajokull had recently begun erupting, and he said, "We're here to write about the volcano." After the owner left, Assange quickly closed the drapes, and he made sure that they stayed closed, day and night. The house, as far as he was concerned, would now serve as a war room; people called it the Bunker. Half a dozen computers were set up in a starkly decorated, white-walled living space. Icelandic activists arrived, and they began to work, more or less at Assange's direction, around the clock. Their focus was Project B-Assange's code name for a thirty-eight-minute video taken from the cockpit of an Apache military helicopter in Iraq in 2007. The video depicted American soldiers killing at least eighteen people, including two Reuters journalists; it later became the subject of widespread controversy, but at this early stage it was still a closely guarded military secret. ///continue///
Published: 11/23/2009
The Taste Makers
Growing up, Michelle Hagen lived near a large factory in Cincinnati that produced what she and her sisters called The Smell. The aroma was dynamic and unpredictable, almost like a living thing. On some hot summer days, it was thick and sweet, and when it drifted over Hagen's neighborhood -- a series of row houses by the interstate -- it was as if molasses had been poured through the streets. At other times, the smell was protein-rich and savory. Many of the odors triggered specific associations -- birthday cake, popcorn, chicken noodle soup -- and they stayed with her. In 1992, Hagen went to the University of Cincinnati to study art, but she soon turned to science, majoring in biology. She never imagined that she would end up working in the factory that made The Smell. The factory belongs to a Swiss company called Givaudan, the largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances in the world, and upon graduating Hagen got a temporary job there that soon grew into something permanent. After three years of gruelling apprenticeship, she became a flavorist, a job that admitted her into a kind of secret society. ///continue///
Published: 09/28/2009
Nader's Blueprint
For nearly half a decade, Ralph Nader --lawyer, consumer advocate, winner of five-tenths-and-six-hundredths of one per cent of the popular vote in 2008 -- has been secretly working on his first novel, writing drafts and making edits on multiple Underwood Standard typewriters. Nader does not feel comfortable referring to the book as a novel, even though everything in it is made up. He says that the work belongs to a new genre, one that he calls "a practical utopia," and defines as "a fictional vision that could become a new reality." The book, called "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!," is seven hundred and thirty-six pages long, and it contains dozens of characters, many of them real people -- Warren Buffett, Barry Diller, and Ted Turner, among others -- who act out Nader's political fantasies. By the last page, most of the reforms that Nader has been arguing for all these years end up being enacted. Corporations are neutered. Third parties win. America is reborn. ///continue///
Published: 07/06/2009 & 07/13/2009
The Kill Company
Three years ago, at a hastily built command center in the Iraqi desert, near Samarra, a U.S. Army colonel knelt over a dust-caked body bag. Inside were the remains of a man who had just been killed by soldiers in the colonel's brigade, which was engaged in a vast air-assault mission called Operation Iron Triangle. The soldiers had been hunting for militants in nearby villages and crumbling Baathist-era buildings, some of which had been constructed by Saddam Hussein to serve the Al Muthanna chemical weapons complex -- a series of dirt-covered bunkers that rise from the desert like Babylonian temples. ///continue///
Published: 10/27/2008
The Third Man
One afternoon in late August, Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party's candidate for President, stood in a greenroom at Stephen Colbert's television studio staring at a closed-circuit monitor. Barr, who was about to appear on "The Colbert Report," was wearing a dark Brooks Brothers suit and an orange tie. As he watched, the monitor displayed Colbert's opening segment a routine involving footage from Burning Man, the annual culture festival in the Nevada desert known for copious amounts of body paint and psychedelic drugs. Colbert pretended that the footage was from the Democratic National Convention. ///continue///
Published: 10/08/2008
The Stolen Forests
The town of Suifenhe, a former Russian imperial outpost on the Trans-Siberian Railway, has belonged to China since the nineteen-forties, and occupies a broad valley in northern Manchuria. From a distance, its homes and factories appear to cling to a rail yard, with tracks fanning out into a vast latticework of iron as they emerge from the Russian border. Suifenhe is a place of singular purpose. Nearly every train from Russia brings in just one commodity: wood -- oak, ash, linden, and other high-value species. There is also poplar, aspen, and larch, and occasionally great trunks of Korean pine, a species that was logged by the Soviets until there was almost none left to cut down. ///continue///
Published: 08/15/2008
Dem Delegates
The Republican Party in New York City is not unlike a species of tropical bird, in that it has evolved in unusual ways, will most likely never be dominant, and has always held a tenuous status in the political ecology of the five boroughs. During the Republican Convention, last week, New York City Republicans were certainly exotic. Overheard in the lobby of the hotel where they stayed: "Republicans from New York are pinko Commies anywhere else." ///continue///
Published: 11/05/2007
Neptune's Navy
One afternoon last winter, two ships lined up side by side in a field of pack ice at the mouth of the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica. They belonged to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a vigilante organization founded by Paul Watson, thirty years ago, to protect the world's marine life from the destructive habits and the voracious appetites of humankind. Watson and a crew of fifty-two volunteers had sailed the ships, the Farley Mowat, from Australia, and the Robert Hunter, from Scotland, to the Ross Sea with the intention of saving whales in one of their principal habitats. ///continue///
Published: 04/02/2007
Bus Ride
At 5:30 A.M. one recent Saturday, twenty or so people stood huddled in the northeast corner of Union Square. They were waiting for buses that would take them to Washington, D.C., for a protest at the Pentagon, timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and, more or less, with the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 March on the Pentagon. Among those gathered were members of the pro-impeachment organization World Can't Wait (which had chartered two buses), some Revolutionary Communists, and a contingent from Students for a Democratic Society, this final group being remarkable because, until last year, it had been dormant for nearly four decades. ///continue///
Published: 01/22/2007
Azzam the American
Adam Gadahn, the first American to be charged with treason in more than fifty years, was born in Oregon, grew up in rural California, and converted to Islam at the age of seventeen. He is now twenty-eight. No one who knew him before his religious awakening ever thought that he would join Al Qaeda, and many people who knew him after he did are still perplexed. And yet, in a short time, Gadahn has become one of Osama bin Laden's senior operatives. (He is believed to be hiding in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.) He is a member of Al Qaeda's media committee, and his responsibilities are thought to include those of translator, video producer, and cultural interpreter. Primarily, though, Gadahn is a spokesperson, a role he performs with tremendous conviction. ///continue///
Published: 05/15/2006
Behind Enemy Lines
In the days following Adolf Hitler's suicide in 1945, amid the rubble of Allied aerial bombardment, the Red Army's westward advance and Nazi surrender, a company of American infantrymen made their way up Munich's Prinzregentenstrasse, toward the late Fuhrer's personal residence. Hitler had owned a second-floor luxury apartment in Munich. The soldiers' mission was to commandeer important Reich documents that might be stored there and to locate Hitler's will. In the apartment, they found a sculpture and a painting of Hitler's niece and love interest, Geli Raubal. (Hitler was rumored to have murdered her in the bedroom.) They found costly furnishings, spacious rooms and state-of-the-art gadgetry. They did not find important Reich documents, nor did they find a will. Several floors below there was a bomb shelter. There was also a safe, which an Army mechanic managed to force open. ///continue///
Published: 04/28/2006
Blowback in Africa
Ever since Chad gained independence 46 years ago, it has been a world-class model of political dysfunction. In the 1970s, Chad's president, Francois Tombalbaye, compelled civil servants to renounce Western customs, undergo a tribal initiation rite known as yondo and profess belief in a nationalist creed he called Chaditude. He was executed in 1975... ///continue///
Published: 01/31/2006
Hunting the Bin Laden of the Sahara
In the early months of 2004, a lone convoy of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs raced eastward across the southern extremities of the Sahara. The convoy, led by a wanted Islamic militant named Ammari Saifi, had just slipped from Mali into northern Niger, where the desert rolls out into an immense, flat pan of gravelly sand... ///continue///
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