Adam L. Penenberg investigates the international cash-for-martyrdom industry, wherein secret US banking operations help fund suicide bombers:
What struck Osen was how organized the whole process was: the banal evil of the international cash-for-martyrdom industry. After a suicide attack, a caseworker from one of Hamas’s social welfare institutions would sit down with family members and take down information on a standard set of forms. The documents resembled the kind of forms a mortgage applicant might fill out, except with a cover page that translates into something like “The Martyrs Receive Reward from their Lord, They and Their Light.” The caseworker recorded the applicant’s closest relatives, family income, number of dependents, whether they were particularly in need of money, as well as banking and contact information, including cell phone numbers and home address.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 23, 2014
LENGTH: 2 minutes (600 words)
How a popular board game helped flood escape tools into POW camps around Europe during World War II:
"The Deluxe set looks very much like the set you would have found in stores maybe ten years ago," Orbanes tells me. "The box would have been the same size as the game board. The board fit into the box, and the box was maybe an inch in depth. It was black in colour and it had a two-colour label that adhered to the middle of the top surface. That's what would have been shipped into the German POW camps."
And what would have been inside it? "There's an organisation here in the US called the Army Air Force Historical Association," Orbanes says. "They made contact with me about three years ago after looking at my book on Monopoly, and one of their members, a graphic artist, took it upon himself not only to do a lot of research through whatever his channels would be, but also to recreate one of these sets, which he's done for display at their headquarters.
"What he found out along the way is that the tools that most likely would have been used in this set would have been a very small compass, maybe an inch in diameter, and they also would have had files - two different types to get you through fencing material, and probably a folding pair of shears, a very small set of shears that would collapse on a pivot, and then of course a silk escape map that would have been appropriate for whatever camp the delivery was for."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8900 words)
The writer on an illicit affair she had with a teacher at the age of 14:
The real life symbolism would have been all too clear: as Trace Lehrer exited through the front door thirty minutes after he arrived, my mother having called sooner than expected, I stood on the threshold clothed and disappointed and feeling like an idiot. I was unintentionally still as virtuous as I had been at the top of the hour.
I couldn’t understand Trace Lehrer’s behavior, or lack thereof; he was explicit in words, but not in actions. We saw each other every day and remained in contact every moment we spent apart. More confusingly, we had replaced first names with pet names in our ceaseless conversations, which had begun to focus on fantasies and plans for our future. “How many kids will we have, baby?” Trace Lehrer had asked me one night before. “Will you come on hunting trips with me and our son?”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7376 words)
A profile of Dan Choi, a gay Iraq combat veteran who became a media star after his public push to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." Since the victory, Choi has found it difficult to figure out what to do next:
In late August, I was on my way to interview Dan at his apartment when he messaged me that a big protest was shaping up at the White House. President Barack Obama had just announced that he would ask Congress for authorization to use force in Syria. I raced to meet him at the north entrance, but all I found were tourists snapping photos and Dan circling around on his bike. He hung out for a while, texting a friend to ask for an update. She didn’t respond. After 20 minutes of scouring his contacts for people who might have more information, he looked up from his phone and gave me a sideways grin. He was being a good sport, but he looked crestfallen. I sensed—or maybe I just imagined it—he was asking himself the same question I had been: Who is Dan Choi without “don’t ask, don’t tell”?
PUBLISHED: Dec. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7175 words)
A group of misguided adventure seekers travel to a war-ravaged village in rebel territory north of Aleppo:
“Most people on their holiday go out partying, but we decided to do something a little different for once,” says Smith. They had “no contacts or anything like that” in southern Turkey or the northern part of Syria controlled by opposition forces. Nonetheless, they flew to Istanbul, hopped on a bus, and made their way to Kilis, a small, dusty town barely on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, the last safe stop on the road to Aleppo.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2643 words)
David Sedaris and his family gather at a beach house in North Carolina, for the first time since his sister’s suicide:
“Even if you weren’t getting along with Tiffany at the time, you couldn’t deny the show she put on—the dramatic entrances, the non-stop, professional-grade insults, the chaos she’d inevitably leave in her wake. One day she’d throw a dish at you and the next she’d create a stunning mosaic made of the shards. When allegiances with one brother or sister flamed out, she’d take up with someone else. At no time did she get along with everybody, but there was always someone she was in contact with. Toward the end, it was Lisa, but before that we’d all had our turn.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4277 words)
An art dealer diagnosed with kidney cancer formulates a plan to bury some of his treasure and leave clues to its whereabouts in a self-published book:
"Dal Neitzel is just one of hundreds of people who have contacted Fenn to let him know they’ve been searching for his haul. Before he set out, after poring through historical books and scouring maps, Neitzel, a 65-year-old former TV cameraman, convinced himself the treasure was in the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico, close to the border with Colorado. Remarkably, he’d managed to locate a large house on the edge of a steep drop that overlooked a gushing river. Outside that house was a sign that read: "Brown." He read Fenn’s poem aloud again: 'Put in below the home of Brown.' That had to be it."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3214 words)
Behind the scenes of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the debate over what policies and programs are effective when it comes to preventing suicide and saving lives in the U.S.:
"Studies done by Columbia University's Dr. Madelyn Gould have found that about 12 percent of suicidal callers reported in a follow-up interview that talking to someone at the lifeline prevented them from harming or killing themselves. Almost half followed through with a counselor's referral to seek emergency services or contacted mental health services, and about 80 percent of suicidal callers say in follow-up interviews that the lifeline has had something to do with keeping them alive.
"'I don’t know if we'll ever have solid evidence for what saves lives other than people saying they saved my life,' says Draper. 'It may be that the suicide rate could be higher if crisis lines weren't in effect. I don’t know. All I can say is that what we’re hearing from callers is that this is having a real life-saving impact.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 13, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4686 words)
The life and death of Roy Sullivan, a park ranger for Shenandoah National Park who was struck by lightning seven times:
"A gentle rain fell on April 16, 1972. The Spark Ranger was in a small guardhouse atop Loft Mountain, registering carloads of visitors who were arriving at the campground. Not so much as a coo of thunder riffled the air. Then … KABOOM! Lightning annihilated a fuse box inside the guardhouse. 'The fire was bouncing around inside the station, and when my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling,' Sullivan told a Washington Post reporter who contacted him a week later. 'It was my hair on fire.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5142 words)