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"I Thought I Could Swing It"

On the strange life and presidency of Calvin Coolidge:

The Coolidge family never wasted words. John Coolidge simply notified his son that President Harding had died in San Francisco a few hours earlier. Calvin Coolidge calmly got dressed and walked across the street to a general store where he contacted Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes by telephone, drank a Moxie beverage, and left a nickel to pay for it. Coolidge then walked back across the street to his father’s home.

PUBLISHED: June 19, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2811 words)

How I Met Edward Snowden

An excerpt from Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide, on how he first came into contact with the NSA whistleblower:

It was at that point that C., as he later told me, became frustrated. “Here am I,” he thought, “ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand this guy thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation’s most secretive agency – a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops. And he can’t even be bothered to install an encryption program.”

That’s how close I came to blowing off one of the largest and most consequential national security leaks in U.S. history.

PUBLISHED: May 13, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3953 words)

How We Survived Two Years of Hell As Hostages in Tehran

Three Americans recount their experience of being held captive in Iran's Evin Prison after unknowingly crossing the Iraq-Iran border while out on a hike. An excerpt from A Sliver of Light, a co-written book about their ordeal:

SHANE (October 2009)

Solitary confinement is the slow erasure of who you thought you were. You think you are still you, but you have no real way of knowing. How can you know if you have no one to reflect you back to yourself? Would I know if I was going crazy? The longer I am alone, the more my mind slows. All I want to do is to forget about everything.

But I can't do it. I am unable to keep my mind from being sharply focused on one task: forcing myself not to look at the wall behind me. I know that eventually, a tiny sliver of sunlight will spill in through the grated window and place a quarter-size dot on the wall. It's ridiculous that I'm thinking about it this early. I've been awake only 10 minutes and I should know it will be hours before it appears.

They take everything from us—breezes, eye contact, human touch, the feeling of warm wet hands from washing a sink-load of dishes, the miracle of transforming thoughts into words on paper. They leave only the pause—those moments of waiting at bus stops, of cigarette breaks. They make time the object of our hatred.

I try not to look for the light.

PUBLISHED: March 12, 2014
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10825 words)

Follow The Blood Money

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)

Inside Monopoly's Secret War Against the Third Reich

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 Other Side of the Story

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)

The Passion of Dan Choi

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)

War Tourists Flock to Syria's Front Lines

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)

Now We Are Five

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)