Dan P. Lee on the director and Oscar contender:
I’d seen 12 Years the night before, at the huge cineplex in downtown L.A. My friend sobbed quietly through a good portion of it. At least one black couple left midway. As we walked out of the theater, no one seemed to be speaking; breaking the ice, one stranger next to me said, “Well, that was intense,” which made us all laugh anxiously. As we stared at the Figueroa clips, I told McQueen how much I admired the film, and how it made me think about nihilism. He was having none of this. We made our way quickly to the courtyard outside the museum, where a lively conversation ensued.
He stammered and stuttered, organizing his thoughts. “The world is perverse,” he conceded; it is “chaotic.” Still: “Within that, one is always trying to find that calm, that focus. That’s why we have societies. It drives some sort of structure within that sort of environment.” Slavery was not proof of senselessness. It was about “money and power obviously, and within that you get human suffering.” But goodness overwhelms. “The only reason I’m here talking to you,” he said, “is because my family held on to that love, even if it sounds corny.”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5274 words)
An incredible story about the system failing our children—through the eyes of one of New York’s 22,000 homeless children:
Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.
It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 88 minutes (22000 words)
Despite all the progress in stamping out child labor and exploitation around the globe, kids are still working in dangerous conditions. In Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, has one out of every three children working, and there is even an organization working to relax restrictions for those working under age 15:
I’d gone to Bolivia because some NGOs and activists there have been trying—seemingly against all good sense—to lower the legal working age from 14 to six years old. And this was not the doing of mine owners or far-right politicians seeking cheap labor like one might expect. Instead the idea has been floated by a group of young people ages eight to 18 called the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO)—something like a pee-wee version of the AFL-CIO—who have proposed a law that aims to allow young children to legally work. Bolivia’s congress is slated to vote on a version of the law as soon as this month.
Why would an organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of young workers want to lower the legal working age? Current regulations state that youth can begin work no younger than 14, but these laws are rarely followed. Bolivia is a nation of fewer than 11 million people. This includes approximately 850,000 children who work full-time, nearly half of whom are under 14.
“They work in secrecy,” Alfredo, a 16-year-old who since the age of eight has worked as a bricklayer, construction worker, and currently as a street clown, told me when I met him at a cafe in El Alto, the teeming slum city just outside of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3638 words)
Adrian Chen tracks down Perry Fellwock, also once known as Winslow Peck, whose revelations were shared four decades ago in the radical magazine Ramparts magazine:
We set a new date: Noon on a Friday, at a bench outside the train station in Oceanside. Just as I was about to hang up he stopped me.
“Wait, I don’t think meeting at the train station is a good idea because that seems a little spookish,“ he said. ”I’m not a spook, so I don’t want to do anything spookish. Maybe you could meet me while I’m grocery shopping. What’s a normal thing we can do?”
I tried to think of things a 67-year-old antiques dealer and a 28-year-old journalist might normally do together. Grocery shopping was not high on the list. Fellwock came up with another plan: We would go to a Chinese restaurant near the train station and grab lunch.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 37 minutes (9268 words)
Did U.S. Special Forces commit war crimes in Afghanistan? Matthieu Aikins investigates the discovery of 10 missing Afghan villagers who had been buried outside a U.S. base. Officials say a translator was solely responsible, but he and other witnesses say there’s more to the story:
I tell Kandahari that multiple witnesses claim to have seen him participate in abusive interrogations, and that another had seen him execute Gul Rahim, but he flatly denies ever killing anyone. He says that he had left Nerkh soon after Batson was injured, after quarreling with Kaiser. The Americans were trying to frame him for their own crimes, he says. “They knew what was happening,” he says. “Of course they knew. If someone does something on the base, everyone sees it. Everyone knows everything that’s going on inside the team.”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8309 words)
From a windowless box in Nevada, Airman First Class Brandon Bryant helped pilot drones that killed over a thousand people as part of the U.S. drone warfare program:
Bryant’s laser hovered on the corner of the building. “Missile off the rail.” Nothing moved inside the compound but the eerily glowing cows and goats. Bryant zoned out at the pixels. Then, about six seconds before impact, he saw a hurried movement in the compound. “This figure runs around the corner, the outside, toward the front of the building. And it looked like a little kid to me. Like a little human person.” Bryant stared at the screen, frozen. “There’s this giant flash, and all of a sudden there’s no person there.” He looked over at the pilot and asked, “Did that look like a child to you?” They typed a chat message to their screener, an intelligence observer who was watching the shot from “somewhere in the world”—maybe Bagram, maybe the Pentagon, Bryant had no idea—asking if a child had just run directly into the path of their shot. “And he says, ‘Per the review, it’s a dog.’ ”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5485 words)
Who’s really covering Syria—and who’s funding them? Shaer meets the citizen journalists and upstart news organizations reporting on the civil war, and raises questions about what's motivating their work:
"One of the reporters changed the channel on a nearby television to CNN. ‘Every Western media organization had an agenda,’ said Mohammed. ‘CNN is always talking about ISIS, Al Nusra, Islamists, Al Qaeda. But they never talk about humanitarian aid.’
“Earlier, when I had asked Mohammed what he wished to see in Syria, he had answered quickly: ‘A modern Islamic state.’ But when I pointed out that Nashet also had an agenda, the room grew hushed and tense. ‘CIA,’ a reporter sitting behind me whispered accusingly. Sami motioned me to leave. Outside, he remarked, ‘You can’t have that kind of place if you don’t have a backer with a big agenda.’”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3892 words)
On Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and an oral history of the "outlaw country" movement that coalesced in Austin as a reaction to the polished "countrypolitan gloss" in Nashville, led by RCA executive Chet Atkins:
"Liquor by the drink had finally become legal in Texas, which prompted the folkies to migrate from coffeehouses to bars, turning their music into something you drank to. Songwriters moved to town, like Michael Murphey, a good-looking Dallas kid who’d written for performers such as the Monkees and Kenny Rogers in L.A. He was soon joined by Jerry Jeff Walker, a folkie from New York who’d had a radio hit when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered his song 'Mr. Bojangles.' In March, Willie played a three-day country festival outside town, the Dripping Springs Reunion, that would grow into his Fourth of July Picnics. Then he too moved to Austin and started building an audience that didn’t look like or care about any Nashville ideal. By the time the scene started to wind down, in 1976, Willie and Austin were known worldwide."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 13, 2013
LENGTH: 45 minutes (11438 words)
A fire in Prince George's County in Maryland nearly kills two firefighters. An account of how it happened:
"With temperatures climbing past 1,000 degrees, the shield on his helmet curled, and the liner inside his protective coat melted. His protective mask was so badly damaged that an analysis later concluded that it was on the verge of 'immediate failure.'
"'Everything was hot, everything was burning,' O’Toole said. 'It got hotter and hotter and hotter until the point where you just didn’t want to breathe anymore.' Each breath he took 'felt like someone was cutting your throat.'
"Outside, Sorrell was crying for help, desperate to save his friend. 'Come on! Get that line in there!' he shrieked, a bloodcurdling sound captured on a helmet-mounted video camera worn by a Riverdale firefighter. 'My guy’s in there! Go!'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4867 words)