Tough Choice

C.J. Chivers (thanks, Justin): KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — Five-year-old Sadiq was not a casualty of war. He was simply unlucky. The boy had opened a sack of grain at his home early on Wednesday morning, and a pit viper coiled inside lashed up and bit him above the lip.

His father, Kashmir, knew his son was sure to die. With no hospital anywhere nearby, he rushed the boy to an American outpost to plead for help. By midafternoon, Sadiq’s breathing was labored. Respiratory failure was not long off.

The events that followed unfolded like a tabletop counterinsurgency exercise at a military school. On one hand, the United States military’s medical capacity, implanted across Afghanistan to care for those wounded in the war, could not be used as primary care for the nation’s 29 million people. On the other hand, would the officer who upheld this policy be willing to watch a 5-year-old die?

Below The Surface, More Clatter Than Cheer

This was written around Christmas 2004, but it might as well have been Memorial Day. Dan Barry: THE songs and carols tell us that it is Christmastime in the city, with children laughing and people passing, greeting smile after smile. They implore us to say hello to friends we know, and everyone we meet. They ask us: Do you hear what I hear?

So let us accept that challenge, and set out to hear the sounds of Christmas Eve 2004 in this city. Let us meander by way of an express subway line whose symbol resembles a red tree ornament — the 3 — and rise occasionally from the bedrock to squint and listen in winter’s weak daylight.


M.I.A. tweeted Lynn Hirschberg’s phone number as payback for Hirschberg’s Times Magazine piece and because of all that I found this cool profile of Courtney Love: Courtney Love is late. She’s nearly always late, and not just ten, fifteen minutes late, but usually more than an hour past the time she’s said she’ll be someplace. She’s late for band rehearsal’s, she was late when she used to strip, she was even an hour late for a meeting with a record company executive who wanted to sign her band, Hole. Courtney assumes that people will wait. She assumes that people will forgive her as they stare at the clock and stare at the door and wonder where the hell she is. And they do forgive her. Until they can’t stand it anymore and then get mad, fed up, and move on. But by that time Courtney is gone – she’s off keeping someone else waiting.

Another Sad Farewell

Jeb Phillips: A new Lima Company leaves Columbus this morning.

It’s the company of Lance Cpl. Brandon Schoen, 25, whose pregnant wife is due June 1. He has never deployed.

It’s the company of Lance Cpl. Dwayne Thompkins, who turns 23 today. He has never deployed, either.

What Happened To The Miami Herald?

Winning a Pulitzer prize is allegedly awesome. Being a Pulitzer finalist gets you 18 “almost” emails and, if you’re me, drinks after work on Tuesday with Neil Brown, the very talented, very cool man who runs the newsroom here.

He was talking Tuesday about working in the newsroom of the Miami Herald in the early ’80s, a decade in which the paper won eight Pulitzers and was certainly the preeminent paper in Florida, arguably all of the Southeast.

He started rattling off the names of people who worked there in the Crockett and Tubbs era. Amazing. Just a few from memory: Gene Miller, Edna Buchanan, Bill Grueskin, Jeff Leen, Joel Achenbach, David von Drehle, Gene Weingarten, Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Mike Wilson, Barry Bearak, Deborah Sontag, Leonard Pitts, John Barry, Sydney Freedberg, Meg Laughlin. There were more. I’m forgetting. It was a long list of people who would go on to win or edit Pulitzers or write books or otherwise shape newspapers today.

The Herald’s daily circulation peaked at 442,560 in 1985.

Now, the Sunday circulation of the Miami Herald is 235,225, down 12.9 percent in six months. The daily circulation dropped 15.5 percent in six months to 170,769.

Its Sunday circulation today is lower than the St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel and the Tampa Tribune.

I’m curious whether anybody knows why the Herald has fallen so far in terms of circulation. How does that happen in a metropolis as big and bold and important as Miami?

It’s not rare to run into people in West Central Florida who have been around and still regard the Miami Herald as Florida’s biggest and best paper. I don’t correct them.


Hank Stuever: For all the gunk on television, it’s hard to think of a more depressing show these days than the “spillcam,” the live, continuous underwater footage of the broken BP pipe that has been gushing away deep, deep down in the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month now.

Spillcam combines the dread of horror films with the monotony of Andy Warhol’s eight-hour silent movie of the Empire State Building. There is no sound and nothing happens, except the inexorable, unending flow. You watch a little, and then a little more, and then you can’t stop watching as a steady plume of dark brown oil belches upward from the floodlit, rocky ocean floor.

Bad Writing

When he was a boy, Vernon Lott wanted to be the next great poet. Alas, no dice. Years later, he found a box of his genius and realized that it was horrible.

That set him on a quest for answers about writing — bad writing, good writing and the process in between (h/t Hank).

Bad Writing – Official Trailer from Morris Hill Pictures on Vimeo.

He talks to host of folks, including David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, Margaret Atwood and George Saunders, who says in Lott’s documentary:

My sense is that it has a lot more to do with the ways that someone is naturally charming. You know, so if you fall in love with somebody and they’re leaving town and you have two days to somehow change their mind, in that kind of life or death situation you bring forth certain traits of your personality. In my case, I would be telling jokes and I would be talking fast and I would be trying real hard to anticipate her reason for leaving and undercut them in a real energetic way. Those are all things that I would do in prose as well. I would definitely try to anticipate the reader’s objection to the story and build in a defense. I would try to be funny; I would try to be fast. So for me, the big breakthrough moment for me, was when I said to myself, ‘The reader is a person who you need to charm. You better bring your good shit. Because they don’t have time to wait around for you to work through your Hemingway phase.’

I tend to think Walt Harrington is right: “I don’t mean that you have to spend five years covering county board meetings. But I do mean covering all-night cops, investigating how housing and industrial developments works in communities and how power flows from real estate and business people into politics, reporting on the dramas of life and death with car accidents and suicides. Doing general assignment reporting, something you don’t get to do until after you’ve proven you can do news, feature and news feature reporting, is a wonderful way to become introduced to the huge range of stories and humanity that’s out there. Much of the finest intimate journalism is really a kind of journalistic anthropology, going into worlds from a typical high school to a garage rock band to an old folks home to a hospice to police precinct to a rug culture to a suburban housewife book club and understanding it in its own terms and making sense of the group’s value and beliefs while also learning to master the techniques of interviewing and observing and thinking critically on your feet and then mastering in small steps the ways of rendering all that material in a story. That means mastering the whole range of word and technique and structure skills. There is so much to learn that learning it in smaller pieces is, I think, really the only way to do it. That means that most people who do this work really well first became the best feature writers on their newspapers before they went on to become the best projects reporters on their newspapers.”

Is your early stuff lousy? Anybody want to offer an example?


Mike Newall (thanks, Mara): In Courtroom 801, Maurice Ragland began to shake. The drug dealer who shot him twice in the head had just been led in for a May 6 sentencing hearing.

Ragland’s nerves were raw. The tremors began in his shoulder, rippled to his fingers – a lingering effect of his wounds.

Ragland was left for dead nearly four years ago in a puddle of blood beneath a West Philadelphia streetlamp.

“I’m not dead,” he told the police officer who found him.

Ragland recovered – aside from the spasms – and did something seldom heard of in Philadelphia: He testified.

The Price Of Fame

I found this story today on, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Anyone with an ego should give it a careful read.

Lisa Belkin: It was fame that killed Robert O’Donnell, killed him as surely as that shotgun blast he fired into his brain on a dark, dusty, West Texas road, miles and years away from the thing that made him famous in the first place. Technically, it was the bullet that did it — a .410 shell, the kind his mother kept at the ranch house to shoot rattlesnakes and warn trespassers. It certainly wasn’t an accident. You can’t shoot yourself in the mouth accidentally with a .410. The barrel is too long. And it wasn’t someone else’s doing. He left three notes, lined up side by side by the coffee table, two to his two boys and one that simply said, “No help from nobody but family.”

So it was the bullet, or depression, or his willful trigger finger that caused his death, this spring, at the age of 37. But the reason he did it, and the reason no one who knew him was surprised, that is where the fame comes in. Eight years earlier he had saved a little girl’s life, as the whole world watched, and, for a while, he was the center not only of his small universe, but of the real, known universe, the new one that sees everything simultaneously on CNN. There was a parade, countless television appearances, a letter from the president, a handshake from the Vice President, a made-for-TV movie. But eventually, the cameras went away, the world’s attention moved on and he was left alone — a man so changed by fame that he no longer belonged in his world, but not changed enough that he could leave that world behind.

In Chattanooga, A Choice

Joan Garrett: For days he lived in the background of the train yard, hiding behind boxcars and lingering near brushy areas within view of the tracks.

Nails is a veteran among the traveling kids. Still, he hates waiting for the freight trains to come, sitting quiet and sober for hours on end, listening for rumbling down the steel rails.

Then he hears it, the engine, the whistle coming. He struggles off the ground and gets ready.

He throws his heavy backpack over his shoulder and puts a strong hand on his dog, Dante. He tells his traveling partner, a girl with dirty clothes and fire-red hair, to move.

As the train slows, he eyes the metal ladder outside of the engine unit.