Holy Water

Orion Magazine has published a story I did with Francesco Zizola on the struggle for water in the Middle East. They also put together this narrated slideshow, with my voice over Francesco’s photographs:


In Israel, not far from the place where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed thousands with just five loaves of bread and two fish, government engineers have performed a miracle of their own—they’ve made a river disappear. The Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee on its way to the Dead Sea in a slow laze past a series of campsites to a concrete complex, beside which white-robed pilgrims submerge themselves in its waters. From there, it pushes onward, winding through olive groves, farmers’ fields, and patches of brushwoods. Then, suddenly, it stops. At a pumping station less than three kilometers from the river’s source, five broad green pipes dip like elephant trunks to suck the water out. Beyond this point, the river has been reduced to less than 2 percent of its original flow.

The disappearance of the Jordan River, much like the area’s dropping aquifers, is a symptom of the struggle for water that has shaped the modern Middle East. The flow of a river that once irrigated the fields of the West Bank has been channeled through pipes, pumps, and canals to gush from the taps in Tel Aviv, and to “make the desert bloom” in the Negev. This diversion of water may be a technical marvel, but it’s emptying rivers and leaving critical aquifers dangerously susceptible to the intrusion of salt water and raw sewage.

Read the rest.

The Vandals Occupy Rome, Briefly: How a Demonstration Was Hijacked

Time has published my story on yesterday’s violent demonstrations in Rome.

The protest had been planned carefully for months, and as the scheduled day began, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Italians had made their way to Rome from all over the peninsula. In a day of global demonstrations, it looked to be the biggest march in the world in solidarity with the indignado movement in Spain and the Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S. But in the end, it wasn’t the authorities that derailed the protests in Rome, it was a small fraction of the protesters themselves.

In a city landmarked by monuments and churches, the plan was to march from a square near the city’s central train station, past the Colosseum to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, a long-standing rallying point for leftist protest movements. Many hoped the demonstration would turn into a peaceful occupation of the plaza in front of the cathedral, echoing similar strategies from Egypt’s Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park in New York City.

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Scandal and the Vatican: Let’s Not Talk About Kansas City

Time has published my story on the Vatican’s non-response to the Kansas City sex scandal:

The news that an American bishop had been charged with failing to report child abuse should have been colossal news in the Vatican. But the response has been as if the case is far away and far removed from the Holy See — and the papacy that is so quick to come down on questions of celibacy, women priests and the rights of gay Catholics appears to regard the American scandal, involving a priest and what seems to be child pornography, as a matter for local jurisprudence.

On Friday, prosecutors in Kansas City, Mo., secured an indictment from a grand jury that alleges Bishop Robert Finn neglected to inform the police for months after discovering “hundreds of disturbing images of children” on a priest’s laptop in December 2010, including photographs focused on the crotch, up-skirt pictures and at least one image of a child’s naked vagina. The offending priest — Shawn Ratigan — was relieved of his position as a church pastor and transferred to a convent, but neither the police, his parishioners nor parents of students at a nearby Catholic school were informed of the pictures until May 2011. In the interim, Ratigan continued to attend events involving children, including birthday parties and a first communion, and allegedly attempted to take lewd pictures of a 12-year-old girl. Finn and Ratigan have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

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Amanda Knox Goes Free: Why Italy Isn’t Pleased About Her Trial by Media

Time has just published my story on Italy’s reaction to the Amanda Knox verdict.

With a few short sentences, it was over. In a crowded courtroom in Perugia, an Italian court found Amanda Knox not guilty, on appeal, of the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher.

Knox had spent the last few minutes before the judgment grimacing from stress and occasionally sobbing. She was found guilty only of slander — for what she had alleged was a forced confession — in which she accused a local nightclub owner of the assault, a crime for which she will be fined, but set free for time served. As the sentence was read, she collapsed into her lawyer’s arms. She leaned sobbing against him as the judges absolved her former boyfriend and co-defendant Rafaele Sollecito. And then both were rushed out the courtroom by uniformed police officers to be taken back to prison, where they would be formally released. Outside the courthouse, however, Perugians who had gathered to await the decision began booing and protesting the verdict.

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Verdict Watch: Amanda Knox’s ‘Trial by Tabloid’ Comes to an End

Time has just put up my piece on Amanda Knox’s trial by tabloid.

Amanda Knox might as well have faced a trial by tabloid. When the judge and jurors retire on Monday, Oct. 3, in Perugia, Italy, to determine whether she should be held responsible for the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, they will be weighing more than just innocence and guilt. Is Knox a sinner or a saint? A Madonna or a whore? Which of her newspaper nicknames is the better fit: Angel Face or Foxy Knoxy? Depending on which resonates most with those sitting in judgment, Knox and her former boyfriend and fellow defendant Rafaele Sollecito could walk free or continue to sit behind bars.

In the years since the appeal began, lawyers from both sides have revisited evidence from the previous trial, in which Knox and Sollecito were each sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Faced with a spiderweb of sometimes contradictory and often ambiguous evidence, tattered lab results and a motley assortment of half-reliable witnesses, the lawyers hung their closing arguments less on the facts than on the character of the accused.

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