Posts tagged ‘Jason Fagone’
More legal news: Some follow-up on yesterday’s coverage of the pre-trail hearing for Penn State’s former general counsel Cynthia Baldwin ’66, ’74g and former president Graham Spanier: Last night, the Centre Daily Times ran this piece, which includes excerpts from Baldwin’s grand jury testimony on Oct. 26, 2012. The transcript was unsealed this week by Dauphin County judge Todd Hoover.
Master plan: Former Nittany Lion and two-time Super Bowl champ Kareem McKenzie ’01 has gone back to school. Featured in USA Today’s For The Win blog, 33-year-old McKenzie explains how his difficult transition to life after football inspired him to pursue a Master’s in professional counseling at William Paterson University. After graduating in 2016, McKenzie says he hopes to counsel former athletes and military members coping with major life transitions—something he knows all about. “I found myself trying to gravitate towards something that was as meaningful and as involved as football was for me,” he says. “There wasn’t anything readily available for me to do so.” Counseling, explains McKenzie, helped him adjust: “I think everyone should have someone to talk to about whatever’s going through their mind.”
The year’s best: We’ve already told you about Ingenious, the latest book from Jason Fagone ’01, about the race to create a 100-mpg car and win the Automotive X prize. And now, as magazine editors compile their “best of 2013” lists, we weren’t surprised to see Fagone’s name pop up again. Check out Mother Jones‘ annual staff picks, in which MJ senior editor Michael Mechanic calls Ingenious “a great ride.”
Leader of the pack: Here’s a great piece on Lady Lion Maggie Lucas from Slam‘s Matthew Snyder. Titled “The Jumper,” a nod to Lucas’ signature shot, the story offers a glimpse into Lucas’ high-pressure role as team leader — on and off the court.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
Jason Fagone ’01 is a former Penn Stater staff writer and still an occasional contributor to the magazine. We’d like it if he was a regular contributor, but we have some stiff competition for Jason’s services—namely, Wired (he’s a contributing editor) and Philadelphia (writer at large), not to mention GQ, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, and NewYorker.com.
Happily for us—and for Jason, of course—the latest of those pesky book projects is officially done. Tuesday marks the official on-sale date for Ingenious, his second book. Fagone describes it as “an old-fashioned tale of American invention” that follows the teams racing to win the Automotive X Prize, the $10-million incentive offered to anyone who could develop a mass-producible car capable of getting the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. The teams, and the personalities, are wildly diverse: Eccentric millionaires, Silicon Valley-backed geek squads, a group of average Joes who built a hyper-efficient car from scratch in a rural Illinois barn. (There also teams populated by high school and college students, which makes Ingenious a sibling of sorts to the Lunar Lion cover story in our Nov./Dec. issue.)
Having read an early proof over the summer, I can tell you Ingenious is a blast. You don’t have to be an engineer, or even all that interested in cars—I’m neither—to appreciate the cast of characters, the very real human drama, and Jason’s smart story telling (for a taste, you can read an excerpt on Slate). Below, our quick Q&A with Jason on why he wrote the book, what he learned, and what the story says about the present—and future—of American ingenuity.
Penn Stater: What inspired you to write Ingenious?
Fagone: I work in Philadelphia, and in early 2010, I heard about some students and teachers who make super-efficient hybrid cars at a high school in a poor section of West Philly. I thought that was interesting, so I went over to see them. And as soon as I walked into their garage, I knew there was a story here. (more…)
The New Yorker magazine got a lot of publicity for choosing what its staff thinks are the best young fiction writers working today, so the New Haven Review decided to do the same with non-fiction writers. And among the top 20 (or so) non-fiction writers working today, the Review decided, is Jason Fagone ’01, a former Penn Stater staffer who still writes for us on occasion.
You can find his most recent piece for us—“The Hungary Job,” about a trip through eastern Europe with Andrew Bieniawski ’89 Eng of the National Nuclear Security Administration—in our January/February 2009 issue. You can also download a PDF of it here. Right now he’s working on a story for us about NASA’s chief technologist, Bobby Braun ’87.
And for those of you who want additional reading: The Review’s entire list is here. Links to some of Fagone’s stories, including an investigative piece into a murder that might have been committed by former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison that was cited by the Review, are on his website. And for the back story behind the Marvin Harrison story, check out Jason’s Q&A with Tina Hay ’83.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
We like to keep an eye on what former Penn Stater magazine staff writers are up to these days, and this week brought interesting articles from both Jason Fagone ’01 and Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g.
And on a lighter note, Vicki has an occasional blog called “Blunt Force Mama,” and today’s posting—about taking her 2-year-old daughter to see fireworks for the first time—is pretty funny.
Tina Hay, editor
One of my favorite Penn Stater articles of the past few years is “The Hungary Job,” which Jason Fagone ’01 did for our Jan-Feb 2009 issue. It was a very ambitious story for us: We sent Jason to Hungary to embed with a group of U.S. officials on a cloak-and-dagger mission to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor and ship it to Russia for safekeeping.
The point man for the operation was a Penn Stater: Andrew Bieniawski ’89 Eng, assistant deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration. For the past 14 years, the NNSA has been conducting secret missions like that all over the world, in an attempt to secure loose nukes and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
Why am I telling you all of this now? Because Bieniawski and his program are back in the news, in a big way.
They’re in the news for two reasons, actually. One is the nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Dealing with the worldwide nuclear threat, it seems, requires a two-pronged approach. One part is preventing proliferation—that is, trying to keep countries that don’t have nuclear-weapons capability from getting that capability. The other part is retrieving and securing the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, that’s already out there, so that terrorists can’t get at it.
President Obama has said that the latter effort is the United States’ No. 1 national-security priority. And our man Bieniawski is at the center of that. Quoting an article in this week’s Time magazine:
It is Bieniawski’s job to convince countries to give up their HEU and send it to either the U.S. or Russia. So far, the NNSA has removed a total of 5,935 lbs. (2,692 kg) of fissile material from 37 countries and has its sights on 4,190 lbs. (1,900 kg) more. To meet that goal, Obama has asked for the program’s budget to be increased by 67% percent to $560 million next year.
The other reason that Bieniawski’s work is in the news is that the Time article reveals that his most recent nuclear-removal mission took place in Chile—during the Feb. 27 earthquake. According to the article, Bieniawski’s team had just finished packing up the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, into a shipping container the night before.
So just imagine how much an earthquake could screw up a delicate operation like that: How to transport the container across earthquake-damaged roads, to a port that had been devastated by the quake, while still dealing with aftershocks? They got it done, and the tale of how they did it is well worth the read.
You might also check out Time‘s slide show of images from the Chile operation. The photos remind me a lot of the shots Jason Fagone brought back from the Hungary job. (Bieniawski is the guy in the yellow jacket in the photo above, which was taken by his agency during the Chile operation). And the Washington Post had a story about the Chile adventure on Sunday.
By the way, the Hungary operation in which Jason was embedded ran into some roadblocks and tense moments of its own; you can read our story by downloading a PDF of it here. But nothing like an earthquake.
Tina Hay, editor
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Last Thursday, GQ magazine published a powerful and absorbing story by Jason Fagone ’01 about a pair of shootings in Philadelphia—one in April 2008 that wounded a man, and a second one last July that killed that same man. The story makes the case that the person behind both shootings may well be eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts.
When he was an undergrad at Penn State, Jason worked on the staff of the Daily Collegian and did an internship here at The Penn Stater. He stayed on with us as a staff writer before heading off into his career with newsstand magazines. We’re very happy that he still freelances for us on occasion.
How did you first hear about the whole Marvin Harrison situation? And how did the GQ story come about?
It was the idea of my editor at GQ, Brendan Vaughan. He’s a football guy—we had worked together on a piece about Tim Tebow, the University of Florida quarterback. Brendan has really good instincts, and he had read some of the clips about the Harrison case and sensed that there might be a bigger story there. And he knew I lived in Philly and asked me if I was interested in doing some digging. That’s how it got started.
Why do you suppose the shootings and Harrison’s possible role managed to fly under the radar, in terms of media attention, for so long?
Couple answers. The obvious one is that Harrison was this famously quiet, humble, hardworking family guy. He didn’t seem like the kind of person who would walk around with loaded a .32-caliber handgun strapped to his leg. So there was this dissonance about his persona.
Also, there was dissent in the law-enforcement community. The Philly district attorney at the time, Lynne Abraham, gave a press conference in January 2009 that killed the Harrison story for months. It was amazing. She tarred the witnesses as liars and downplayed the strong physical evidence that had been gathered by the detectives.
Abraham made it hard for any journalist to advance the story, because to do that you’d have to show that the DA of Philadelphia was wrong. And to do that you’d need to spend a lot of time being a pain and gathering sources and documents and other stuff to help you sort out the thing that the DA said you could never sort out. So I was lucky that GQ took a risk here and basically said, “Here, spend a month on this and see what you find.” That’s a luxury.
Seems like Robert Nixon, a major eyewitness to the first shooting, was a big catch in terms of your reporting. How did you get him to talk to you?
I called his lawyer and asked.
Nixon is suing Harrison in civil court, for an amount in excess of $50,000. Attention will help his case, and he wants to win and get paid, so he had incentive to talk to me. Of course, as a witness to a shooting in a city where witnesses sometimes end up dead, he also had a disincentive.
My sense is that the FBI had already reached out to the police before my story posted online. But as far as Seth Williams goes, yes, I talked to his people, and they confirmed that his renewed interest in the case is a direct result of the firestorm sparked by the GQ story. He was planning to dig into it anyway, but he’s a busy guy, and our revelations helped to move the Harrison case to the top of the pile.
What kinds of e-mails have you been getting from people as a result of the article? Seems like Colts fans in particular aren’t too happy with you.
Yeah, there are some Internet commenters who hate the story and the way I wrote it. Some people think that Robert Nixon is a liar, and so they discount the whole piece, which is baffling to me, because part of the point I tried to make is that you don’t have to believe Nixon at all—you just have to believe the physical evidence, and Harrison’s own words in his statement to police. But I am not going to convince those people.
Judging by the Twitter account of Terrell Owens, he’s not a huge fan either—there was a passing mention of Owens in the story, as an example of a black athlete with a reputation for histrionics (as opposed to Harrison), and some sportswriters thought this was unfair, because Owens has no criminal record and this was primarily a story about crime. I think that’s a fair criticism.
And the gun people are not happy. I got a couple of e-mails from guys who seem to know a lot about guns, and said I was wrong to characterize Harrison’s handgun as an unusually nasty sort of weapon. I disagree.
Overall, though, the feedback has been positive in a really gratifying way. Sometimes when you write a long piece in a magazine and it gets blogged about, the first thing people say is something like, “This is REALLY LONG.” But here, I think people got something out of the length. The saga of the two shootings was just so bizarre, and it had been out there in so many tiny fragments, that the larger truth of the thing had been kind of lost. So when it was all stitched together in one story, it had an impact.
So that tells me that there is still a role for long-form journalism. There’s something it can do that is useful.
(You can read even more about the story behind Jason’s GQ story here.)
Tina Hay, editor