Madame Ruly walks under a busy highway underpass where she goes to sing for tips in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Waria, loosely translated as transgender women, have been part of Indonesian society for as long as anyone can remember.
Below a highway overpass in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, college students eat fried noodles and spicy chicken stew from brightly lit food stalls that fill this gritty space. The noise of cars and trucks rumbling overhead mingles with the sound of jets landing at the nearby airport.
A singer’s voice begins to pierce this dense cacophony. She has woven palm fronds into her hair to create a headpiece that crowns her sparkly pink outfit. Diners tip her before turning back to their meals.
Mika Askiyah, 39, is busking on the street. To earn a living, waria in Indonesia often do sex work or sing on the street for tips.
The busker’s name is Madame Ruly and she is a fixture in the Yogyakarta community of waria — loosely, though imperfectly, translated as transwomen. The word combines two Indonesian words: “wanita,” or woman, and “pria,” or man. As a third gender, waria — biological men who live as women — have been part of Indonesian society for as long as anyone can remember, many years before the modern gay rights movement in the country. Yet they are often disowned by their own family members who disapprove of their children coming out as transgender.
After singing, Madame Ruly receives tips from people eating dinner on the sidewalk.
Day-to-day survival can be a struggle. To make a living, many waria in Indonesia do sex work or sing on the street for tips. Both of those jobs are technically illegal but are often tolerated by the authorities.
Despite the obstacles they face, the waria find strength in asserting their identity. In a sense, it’s unifying, “because they’re marginalized by everyone,” says Sandeep Nanwani, a 26-year-old doctor and a candidate for a master’s in global health delivery at Harvard University.
Ningsih Iskander, 45, stands in her room in an informal housing complex where several waria live in Yogyakarta. She’s also a busker, singing at night for tips.
Nanwani is an irrepressible spirit who seems both wise beyond his 26 years and full of youthful energy. Growing up in Indonesia’s capitol, Jakarta, he lost his mother to cancer when he was in middle school. The experience inspired him to become a doctor.
Nanwani took some time off from his medical studies in Indonesia to volunteer in public health clinics. The doctors he worked with were trying to account for the efficacy of their HIV/AIDS prevention. Specifically, they wanted to know if condoms that were distributed were being used. Nanwani’s job: sort through the trash in men’s restrooms to count the used condoms.
Sandeep Nanwani is a 26-year- old doctor from Indonesia and a candidate for a master’s in global health delivery at Harvard University.
Today, as part of his graduate school field work, Nanwani helps provide medical care to many of the waria in Yogyakarta. Byron Good, a professor of medical anthropology at Harvard, says the young doctor’s commitment to social justice is rare even among global health physicians. Good compared him to the MacArthur “Genius” winner, Dr. Paul Farmer, who is known for working to provide health care to the rural poor in Haiti.
“Sandeep has a remarkable commitment to the poor and to issues of social justice,” Good said. “It’s difficult to find physicians anywhere in the world like that. But he also has a commitment to spend the time and go hang out with the poor. To hang out with the waria.”
Dr. Sandeep Nanwani checks Madame Wiwik’s coordination and reflexes. She’s in her late 60s and recently had a stroke.
At an abandoned patch of land behind a strip of hotels that serves as an informal housing complex for many older waria in Yogyakarta, Nanwani checks in on a patient: Madame Wiwik. In her late 60s, Wiwik has a bulbous nose and eyebrows drawn on in dark pencil. Wiwik sits on a mattress on the floor in a dark concrete room, one of the unofficial (and illegal) dwellings the waria rent. She plays a recording of a songbird on her phone and winces in pain. Madame Wiwik recently had a stroke and her words are slurry; she struggles to lift her arms above her shoulders. Dr. Nanwani says Madame Wiwik has no medication, “not even aspirin to prevent future strokes. Nothing.”
That need for medical care among waria became critical in the early 2000s, when the HIV epidemic exploded here. Sandeep says the toll on the waria was devastating.
An older waria named Vinolia Wakijo watched the epidemic decimate her community. Today, Wakijo, whom everyone calls Mami, is 61. She’s effectively the matriarch of waria in this city. In 2007 she established Kebaya, a group home for people with HIV that receives some government funding. In the ten years that she has operated Kebaya, 46 people with AIDS have died there.
It’s been ten years since Vinolia Wakijo started Kebaya as a group home for people with HIV, some of whom are waria. She’s the matriarch of waria in the city of Yogyakarta.
Today ten people live in the home, and the Kebaya family continues to grow. For the first time, there’s a baby living there: an 11-month old girl named Nira. Her mother was a sex worker who died of AIDS, and the warias have taken her in. Nira has her own room and a slew of de facto aunties who take turns holding her and trying to make her giggle.
Nanwani is known throughout the waria community of Yogyagarta and is clearly more than a doctor. He comes to Kebaya almost daily, he says, just to check in. But it’s not an easy community to work with. Sometimes clients simply disappear. With no fixed address it can be impossible to track them down or find out what happened to them. Nanwani still wonders whether he could have done more to help some of his patients, who became friends — and then vanished.
The residents of Kebaya, a group home for people with HIV, include some who are part of the waria community.
Still, Nanwani says the rewards from working with the waria are profound: “They provide care for me as much as I provide care to them. Waria endure suffering through humor and laughter, and I just love that.”
Ma Ona, a waria who has HIV, holds Nira, a baby who lost her mother to complications from AIDS. Ona wants to adopt her.
— Steve Stephanou (@SteveStephanou) November 1, 2017
From the San Diego Museum of Man to Boston’s City Hall, more than 50 buildings and structures across the country lit up in orange Wednesday night to mark one month since the Las Vegas massacre, in honor of the victims of the biggest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of New York-based RXR Realty, worked with the gun-control organization Everytown for Gun Safety to launch the campaign.
“It’s a hope to try to get people to light and unite and have a voice about trying to force leadership to address this crisis,” Rechler told NPR in an interview.
Orange has become a symbolic color against gun violence following the 2013 shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton in a Chicago park. The 15-year-old was killed a week after performing at President Obama’s inaugural parade. Hadiya’s friends say they chose orange to remember her because it is the color hunters wear to show they should not be targeted.
Helmsley Building illuminated in orange by RXR Realty in sympathy for those affected by the mass shooting in Las Vegas pic.twitter.com/Uk0ZgQmoys
— Noel Calingasan (@nyclovesnyc) October 5, 2017
Rechler said some structures declined to join Wednesday’s campaign because they did not want to make a political statement. Those that did participate include Wisconsin’s Madison Public Library, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Skydance Bridge in Oklahoma City and the Helmsley Building in New York City.
The Helmsley Building, which is owned by RXR Realty, will remain aglow in orange for 58 nights to represent each victim of the Oct.1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Vegas Strip.
Rechler said the building has been lit up from time to time, including after last year’s mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. “There’s a general belief … that business leaders need to take up and have a greater voice on social issues, as we’ve seen less and less action by our elected officials in Washington,” Rechler said.
The New York Timesreports that as people grapple with mass tragedies, lights on landmarks are frequently used as communal displays of mourning.
— Christina Molina (@XtinaMolina) November 2, 2017
Following the Paris attacks of 2015 that left 130 people dead, red, white and blue — the colors of the French flag — illuminated the world’s most iconic structures, from the Pyramids of Giza, to the Sydney Opera House, all the way to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
New York’s Empire State Building often uses its tower lights to honor victims of attacks or tragedies. And the Eiffel Tower took the opposite approach of cutting its lights and going dark last month after the deadliest bomb attack ever in Somalia.
“I think buildings have that symbolism of … speaking for the community and creating awareness,” Rechler said. “Sometimes it’s the symbolic moments that actually are the ones that create the change.”
Janet Yellen has served as chair of the Federal Reserve Board since 2014.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, the first woman to hold that position, won’t have the opportunity to serve four more years as leader of the nation’s central bank. But she leaves the Fed’s top post having largely achieved its mandate to engineer full employment while keeping inflation at a level that fosters growth.
On Thursday, President Trump said he would nominate Jerome Powell, a Fed governor, to be Fed chairman, the first time in decades that a president hasn’t reappointed a Fed chief for a second term.
When Yellen took over as Fed chair from Ben Bernanke in 2014, the economy had largely stabilized after the turmoil of the Great Recession. But interest rates remained near zero.
While there were calls from some to raise rates quickly to avoid sparking higher inflation, Yellen engineered a consensus at the Fed for increasing rates gradually. The policy led to steady job growth and a downward march of the unemployment rate to its current level of 4.2 percent.
Most economists view that as very near to full employment. Meanwhile, inflation has remained in check. In fact, it has hovered below the 2 percent level that Fed policymakers think is best for economic growth.
While Yellen has her critics, she is widely viewed as a successful Fed chair. Even President Trump said Thursday that Yellen is “a wonderful woman who has done a terrific job.” It would not have been unusual for Trump to reappoint her even though she was a Barack Obama appointee. Three presidents in recent history — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama — have reappointed Fed chairs initially nominated by presidents of the opposing party. However, Trump made clear he wanted to put his own stamp on the Fed.
Yellen was vice chair of the Fed’s board of governors for four years before taking over as chair in February 2014. She was the head of the San Francisco regional Federal Reserve bank from 2004 to 2010. In the 1990s, she served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton.
Beyond overseeing the Fed’s traditional role of setting interest rates, the Yellen Fed also has begun the task of unwinding the extraordinary intervention the Fed engineered to stabilize the economy after the financial crisis.
That involved injecting trillions of dollars into the economy through Fed purchases of mortgage-backed securities and government bonds. It left the Fed with a balance sheet of more than $4.5 trillion. Yellen has overseen a process to begin slowly shrinking the balance sheet without destabilizing financial markets.
U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is escorted into the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for the sentencing proceedings on Thursday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
Defense lawyers and prosecutors made their closing arguments at the sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, with prosecutors seeking 14 years in prison and defense lawyers asking for no prison time and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.
During the last two weeks of the sentencing hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the military court has heard about three soldiers who were wounded while searching for Bergdahl after he walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.
The court has also heard Bergdahl himself apologize for the pain that he caused, and describe the torture he endured for five years in Taliban custody. Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Today, defense lawyer Capt. Nina Banks argued that the suffering Bergdahl endured with the Taliban was punishment enough. She said that he was chained to a metal bed frame for three months, and then was held in a metal cage for almost four years. He had diarrhea most of the time and had to use his own urine to wash himself, she said.
Banks said that Bergdahl is a different man than he was eight years ago, when he walked off the post. At that time he wasn’t aware that he suffered from multiple mental illnesses that impacted his thought processes, she said, such as schizotypal personality disorder.
Mental health issues, Banks said, should have disqualified him from military service so he shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Now, she said, he understands that he’s got these illnesses, he understands what he did and he’s deeply, deeply sorrowful for the harm he caused.
Bergdahl was simply trying to help, she said. Bergdahl has stated that he disagreed with the way his operation was being conducted, and walked off his post hoping to trigger a search, which would allow him to bring his concerns to high-ranking officers.
“Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors, in the cage where he was for years, only to place him in a cell,” Banks told the court.
A key point of argument for both the defense and the prosecution is how much responsibility Bergdahl bears for the injuries that service members sustained while searching for him. Defense lawyers argue that the Taliban caused those injuries and Bergdahl did not intend to harm anyone. And the evidence, they say, doesn’t show malice and disregard.
On the other hand, prosecutors say that none of the people would be hurt if it was not for Bergdahl’s actions.
Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor, compared the situation to a car crash caused by drunk driving to argue against leniency because of what Bergdahl has already suffered. If a drunk driver breaks his leg during a crash that kills multiple pedestrians, he argued, the fact that the driver was hurt shouldn’t mean a reduced sentence.
Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering, Oshana said. But all of the suffering stems from his choice.
Ultimately, Oshana argued that this was not a mistake, as Bergdahl suggests. It was a crime that should result in significant jail time. Bergdahl planned to leave the post in order to get his message out, and so he did this intentionally, the prosecutor said.
The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, has started deliberating on Bergdahl’s sentence.
Researchers draw blood from a boy enrolled in the dengue study at a clinic in Managua, Nicaragua.
Paolo Harris Paz
Paolo Harris Paz
In 1954, a mysterious disease struck children in Manila. They were showing up at hospitals with internal bleeding. Their blood vessels were leaking.
Over the next few years, similar outbreaks cropped up every rainy season. And then in 1958, a massive outbreak hit Bangkok. More than 2,500 children were hospitalized. About 10 percent of them died.
That year, an American doctor, working on polio in Southeast Asia, began searching for the culprit. Eventually, he isolated a mosquito-borne virus — dengue — and, in the process, launcheda 60-year-old medical mystery.
The four dengue viruses originated in monkeys and independently jumped to humans in Africa or Southeast Asia between 100 and 800 years ago. Dengue remained a relatively minor, geographically restricted disease until the middle of the 20th century.
During the study’s 12-year period, researchers collected more than 41,000 blood samples from more than 8,000 children in Nicaragua.
Paolo Harris Paz
Paolo Harris Paz
Known as “breakbone fever” because of the joint pain it can bring, dengue had been causing for problems for decades, maybe even centuries. But it rarely caused hemorrhaging or death. Why had it all of a sudden become so dangerous? Had the virus mutated? Was their an additional virus — or environmental factor — boosting dengue’s potency?
Or did a previous infection with dengue somehow make a person more vulnerable to this deadly form?
Over the past 50 years, scientists have accumulated more and more data pointing to the last hypothesis. Now a study, published Thursday in the journal Science, finally appears to nail down why.
“This is a rock-star study,” exclaims Jean Lim, a virologist at Icahn Medical School at Mount Sinai, who wasn’t involved in the study. “I think it will be a benchmark paper.”
Of course, some scientists in the field are still skeptical and want still more proof, as Science‘s Jon Cohen reported.
But the findings also open up some intriguing theories about why Zika became such a threat in certain places of South America.
In the study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, followed about 6,600 children in Nicaragua where dengue circulates. For 12 years, the researchers drew the children’s blood annually and measured their concentrations of dengue-binding antibodies — molecules the immune system makes to destroy viruses.
Then the researchers looked for connections between severe dengue cases and antibody levels.
“If a child developed dengue, we could go back to the banked antibody samples and say, ‘OK, is there something about the child’s antibody levels that are different than that of the healthy kids?’ ” says Eva Harris, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study.
Now you would expect the presence of dengue antibodies in the kids’ blood would protect them from new dengue infections. That’s what antibodies do, after all! If you get infected with a virus, your immune system makes antibodies, which then hang out in the blood and fight off new infections of the same virus.
But with severe cases of dengue, the exact opposite turns out to be true, Harris and her team find. The antibodies actually backfire.
When antibody levels in the children’s blood fell into a particular range, kids had an increased risk of developing hemorrhagic dengue.
And the effect was big. Inside the antibody “danger zone,” kids were more than seven times more likely to develop severe cases of dengue compared to children who have never been infected with dengue.
In other words, prior dengue infection actually primes the immune system in a way that makes the next infection worse, if the antibody levels have fallen within that window.
When antibody levels were higher than the “danger zone,” they didn’t raise a child’s risk but they also didn’t decrease it, the study finds. “Actually having higher antibodies wasn’t helping either,” Harris says.
Scientists first proposed this idea — called antibody-dependent enhancement — back in the 1970s. And since then, many studies have demonstrated the phenomenon inside petri dishes and animal models. Researchers even have hypotheses about how the antibodies help the virus enter immune cells and eventually damage blood vessels.
“The problem is that you can see antibody-dependent enhancement with many viruses inside test tubes,” Harris says. “And it’s been unclear how these experiments translate to dengue in humans.That’s been the crux of the problem.”
“The study answers this age-old question about dengue,” Harris says, “but raises new questions about Zika.”
You see, dengue and Zika are closely related. And antibodies made for dengue can also bind to Zika (and vice versa).
So the big question: Is there a “danger zone” of dengue antibodies that would worsen a Zika infection? Or help the virus enter placental cells and eventually infect the fetus?
“That’s another question that we’re working on very actively,” Harris says.
Four-time and defending champion Dallas Seavey mushes during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 4. Seavey has faced recent accusations of doping, which he denies, and animal cruelty, which local officials say is not supported by evidence.
Officials in Alaska says they have investigated conditions at the kennel of four-time Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey, and found no signs of cruelty, as had been reported by an anonymous complaint.
Seavey made headlines last month when his dogs tested positive for a banned substance; Seavey has denied that he was doping and has withdrawn from the 2018 Iditarod dog sled race in protest.
After that story broke, PETA issued a statement asserting a “whistleblower” had sent the group evidence that a Seavey-owned kennel “allowed severely injured and ailing dogs to suffer—sometimes fatally—without veterinary care.”
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough investigated the allegations. In a press statement reported by KTUU, a borough spokesman says authorities “closed the investigation after finding no evidence of any violation—no evidence of failure to provide humane animal care and no evidence of cruelty to animals.”
“Alaska State Troopers also are separately investigating complaints against a kennel, but won’t identify the musher,” The Associated Press reports. “Borough officials and Seavey didn’t immediately return messages Thursday.”
Seavey came in second in this year’s Iditarod (behind his father, Mitch Seavey).
A view on Mosul’s Old City, taken shortly before Iraqi forces retook the city.
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
Months after Mosul was reclaimed from the Islamic State, the brutal acts committed during the militant group’s reign over the major Iraqi city are still coming into focus. That picture grew clearer Thursday, as two U.N. human rights agencies released a report on atrocities committed during ISIS’ final months in power.
In a stroke of apparent understatement, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq concluded that their full collection of eyewitness accounts “strongly suggests that international crimes may have been perpetrated in Iraq by ISIL,” referring to the extremist group by another abbreviation.
“During the course of the operation to retake Mosul City thousands of civilians were subjected to shocking human rights abuses and clear violations of international humanitarian law,” said U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “The execution-style killing of civilians, the suffering inflicted on families, and the wanton destruction of property can never be tolerated in any armed conflict, and those responsible must answer for their heinous crimes.”
Over a span of 49 pages, the two organizations listed those crimes in clinical detail: abductions, mass killings, deployment of child soldiers, use of improvised explosive devices. From October 2016, when the Iraqi Security Forces launched their operation to retake Mosul, to the moment the country declared victory in the city in July 2017, the report says at least 2,521 civilians were killed in and around Mosul — including 741 who were executed.
And, the U.N. adds, “these figures should be considered an absolute minimum.”
“During a two-week period (17-29 October 2016) alone, ISIL killed around 550 civilians and former ISF members” in the areas in the approach to Mosul, according to the report. “In one single instance, on 26 October, ISIL allegedly shot and killed 190 former ISF personnel in the al-Ghazlani military base in Mosul.”
This mass killing was just one of many reported to the U.N., which often claimed dozens of victims at a time. All told, the report says, “since June 2014, at least 74 mass graves were discovered in areas previously held by ISIL in Iraq” — some of which “are estimated to contain the remains of up to thousands of victims.”
As the fight for Mosul crept into the bounds of the city itself, with bullets exchanged street by street, ISIS militants reportedly went door to door, abducting the young sons of families they found there. These children — including a unit the group called “Cubs of the Caliphate” — would then be strapped with explosive vests or belts and deployed against security forces.
“Children continued to be seen in ISIL propaganda published on social media and websites during the third phase of the operation,” the report notes. “Numerous images published by the group showed a number of children who were claimed to be members of the ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’, carrying out military drills with weapons.”
A month before Iraq claimed victory in the city, one such “cub” reportedly attempted to blow himself up at the gate of an Iraqi police camp and, after refusing warnings to stop, was shot dead before he was able to detonate his vest.
For their part, Iraqi forces were not entirely free of blame. The report listed a number of incidents of unlawful killings, forced evictions and torture apparently committed by the ISF, many of which were videotaped. Airstrikes also resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians over the final months of the campaign to take Mosul, according to the U.N. agencies.
But the U.N. groups reserved the harshest of their condemnations for ISIS, or Daesh as it’s also known.
“Daesh’s reign of terror has spared no one,” Hussein said in his statement, “inflicting untold suffering on unarmed residents whose only guilt is that they lived in the areas under ISIL’s control.”
In 11/8/16, 18 documentary filmmakers produce 16 short films examining Election Day 2016.
There’s one thing curator-producer Jeff Deutchman couldn’t have known when he set out to make 11/8/16, a coast-to-coast, dawn-to-midnight look at the most recent U.S. presidential election day. Not who was going to win, but how inescapable the effects of that victory would be.
With Donald Trump at the center of every single day’s news cycle, many will be reluctant to revisit the moment he took the presidency. But Deutchman’s movie — also the movie of the 18 filmmakers who shot the 16 individual segments — is not about Trump and his rivals. (Gary Johnson and Jill Stein aren’t even mentioned.) It’s a tightly woven series of closeups of a diverse, divided populace.
Many of the people followed on that day see their vote as an expression of their identity, whether as coal miner, military veteran, small-business owner, or Sikh or Latino first-generation American. Two of the subjects are voting for the first time, one because she’s just become old enough, the other after spending 30 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. He wears his “I voted” sticker until the movie’s very last, post-credits scene.
Also portrayed are a few people who can’t or won’t vote, including one who says, “that’s a game you cannot win” — even though he’s African-American, and acknowledges the essential struggle to expand voting rights to people like him.
The film’s Greek choruses are two news organizations: the Los Angeles Times and WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate. Deutchman needn’t add narration or anything more than the most basic of on-screen titles, since the reporters, editors, page designers, and editorial cartoonists’ frantic activity reveals the larger story.
Deutchman and his collaborators, who include Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) and Martha Shane (After Tiller), shot 50 little films, the bulk of which went entirely unused. (Some may be released in another context, the producer says.) Of the 16 Deutchman chose, all are compelling, and only one seems a little off-topic: a day with a tent-dwelling, non-voting Honolulu man who’s unclear on the identities of the leading presidential candidates.
The laidback Hawaii guy does serve one structural purpose: He bursts into song at the movie’s end, thus underlining that the movie doesn’t use, and has no need for, a musical score.
You don’t have to be a Clinton booster to be mystified by some of the Trump supporters’ rationales. An Army veteran in Miami’s Little Havana argues that the Republican candidate has benefited the country by opening “dialogue,” while two coal miner’s daughters reiterate extraction-industry talking points about “clean coal.” Less confident is a Massachusetts woman, married to a MAGA-cap-wearing Trump enthusiast, who says she voted for her husband’s candidate, but fears what he will do.
The most earnest of anti-Trumpers are a Utah woman stumping for Evan McMullin and an Ohio college student doing the same for Clinton. But the left, at least as viewed through this particular kaleidoscope, is the more cynical segment of the electorate. In Vermont, an organic farmer and fringe-party candidate calls voters “stupid.” In Kingston, New York, an artist says that “Donald Trump is the president our country deserves.”
Listening to such remarks, viewers might wish for a sequel — but not the 2020 edition probably being contemplated by Deutchman, who supervised the Obama-centric 11/4/08. It would be instructive to meet some of 11/8/16‘s subjects again on one day in 11/17.
Ross Lynch stars as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer, a film based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf.
We always want to know where evil comes from, even though the “answer” rarely solves anything. Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered, sodomized and brutally dismembered the bodies of 17 young men between 1978 and 1991, came from the same Midwestern middle-class background as many Americans. He had a family and went to public school. His classmates knew who he was, and some came over to his house. In the end, none of that really explains his compulsions, which seemed to arise from some level of personal darkness most of us never have access to. Instead, these details explain our ability to reckon with Dahmer as one of our own, a fellow member of the human race instead of an otherworldly monster.
It’s OK if trying to peek inside the mind of a gruesome killer feels icky and wrong. Our entertainment media’s worst instincts tend to come out around figures like Dahmer; it’s churned out countless shock-value dramas around the Dateline predator-of-the-week. But My Friend Dahmer, based on the acclaimed graphic memoir by Derf Backderf, is something different. It’s a nuanced and sad high school movie, a portrait of lonely, damaged youth that only gradually reveals itself as the origin story of a psychopath.
Backderf, who attended the same Ohio high school as the serial murderer, began drawing comics about his memories of Dahmer shortly after news of his former classmate’s crimes became public in 1991, and published a full-length book in 2012 after years of his Dahmer stories circled the underground scene. It’s a fascinating document. The future alt-comics star was, from the looks of things, one of Dahmer’s only friends — though “friend” in the title is a loose term, since Dahmer often was more of a pet monkey, amusing Backderf and his buddies with public antics that seem just this side of sane. You can read a good amount of residual guilt into Backderf’s perspective, the way he interrogates himself for pushing a mean-spirited sense of humor that may have warped Dahmer’s views on social life. (It says something that the first time Dahmer earns respect from his peers, he does so by mocking a man with cerebral palsy.)
In the film, Jeffrey is played by Disney Channel star Ross Lynch in a brilliantly unnerving performance. Hidden under a thick head of hair and wide-rimmed glasses, he’s never quite sure what “normal” behavior looks like: He knows only that he enjoys dissolving dead animals in acid, courtesy of his chemist father (Dallas Roberts). When Jeffrey’s dad forces him out of his woodshed in an effort to get him to socialize more, Jeffrey’s solution is to start “spazzing” in the school halls, shaking his body violently and making animal yelping noises, in a way that’s just appealing enough to the school’s comedy oddball crowd. Derf (Alex Wolff) appoints himself president of the “Dahmer Fan Club,” and brings his new muse to libraries and shopping malls — perfect settings for “doing a Dahmer,” a.k.a., setting the freak loose.
Considering that Dahmer murdered his first victim at age 18, the period just after My Friend Dahmer is set, it’s fair to say there was more to his teenage years than being the butt of some jokes. Director Marc Myers does an admirable job painting his subject’s deteriorating state of mind on a broad canvas. We get Jeffrey’s pill-popping mother (a buzzing Anne Heche) launching shouting matches on a daily basis; and his budding sexuality, expressed via his obsession over a muscular doctor (Vincent Kartheiser) who jogs by his house “every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” Yet Myers can’t resist dropping some ghoulish breadcrumbs, either, as when Jeffrey’s dad buys him some dumbbells in the hopes he’ll land a girl with them (Dahmer would go on to subdue his first victim with a dumbbell). There may be some times when Easter eggs are not the best approach to a story.
Filmed in the real Ohio locations where Dahmer grew up, including his actual childhood home, the movie still improbably dodges easy attempts to paint it as lurid-by-association. It is less pointed in its critique of the adults in Dahmer’s life than Backderf’s book, which asked over and over again why no one could see the warning signs, yet Myers does directly depict him realizing his own growing fascination with bones and guts — via quietly sinister shots of him cutting open a freshly caught fish and staring at a black classmate’s bare chest, wondering if their insides look the same. Something is creeping in, even if it’s not always clear what that is. One especially eerie scene toward the end has Dahmer shuffling home alone to an empty house at night, visible only from Derf’s headlights as he drives by. The strange friend, now just a stranger … to Derf, and to all of us.
Five of those killed in a truck attack in New York City were among a group of close friends from Argentina celebrating their high school graduation 30 years ago. Hernan Ferruchi, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij (first three from left), Hernan Diego Mendoza and Diego Enrique Angelini (second and third from right) were among eight people who died in Tuesday’s attack.
Cecilia Piedrabuena/AFP/Getty Images
Cecilia Piedrabuena/AFP/Getty Images
Five of the eight people killed in a truck attack on a popular bikeway in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday were part of a group of 10 close friends who had traveled to the city to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation.
The men were from the port city of Rosario, Argentina, 185 miles up the Paraná River from Buenos Aires. They were still close, and got together several times a year for barbeques or games of volleyball.
NPR’s Philip Reeves traveled to Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city, and visited Instituto Politecnico Superior San Martin, the high school from which the men had graduated.
He spoke with the school’s vice principal, Alicia Oliva, who told him that students at the school were stunned.
“We always see these types of attacks as something that happened really far away from us, and it doesn’t impact us directly,” she says. “And now it’s come to our community.”
A video shows the group enjoying a bike ride on Tuesday shortly before the attack. The video was taken by Ariel Benvenuto, who survived.
Viviana Bignaduzza taught the five friends in a mechanics class in the 1980s, and remembers them well.
“They were always in touch with each other,” she told Philip. “They knew about each other’s success, each other’s sadnesses. And they were always very kind to each other.”
The men who died were Ariel Erlij, Diego Enrique Angelini, Hernan Diego Mendoza, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco and Hernan Ferruchi.
Another of their friends, Martin Ludovico Marro, lives in Boston and was injured in the attack.
“We stand with the families in this terrible moment of deep pain, which is shared by all Argentines,” the Argentine Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
In a photo taken at the airport in Rosario, just before the men left on their trip, eight of them are captured smiling broadly, their arms around each other’s shoulders. They wear matching T-shirts that say “Libre” — free from any responsibilities, explained Cecilia Piedrabuena, the wife of survivor Ariel Benvenuto.
People place candles in front of the Politecnico high school in Rosario, Argentina, which five of those killed in a truck attack Tuesday had attended as teenagers.
Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
The friends had ridden bikes through Central Park and when they took their spin to Lower Manhattan. “They were pedaling in lines of two, chatting, laughing, enjoying the ride” when the truck struck them at high speed, Piedrabuena told an Argentine radio station, according to The Associated Press.
In addition to the five Argentines, three other people died in the attack. One of them was Ann-Laure Decadt, a 31-year-old Belgian woman, the AP reports. She had a two small children, including a 3-month-old son.
She was remembered fondly in her home village of Staden, where her family owned a feed business.
“Anne Laure meant so much to us in town,” Mayor Francesco Vanderjeugd, was quoted as saying by the AP. “It is an attack in New York, but also one on our community.”
The other two people killed were Americans, both young men who worked in Manhattan.
Darren Drake was a 32-year-old project manager for Moody’s Investor Services, and had served as school board president in his hometown of New Milford, N.J. His father said Darren had recently lost a lot of weight, and liked to ride a bike when he had a few minutes free during the day.
“He was one of the good guys. He would give you the shirt off his back if it meant you would be OK, and you would be better for it,” longtime friend John Patterson Jr. told NJ.com. “I don’t ever think I saw him with a frown on his face.”
Nicholas Cleves, the other American who died, was a 23-year-old software developer who was living with his mother in Greenwich Village. He was a recent graduate of Skidmore College, working at his first job.
Cleves was kind, intelligent and curious, his friend Bahij Chancey told ABC 7 New York. And biking was simply how he traveled his city.
“He’s from the Village,” Chancey said. “He grew up in the Village, and like me, he grew up biking around New York to get around.”