Stories by Karen Fragala Smith

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    The World's Real Winners

    Statistics can measure only so much. To enjoy life's more particular pleasures, move to one of these lucky nations.
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    Mob Movies Through the Years

    It's not hard to understand Hollywood's love affair with Mafia mythology. The underworld offers all the trappings of a blockbuster movie: dangerous men with an insatiable appetite for power cavorting with glamorous girls, on the wrong side of the law.
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    'The Sicilian Girl' Tells Gory Truth of Mafia

    Unlike the glory and nostalgia that films such as ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘The Godfather’ heap on the mafia, Italian-made films like ‘Gomorrah’ or the new ‘The Sicilian Girl,’ opening Friday, paint a different picture—one of brutality and destruction, with nary an Armani suit in sight. A look at the new film and what it means for the mob.
  • Counting Down to Zero

    It's impossible to walk out of the film 'Countdown to Zero' without having a strong opinion on whether the United States should continue to develop and warehouse nuclear weapons. Produced by the World Security Institute in concert with Lawrence Bender ('An Inconvenient Truth'), the film is engineered to elicit a "no nukes" response.
  • Reasons Behind Haiti’s Poverty

    It's not culture or curse, but a difficult history of occupation and environmental degradation that explain the country's woes.
  • Film: Blind Mountain Climbers

    A documentary follows the inspiring trek of six blind Tibetans to the top of one of the world's highest peaks.
  • Movies: Revisiting Nanking

    A new documentary harrowingly revisits the atrocities of Nanking. Why it should be mandatory viewing.
  • 'A Window Into Iraq's Future'

    Days after the battle was over, U.S. and Iraqi officials were still trying to make sense of it. Hundreds of heavily armed fighters had secretly gathered at a farm outside Najaf, apparently plotting to seize the holy city and kill Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during this week’s celebration of Ashura, Shiite Islam’s highest holiday. The gunmen, said to belong to a doomsday cult known as the “Soldiers of Heaven,” were able to hold off Iraqi and Coalition troops for a full day, downing a U.S. helicopter and taking the lives of at least a dozen Iraqi and U.S. soldiers before finally surrendering. More than 200 of the armed plotters had been killed, along with the man who was believed to be their leader, and hundreds of others were captured. Their ranks evidently included Sunnis as well as Shiites, even though the cult was dedicated to the Mahdi, the Shiite messiah figure who is supposed to return just before Judgment Day, after more than 11 centuries in hiding, to set up a righteous...
  • Woman Waging Peace

    Swanee Hunt's life story is as modestly opulent as a meal of black-eyed peas and corn bread served on fine china. Her father, a self-made oil magnate, preached hard work and frugality yet jetted around the world on a private plane. Swanee was born out of wedlock to a mistress 30 years Hunt's junior, who was "kept" in a modest home near his lavish estate. After the death of Hunt's first wife, Swanee's parents married and she moved into the home of the father she hardly knew. There, she developed the tenet that would determine her life's direction: "Every person is responsible for changing the world."Her engaging new memoir, "Half-Life of a Zealot" ( 393 pages. Duke University Press ), tracks that aspiration from her early role as a preacher's wife to her current position as director of Harvard's Women and Public Policy Program and chair of the Women Waging Peace network. It is an intensely personal book. Hunt, 56, describes a miscarriage, the breakup of her first marriage, her...
  • Searching For Answers

    During the 28 days that Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was held in Baghdad by a group calling itself Mujahideen Without Borders, protesters marched in Rome, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appealed to the Saudis for assistance in securing her freedom. But it was what happened after her release that has been the subject of headlines and speculation around the world.In the American-controlled zone a mile from the Baghdad airport, the vehicle whisking Sgrena away was sprinkled with machine-gun fire, wounding her and killing the Italian military-intel official who had secured her release. The incident was investigated by the American military and dismissed as an "accident," but nevertheless classified as a "justified shooting." Sgrena remains outraged. "It was not a checkpoint," she insists. "They didn't try to stop us, they just shot us.""Friendly Fire" (207 pages. Haymarket Books) is Sgrena's remarkably lucid account of her abduction, incarceration and release. It is both an...
  • ‘Indifference Is Not Permissible’

    Think of Vaclav Havel as Arthur Miller and Nelson Mandela rolled into one. By the time Havel became president of Czechoslovakia almost 18 years ago, he was already an internationally renowned writer—whose work had been banned at home—and a human- rights activist who spent four years in jail as a political prisoner. Once dubbed the dissident playwright, he was a part of Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring,” the vibrant social and intellectual movement forcefully crushed by Soviet troops in 1968. In 1989, Havel led the bloodless Velvet Revolution that toppled his nation’s communist rulers and was promptly elected president of the newly free nation. He stayed in office until 2003, when he was prevented from running again due to term limits.Now 70, Havel shows no signs of slowing down, either artistically or politically. He remains active in global politics, and has been an outspoken critic of human-rights violations, particularly in North Korea. He recently completed a seven-week residency...
  • Encore at the Apollo

    The first James Brown fans began lining up at the Apollo Theater a full 24 hours before the public viewing of his body was to begin. By the time his shiny gold casket was brought to the theater by horse-drawn carriage, many thousands had already lined up to pay their final respects. Some vendors had set up tables selling pirated copies of Brown’s CDs. Others wove through the crowd peddling cheaply made James Brown T-shirts or James Brown photographs in paper frames.Given that the world-famous Harlem theater had been the site of many of Brown's greatest performances, it was only fitting that his body should lie in state there. Brown's debut at Apollo Amateur Night in 1956 launched his career on the national stage. By the time one of his many returns was captured on the album "Live at the Apollo" in 1963, Brown had become an international megastar. Abrahim Bah, 44, manager of the Porta Bella men's clothing boutique, four doors down from the Apollo, put speakers out and blasted "The...
  • ‘I Worry for Pakistan’s Future’

    Age has scarcely mellowed Benazir Bhutto. At 53, Pakistan’s two-time former prime minister has lost none of the fighting spirit that made her the first woman to be elected leader of a modern Muslim nation nearly two decades ago, when she was only 35. Recently she publicly joined forces with her former political nemesis (and now fellow exile) Nawaz Sharif, renouncing their past feuds and demanding restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Their pact was yet another headache for the country’s military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who already faces a full share of problems in both embattled Kashmir and on the Afghan border, where Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding. Bhutto recently traveled to New York to lecture at the Oxonian Society and announce her hope of running for prime minister in 2007.  She spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Karen Fragala Smith about her views on the Taliban, women’s rights and the corruption allegations that plagued her political career....
  • Bombs Away

    Fifteen years after stepping down as leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, 75, remains an untiring voice in international relations. Besides continuing his efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons in the world (which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990), he’s active in many other initiatives, including the environmental group Green Cross International and World Awards International, an organization created by Austrian financier Christian Baha to celebrate the work of individuals who have made a difference. Gorbachev was in New York recently to preside over an outgrowth of the World Awards, the Women’s World Awards; among this year’s honorees were Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg and Queen Noor of Jordan. Between his public duties, the former Soviet leader took a few minutes off to chat with NEWSWEEK’s Karen Fragala Smith on a whole range of subjects, from the North Korean nuclear threat to alternative energy and the lessons of Afghanistan. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: In...