Feature

Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret, by Michael Hastings. Rolling Stone.

How killing by remote control has changed the way we fight:

The use of drones is rapidly transforming the way we go to war. On the battlefield, a squad leader can receive real-time data from a drone that enables him to view the landscape for miles in every direction, dramatically expanding the capabilities of what would normally have been a small and isolated unit. "It's democratized information on the battlefield," says Daniel Goure, a national security expert who served in the Defense Department during both Bush administrations. "It's like a reconnaissance version of Twitter." Drones have also radically altered the CIA, turning a civilian intelligence-gathering agency into a full-fledged paramilitary operation -- one that routinely racks up nearly as many scalps as any branch of the military.

But the implications of drones go far beyond a single combat unit or civilian agency. On a broader scale, the remote-control nature of unmanned missions enables politicians to wage war while claiming we're not at war -- as the United States is currently doing in Pakistan. What's more, the Pentagon and the CIA can now launch military strikes or order assassinations without putting a single boot on the ground - and without worrying about a public backlash over U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags. The immediacy and secrecy of drones make it easier than ever for leaders to unleash America's military might -- and harder than ever to evaluate the consequences of such clandestine attacks.

Another Night to Remember, by Bryan Burrough. Vanity Fair.

The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship:

At 9:57, 15 minutes after the ship struck the rock, Schettino phoned Costa Cruises' operations center. The executive he spoke to, Roberto Ferrarini, later told reporters, "Schettino told me there was one compartment flooded, the compartment with electrical propulsion motors, and with that kind of situation the ship's buoyancy was not compromised. His voice was quite clear and calm." Between 10:06 and 10:26, the two men spoke three more times. At one point, Schettino admitted that a second compartment had flooded. That was, to put it mildly, an understatement. In fact, five compartments were flooding; the situation was hopeless. (Later, Schettino would deny that he had attempted to mislead either his superiors or anyone else.)

They were sinking. How much time they had, no one knew. Schettino had few options. The engines were dead. Computer screens had gone black. The ship was drifting and losing speed. Its momentum had carried it north along the island's coastline, past the harbor, then past a rocky peninsula called Point Gabbianara. By 10 P.M., 20 minutes after striking the rock, the ship was heading away from the island, into open water. If something wasn't done immediately, it would sink there.

Getting Plowed, by Selena Ross. Maisonneuve.

Collusion, sabotage, violence-inside Montreal's no-holds-barred snow removal racket:

Not long before, their boss, the owner of a small snow-removal business, had won a multimillion-dollar contract to clear snow in that borough for the first time ever. A different contractor had been working in the area, but when it came time to place bids that year, the upstart business named a lower price, and the old company lost out. The two workers knew exactly who was responsible for the booby-trapped snowbank. Although their boss had won the bid fairly, moving in on another company's territory is considered stealing in Montreal's snow-removal industry -- a sector in which businesses rarely bid on contracts they haven't already marked as their property. It was only $10,000 in damage, but to the newcomers, the message was clear: don't step out of line again.

 

How the New York Film Academy Discovered Gold in the Developing World, by Andrew Rice. Capital New York.

On the business model of the ubiquitous trade school, and a visit to its satellite operation in Nigeria:

At an evening opening ceremony, the academy's 26 instructors and staff were introduced to a chorus of raucous hollers from the student body. One of the program's organizers, Stephanie Okereke, took the stage wearing a hot pink blazer. A statuesque Nollywood movie star, she herself is the graduate of a New York Film Academy course.

"Most of us went all the way to America to do this opportunity," Okereke said. "And now it is here, live in Nigeria, so you don't have to go through the horrors of getting a visa."

Then the actress played the schoolmarm.

"Please, please, please pay attention you guys," she told the students. "Because you have a lot to learn, in so little time."

The crash course was extremely expensive, especially by African standards: $5,000 per student, including living expenses, meaning that the overall cost to the Nigerians was around $1.2 million. The overwhelming majority of students were attending on scholarships sponsored by corporations and Nigerian government institutions. The largest funder was the Niger Delta Development Commission, an agency charged with creating job opportunities in a formerly war-torn region of the country. But technically speaking, the program was open to anyone, regardless of previous education, grades or experience, in keeping with what the academy's president, a former movie producer named Jerry Sherlock, described as its founding democratic principle.

Patriot Games, by J.M. Berger. Foreign Policy.

How the FBI spent a decade hunting white supremacists...and missed Timothy McVeigh:

In 1990, the FBI began picking up on rumors about an effort to reconstitute a notorious terrorist-criminal gang known as The Order.

The group's name was taken from the infamous racist 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, which told the story of a fictional cabal carrying out acts of terrorism and eventually overthrowing the U.S. government in a bloody, nihilistic racial purge. The book was an inspiration to a generation of white nationalists, including Timothy McVeigh, whose path to radicalization climaxed in the Oklahoma City bombing 17 years ago Thursday.

During the 1980s, extremists inspired by the book began robbing banks and armored cars, stealing and counterfeiting millions of dollars and distributing some of the money to racist extremist causes. Members of The Order assassinated Jewish talk radio host Alan Berg in 1984, before most of its members were arrested and its leader killed in a standoff. Less than 10 percent of the money stolen by The Order was ever recovered, and investigators feared members of the group who were still at large would use it to further a campaign of terrorism.

To prevent the rise of a "Second Order," FBI undercover agents would become it.

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform's complete archive.

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Feature

Longform's Picks of the Week

The best reads from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Camorra Never Sleeps, by Aaron Shulma. Los Angeles Review of Books.

The enduring system of organized crime in Naples:

Silence is a Neapolitan birthright. The city has such a culture of it that some years ago, when an innocent girl was killed in a Camorra crossfire, many of the witnesses who had initially identified the shooters to the police recanted their statements during the trial that ensued. In frustration, the investigating judge lost his calm and began berating the witnesses, as if here in the courtroom he had come face-to-face with the Camorra itself. He had not. He had come face-to-face with ordinary Neapolitans. You cannot really berate the Camorra. If you try, you will find yourself meeting blank stares.

The Camorra is not an organization like the Mafia that can be separated from society, disciplined in court, or even quite defined. It is an amorphous grouping in Naples and its hinterlands of more than 100 autonomous clans and perhaps 10,000 immediate associates, along with a much larger population of dependents, clients, and friends. It is an understanding, a way of justice, a means of creating wealth and spreading it around. It has been a part of life in Naples for centuries-far longer than the fragile construct called Italy has even existed. At its strongest it has grown in recent years into a complete parallel world and, in many people's minds, an alternative to the Italian government, whatever that term may mean. Neapolitans call it "the system" with resignation and pride. The Camorra offers them work, lends them money, protects them from the government, and even suppresses street crime. The problem is that periodically the Camorra also tries to tear itself apart, and when that happens, ordinary Neapolitans need to duck.

Mission From God: The Upstart Christian Sect Driving Invisible Children and Changing Africa, by Josh Kron. The Atlantic.

The evangelical group behind Invisible Children, makers of Kony2012:

For Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, stumbling into Uganda's one-time civil war wasn't an accident; it was a divine calling.

While the rest of the world laughs at or ponders the psych ward-ridden creator of Kony 2012, the unlikely Internet video sensation that brought both himself and a vicious Ugandan rebel instant and overwhelming fame, the mystery of his inspiration and success only grows more curious.

Who is this man? Is he crazy?  What drives him? Russell summed it up in two hesitant words -- Jesus Christ.

On Tipping in Cuba, by Chris Turner. The Walrus.

Colonialism, the convertible peso, and the strange dance between the cheap beach tourist and the tour guide tout:

What happened, in brief, is that my wife and I had hired a young man named Antonio to give us a tour. We'd spent the morning chugging around in an ancient Moskvich sedan, with another young man driving as Antonio pointed out the sights and delivered a running commentary about what he called "the reality of Cuba." We'd visited an Afro-Cuban cultural museum, toured the old Spanish fort, bought contraband rum. We'd gone back to Antonio's tiny concrete box of a home, met his wife and mother, sipped beers, talked some politics, and taken pictures. In the late afternoon, he and another friend had led us to a lovely little restaurant at the base of Santiago's landmark Padre Pico steps. We'd eaten grilled lobster, drunk more beers, and traded jokes and vows of eternal friendship.

At the end of the meal, I'd given the waiter CUC $80 and received CUC $10 in change, and as I stood there with the ten-peso note in my hand Antonio grabbed and pocketed it. I shot him a confused look, and he responded with a half shrug that seemed calibrated somewhere between What's it matter? and You know the score. I hadn't intended to give him the money, but he decided he deserved it. Hours later, on the rooftop patio of the Casa Granda, drinking a mojito that cost nearly half the amount I was obsessing about, I wondered what that shrug really meant.

 

Supply & Demand, by Mehboob Jeelan. The Caravan.

Inside India's prostitution business:

Like many other purveyors of luxury goods and services to the capital's wealthiest residents and visitors, Khan's outlook is bullish. The only real obstacle to growth is the sporadic attention of the city's police, whose crackdowns on upscale prostitution tend to alternate with long periods of apparent indifference. In April 2011, police busted Sonu Punjaban, a famously aggressive female pimp whose operation catered mostly to middle-class Indian clients, and whom police described as the reigning kingpin of Delhi prostitution. In the wake of the raid on Punjaban, Khan said, he became "more cautious" -- turning down clients who hadn't been referred by regular patrons, or sending one of his employees to check that prospective customers were genuine. But these were minor worries: "Lack of clients will never be a problem here," he said. "The clients always come."

Yemeni Idol, by Gaar Adams. Foreign Policy.

It's not easy being the second-biggest rock band in Sanaa:

The fact that 3 Meters Away is at the center of this pivotal moment in Yemeni history does not mean that any of this -- the protests, the electricity cuts, the price gauging, the violence -- is easy. Ahmed grabs a bullet from a candle-wax covered table in the corner of the room and places it in my hand. He explains to me that Hassan picked it up off the street one day after taking cover when the sounds of gunfire erupted during his normal walk to band practice. It wasn't until next morning that anyone even found out what happened -- pro-Saleh forces had let off a torrent of celebratory gunfire in support of their embattled president. The ensuing rainfall of bullets killed several people in the streets of Sanaa who were just going about their business like Hassan.

"You become so numb that you don't even realize there are explosions all around you," Omr chimes in. Playing in Change Square, the danger and death surrounding the band has forced them to grapple with these same issues of responsibility and mortality. The band's name reckons with these hazards in several ways: It was inspired by their own rule of staying 3 meters away from riot police and not engaging in physically dangerous situations; it also acts as their own twist on the phrase "6 feet under," serving as a reminder and tribute of respect to the martyrs who died in Change Square.

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform's complete archive.

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Gaar Adams