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 new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Murder of an Idealist, by Sean Flynn. GQ.

The life and last days of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

For Stevens, sailing on a ghost ship into a revolution really was an adventure. True, there was a good measure of altruism to what Stevens did for a living, which appears to be a family trait: His father, Jan, was a lawyer in the California attorney general's office who worked on water rights and public-land access and such; his brother, Tom, left a career as a civil litigator to prosecute federal white-collar crimes; his sisters, Anne and Hilary, are doctors. Like them, Stevens did want to make the world a better place. But he also thought his job was a terrific amount of fun. In fact, when he was posted to Libya under the Qaddafi regime, he told a foreign-service officer named S. Sita Sonty that she and her family should come, too. "This is gonna be awesome," he told her. "It'll be like the Wild, Wild West. We'll have a great adventure."


The World is Watching. Roads and Kingdoms.

The U.S. election as witnessed by 25 reporters in 23 countries from Barcelona to Bangkok.

The city didn't seem to care. The traffic ground on. And it did not take long for us to realize that our table of expats was not split between Democrats and Republicans, but pessimists and masochists. We could agree that no matter how the elections went Russia was getting worse, like a man getting crankier with age until he sits all day on his stoop with a shotgun and a bible, minding the lawn. The choice was either to embrace this as an interesting historical development or move the hell out of the away. On this we could not agree. "In some sense it would be good," said one of the journalists at the table. "If Romney wins things might pick up. It'd be like Russia becoming the Weimar Republic. The apocalypse, you know?" [Simon Shuster reporting from Moscow]


Rio: The Fight for the Favelas, by Misha Glenny. Financial Times.

On the experimental favela police force UPP (aka "The Big Skull") and their efforts to clean Rio's largest slum in advance of the World Cup and Olympics.

In contrast with the townships of South Africa, which are almost all several miles from the city centre, a large number of Rio's 900-odd favelas sit cheek by jowl with some of the fanciest real estate in Brazil. Several of these slums creep up the mountains, which ascend steeply just hundreds of yards from the city's fabulous beaches. Favelas take their name from a hardy plant which survives in the arid northeast of the country (which happens to be where most of the slum dwellers hail from). Not only do vicious thorns protect the favela against predators but, if ingested, its leaves can kill you with a poison that mimics the effects of cyanide.


Kafka in Beijing, by John Garnault. Foreign Policy.

One woman's futile quest for justice in modern China.

Rape allegations are notoriously tricky to prosecute throughout the world. In China, the problems are compounded because the Communist Party explicitly controls the courts, and money can buy almost anything that isn't seen as challenging the party's grip on power. Whatever took place between Long and Zhou at 3 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2009, it's not clear that the Chinese legal system can deal with it. Cases of this sort are depressingly common. In August of this year, a woman was sentenced to 18 months of re-education in a labor camp for protesting in front of government buildings in Hunan province to petition for justice on behalf of her daughter who, at age 11, had been reportedly kidnapped, raped, and forced into prostitution in October 2006 by local officials. The mother was released after a nationwide outcry.  


The Truth Behind the Myth of Pancho Villa, Movie Star, by Mike Dash. Smithsonian.

Stories have circulated for years claiming that the Mexican revolutionary signed a contract allowing a Hollywood motion picture company to direct and film his battles in return for $25,000. Mike Dash digs for the truth.

It sounds outlandish -- not to say impractical. But the story quickly became common currency, and indeed, the tale of Pancho Villa's brief Hollywood career has been turned into a movie of its own. Accounts sometimes include elaborations; it is said that Villa agreed that no other film company would be permitted to send representatives to the battlefield, and that, if the cameraman did not secure the shots he needed, the División del Norte would re-enact its battles later. And while the idea that there was a strict ban on fighting outside daylight hours is always mentioned in these secondary accounts, that prohibition is sometimes extended; in another, semi-fictional, re-imagining, recounted by Leslie Bethel, Villa tells Raoul Walsh, the early Hollywood director: "Don't worry, Don Raúl. If you say the light at four in the morning is not right for your little machine, well, no problem. The executions will take place at six. But no later. Afterward we march and fight. Understand?"



Is J Street Winning?

This election showed that the Democratic Party's views toward Israel are changing in some disturbing ways.

Will there be a tectonic shift in attitudes toward the Middle East among Democrats in the next Congress?

Gone will be many Democratic heavyweights who could be counted as loyal supporters of the pro-Israel cause. Howard Berman, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was defeated by Brad Sherman in an intraparty race; Shelley Berkley resigned from the House to pursue a failed Senate campaign; Rep. Steve Rothman was defeated by Rep. Bill Pascrell in the Democratic primary; Sen. Joe Lieberman declined to run again; Gary Ackerman, ranking Democrat on the House Mideast subcommittee, retired rather than face a bitter primary fight; and Rep. Barney Frank retired. Entering Congress, meanwhile, is a new class of Democrats with weaker ties to Israel, such as Tammy Baldwin (previously a member of the House), Ann McLane Kuster, and Tammy Duckworth.

J Street, an organization highly critical of Israeli policies, is hailing the election results as "an incredible victory" and "part of transforming the political atmosphere around Israel in the U.S." The 113th Congress, according to J Street's statistics, will include 50 percent more members endorsed by JStreetPAC, its political action committee (PAC), than the 112th. All 49 JStreetPAC-endorsed incumbents in the House and seven JStreetPAC-endorsed Senate candidates were reelected, while its challengers and candidates for open seats won 14 out of 15 races. J Street is also boasting that it helped defeat five hard-line pro-Israel Republican House members: Joe Walsh, Allen West, Bobby Schilling, Frank Guinta, and Ann Marie Buerkle.

However, J Street's political victory is not nearly so sweeping as it would have observers believe. Almost all the Democratic candidates the group supported were also supported by AIPAC-inspired PACs and individuals affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to AIPAC insiders, the AIPAC-inspired donations to these Democrats in most cases dwarfed the $1.8 million raised by JStreetPAC. (Unlike J Street, AIPAC does not have a directly affiliated PAC and does not publish numbers for PACs known to be friendly toward the organization.) AIPAC staff and volunteers have long been engaged with the same Democratic incumbents and challengers, and it has secured pro-Israel position papers from them. AIPAC will also be far more influential than J Street in influencing coming committee and leadership assignments that go to select Democrats.

But it is true that more funds are being raised today than ever before from donors who depict Israel as the obstacle to peace and favor U.S. pressure to force Israeli concessions. The campaign contributions put muscle behind a flood of articles and speeches that portray Israel as a strategic liability rather than an asset -- a trigger-happy country that exaggerates the Iranian threat and is plotting the annexation of the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinians.

Spokesmen for this view, like author Peter Beinart and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, are taking ideas from the far left of the Israeli political spectrum and transforming them into mainstream beliefs of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, however, their counterparts in Israel have shrunk to insignificance: Meretz, the party of Peace Now and Yossi Beilin, has contracted from 14 seats in the Knesset to a mere three. Shelly Yachimovich, the new head of the Labor Party and informal leader of the Israeli opposition, has resisted fierce pressure to embrace the Beilinist agenda. The vast majority of the Israeli public has spoken, and it has rejected the ideology these critics are bringing to the United States.

But in America, these voices have found fertile ground. The American Jewish community is on average more liberal and more dovish on the Middle East than the Jewish majority in Israel. Reform temples and college campuses are particularly receptive to Beinart and Ben-Ami's message.

As a result, these ideas are moving gradually from the far left to the center-left of the Democratic base. And as the older generation of Democratic stalwarts gradually passes from the scene and new Democrats to the left of their predecessors enter the House and Senate and slowly climb the ranks, there will be an evolution within the Democratic Party.

Trends on the Republican side generally go in the opposite direction. Twenty years ago, the party was split between the "Reagan Republicans," who were ardently pro-Israel, and old liners like Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and the nativist Pat Buchanan, who had a far more skeptical attitude. Today, the movement conservatives are in almost complete control, and stalwart support for Israel is the norm among Republicans.

That fact, however, will only come as slight consolation to AIPAC and successive Israeli governments, which have struggled for decades to prevent support for the Jewish state from becoming a partisan issue. So far they have succeeded: In fact, AIPAC is still producing record-breaking bipartisan majorities on pro-Israel legislation, with more Democrats than ever in support.

But there is no guarantee this state of affairs will continue forever, and we could be witnessing the first rumblings of a gradual shift today. A change is taking place under the surface inside the Democratic Party, and it is bound to burst out into the open at key moments down the road.

Alex Wong/Getty Images