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.

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts

Chris Heath • GQ

Why Sweden's most notorious serial killer believes he is "the subject of Sweden's greatest miscarriage of justice" after confessing to eight grisly murders.

"I looked at his background," Christianson says. "If you look at literature on serial killers and rapists, they start early. He was very consistent, these attacks on young guys. And serial rapes. In the hospital he combined violence and rape, strangulation and rape." Christianson offers technical jargon I have read in his book-that most rapists are non-increasers but that Bergwall was in the rare category of increasers, those whose sexual attacks grow in intensity. He asserts that it is impossible for this behavior to simply have gone away. "When sex and violence has been twisted, how do you take that apart?... That sadistic behavior is still there."

Toward the end of our meeting, I ask Sven Christianson this: If Bergwall is an untreated sadistic sexual predator and if someone like him cannot stop himself from expressing it, where has this behavior manifested itself in recent years?

Christianson almost seems to rejoice at this question, as though he has successfully trapped me into asking it. "This!" he exclaims. "This whole pattern!" To have successfully pulled so many people into his fight for freedom-to have made a country's once proud legal system contort itself in knots-is the pinnacle of the sadist's art.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

My Week in North Korea

Michael Malice • Reason

Playing tourist in the isolated nation.

At the very top center of the cemetery was the ultimate North Korean martyr: Kim Il Sung's wife and Kim Jong Il's mother. Kim Jong Suk (always called the "anti-Japanese heroine") is the Mother Goddess in the North Korean mythology. She allegedly doted over her husband constantly, cutting off her hair to line his shoes as he singlehandedly defeated the Japs. We all bowed before her grave with due reverence. As the group milled about the cemetery taking pictures, I pulled Kim aside. "Did Kim Jong Suk have any other children?" I asked her.

She froze, and for the first and only time during my entire trip her affect became tense. "...Yes," Kim said. She said it in the same way a Mississippian would reply if asked whether his state was known for lynching. Kim didn't want to lie, but neither did she want to talk about it at all.

I apologized, telling her I didn't mean any disrespect. I deduced what fueled Kim's reticence: Despite being forced to learn the legends of the Kim family in excruciating detail, North Koreans know few actual facts-and never ever ask questions. Kim Il Sung's second wife is a non-person, for example, and to this day few people anywhere know how many times Kim Jong Il was married, and when. It is not known where Kim Jong Un lives; there is no equivalent of the White House in North Korea. In fact, government buildings don't have signs to illustrate what lies within. If you needed to know where to go, then you'd know. Otherwise, mind your business and don't ask questions.



In the Violent Favelas of Brazil

Suketu Mehta • New York Review of Books

Rampant rape and murder in the Brazilian slums.

Soon after that meeting, the Rio police found Lulu. It was stupid of him: the first place a wanted man runs to is his mother. Men came up in a jeep and, without arresting him, took him back to Rio, to his favela, to the police station.

According to Luiz, the chief of the local police appealed to Lulu: "We want you back. It's been hell since you left. You kept the peace among the gangs. And besides, I need your money for my political campaigns. You have to get back to work, or else."

So Lulu went back to work, selling coke and meth to the rich kids in the nightclubs of Copacabana and Ipanema. But he had tried to break away; the boys on the corner didn't trust him, didn't respect him as they used to. He couldn't make the 300,000 reais the cops demanded each week.

So one day they came again for Lulu. The cops, Luiz told me, sat him down in a stone chair in an open area of the slum and, with the whole favela watching, shot him in the head. He was useful to the police only when he had power to share. Powerless, he was dead.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


Virginia Hughes • Aeon

On the scientific research of Romanian orphans.

'We're limited in our resources,' says Elizabeth Furtado, who has been the Bucharest project's manager since 2006 and visits the Bucharest lab about twice a year. Furtado has a four-year-old son. She copes with the job by compartmentalising; for example, she has very intentionally not read the full life histories of any of the participants. But sometimes the pain is unavoidable. She was with Nelson and me the day we visited the orphanage - her first time in an institution since becoming a mother. ‘It took me almost a month after coming back to get to a [point] where I could kind of let it go and focus on my relationship with my son,' she told me.

The last two years on the project have been somewhat defeating, Furtado says, because the adolescents' behaviours are becoming more difficult to manage, and the foster-care parents are getting less and less support - financial, educational, emotional - from the government. ‘On the one hand, I know that we are doing a lot of good for a lot of these kids,' she says. ‘But it makes me sad that legislation isn't keeping up with enough of what we're finding.'


To Live, the Oyster Must Die

Oliver Bullough • Roads & Kingdoms

The fight to save a "delicious gold mine."   

We picked over the stretch marked out by Haward's withies-long willow poles thrust into the mud to mark his territory-filling up four boxes. Whiting explained, as we sorted the shells, that you could tell the live ones from the dead ones because they don't rattle when you shake them. I tried but could hear no difference.

"It takes a bit of practice," he said, with a low chuckle.

Of course, the bars of London and Dubai would need more than four boxes to keep their customers happy that day, and the real fishing is further out to sea. When the sun rose, Haward's boats would be out dredging the seabed, bringing up oysters in their hundreds.

But Haward's job is not just a question of going out there, dredging them up, and counting the money as it pours in. The number of things that will kill oysters before he can even get them onto a boat is improbably huge. They cannot spawn if the water is too cold, and they suffocate if it is too hot. They will be killed by land run-off, by silt, by marine anti-fouling, by untreated sewage, and possibly even by treated sewage if the people whose sewage it is have been taking the contraceptive pill.

"The first thing oysters think of doing is dying," said Haward. "They would die twice if they could."

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

For daily picks from around the web, check out Longform or download Longform for iPad.


Silent Shuttle

If John Kerry wants to make peace in the Middle East, he's going to need some Kissinger mojo.

Pick up most any newspaper or magazine these days, and you wouldn't know that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been a busy, busy man. His peace offensive in the Middle East has been remarkably subdued. In fact, one of the most newsworthy aspects of his present push to revive negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the sheer lack of news it has generated. This could not be more different from the approach taken by Henry Kissinger, arguably Kerry's most storied predecessor, in his "shuttle" diplomacy in the Middle East between 1973 and 1976.

As one of the handful of journalists who traveled with Kissinger for those three years, I've found myself reflecting on the secrets of his successes as Kerry's version of the shuttle takes shape. Kissinger began his back-and-forth negotiations under enormous pressure, while Egypt and Israel fought a bloody war in the Sinai Peninsula. At present, there is no shooting war in Israel or Palestine, but that doesn't make Kerry's quest any less crucial for both countries -- and the region.

Nearly four decades later, Kerry is resuming efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begun by Kissinger after the successful 1975 Separation of Forces agreement that halted hostilities between Israel and Egypt. But Kissinger produced no further movement on the Palestinian front. The promising Oslo Accord of 1993, which provided a framework for resolving all final status issues within five years of implementing Palestinian autonomy, was scuttled by the Israelis.

Since then, the conflict has remained frozen in time. The issues are exactly as they were: Israel steadfastly refuses to return to the 1967 borders, withdraw settlers from the West Bank or halt settlement construction -- all points at the top of the Palestinians' list of demands. But if the parameters of the conflict are the same, the negotiating style of the U.S. secretary of state is not. The question is: Are Kerry's backroom tactics as effective as Kissinger's media friendly approach?

My most powerful memories of those days involve the tremendous attention generated by Kissinger, both at home and abroad. The negotiators on both sides couldn't ignore his public drive for success. In stark contrast, Kerry chooses to operate behind the scenes, maintaining a tight lid on the press. As a result, his shuttles have generated sparse media attention, little public interest, and almost no pressure on the negotiators. Kissinger realized that public relations was a central battlefield in diplomacy, and he manipulated his "winning" image through a mastery of the media and Congress.

To his credit, Kerry's approach has achieved a couple of tactical goals: The Israelis have apparently agreed to release some prisoners from their jails and the Palestinians signaled their willingness to hold off on a critical issue for them -- applying for full U.N. membership -- for six months. Kerry also persuaded the Arab League to accept mutually agreed land swaps in determining the final borders of a Palestinian state, so long as Israel accepts the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations. Talks between the two parties are expected to begin as early as next week, though, of course, this promises nothing.

But one wonders how much more could be accomplished with a savvy media campaign. Kissinger's shrewdest move was taking along 14 veteran international correspondents from major U.S. media outlets -- each determined for his or her own reasons to get into print or on the air every day. In so doing, Kissinger not only created his very own "leak machine" but guaranteed unprecedented 24-hour media coverage in the United States and around the world. In negotiations, where leaks are the chief currency, Kissinger positioned himself as paymaster.

Like Kissinger, Kerry has taken a cadre of journalists on his six trips to the Middle East since he was sworn in as secretary of state in February, but somehow he has failed to convert this into a Kissinger-like road show. As a result, he hasn't generated anything like Kissinger's public persona. Some days, he gets no coverage at all. Kissinger, in contrast, would get on the evening news simply for visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing or taking correspondents to the Western Wall in Jerusalem -- something totally unrelated to negotiations.

Of course, some of the public's disinterest can be explained by ennui and cynicism after all these years of negotiations and conferences. The Israeli mood has turned against yielding any territory at all, and many in Israel doubt there is a negotiating partner in the divided Palestinian leadership. For their part, the Palestinians simply don't believe the Israelis are negotiating seriously. Still, Kerry would be well advised to change his tactics. Aggressively drumming up media coverage would raise public expectations and, in turn, place pressure on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to make progress.

To be sure, Kissinger and Kerry are two very different personalities, and Kerry -- though more than competent -- can't be expected to match the flair of the Kissinger road show. Kissinger is often described as "devious" and "manipulative" -- which he is -- but his real strength is personality and a strategic grasp of the situation. While in office (and indeed, after) he was known for manipulating diplomatic jargon. He could be crystal clear or speak, as we correspondents learned, in triple negatives. "Kissinger is about as conspiratorial as the people he was dealing with," an Israeli diplomat once told me with sly wink. "They found him a kindred spirit."

Despite his awkward appearance and distinct German accent, Kissinger presented himself to foreign leaders as if he were a head of state. He was, in fact, with both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, able to carve out authority to act virtually on his own. Foreign leaders recognized this and treated him accordingly. When Kissinger spoke, it was the United States speaking.

Kerry, for his part, enjoys close relations with President Barack Obama but it's no secret the president is not fully invested in the latest bid to revive peace talks. Nevertheless, Kerry would do well to present a more dynamic and outgoing image, to look more, well, statesmanlike.

Likewise, Kerry might learn from Kissinger's willingness to play hardball, even with friends.

In 1975, for example, when he was frustrated by Israel's lack of flexibility over borders, Kissinger abruptly called off talks in Jerusalem and returned to Washington, leaking to reporters that a "reassessment" was underway. He was also more sensitive to the despair of Palestinians than Kerry has been. Midway through the shuttle, Kissinger remarked that the "Middle East will not know peace until a way is found to accommodate the uprooted Palestinians."  

Although Kissinger was forced to contend with numerous other world crises during his shuttle diplomacy -- Vietnam, Soviet efforts to enter the Middle East, the 1973 oil crisis -- he enjoyed one primary advantage: relatively stable governments in both Jerusalem and Cairo led by leaders able to make decisions. In contrast, Kerry -- who also has his hands full with various crises, from Syria to North Korea -- faces dysfunctional governments in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, not to mention in the Gaza Strip. In Israel, Kerry's efforts thus far have exposed deep divisions on issues of peace and security, occupation, settlements, and whether the Palestinians can ever be trusted. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is a man without a party who is being constantly pushed to the right by growing conservative forces opposed to any flexibility on territorial issues.

The Palestinians, too, have arrived at a strategic fork. Kerry's efforts may mark the last chance for Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas to reach a two-state deal through diplomatic means. If Kerry fails, Palestinians will almost certainly try again to achieve full membership in the United Nations on their own, a move which might force the United States to painfully reassess its traditional opposition to unilateral measures. Kerry will then have to overcome the overwhelming international forces building in support of a Palestinian state and U.N. membership.

The two-state solution may well be on the line as well. As former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin warned recently, Israel is "approaching a point of no return." Against this backdrop, Kerry's great challenge is to apply some Kissinger muscle. Putting the full-court press on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, however, is going to require a little more media savvy.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images