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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 Russia Left Behind, by Ellen Barry, the New York Times

A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin.

As the state's hand recedes from the hinterlands, people are struggling with choices that belong to past centuries: to heat their homes with a wood stove, which must be fed by hand every three hours, or burn diesel fuel, which costs half a month's salary? When the road has so deteriorated that ambulances cannot reach their home, is it safe to stay? When their home can't be sold, can they leave?

Clad in rubber slippers, his forearms sprinkled with tattoos, Mr. Naperkovsky is the kind of plain-spoken man's man whom Russians would call a "muzhik." He had something he wanted to pass on to Mr. Putin, who has led Russia during 13 years of political stability and economic expansion.

"The people on the top do not know what is happening down here," he said. "They have their own world. They eat differently, they sleep on different sheets, they drive different cars. They don't know what is going on here. If I needed one word to describe it, I would say it is a swamp, a stagnant swamp. As it was, so it is. Nothing is changing."

MIKHAIL MORDASOV/AFP/Getty Images

Nights Out in a New Town, by Srinath Perur, Open

Travelling with the Indian sex tourist to Tashkent in search of ‘full enjoyment'

Jabir is defensive when I ask him how Uzbekistan became a destination for sex tourists. He largely holds the tourists responsible. He says he's interested in showing people around his country, but they only care for one thing. According to him there aren't even that many women involved in sex work. He says, ‘There are maybe around a hundred girls in Tashkent. Everyone comes here, fucks the same girls and goes back.' That sounds like a considerable understatement. There must be that number of sex workers from the former USSR in Delhi or Mumbai alone. The textbook explanation holds that the dissolution of the USSR created economic uncertainty in which many young women found it hard to support themselves, and ended up in different parts of the world as sex workers.

Why come all the way to Uzbekistan when it's easily possible to find women from the region in India? There are reasons of pragmatism, of course-there's no one who might recognize you here, and the country's relatively cheap. Beyond that, these four or five days are an opportunity to let oneself go. Here there are no responsibilities of family or work. The proscriptions of home are absent, so you can drink and smoke as much as you want. Everyone's a young man once again, giggling at adolescent jokes. There's the sex of course, but here it goes beyond simply servicing the libido. There is a jubilant revelling in sex and an air of constant bawdiness that can only come from the working out of things long pent-up. Here you can unburden yourself completely. You can enjoy.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The State of Assange, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

He's a cartoon. A megalomaniac. An irresistible Hollywood subject. And a crucial historical figure.

All of this is Assange's own doing. And yet it is strange how completely these dramas have obscured the power of his insights and how fully we now seem to be living in Julian Assange's world. His real topic never was war or human rights. It was always surveillance and the way that technology unbalanced the relationship between the individual and the state. Information now moves through electronic circuits, which means it can all be collected, stored, analyzed. The insight that Assange husbanded (and Snowden's evidence confirmed) is that the sheer seduction of this trove-the possibility of secretly knowing everything about other people-would lead governments and companies to abandon their own laws and ethics. This is the paranoid worldview of a hacker, assembled from a lifetime of chasing information. But Assange proved that it was accurate, and the consequence of his discovery has been a strange political moment, when to see the world through the lens of conspiracies has not only made you paranoid. It's also made you aware.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Portrait of an Afghan Assassin, by Matthieu Aikins, Mother Jones

No one is sure what made a 17-year-old poet gun down four Marines. But somewhere in his story is the key to whether we'll ever leave Afghanistan.

But the result has been to leave the Afghan strategy half-finished: A vast and unsustainably expensive force has been mobilized and equipped, but it remains poorly disciplined and widely corrupt, and overlaps uneasily with a constellation of even worse-trained militia forces. With the majority of foreign forces due to depart Afghanistan in a little more than a year, it's anyone's guess whether the Afghan forces can stand on their own. If they can't, and the security vacuum causes Afghanistan to revert to chaos, insider attacks will have been partly to blame.

"The question you gotta ask is, is there any more juice left to squeeze from the orange?" Martin said. "Is this as good as it's going to get?"

ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages

Sherman's March, by Yochi Dreazen, Foreign Policy

Meet the social worker turned nuclear negotiator who's trying to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

All the same, Sherman, who Samore describes as having an "iron fist in a velvet glove," will have to get as much from the talks as she can. Her work will be closely followed in the capitals of key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, which fear that the Obama administration is prepared to accept a deal that would leave Iran with the ability to continue enriching uranium. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recent described Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and reiterated his promise that Israel would act militarily, alone if necessary, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Qom facility would likely be at the top of any Israeli target list. Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official who worked with Sherman during the on-again, off-again negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s, said she is a skilled negotiator with a deep understanding of the complex politics surrounding the nuclear talks, particularly among skeptics from both parties on Capitol Hill. "She knows that world," he said.

 

Feature

One Starship to Rule Them All

What can we learn from the ultimate sci-fi geek chart of warships?

If Captain Kirk had to fight Darth Vader, he'd had better hope that size is not everything. Because the starship Enterprise battling an Imperial Star Destroyer would be like a flea attacking an elephant, if Dirk Loechel is right.

Loechel has created a size comparison chart of ships from nearly 40 sci-fi TV shows, movies, and video games. It shows a Star Trek Constellation-class starship, of which the Enterprise is the most famous progeny, being only about 300 meters long. A Star Wars Executor-class Super Star Destroyer, one of the largest ships on Loechel's chart, is 19,000 meters long (or 11.8 miles, because the Empire would be evil enough to reject the metric system).

A starship size chart may be the ultimate in geekery, but the notion that size reflects naval power is not. A 2,000-ton ship-of-the-line was reckoned more powerful in a Napoleonic fleet action than a 900-ton frigate; likewise, 20th-century naval powers raced to have mammoth battleships and cruisers, because larger ships could carry bigger weapons and thicker armor. Today's U.S. supercarriers aren't just awesome because of their firepower; these ships are also as long as football fields.

One conclusion from Loechel's chart: Hollywood science-fiction screenwriters and video game designers are megalomaniacs. Or, perhaps writers of naval science-fiction suffer from naval dwarfism. The 19,000-meter-long Star Wars Super Star Destroyer is joined by the 18,000-meter Ragnarok-class Titan from the EVE online game and the 10,000-meter Eternal Crusader mobile Chapter Fortress from the Warhammer 40K tabletop miniatures game (Loechel's chart doesn't even include the Death Star). In contrast, most Star Trek ships seem like faster-than-light midgets at less than 500 meters long (not hugely bigger than a U.S. Navy Nimitz-class carrier at 330 meters). Even a dreaded Borg Cube is only about 1,500 meters, while the famous Doomsday Machine, which was slicing up planets 10 years before the Death Star was born, comes in at only 2,700 meters. Most Babylon 5 starships run about 1,000 to 2,000 meters, while the Battlestar Galactica is 1,445 meters long. The ships from David Weber's Honorverse series of novels -- the sole book-based universe on Loechel's chart -- are mostly 500 to 1,000 meters.

Loechel himself confesses to being surprised at the size difference between the universes. "I was surprised how different universes scale," he told Foreign Policy. "Star Wars has a much wider spectrum of ship sizes than, say, Star Trek or Babylon 5. The biggest surprise, though, has been Babylon 5. I really thought those ships were larger. And the Wall-E ships, which turned out significantly larger than I had thought from the movie." Impressive as the chart is, it doesn't even scratch the surface of the starship pantheon, according to Chris Weuve, a naval expert and former professor at the U.S. Naval War College, who also writes extensively about science-fiction space warfare. Missing are ships from TV shows such as Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Doctor Who, and Starlost, as well as numerous novels such as the Lensman and Perry Rhodan novels.

And despite their size, power and ability to travel through space, many of these ships would be conceptually familiar to the U.S. Navy. "Oh, there's an occasional 'marauder' or 'titan' or some such name to mix it up a bit, but I see lots of frigates, destroyers, cruisers, carriers and the like, perhaps with a superlative like 'heavy' thrown in to the name for good measure," Weuve says. "This says a lot about where creators of science fiction go for inspiration. They go to the past."

Indeed, many of these ships have shapes that resemble objects found on Earth, such as fish, pizza slices, or the Beatle's Yellow Submarine.

But let's get to the elephant in the room. How does Loachel even determine the size of fictional starships when Jane's Fighting Ships doesn't (yet) include the specifications for Romulan Birds of Prey? It's not easy, says Loechel, who first became interested in the project as a way to compare ships between the Star Wars and Warhammer 40K universes. He was forced to scour information from a variety of sources, notably the somewhat dusty Starship Dimensions site. "Generally, my sources for length, if at all possible, are from Wikipedia. Sometimes, like with [video game] Mass Effect, I have to guesstimate sizes of ships from comparison charts. Some of the sizings may be up to debate, especially Stargate, where official stats are highly contradictory. I also repeatedly ran into wikis confusing foot and meter measurements, like with the [Wing Commander] Kilrathi Superdreadnought. Some things I wanted to include, like the movie The Fifth Element, are on hold because I cannot get even guesstimates of the ships' size."

Loechel believes projects such as his starship size chart make science fiction richer for fans. "It's just nice to see and be able to imagine what a meeting of, I don't know, Babylon 5 and Star Wars would look like. It's these kinds of mind games I sometimes play, and I am sure others do to."

Dirk Loechl/DeviantArt