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.

"Evaporated," by James Harkin, Vanity Fair

On the trail of two kidnapped journalists in Syria.

"So that's why I came here to Syria," he wrote on his Facebook page, "and it's why I like being here now, right now, right in the middle of a brutal and still uncertain civil war. Every person in this country fighting for their freedom wakes up every day and goes to sleep every night with the knowledge that death could visit them at any moment. They accept that reality as the price of freedom.... They're alive in a way that almost no Americans today even know how to be."

In late July, Tice made it through to Damascus, where for two weeks he fell in with another hospitable group of rebels in the suburb of Darayya. But he couldn't help worrying about the growing number of attacks on journalists, and worrying as well that his reports on human-rights abuses by the rebels, not just by the regime, might put him in harm's way. "I don't want to get murdered in Syria," he'd written to Mahmoud. He was in Darayya for his 31st birthday, and he was characteristically gung-ho: "Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever." That would be his final tweet. Two days later, on August 13, Tice apparently left for the Lebanese border and a much-needed vacation. With the exception of a single, deeply ambiguous video which popped up on the Internet six weeks later, nothing has been heard from him since.

"Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig's Untold Journey to the Dodgers," by Jesse Katz, Los Angeles Magazine

The shocking saga of Major League Baseball's most controversial player

In a no-tell motel on Isla Mujeres, eight miles off the coast of Cancún, Yasiel Puig's escape had come to a halt. Confined to a corner room at the end of a shabby horseshoe-shaped courtyard, he could only wait and hope, for his value to be appraised, his freedom to be bought. There was nothing personal about it, no loved one vowing to pay any price, only the calculus of a crude business. What was this gladiator-size man, with the Popeye forearms and the XXL chest, actually worth-to the people bankrolling his defection from Cuba, to the smugglers now holding him in Mexico, to the agents and scouts who would determine the U.S. market for his talents, to the baseball team that might ultimately write the check???For close to a year Puig had been trying to force an answer, to extract himself from Fidel Castro's state-run sports machine, which paid him $17 a month, and sneak across the tropics to a mythical north, where even benchwarmers lived like kings. Two, three, four times, maybe more, he had risked everything and fled, only to be detained by the Cuban authorities or intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard-each failure making the next attempt more urgent. Finally, in June 2012, the 21-year-old outfielder left his home in Cienfuegos, on Cuba's southern shore, and set off by car for the northern province of Matanzas, just 90 miles from Florida. He was traveling with three companions: a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood.

"The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind The Secretive Lab's Closed Doors," Jon Gertner, Fast Company

Space elevators, teleportation, hoverboards, and driverless cars: The top-secret Google X innovation lab opens up about what it does--and how it thinks.

If there's a master plan behind X, it's that a frictional arrangement of ragtag intellects is the best hope for creating products that can solve the world's most intractable issues. Yet Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself--an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions, in this case by taking incredible risks across a wide variety of technological domains, and by not hesitating to stray far from its parent company's business. We don't yet know if this will prove to be genius or folly. There's actually no historical model, no ­precedent, for what these people are doing.

But in some ways that makes sense. Google finds itself at a juncture in history that has not come before, and may not come again. The company is almost unimaginably rich and stocked with talent; it is hitting its peak of influence at a moment when networks and computing power and artificial intelligence are coalescing in what many technologists describe as (to borrow the Valley's most popular meme) "the second machine age." In addition, it is trying hard to develop another huge core business to augment its massive search division. So why not do it through X? To Teller, this failure-loving lab has simply stepped into the breach. Small companies don't feel they have the resources to take moonshots. Big companies think it'll rattle shareholders. Government leaders believe there's not enough money, or that Congress will characterize a misstep or failure as a scandal. These days, when it comes to Hail Mary innovation, "Everyone thinks it's somebody's else's job," Teller says.

"Playing Putin's Game," Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

It's time to start thinking strategically about how to deal with Vladimir Putin in a post-Crimea world.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of Vladimir Putin's Crimean Gambit, now threatening to become a Donbas Gambit, it reminds us that the United States still has some unfinished business in Europe. Putin's dramatic move into Crimea, and his subsequent sporting with Ukraine like a cat playing with a wounded mouse, is devastating to liberal aspirations about the kind of Europe, and world, we would like to live in. It affronts our moral and political sensibilities, and it raises the specter of a serious and unfavorable shift in the regional balance of power. But so far, Western leaders have signally failed to develop an effective response to this, to them, an utterly unexpected and shocking challenge.

"The Siege of Sloviansk," David Patrikarakos, Foreign Policy

Inside a brewing insurgency as Ukraine sends in the tanks to quell unrest in its chaotic East.

Barricades -- mounds of tires and sandbags topped with barbed wire -- stretched around the building, sealing it off from the surrounding streets. Access was only possible with the permission of an armed protester holding a huge riot shield, which was used as a makeshift "door" to allow people in and out. These makeshift walls in Sloviansk looked nothing like the barricades built in Donetsk and Luhansk, where the mounds of tires and sandbags had a haphazard feel about them -- placed prominently in front of the occupied buildings but offering little in the way of any real protection.

The heavily-armed masked men who patrolled the Sloviansk streets, gripping automatic weapons and occasionally speaking into their hand-held radios, stood in stark contrast to the protesters in Donetsk and Luhansk, who wielded bats and metal bars. The degree of precision and economy of purpose among the protesters in Sloviansk -- from the way these men walked to the way they gathered in groups at strategic points around the city, clearly taking orders from the senior members among them -- suggested with near certainty that if they were not soldiers, they had at least had military training. They were reluctant to speak or have their photo taken -- grunting at journalists and outsiders to go away.

The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of being behind this takeover, a charge Russian President Vladimir Putin denies. Reports are that many of these men are Russians, mysterious "Cossacks" who had arrived from elsewhere -- just like those who appeared in Crimea during Russia's seizure of the peninsula in February. Some of the armed men inside the barricades were clearly carrying specialized Russian weapons and had identical uniforms without insignia, again, similar to those Russian troops wore in Crimea. The palpable degree of coordination behind events here suggested that this suspicion may well be correct.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images; Christian Petersen/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; David Goldman - Pool/Getty Images; GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images


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. Or, more to the point: It could go extinct because of that.

The Most Trafficked Mammal You've Never Heard Of, John D. Sutter, CNN.

I went undercover in Southeast Asia to learn why a bizarre, scale-covered mammal -- which has been called a walking pinecone and a modern-day dinosaur -- is trafficked by the ton.

"The pangolin could go extinct before most people realize it exists.

Or, more to the point: It could go extinct because of that.

Pangolins -- two species of which are endangered and all of which are protected by international treaty -- are trafficked by the thousands for their scales, which are boiled off their bodies for use in traditional medicine; for their meat, which is a high-end delicacy here and in China; and for their blood, which is seen as a healing tonic.

"It's almost like, 'You've got a pangolin you've got a brown bag lunch -- and also a medicine chest,'" said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America and a pangolin lover. (He's got a wooden carving of a pangolin in his office in Washington.)

The numbers are astounding. By the most conservative estimates, 10,000 pangolins are trafficked illegally each year. If you assume only 10% to 20% of the actual trade is reported by the news media, the true number trafficked over a two-year period was 116,990 to 233,980, according to Annamiticus, an advocacy group."


The Islamic Sex Cult Supporting Turkey's Prime Minister, Lily Lynch, The Balkanist.

Followers of Harun Yahya wear drag make-up and practice a "sexed-up, Disney version of Islam" that helps promote conservative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's vision of a modern, Muslim Turkey. Step inside this surreal world where religious piety meets psychedelic softcore porn, led by the world's foremost Islamic creationist.

"Harun Yahya is said to be the messianic leader of an apocalyptic Islamic sex cult. He's also the owner of a Turkish television station called A9, and the host of his own religious talk show, which just might make your eyeballs pop out of your skull. The entire set and everyone on it glow like irradiated ultraviolet rays. Five amazing looking women usually co-host the show, wearing things like false rainbow eyelashes, wigs, and diamond-studded Versace bondage gear. The backdrop is a blinding fake lavender cityscape. Conversations often focus on how materialism and Darwinism are dead, how to recognize the face of a real Muslim, and how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - with whom the host is rumored to enjoy friendly relations - is ‘one of the important figures for the End Time.'"


How Malaria Defeats our Drugs, Ed Yong, Mosaic.

In the war against malaria, one small corner of the globe has repeatedly turned the tide, rendering our best weapons moot and medicine on the brink of defeat.

"The meandering Moei river marks the natural boundary between Thailand and Myanmar. Its muddy waters are at their fullest, but François Nosten still crosses them in just a minute, aboard a narrow, wooden boat. In the dry season, he could wade across. As he steps onto the western riverbank, in Myanmar, he passes no checkpoint and presents no passport.

The air is cool. After months of rain, the surrounding jungle pops with vivid lime and emerald hues. Nosten climbs a set of wooden slats that wind away from the bank, up a muddy slope. His pace, as ever, seems relaxed and out of kilter with his almost permanently grave expression and urgent purpose. Nosten, a rangy Frenchman with tousled brown hair and glasses, is one of the world's leading experts on malaria. He is here to avert a looming disaster. At the top of the slope, he reaches a small village of simple wooden buildings with tin and thatch roofs. This is Hka Naw Tah, home to around 400 people and a testing ground for Nosten's bold plan to completely stamp out malaria from this critical corner of the world."


US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter' to Stir Unrest, Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, Alberto Arce, Associated Press.

"In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit executives who would not be told of the company's ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn't work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones "Cuban Twitter," using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba's strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo - slang for a Cuban hummingbird's tweet."


They Just Stood Watching,' Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy.

After the Darfur genocide, the United Nations sent in 20,000 peacekeepers with a single mission -- to protect the region's civilians. A Foreign Policy investigation details why they failed, and what the U.N. knew about it.

"The mass March 24 kidnapping -- the details of which have never been publicly disclosed by the U.N. -- marked a humiliating setback for troops from the African Union/United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID), a beleaguered, U.N.-funded force that was established specifically to protect Darfur's citizens from a renewal of the genocide that had raged in the region years earlier, leaving more than 200,000 dead. The peacekeepers, though, have been bullied by government security forces and rebels, stymied by American and Western neglect, and left without the weapons necessary to fight in a region where more peacekeepers have been killed than in any other U.N. mission in the world. The violence that once consumed Darfur, meanwhile, has returned with a vengeance, resulting in civilian casualties and the large-scale flight of terrified men, women, and children."

AFP/AFP/GettyImages; Adam Berry/Getty Images; TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages; Win McNamee/Getty Images; ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images