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.
In Libya, the Captors Have Become the Captive, by Robert F. Worth. The New York Times.
The tables have been turned — brutally — on Qaddafi loyalists:
Of course Najjar remembered. Until a few weeks earlier, he was a notorious guard at one of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s prisons. Then Tripoli fell, and the same men he’d beaten for so long tracked him down at his sister’s house and dragged him to their base. Now they were mimicking his own sadistic ritual. Every day, Najjar greeted the prisoners with the words What do you want? forcing them to beg for the pipe — known in the prison by its industrial term, PPR — or be beaten twice as badly. The militia commander now standing behind him, Jalal Ragai, had been one of his favorite victims.
“What do you want?” Jalal said for the last time. He held the very same pipe that had so often been used on him.
The Frequent Fliers Who Flew Too Much, by Ken Bensinger. The Los Angeles Times.
In the early ’90s, American Airlines began selling lifetime passes for unlimited first-class travel. It hasn’t worked out well for the airline:
It was, and still is, offered in a variety of formats, including prepaid blocks of miles. But the marquee item was the lifetime unlimited AAirpass, which started at $250,000. Pass holders earned frequent flier miles on every trip and got lifetime memberships to the Admirals Club, American’s VIP lounges. For an extra $150,000, they could buy a companion pass. Older fliers got discounts based on their age.
“We thought originally it would be something that firms would buy for top employees,” said Bob Crandall, American’s chairman and chief executive from 1985 to 1998. “It soon became apparent that the public was smarter than we were.”
The unlimited passes were bought mostly by wealthy individuals, including baseball Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays, America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner and computer magnate Michael Dell.
Mike Joyce of Chicago bought his in 1994 after winning a $4.25-million settlement after a car accident.
In one 25-day span this year, Joyce flew round trip to London 16 times, flights that would retail for more than $125,000. He didn’t pay a dime.
Afghanistan: The Growing Menace, by Neil Shea. The American Scholar.
On the ground with U.S. troops in Afghanistan:
Spend time around soldiers and you realize a lot of this is part of the game, part of being a young man in war. Still, I sensed more anger and hatred than I had encountered before. Givens spun at its center like a black hole. He was in his mid-20s, charismatic and quick, a combat veteran. He threw down declarations like a hip-hop star — respect yourself and no one else; fuck bitches, get money — and the younger infantrymen revered him. Even officers appeared to defer to his humor, efficiency, and rage.
Platoons are often structured like high school cliques, and Givens stood at the apex of his, setting the tone and example. A list of characteristics scrolled through my mind as I listened to the men, traits I probably learned from episodes of Law & Order, or Lord of the Flies. Pop-culture sociopathy. Sexualized aggression. The displays of wolves.
“This is where I come to do fucked-up things,” Givens said. “So I don’t do them at home.”
The Visionary, by Ben Birnbaum. The New Republic.
A profile of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister:
At the time, negotiations had been frozen for more than a year. Yet Fayyad boldly predicted that his program would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state by August 2011. “By then, if in fact we succeed, as I hope we will,” he said, “it’s not going to be too difficult for people looking at us from any corner of the world … to conclude that the Palestinians do indeed have something that looks like a well-functioning state in just about every facet of activity, and the only anomalous thing at the time would be that occupation, which everybody agrees should end anyways. That’s the theory.” As Fayyad finished his speech-saying that his people aspired “to live alongside you in peace, harmony, and security”-several audience members stood up to applaud. For a moment, anyway, just about everyone seemed to be rooting for Salam Fayyad.
In Fukushima, by Rebecca Solnit. London Review of Books.
A visit to the epicenter of the tsunami and a society still in turmoil:
An earthquake can be a great social leveller at first, but policy and prejudice will decide who gets aid and recompense and compassion later, and it will never be equitable, as this farmer knew well. Disaster solidarity often fractures along these lines. But it is important to keep the generosity in mind: Hirani estimated that between ten and twenty thousand volunteers had come to his small town alone. Last year young Japanese people were volunteering in large numbers and at least in some cases rethinking their ambitions and purpose in life. Every disaster leaves a small percentage of people committed to ideals they might not have found otherwise.