Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

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

Hacking the President’s DNA, by Andrew Hessel, Marc Goodman, Steven Kotler. The Atlantic.

On the potential existence of bioweapons capable of attacking a single individual without leaving a trace, and how they might be stopped.

According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President’s Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched-they are later sanitized or destroyed-in an effort to keep would?be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material. (The Secret Service would neither confirm nor deny this practice, nor would it comment on any other aspect of this article.) And according to a 2010 release of secret cables by WikiLeaks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed our embassies to surreptitiously collect DNA samples from foreign heads of state and senior United Nations officials. Clearly, the U.S. sees strategic advantage in knowing the specific biology of world leaders; it would be surprising if other nations didn’t feel the same.


Fear and Loathing in Athens: The Rise of Golden Dawn and the Far Right, by Maria Margaronis. The Guardian.

In financially crippled and politically unstable Greece, the neo-Nazis are gaining surprising popularity.

As a Greek, I’ve known these people all my life: middle-aged women with coiffed hair and well-upholstered bosoms, men in clean white shirts and neatly belted trousers. They’re the people who run the cafes and corner shops; who work hard every day, often at two or three jobs; who pinch children’s cheeks and won’t let you pay for your coffee; who were always cynical about politicians’ promises. I never thought they could fall prey to fascist oratory. Yet here they are, applauding Michaloliakos as he barks and roars, floodlit against a low white building next to the petrol station. We could almost be back in the 1940s, between the Axis occupation and the civil war, when former collaborators whipped up hatred of the left resistance.


Tourists and Terrorists, by John Pedro Schwartz. Foreign Policy.

A visit to the rubble that was once Damascus.

Let it be said that security agents in Damascus are a polite lot — again, toward foreigners — which is more than can be said for their American counterparts. Even when plainclothes agents stop your taxi at a checkpoint on your first day in town and, finding you are American, arrange for two muscular men to climb into the backseat beside you, the handguns in the small of their backs pressing against the plush, and escort you to your hotel, where the agents, having sped ahead in their own vehicle, place you under guard for five hours while they conduct a background check, they are always ready to observe the formalities of procedure and the niceties of etiquette.”


Light Entertainment, by Andrew O’Hagan. London Review of Books.

An essay on Jimmy Savile, sexual abuse, and the strange culture behind mid-twentieth century children’s television in Britain.

People who worked at the BBC then are reticent about the sexual habits of the time. They speak like survivors — many of the big names are dead, some for more than forty years — and have an understandable wish to resist the hysteria, the prurience, the general shrieking that surrounds discussions of sexual conduct, whether risky and deviant or not. When I spoke to David Attenborough he was amazed to hear that someone he knew might have been named by others as part of the scene surrounding Gamlin at All Souls Place. I don’t hesitate to believe him: He clearly knew nothing about it. Others saw much more than he did and can put names to the people involved, but most of them wanted to tell their stories off the record. The BBC isn’t the Catholic Church, but it has its own ideals and traditions, which cause people to pause before naming the unwise acts that have been performed on its premises. Perhaps more than any church, the BBC continues to be a powerhouse of virtue, of intelligence and tolerance, but it is now suffering a kind of ecclesiastical terror at its own fallibility.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Faces, Places, Spaces, by Adam Gopnik. The New Yorker.

Geography — and the understanding that it shapes cultures, history and war — experiences a renaissance.

Milton sang of “the Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty,” implying there was a reason that the Swiss were freer than the French, and the idea that geography shapes character is essential to Montesquieu: southern peoples are sweaty and stolid; mountain dwellers are springy and defiant, and so on. France, in his view, is ideal, because it is, like Mama Bear’s porridge, neither too cold nor too hot. (Actually, it is too cold, but the myth that the French live in a beautifully temperate climate is impossible for them to surrender, even in January.) In recent years, space history has been armed with data and detail and an urge to explain everything. Like the “naked ape” anthropology of the nineteen-seventies, sure in its belief that the missionary position in sex explains all of human bonding, the new space history has imperial ambitions.”

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