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.
Tom Feston, Runaway Mogul
Joe Hagan • Men’s Journal
A Liberian road trip with the creator of MTV, Ralph Reed and a reformed cannibal named General Butt Naked.
A congregation of about 20 teenage boys — an assortment of reformed killers and drug addicts — sits on plastic chairs and listens raptly as the man in a baseball cap and brown military shirt sleeves confesses to leading a militia of drug-fueled child soldiers to kill a purported 20,000 people during a horrific period of unrest in the 1980s and ’90s, and to eating children from his own tribe to gain spiritual favor in battle. Until he found Jesus in a burst of white light — shortly after hacking his last victim to death — he merely saw it as part of the job description. “Every time I do this sacrifice,” he says, “the battle immediately turns against the enemy. Or turns in favor of us. They would start running.”
He also believed nudity was his armor against enemy bullets — thus his wartime moniker, General Butt Naked.
The three white Americans sitting alongside Butt Naked are duly sobered by the testimony. And in the raw reality of the moment, there is the hanging question of why their leader, Tom Freston, the spike-haired media mogul who helped create MTV and once ran the film and TV company Viacom, has brought them here, to a bleak neighborhood in a failed and lawless state, to meet a murderer.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Sun Myung Moon’s Lost Eco-Utopia
Monte Reel • Outside
In search of Sun Myung Moon’s “ideal city,” hidden somewhere deep in the Paraguayan Jungle.
More than a decade ago, Moon told some members of his church that he wanted them to lay the foundation for a new Garden of Eden in one of the least hospitable landscapes on the planet — northern Paraguay.
Moon was notorious for attention-grabbing gestures: conducting mass weddings in Madison Square Garden, taking out full-page ads in major American newspapers to support Richard Nixon during Watergate, spending 13 months in federal prison for tax fraud and conspiracy in the early ‘80s. But during the final years of his life, his Eden-building project kept chugging along well out of the public eye, germinating largely unseen in this remote wilderness of mud.
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
Our Right to Poison: Lessons from the Failed War on Drugs
Jochen-Martin Gutsch and Juan Moreno • Der Spiegel
Examining the global war on drugs and the case for legalization.
Rarely is regulated legalization seen as what experts and even presidents imagine it could be, namely, as a more effective tool in the fight against drugs. For them, it could be a tool that doesn’t just address consumers, but also destroys the supply chain that makes the cultivating, processing, smuggling and selling of drugs into a business worth billions. The goal is to disrupt a system: the economy of drugs.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Head of the Dragon: The Rise of New Shanghai
Daniel Brook • Design Observer
Shanghai, in 1989 and 2013. Excerpted from A History of Future Cities.
The massacre in Beijing is well known. Yet in hindsight, the relative order that prevailed in Shanghai during the unrest may have been even more important. It was Shanghai’s composure during the Tiananmen movement that finally won it the go-ahead to develop Pudong – and ultimately shift all of China to its model of economic openness and political deep freeze, when the ruthlessly efficient pair who ran Shanghai, Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji, were given the keys to the Middle Kingdom. Just as Bombay’s quiescence during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 convinced authorities in London to unleash its development and make the city a model for all of India, so Shanghai’s relative tranquility in 1989 convinced the rulers in Beijing to reopen the city as the archetypal Chinese metropolis.
China Photos/Getty Images
Vote M for Murder
James Verini • Foreign Policy
On politics and war in Kenya.
“The whole country became like here, like Mathare,” was the way a friend described it to me a few weeks ago, as Kenya nervously moved towards the election. He would know: he lives in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s biggest informal settlements — or, as it’s more commonly known, a slum — and a place run in large part by warlords and drug-dealers. Mathare is home to about 150,000 people, most of whom inhabit shanties made from eucalyptus branches and metal sheeting, or mud and wood slats. They live without plumbing or regular power, to say nothing of medical care or adequate schools, and in constant fear of crime, though crime is so constant in Mathare as to barely require the name. When it’s redressed at all, it’s redressed by criminals. Mathare is divided roughly into halves, one dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic group, Kenya’s largest, and a politically powerful Kikuyu gang network known as the Mungiki; the other by the Luo, and the Mungiki’s Luo-dominated rival gangs. As my friend and I walked through Mathare, I saw the desperation and fury in his neighbors’ eyes, the fetid open-air butcheries, and smelled the urine-soaked clothing of drunks, paralyzed by chang’aa, a lethal local moonshine, as they lay face down in the dirt, and it was only too obvious what he meant. “Basic,” he said. “Things got very basic during the last election.”
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images