Longform’s Picks of the Week

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Boris Berezovsky, 1946-2013
Keith Gessen • n+1

The life and legacy of the world’s first oligarch.

He may not have been the best of this generation, morally speaking, but he may well have been one of the brightest (for a Jew of that generation to have made it as far as he did in Soviet academia was a tremendous accomplishment), and in certain important ways he believed what they believed: that capitalism was virtuous; that because capitalism was virtuous, those who succeeded at capitalism were the elect, and those who failed at it were the damned; that, politically speaking, all that was required for the liberation of the Russian people, after three hundred years of oppression, was to open the windows and let the free market in. What all this led to, in fact, was the enrichment of a very few and the immiseration of the populace, the reduction of life expectancy for Russian males by nearly a decade, and, as of last year, nearly a million suicides. And now it seems possible that Berezovsky is one more.

Cate Gillon/Getty Images

Of Mammoths and Men
Brook Larmer • National Geographic

In Siberia, the lucrative trade of mammoth tusk ivory has turned many residents into hunters of the ancient creatures.

Nobody, not even Gorokhov, imagined that mammoth tusks would become an economic lifeline for a region that had been largely abandoned after the shuttering of Soviet-era mines and factories. (The population of Yakutiya’s Ust-Yanskiy District, which covers a swath of tundra three times the size of Switzerland, has dropped from 80,000 to just 8,000 in the past five decades.) Now hundreds, if not thousands, of Yakutiyan men have become tusk hunters, following their ancestors’ routes, enduring the same brutal conditions-and chasing the same Paleolithic beasts.

As primitive as it may seem, the tusk rush is driven not by ancient callings but by powerful modern forces: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing frenzy of frontier capitalism, the international ban on trading elephant ivory and the search for alternatives, even the advent of global warming.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The Dwarves of Auschwitz
Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev • The Guardian

How the Ovitzs, a family of Jewish dwarves from Transylvania, survived Auschwitz.

On the night the Ovitzs arrived, Mengele was asleep in his room at the nearby SS headquarters. All the troopers on duty at the ramp, however, knew well of his passion, of his collector’s mentality. To gain favour with the freak-hunter, they were always on the lookout for new specimens to enrich his “human circus”. While a lone dwarf did not provide reason enough to knock on Mengele’s door in the middle of the night, seven dwarves, along with their tall siblings, seemed good cause for disturbance.

While the SS were brutal towards the newly arrived, they were cheerful with the dwarves. Realising this, two families from the Ovitzs’ village approached and told the officer they were related. The Ovitzs kept silent and did not prove them wrong. Now they were 22. Mengele hurried out to see his new acquisitions. He was delighted: “I now have work for 20 years,” he exclaimed.


Welcome to Cocainebougou
Yochi Dreazen • Foreign Policy

Mali’s drug trade illustrates why fully defeating the north-ruling Islamists seems almost impossible.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that more than $1.25 billion of cocaine, hashish, and other drugs bound for Europe travel along smuggling routes which pass through Mali and other West African nations each year, and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo described northern Mali earlier this year as “a den of drug trafficking, extremism, and criminality.” Even a tiny sliver of the drug money which pours through the region each year would be more than enough for a local kingpin to build a nice house in Cocainebougou.

And there are many here. But now, mostly, they sit empty. The Arabs who owned and lived in many of the mansions in Gao fled a few months ago, when French forces ousted the Islamist fighters who had controlled the city, fearing reprisals from locals who saw them as de facto allies of the extremists.

During a recent visit to the neighborhood I asked my translator, a sweet-natured soccer fanatic named Ibrahim, what would have happened to the Arabs if they had stayed.

“They’d have been killed, of course,” he said matter-of-factly.


Afghanistan After the War
Ahmed Rashid • The New Republic

An argument for making peace possible in a country that has been at war for over 34 years.

The debate in Washington about troop numbers is misplaced. It has nothing to do with the major issues facing Afghanistan, which require a transition to a peace plan rather than an exit. The first part of such a plan is the urgent need for talks for a negotiated cease-fire between the Taliban, the United States, and the Afghan government, so that NATO troops can exit with dignity and the horrendous levels of violence can be reduced. Afghanistan cannot be stabilized by fighting to the very last day. And this first negotiation needs to be followed by further talks between the Taliban and Kabul over a political power-sharing arrangement that will enlarge the space for the cease-fire, integrate the Taliban into state structures, and produce an ultimate political agreement to end the conflict.

Aref Karimi/AFP/GettyImages

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