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.
Ben Faccini • Aeon
On the lives of street kids.
One boy from Alexandria in Egypt described how he ran away from home when his new stepfather regularly chained him up in a cemetery overnight as a punishment. Another boy in Latvia described how he would occasionally visit his addict mother in a squat where she picked the fleas off herself and placed them in a see-through plastic bag. In Mexico, Jesús was sent to live with relatives, but got on the wrong bus aged 10 and ended up at the other end of the country, penniless and homeless. Girls in Senegal and Namibia, who had been employed as underage maids with wealthier families, told how they had been ruthlessly abused and worked to the bone before they’d run away to the streets.
Beyond the intricacies of life’s calamities, what emerged through these stories was how vital is a sense of personal narrative to feeling human, all the more so when that narrative is acknowledged by others. The street children who contributed to the ‘My Life Is a Story’ campaign found it hard to believe that anyone could be interested in their lives, their voices or their opinions. More often than not, street children have been stripped of any sense of themselves, of their own uniqueness and significance. Like the boy with the battered headphones in Mali, they cling to any object that might yet give them a modicum of dignity or meaning in the eyes of others.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The Relentless Charm of Nigel Farage
Edward Docx • Prospect
A profile of UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.
Close up, he smells of tobacco, offset with a liberal application of aftershave. He has dark, somewhat doleful eyes, a Marge Simpson mouth and he uses a slight nod of his head to emphasise his points. He deals with challenges from journalists and the public head-on, though calmly and maintaining direct eye contact. “Nobody has done more to damage the BNP than me.” “The three main parties are all the same on this-they don’t want you to have a say.” “We’ve made it absolutely clear that we are not against immigration, but we are for controlling immigration.” The hat he sometimes favours is a tool: it confuses people slightly, distances them, shades his eyes, gives him an extra second, confers even more likeableness when it turns out that he’s friendly after all. There is something of Harold Wilson’s pipe about it.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled
Paul Krugman • New York Review of Books
Tracing the rise and fall of austerity policy after 2008.
Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.
When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it-and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process. When Andrew Mellon told Herbert Hoover to let the Depression run its course, so as to “purge the rottenness” from the system, he was offering advice that, however bad it was as economics, resonated psychologically with many people (and still does).
By contrast, Keynesian economics rests fundamentally on the proposition that macroeconomics isn’t a morality play-that depressions are essentially a technical malfunction. As the Great Depression deepened, Keynes famously declared that “we have magneto trouble”-i.e., the economy’s troubles were like those of a car with a small but critical problem in its electrical system, and the job of the economist is to figure out how to repair that technical problem.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Welcome to the Real Space Age
Dan P. Lee • New York
The era of personal space travel finally arrives.
There are at least ten companies seriously engaged in commercial space transport. SpaceX, created by billionaire PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, has emerged as the early leader in the three-way race sponsored by the U.S. government to develop a long-term system to replace the shuttle, to handle NASA flights to Earth’s orbit. (Its competitors include two established aerospace companies, Boeing and Sierra Nevada.) Others, like XCOR and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are focusing on suborbital space, which is easier and less expensive to reach and, for the near future, more accommodating to tourists. One company, Space Adventures, already facilitates tourist flights-starting at $22 million-with the Russians to the International Space Station. Budget Suites founder Robert Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, is planning to build space stations of its own. Perhaps the most ambitious (and secretive) company is Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which is designing several vehicles, including a vertically launching and landing craft, meant to take people into orbital Earth and beyond.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Gitmo’s Fallen Czar
Michelle Shephard • Foreign Policy
Daniel Fried was the perfect man for the hardest job in Washington, but even he couldn’t close Guantánamo.
The last time I visited the czar in his office he was just a few weeks from packing up and moving on. He had a deputy, an assistant, and few other staff, but for a czar, his office was pretty modest, tucked away on the 6th floor of the State Department with a hard-to-spot sign outside his door that read: “Daniel Fried Specia
l Envoy for Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility.” His office was tidy; soft lighting and comfy couches for visitors, nothing indicating the messiness of his job.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images