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.

Jimmy Wales is Not an Internet Billionaire

Amy Chozick • New York Times Magazine

The long, strange trip of the Wikipedia founder.

Wales has a complicated time balancing his new life with his old one. That was evident one morning this winter as he bounded into the lobby of the West End building where he rented office space and hurriedly signed himself in at the front desk. Wales, his brown Tumi bag slung over his shoulder, was 45 minutes late, disheveled and a little frantic. He had left the keys to his and Garvey’s Marylebone apartment at his place outside Tampa; the nanny, here in London, was stranded with the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. “I forgot to drop off the key,” he said. Just when Wales thought he might have to run home, his assistant, who is based in Florida, texted that a building manager had let the nanny in. Global child-care crisis averted.

Wales wore a too-tight black turtleneck under a black overcoat with a well-shorn beard, a look that could either read Steve Jobs superhero or Tekserve flasher. Almost any time you see Wales, 46, he looks like a well-groomed version of a person who has been slumped over a computer drinking Yoo-hoo for hours. After he composed himself, he explained that his office was too embarrassingly unkempt for public consumption. (“It’s a room with a couch, it’s a huge mess.”) So he joined me on a cracked sofa in a common lounge area downstairs. With its ratty Oriental carpets and mismatched folding chairs, the space exuded a bohemian chic look that Wales, a savvy purveyor of his own image, seemed to delight in showing off. The building, a condemned former BBC space, had been slated for demolition. Wales would soon be moving. “I’m not the Google guys,” he said.


How Glenn Greenwald Became Glenn Greenwald

Jessica Testa • BuzzFeed

Teenage politician, a corporate lawyer, and a diehard civil libertarian: Glenn Greenwald before the NSA scandal.

Greenwald has been a careful observer of politics since his childhood in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, where he watched his grandfather serve as a city councilman. In high school, he joined the debate team, and during his senior year, at 17, he decided to run for city council.

“In high school I was always a little … I forged my own path,” he said.

But Greenwald learned – after two unsuccessful campaigns before the age of 25 – he wasn’t cut out for politics.

“My grandfather would try to represent poor homeowners against the powers that be in the city. He taught me that whatever skills you have should be devoted toward undermining the people who are the strongest and most powerful,” Greenwald said. “In politics, you need a desire and ability to please large numbers of people. That’s definitely not in my interests and not what I do well.”

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The Inside Story of Russia’s Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt

Colum Lynch • Foreign Policy

How Russia consistently undermines the U.N. in order to keep a multi-billion dollar monopoly on the sales of helicopters and airplanes.

Russia’s zeal for turning back reform has been felt most powerfully in the U.N.’s leasing of aircraft — a $1 billion a year market — that provide transport for the world’s second-largest expeditionary force. An examination of U.N. procurement practices in the air-transport sector — drawing on dozens of interviews with U.N.-based officials and diplomats, as well as a review of internal U.N. communications and audits — suggests that Russia has enjoyed unfair advantages, including contracts that all but demand that the United Nations lease Russia’s Soviet-era aircraft.

The dispute provides a textbook example of the difficulties of implementing basic financial reforms at the United Nations when major powers have conflicting commercial interests in the outcome. As such, the secretary general and key countries have been unwilling to openly confront Russia because its cooperation is required on a wide range of critical issues at the United Nations.


A Deadly Triangle

William Dalrymple • The Brookings Institute

On the India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan.

The phone call was from a girlfriend of Mitali’s who worked for Air India at Kabul airport. Breathless, she said she had just heard that two of the Indian guest houses, the Park and the Hamid, were under attack by militants. As the only woman on her team, Mitali had been staying in separate lodgings about two miles away from the rest of her colleagues, who were all in the Hamid. Within seconds, Mitali was pulling on her clothes, along with the hijab she was required to wear, and running, alone and unarmed, through the empty morning streets of Kabul toward the Hamid.

“I just thought they might need my help,” she told me recently in New Delhi.

As she dashed past the Indian Embassy, Mitali was recognized by one of the guards from diplomatic security who shouted to her to stop. The area around the guest houses was mayhem, he told her. She should not go on alone. She must return immediately to her lodgings and stay there.

“I don’t require your permission to rescue my colleagues,” Mitali shouted back, and kept on running.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Los Infiltradores

Michael May • The American Prospect

On the three undocumented activists who intentionally got arrested to help other detained immigrants.

In July 2012, Abdollahi, Saavedra, Martinez, and two other NIYA activists piled in a car and headed to Florida. They planned to infiltrate the Broward Transitional Center, a GEO detention facility near Fort Lauderdale that houses only low-priority cases. Broward appeared to embody the contradictory nature of immigration policy. In 2009, ICE had held up the facility as a model of a kinder, gentler immigration system. The argument went that, since immigration violations are not usually a jailable offense, then detention centers shouldn’t feel like jail-they should feel like a motel, except you can’t leave. In Broward, detainees have flat-screen TVs in their rooms and are free to roam the facility for most of the day. But why were they locked up in the first place? According to lawyers who work in Broward, most of the inmates at Broward shouldn’t be detained if ICE were following the guidelines laid out by Obama and Morton.

Broward is segregated by gender, so the plan was for Martinez to get herself detained and organize among the women at Broward, while Saavedra would be arrested and organize the men. Abdollahi would lead the campaign from outside Broward, publicizing the plights of the unjustly detained immigrants in the center.

There was an immediate hitch: It turned out that it wasn’t so easy to get arrested.

David McNew/Getty Images

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