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

Evaporated,” by James Harkin, Vanity Fair

On the trail of two kidnapped journalists in Syria.

“So that’s why I came here to Syria,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “and it’s why I like being here now, right now, right in the middle of a brutal and still uncertain civil war. Every person in this country fighting for their freedom wakes up every day and goes to sleep every night with the knowledge that death could visit them at any moment. They accept that reality as the price of freedom…. They’re alive in a way that almost no Americans today even know how to be.”

In late July, Tice made it through to Damascus, where for two weeks he fell in with another hospitable group of rebels in the suburb of Darayya. But he couldn’t help worrying about the growing number of attacks on journalists, and worrying as well that his reports on human-rights abuses by the rebels, not just by the regime, might put him in harm’s way. “I don’t want to get murdered in Syria,” he’d written to Mahmoud. He was in Darayya for his 31st birthday, and he was characteristically gung-ho: “Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever.” That would be his final tweet. Two days later, on August 13, Tice apparently left for the Lebanese border and a much-needed vacation. With the exception of a single, deeply ambiguous video which popped up on the Internet six weeks later, nothing has been heard from him since.

Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers,” by Jesse Katz, Los Angeles Magazine

The shocking saga of Major League Baseball’s most controversial player

In a no-tell motel on Isla Mujeres, eight miles off the coast of Cancún, Yasiel Puig’s escape had come to a halt. Confined to a corner room at the end of a shabby horseshoe-shaped courtyard, he could only wait and hope, for his value to be appraised, his freedom to be bought. There was nothing personal about it, no loved one vowing to pay any price, only the calculus of a crude business. What was this gladiator-size man, with the Popeye forearms and the XXL chest, actually worth-to the people bankrolling his defection from Cuba, to the smugglers now holding him in Mexico, to the agents and scouts who would determine the U.S. market for his talents, to the baseball team that might ultimately write the check???For close to a year Puig had been trying to force an answer, to extract himself from Fidel Castro’s state-run sports machine, which paid him $17 a month, and sneak across the tropics to a mythical north, where even benchwarmers lived like kings. Two, three, four times, maybe more, he had risked everything and fled, only to be detained by the Cuban authorities or intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard-each failure making the next attempt more urgent. Finally, in June 2012, the 21-year-old outfielder left his home in Cienfuegos, on Cuba’s southern shore, and set off by car for the northern province of Matanzas, just 90 miles from Florida. He was traveling with three companions: a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood.

The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind The Secretive Lab’s Closed Doors,” Jon Gertner, Fast Company

Space elevators, teleportation, hoverboards, and driverless cars: The top-secret Google X innovation lab opens up about what it does–and how it thinks.

If there’s a master plan behind X, it’s that a frictional arrangement of ragtag intellects is the best hope for creating products that can solve the world’s most intractable issues. Yet Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself–an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions, in this case by taking incredible risks across a wide variety of technological domains, and by not hesitating to stray far from its parent company’s business. We don’t yet know if this will prove to be genius or folly. There’s actually no historical model, no ­precedent, for what these people are doing.

But in some ways that makes sense. Google finds itself at a juncture in history that has not come before, and may not come again. The company is almost unimaginably rich and stocked with talent; it is hitting its peak of influence at a moment when networks and computing power and artificial intelligence are coalescing in what many technologists describe as (to borrow the Valley’s most popular meme) “the second machine age.” In addition, it is trying hard to develop another huge core business to augment its massive search division. So why not do it through X? To Teller, this failure-loving lab has simply stepped into the breach. Small companies don’t feel they have the resources to take moonshots. Big companies think it’ll rattle shareholders. Government leaders believe there’s not enough money, or that Congress will characterize a misstep or failure as a scandal. These days, when it comes to Hail Mary innovation, “Everyone thinks it’s somebody’s else’s job,” Teller says.

Playing Putin’s Game,” Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

It’s time to start thinking strategically about how to deal with Vladimir Putin in a post-Crimea world.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean Gambit, now threatening to become a Donbas Gambit, it reminds us that the United States still has some unfinished business in Europe. Putin’s dramatic move into Crimea, and his subsequent sporting with Ukraine like a cat playing with a wounded mouse, is devastating to liberal aspirations about the kind of Europe, and world, we would like to live in. It affronts our moral and political sensibilities, and it raises the specter of a serious and unfavorable shift in the regional balance of power. But so far, Western leaders have signally failed to develop an effective response to this, to them, an utterly unexpected and shocking challenge.

The Siege of Sloviansk,” David Patrikarakos, Foreign Policy

Inside a brewing insurgency as Ukraine sends in the tanks to quell unrest in its chaotic East.

Barricades — mounds of tires and sandbags topped with barbed wire — stretched around the building, sealing it off from the surrounding streets. Access was only possible with the permission of an armed protester holding a huge riot shield, which was used as a makeshift “door” to allow people in and out. These makeshift walls in Sloviansk looked nothing like the barricades built in Donetsk and Luhansk, where the mounds of tires and sandbags had a haphazard feel about them — placed prominently in front of the occupied buildings but offering little in the way of any real protection.

The heavily-armed masked men who patrolled the Sloviansk streets, gripping automatic weapons and occasionally speaking into their hand-held radios, stood in stark contrast to the protesters in Donetsk and Luhansk, who wielded bats and metal bars. The degree of precision and economy of purpose among the protesters in Sloviansk — from the way these men walked to the way they gathered in groups at strategic points around the city, clearly taking orders from the senior members among them — suggested with near certainty that if they were not soldiers, they had at least had military training. They were reluctant to speak or have their photo taken — grunting at journalists and outsiders to go away.

The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of being behind this takeover, a charge Russian President Vladimir Putin denies. Reports are that many of these men are Russians, mysterious “Cossacks” who had arrived from elsewhere — just like those who appeared in Crimea during Russia’s seizure of the peninsula in February. Some of the armed men inside the barricades were clearly carrying specialized Russian weapons and had identical uniforms without insignia, again, similar to those Russian troops wore in Crimea. The palpable degree of coordination behind events here suggested that this suspicion may well be correct.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images; Christian Petersen/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; David Goldman – Pool/Getty Images; GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images