Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images; Adam Berry/Getty Images; Mark Peters/ECCC via Getty Images; Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images; FBI via Getty Images
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images; Adam Berry/Getty Images; Mark Peters/ECCC via Getty Images; Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images; FBI via Getty Images

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.


The Aftershocks, by David Wolman, Medium.

Seven of Italy’s top scientists were convicted of manslaughter following a catastrophic quake. Has the country criminalized science?

“But the people of L’Aquila were understandably concerned. Over the centuries, the city had been devastated by several major quakes: One in 1703 killed 10,000 people, and a magnitude 7.0 quake in 1915 killed 30,000. This history has given rise to a culture of caution. When the ground seems especially temperamental, many residents—like their parents and grandparents before them—grab blankets and cigarettes and head outside to mill about in a piazza or a nearby park. Others sleep in their cars. Better not to be in an ancient building that hasn’t been seismically reinforced.

As the swarm continued, anxieties were compounded by a local personality named Giampaolo Giuliani. Giuliani uses a homemade apparatus to try to predict imminent earthquakes. His proclamations—and the amplifying power of media interest in them—earned him a reputation in town. During church services at Santa Maria del Soccorso or over an orange soda at Bar Belvedere, he was often greeted not with Buongiorno but Tutto a posto? (Everything look okay?). One local news outlet referred to him as “the prophet of doom,” and every time the earth shook that winter it seemed to validate Giuliani’s incessant agitation. ”


The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion, by Emily Bazelon, New York Magazine.

In June 2001, under a cloud-streaked sky, Rebecca Gomperts set out from the Dutch port of Scheveningen in a rented 110-foot ship bound for Ireland.

“Ten women each gave Gomperts 10,000 Dutch guilders (about $5,500), part of the money needed to rent a boat and pay for a crew. But to comply with Dutch law, she also had to build a mobile abortion clinic. Tapping contacts she made a decade earlier, when she attended art school at night while studying medicine, she got in touch with Joep van Lieshout, a well-known Dutch artist, and persuaded him to design the clinic. They applied for funds from the national arts council and built it together inside the shipping container. When the transport ministry threatened to revoke the ship’s authorization because of the container on deck, van Lieshout faxed them a certificate decreeing the clinic a functional work of art, titled “a-portable.” The ship was allowed to sail, and van Lieshout later showed a mock-up of the clinic at the Venice Biennale.

As the boat sailed toward Dublin, Gomperts and her shipmates readied their store of pills and fielded calls from the press and emails from hundreds of Irish women seeking appointments. The onslaught of interest took them by surprise. So did a controversy that was starting to brew back home. Conservative politicians in the Netherlands denounced Gomperts for potentially breaking a law that required a special license for any doctor to provide an abortion after six and a half weeks of pregnancy. Gomperts had applied for it a few months earlier and received no reply. She set sail anyway, planning to perform abortions only up to six and a half weeks if the license did not come through.”


Acting French, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic.

It’s hard to learn a new language. But it’s way harder to learn a new culture.

“They had something over me, and that something was a culture, which is to say a suite of practices so ingrained as to be ritualistic. The scholastic achievers knew how to quickly memorize a poem in a language they did not understand. They knew that recopying a handout a few days before an exam helped them digest the information. They knew to bring a pencil, not a pen, to that exam. They knew that you could (with the professor’s permission) record lectures and take pictures of the blackboard.

This culture of scholastic achievement had not been acquired yesterday. The same set of practices had allowed my classmates to succeed in high school, and had likely been reinforced by other scholastic achievers around them. I am sure many of them had parents who were scholastic high-achievers. This is how social capital reinforces itself and compounds. It is not merely one high achieving child, but a flock of high achieving children, each backed by high-achieving parents. I once talked to a woman who spoke German, English and French and had done so since she was a child. How did this happen, I asked? “Everyone in my world spoke multiple languages,” she explained. “It was just what you did.”


Intelligence Gap: How a Chinese National Gained Access to Arizona’s Terror Center, by Ryan Gabrielson and Andrew Becker, ProPublica.

The un-vetted computer engineer plugged into law enforcement networks and a database of 5 million Arizona drivers in a possible breach that was kept secret for years.

After the 9/11 hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, law enforcement officials decided that local police and federal intelligence agencies should improve how they shared information. The hope was that greater coordination among various levels of law enforcement would increase the chance that future attacks could be avoided.

In Arizona, Norman Beasley, a top executive at the Department of Public Safety, and his friend, Ray Churay, an FBI agent working anti-terror cases, came up with the concept of a physical space where all manner of law enforcement agencies could work side by side. The U.S. intelligence community was initially skeptical that local police had much to offer.


Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman, by Shane Harris, Foreign Policy.

The Taliban wanted to trade Bergdahl for her. The Islamic State offered to swap Foley. Why does every jihadi group want the U.S. to free Aafia Siddiqui?

Siddiqui is something of a cause célèbre in Pakistan, where her 2010 U.S. conviction sparked numerous protests. “The reaction to the Siddiqui verdict was front-page news in all the major newspapers,” according to a U.S. State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. “A number of press articles condemned the U.S. and blamed the verdict on anti-Muslim bias,” the cable read, noting that Siddiqui’s conviction also “resurrected familiar allegations” that she’d been kidnapped by Pakistani intelligence agencies and the FBI, illegally detained in Afghanistan, and “physically and mentally abused by American soldiers.”

Some Pakistanis also protested their own government “for failing to do more to secure the return of Siddiqui and for its allegedly muted response to the verdict,” the cable read. Her conviction bolstered ongoing internal criticism that the Pakistani government is too close to the United States, which has for years launched drone strikes on Pakistani soil with the consent of the country’s leaders.

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