Feature

Last-Minute Gifts for Wonks: 2015 Edition

Holiday shopping suggestions for the discerning international politics connoisseur.

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Having trouble finding the right Christmas present for an international news nerd? We’ve got your back. Here are some gifts from around the world, fit for even the most insatiable global affairs glutton.

No. 1: Putin on the Ritz

Russian President Vladimir Putin went “from pariah to powerbroker” over the course of 2015, Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall recently wrote. The international community, which was highly critical of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, has accepted and even welcomed (however reluctantly) Russian combat operations in Syria.

Will your friend, loved one, or lucky relation welcome into his or her home a premium speaker fashioned inside a bust of Putin? There’s only one way to find out.

The limited-offer, 20-watt Putin sound system from Sound of Power comes embedded in a Putin sculpture’s skull, sliced open at a jaunty angle to emit sound. Perfect for listening to “I Can’t Breathe” — Pussy Riot’s first single in English. Also available: Margaret Thatcher and Kim Jong Un editions. The 1,111-euro price tag ($1,215) might seem steep, but it’s not much to drop for a likeness of Maggie, Kim Sunshine, or St. Vladimir. After all, “Vladimir Putin has never sounded this good,” according to the bust’s creators.

No. 2: Divine felines and the priests who love them

It’s not a stretch to say that the Russian Orthodox Church is known for its conservative values, rather than its franchise of comedic commodities. That’s why this holiday season, many Russians might be pleasantly surprised by the release of a 2016 calendar featuring photos of priests with voluminous beards — each holding an adorable cat. The black-and-white wall calendar is an ideal gift for the Russophile ailurophiles in your life.

And no need to fear for your soul: Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society, told Russian news site rusnovosti.ru that the calendar is “no great sin.”

No. 3: Book bundles

Amid our extravagant suggestions, a more practical option: Pick up a copy of Realpolitik: A History, by John Bew, a reader in history and foreign policy at King’s College London. Published on Dec. 1, the book dives into the history of “one of those words borrowed from another language that is much used but little understood.” Bew “offers the reader a lens through which to view many of the most acute problems currently confronting policymakers in the West,” Douglas Alexander wrote in a review in the New Statesman. The 408-page beach read traces the history of our favorite strategic concept, unveiling surprises along the way.

Another option: Give the gift of insight into the Islamic State. The Islamic State operates as a state, and it won’t be dispersed easily. This year, the self-proclaimed caliphate dominated the news at it solidified its hold over areas of Iraq and Syria and unleashed terrorist attacks abroad. Here are some titles anyone seeking to understand the organization should own: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, by Joby Warrick; The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State, by William McCants; ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan; and ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

No. 4: FP Global Thinkers: The Documentary Collection 

The desert-blues band Songhoy Blues formed in Bamako, Mali, after its members fled Timbuktu to avoid civil war and a form of sharia law imposed by an Islamist militant group. The law banned music outright. The group’s first album, Music in Exile, out this year, provides an exuberant window into the irrepressible soul of Mali’s north. The band is the subject of They Will Have to Kill Us First, a documentary film about Mali’s exiled musicians by Johanna Schwartz, who was recognized by Foreign Policy as a 2015 Global Thinker.

Cartel Land, filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s disturbing documentary about people trying to reclaim their lives amid drug-cartel violence in the Mexican state of Michoacán, provides a singular look at events in Mexico that few outsiders have witnessed, with footage filmed in meth labs and torture rooms and during a shootout. Heineman was also recognized as a Global Thinker. The DVD is currently available.

No. 5: Innocents Abroad

For a cool $7,000, airfare excluded, the New York Times is offering a 13-day trip to Iran. It even has a title: “Tales From Persia.” The trip crisscrosses the country — advertised as “the once-forbidden land of Iran” — with stops in the Kurdish northwest, the 7,000-foot Asadabad pass in the far west, Shiraz in the south, and Yazd in central Iran. Evin prison, where Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is confined, is not on the itinerary.

If $7,000 is too steep a price, Russian agency Megapolis is offering five-day “Assad Tours” of Syria for the bargain price of just $1,500.

No. 6: Merkel matryoshkas

There’s no better way to honor your favorite politicians than to buy a Russian nesting-doll set emblazoned with their faces. Stack them inside each other at will. Or unpack them all and re-create your favorite summit.

No. 7: Clock best served cold

Whatever time it is, it’s never too late for a “Democracy Is the Best Revenge” Benazir Bhutto wall clock. The first woman to serve as prime minister of Pakistan, Bhutto held office from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. This month marks the eighth anniversary of her assassination.

No. 8: CRISPR 

Why leave gene editing to scientists like 2015 FP Global Thinker George Church, who is resurrecting the woolly mammoth, or Chinese gene-function researcher Junjiu Huang, who edited the genes of a nonviable human embryo? Give the gift of genetic manipulation: a DIY set that lets you use cutting-edge CRISPR genome-editing technology to cut and replace sections of the DNA of living organisms.

No. 9: Made in Palestine

The keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, has become popular worldwide as a symbol of the Palestinian liberation movement, and because it looks cool. But most of these scarves are made in China. At kufiya.org, buy one made in Palestine.

No. 10: Election-season Clinton scrunchie

When Hillary Clinton was first lady, she was known for her fashionable headbands. When secretary of state, it was the scrunchie. In a 2001 Yale University commencement address, she said, “Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will,” and once joked that her memoir should be titled: The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair.

Thankfully, this Christmas/caucus season brings a new way to follow her advice: scrunchies printed with Clinton’s face. According to the site, HillaryScrunchies.com, these hair ornaments are: “100% cotton, 100% feminist, 100% made in the USA.” If your recipient’s hair is too short for a scrunchie, never fear. The site offers a winning alternative: bandannas, perfect for people and dogs. And don’t think scrunchies are for women only. “If you have a man bun, this is for you,” site creator Meredith Fineman told Mashable.

No. 11: Subscription to Foreign Policy magazine

Enough said.

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. He worked previously in Indonesia as a web editor and Princeton in Asia journalism fellow at the Jakarta Globe. He has also lived in Brazil and Turkey. His work has been published in the Boston Globe, the New Republic, USA Today, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. He studied history at Wesleyan University. @bsoloway

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