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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
City in a Bottle, by Raghu Karnad. Caravan.
The story of booze and Bangalore.
Alcohol printed the city’s newspapers, produced its movies, put down hospitals and schools and sports teams — and ruled the men who ruled its people. It caused the worst medical emergencies, sweetened the long evenings and created the brands to which Bangaloreans feel truest loyalty. Yet Bangalore’s identity as a liquor city has always stayed in the realm of folklore.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
How Anonymous Picks Targets, Launches Attacks, and Takes Powerful Organizations Down, by Quinn Norton. Wired.
Inside the hacker ecosystem.
The possibility that Anonymous might be telling the truth — that it couldn’t be shut down by jailing or flipping or bribing key participants — was why it became such a terrifying force to powerful institutions worldwide, from governments to corporations to nonprofits. Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization. To hear the group and its defenders talk, the leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it a mystical, almost supernatural force, impossible not just to stop but to even comprehend. Anons were, they liked to claim, united as one and divided by zero — undefined and indefinable.
A Brief History of Money, by James Surowiecki. Spectrum.
The evolution of currency as “a complete abstraction.”
Kublai Khan was ahead of his time: He recognized that what matters about money is not what it looks like, or even what it’s backed by, but whether people believe in it enough to use it. Today, that concept is the foundation of all modern monetary systems, which are built on nothing more than governments’ support of and people’s faith in them. Money is, in other words, a complete abstraction — one that we are all intimately familiar with but whose growing complexity defies our comprehension.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
After America, by Dexter Filkins. The New Yorker.
Is Afghanistan about to descend into civil war?
Nasir celebrated the American invasion in 2001, and, in the decade that followed, he prospered, and fathered six children. But now, with the United States planning its withdrawal by the end of 2014, Nasir blames the Americans for a string of catastrophic errors. “The Americans have failed to build a single sustainable institution here,” he said. “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”
These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish-all now political parties-are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah. “It’s a joke,” Nasir said. “I’ve worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!”
Requiem for a Russian Spy, by Milton Bearden. Foreign Policy.
A CIA veteran remembers his Soviet nemesis, Leonid Vladimirovich Shebarshin, who was the chairman of the KGB for a single day during the 1991 coup against Gorbachev, and committed suicide in Moscow in March.
On the second-to-last day of March, Leonid Vladimirovich Shebarshin, the former head of the KGB’s foreign intelligence arm and chairman of the KGB — for a single day in the turmoil of the August 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev — died in his central Moscow apartment, apparently taking his own life. According to Russian media accounts, the last entry in his diary found at the scene was: “March, 29 – 17.15, left eye failure. 19.00, went completely blind. Foreign Intelligence duty officer 4293593.” Beside his body was a service pistol presented to him upon his retirement from the KGB, and media reports said there was a suicide note. Shebarshin, my longtime adversary and, later, a helpful collaborator in chronicling the slice of history we shared, was 77.
His death marks the end of an era, the passing of one of the most thoughtful, cultured, and effective leaders of the redoubtable Cold War KGB. He was a master spy, a central figure in the tumultuous half-century contest between the CIA and the KGB, and a true believer in the Soviet dream until the very end. He never wavered; he never apologized.
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