Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

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Live on TV: The Fall of Greece
Chris Heath • GQ

On the clip that captured a society falling apart.

Then, far to the moderator’s left, an animated blonde woman says something that clearly riles a short-haired young man on the opposite end. This lurch — from heated debate to something much crazier — happens in a flash. The short-haired man picks up his glass of water and, rising to his feet, throws its contents in the blonde woman’s face. It’s a direct hit. She seems to freeze, but after that it’s all so fast, so frantic. A dark-haired older woman, sitting between the water-thrower and the moderator, gets up from her chair and jabs the aggressor with her newspaper. The short-haired man lunges toward her, then swings violently at her. A right, a left, a right. Each time, he connects. You can’t believe how fast he moves, how hard he hits. Then the screen goes blank. The clip is from a popular Greek morning TV show that was broadcast live on June 7, 2012, ten days before Greece’s second election of the year amid the ongoing economic turmoil. The three key participants are all members of the Greek Parliament.


Welcome to the Hotel of Doom
Simon Parry • Daily Mail

A visit to the hotel North Korea starved to build, still unfinished after breaking ground in 1987.

This is the behemoth I have come to see — a colossal monument to the insanity of North Korea. The 1,082ft-high Ryugyong Hotel is due to open next summer, an astonishing 24 years behind schedule. I was determined to be the first foreign visitor to set foot inside. Work actually began in 1987 under the regime of Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, and was meant to open two years later as a calculated snub to neighbouring South Korea. As Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympics, North Korea would open what would then have been the world’s tallest hotel. The structure of the mighty pyramid was quickly completed, but work came to a shuddering halt in 1992 after the collapse of Pyongyang’s benefactor, the Soviet Union. It was an economic disaster for North Korea and provoked a devastating famine that killed up to 3.5 million people.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

General Principles
Dexter Filkins • The New Yorker

How good was David Petraeus?

In recent years, the most esteemed officer in America — the very model of the modern general — was David Petraeus, whose public image combined the theorizing of the new school with a patina of old-fashioned toughness and rectitude. Before a sex scandal forced him to step down as the director of the C.I.A., a few weeks ago, he was widely regarded by politicians and journalists as a brilliant thinker and leader, the man who saved America in Iraq and might work a similar miracle in Afghanistan. Roger Ailes suggested, perhaps less than half in jest, that Petraeus run for President. Now many of the same people are calling into question not just his ethics but his basic ideas and achievements. History often forgives military leaders for small scandals, if they are successful enough. Eisenhower’s long-alleged affair with Kay Summersby has not much tarnished his reputation as an officer; even Hood, whose late campaigns were disastrous, is remembered as a paragon of bravery, if not of good planning. Will Petraeus be thought of, in time, as a hero guilty of no more than a distracting foible? Or as the general most responsible for two disastrous wars?


The Land of Topless Minarets and Headless Little Girls
Amal Hanano • Foreign Policy

An elegy for Aleppo.

Watching death has become a pastime of the revolution. There is much to learn from it. Death is sudden; it is shorter than a short YouTube clip. Death is a man wrapped in his shroud, bloodied gauze strips tied around his head, cotton stuffed in his nostrils, and the bluish-gray tinge of his skin. Death is the camera panning over mass graves where children’s bodies are arranged in long, perfect lines, then covered with rust-colored dirt. The death of Syrians accumulated so fast it seems impossible to comprehend over 40,000 lives lost in less than two years. But the death of a city is different. It is slow — each neighborhood’s death is documented bomb by bomb, shell by shell, stone by fallen stone. Witnessing the deaths of your cities is unbearable. Unlike the news of dead people — which arrives too late, always after the fact — the death of a city seems as if it can be halted, that the city can be saved from the clutches of destruction. But it is an illusion: The once-vibrant cities cannot be saved, so you watch, helpless, as they become ruins.


Understanding Mohamed Morsi
Joshua Hammer • The New Republic

On the origin and motivations of the most powerful man in the Middle East.

Sometimes, Morsi can seem like the inspiring guardian of Egyptian democracy — such as when he courageously dismissed the military junta that had claimed the right to rule post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. At other times, he can seem like a mouthpiece for the deeply conservative Muslim Brotherhood — declaring women unfit for high office and advocating for an international law to ban religious insults. (And sometimes he simply seems awkward, such as when he sat down for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard in September at the United Nations and proceeded, for several excruciating seconds, to publicly adjust his genitals.) So far, the only certainty about Morsi is that his ultimate intentions remain unknown.


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