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


Can General Linder’s Special Operations Forces Stop the Next Terrorist Threat? by Eliza Griswold, New York Times Magazine.

A look at Brig. Gen. James B. Linder and U.S. counterterrorism efforts across Africa. 

“Terrorists come and tell people, ‘You don’t even have a road, a well’; they give out 100 euros and tell people, ‘We are fighting for God,'” Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani, a senior military official from Niger, said later. “We have to fight back socially.”

Linder and his Green Berets know this well. In Niger, they have been working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to create “zones of resilience” in marginal places at risk of falling under militant sway. After the training exercise in Diffa, Linder attended a “goat grab” barbecue at the local officers’ club. As Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” played in the background, Linder white-boarded strategies with Earl Gast, the agency’s assistant administrator for Africa.


Can Anyone Stop the Man Who Will Try Just About Anything to Put an End to Climate Change? by Bruce Falconer, Pacific Standard.

George Russ is trying to geoengineer a cooler planet.

The notion of dramatic intervention in Earth’s climate has naturally generated its own fair share of anxiety. Because a change of climate in one location tends to have effects-for good or ill-in other parts of the world, skeptics view geoengineering with a wary eye to its unintended consequences. A 2013 study by the British government’s Meteorological Office, for example, found that volcanic eruptions in the northern hemisphere are strongly correlated with droughts in the Sahel region of Africa. Many scientists fear geoengineering would be no more equitable in allocating gains and losses.

George’s contribution to the debate over geoengineering (a term he considers to be unfairly maligned) has focused on the potential of what he and others call “iron fertilization.” It involves seeding the ocean with iron dust in order to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, the first link in the oceanic food chain. The principle is simple: Phytoplankton absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, and as the creatures that feed on it defecate and die, organic matter slowly descends to the ocean floor, carrying with it millions of tons of carbon.


Train for the Forgotten, by Joshua Yaffa, National Geographic.

A ride through Siberia on the Baikal-Amur Mainline’s hospital train.

Just about the only employment along the Baikal-Amur Mainline is with the railways agency, which maintains the tracks for those living on the BAM, who have no other means of getting around. It’s a closed system, and in this way and others, life feels much as it did in the waning years of the Soviet Union.

Moscow’s furious, oil-fueled construction boom means nothing here. No new shopping centers or apartment towers or movie theaters have appeared over the past 20 years. But while the benefits promised by free-market capitalism have not arrived, many of the privileges offered by the Soviet system, like subsidized vacations to the Black Sea, have disappeared. As Zdanovich says, using a common Russian expression, “Now we’re not needed for horseradish by anybody.”


Foreign Interns Pay the Price for Japan’s Labor Shortage, by Alexandra Harney and Antoni Slodkowski, Reuters.

Inside Japan’s foreign internship programs—and their abuses. 

At the factory, Lu, Qian and Jiang’s overtime stretched to more than 100 hours a month, the lawsuit says. A timesheet prepared with data supplied by Kameda to the Japanese labor standards bureau shows Lu logged an average of 208 hours a month doing overtime and “homework” during her second year in Japan. That is equivalent to almost 16 hours a day, six days a week. Japanese labor policy considers 80 hours of overtime a month the “death by overwork” threshold.

For this, Lu earned about 400 yen, about $4, an hour at Kameda, the timesheet shows. The local minimum wage at the time was 691 yen an hour, and Japanese law requires a premium of as much as 50 percent of the base wage for overtime.


The Corleones of the Caspian, by Michael Weiss, Foreign Policy.

How Azerbaijan’s dictator woos the United States and Europe.

Ilham Aliyev first attained power in 2003 when he succeeded his father, Heydar, the Soviet-era satrap of Moscow who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1969, making the elder Aliyev both a Soviet and post-Soviet dictator. His son now presides over one of the world’s longest-running dynastic dictatorships and is paterfamilias of a family that WikiLeaked U.S. Embassy cables variously refer to as a medieval feudal fiefdom or Sonny Corleone of The Godfather.

It’s also hopelessly corrupt, according to a number of published reports. Despite the president’s official salary of $228,000 per year, his children all own millions of dollars in property. As the Washington P
ost uncovered in 2010, when Heydar Aliyev (Ilham’s son, who was named for the boy’s grandfather) was just 11 years old, he bought $44 million in luxury mansions on the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago in Dubai. Heydar’s two sisters, Leyla and Arzu, both now in their 20s, also own extravagant digs in the United Arab Emirates, with the three children possessing a collective real estate portfolio worth $75 million.

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