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.
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.
Exodus, by Ross Anderson, Aeon.
Elon Musk argues that we must put a million people on Mars if we are to ensure that humanity has a future.
Musk told me he often thinks about the mysterious absence of intelligent life in the observable Universe. Humans have yet to undertake an exhaustive, or even vigorous, search for extraterrestrial intelligence, of course. But we have gone a great deal further than a casual glance skyward. For more than 50 years, we have trained radio telescopes on nearby stars, hoping to detect an electromagnetic signal, a beacon beamed across the abyss. We have searched for sentry probes in our solar system, and we have examined local stars for evidence of alien engineering. Soon, we will begin looking for synthetic pollutants in the atmospheres of distant planets, and asteroid belts with missing metals, which might suggest mining activity.
The failure of these searches is mysterious, because human intelligence should not be special. Ever since the age of Copernicus, we have been told that we occupy a uniform Universe, a weblike structure stretching for tens of billions of light years, its every strand studded with starry discs, rich with planets and moons made from the same material as us. If nature obeys identical laws everywhere, then surely these vast reaches contain many cauldrons where energy is stirred into water and rock, until the three mix magically into life. And surely some of these places nurture those first fragile cells, until they evolve into intelligent creatures that band together to form civilisations, with the foresight and staying power to build starships.
Sirte and Misrata, Libya’s Last Battle, by Clare Morgana Gillis, American Scholar.
A journalist remembers her days in Libya with James Foley.
He was always the most dedicated of our number, and, for that reason, it seemed especially just that he was generally the happiest and most lighthearted as well. He, the Spanish photojournalist Manu Brabo, and I had been captured by soldiers loyal to the Qaddafi regime on the day that Anton was killed: April 5, 2011. From the beginning of our captivity in Tripoli, Jim worked to get us out, asking to speak to the director, taking notes once he had a pen, even hatching plots to escape. When we were released after a month and a half, he set his sights on helping raise money for Anton’s children, and eventually also to looking for Anton’s remains. It was not surprising that he decided to return quickly.
China Strikes Back!, by Orville Schell, New York Review of Books.
“Will the Western democracies ever be able to accept China as it is, the better to deal with the host of new global problems that menace us all, like climate change, pandemics, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation?”
When Carter arrived back in Beijing this September to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of “normalized relations,” his first stop was the People’s University. I imagined this as another opportunity not only to celebrate Carter’s role in US–China relations, but also for him to express his own views on events since then and meet with students. Instead, we found ourselves thrust into the middle of a forum on global finance run by the university, one more of the endless business conferences now proliferating in China, because the subject is safe. Only after forgettable addresses by the university president and a former UN trade and investment specialist from Argentina was Carter able to present a short talk, followed by a single question addressed directly to him.
A Hospital From Hell, in a City Swamped by Ebola, by Adam Nossiter, New York Times.
In Sierra Leone, medical staff are doing the best they can to combat Ebola. But the sick are mainly dying scared and alone.
Bombali, the district that includes this city, went from one confirmed case on Aug. 15 to more than 190 this weekend, with dozens more suspected. In a sign of how quickly the disease has spread, at least six dozen new cases have been confirmed in the district in the past few days alone, health officials said. The government put this district, 120 miles northeast of the capital, Freetown, under quarantine late last week, making official what was already established on the ground. Ebola patients are dying under trees at holding centers or in foul-smelling hospital wards surrounded by pools of infectious waste, cared for as best they can by lightly trained and minimally protected nurses, some wearing merely bluejeans.
The Case Against Qatar, by Elizabeth Dickinson, Foreign Policy.
The tiny, gas-rich emirate has pumped tens of millions of dollars through obscure funding networks to hard-line Syrian rebels and extremist Salafists, building a foreign policy that punches above its weight. After years of acquiescing — even taking advantage of its ally’s meddling — Washington may finally be punching back.
On the world stage, Qatar sees its role as no less grandiose. Beneath the high-chandeliered ceilings of Doha’s five-star hotel lobbies, eager delegations from around the world make their case for support. Governments, political parties, companies, and rebel groups scurry in and out nervously, and then wait over hot tea to have their proposals considered by the relevant Qatari authorities. Which hotel the visitors stay in indicates their prospects for support. The Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton are old favorites; Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has stayed at the former, the Syrian opposition at the latter. The W Hotel is a posh newcomer, mostly housing eager European delegations seeking investment or natural gas. The Sheraton — one of Doha’s first hotels — is by now passé; that’s where top Darfuri rebels stayed during negotiations with the Sudanese government. Everyone wants into the network, because as one Syrian in Doha put it, “Qatar has money and Qatar can connect money.”
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.