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 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 app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
The Sea of Crises, by Brian Phillips, Grantland
A sumo wrestling tournament. A failed coup ending in seppuku. A search for a forgotten man. How one writer’s trip to Japan became a journey through oblivion.
In January I flew to Tokyo to spend two weeks watching sumo wrestling. Tokyo, the city where my parents were married — I remember gazing up at their Japanese wedding certificate on the wall and wondering what it meant. Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, the biggest city in the history of the world, a galaxy reflected in its own glass. It was a fishing village barely 400 years ago, and now: 35 million people, a human concourse so vast it can’t be said to end, only to fade indeterminately around the edges. Thirty-five million, almost the population of California. Smells mauling you from doorways: stale beer, steaming broth, charbroiled eel. Intersections where a thousand people cross each time the light changes, under J-pop videos 10 stories tall. Flocks of schoolgirls in blue blazers and plaid skirts. Boys with frosted tips and oversize headphones, camouflage jackets and cashmere scarves. Herds of black-suited businessmen. A city so dense the 24-hour manga cafés will rent you a pod to sleep in for the night, so post-human there are brothels where the prostitutes are dolls.
The Myth of Chinese Super Schools, by Diane Ravitch, New York Review of Books
What the Chinese education system can teach America about relying on test scores as the main metric of success.
Zhao says that China’s remarkable economic growth over the past three decades was due not to its education system, which still relies heavily on testing and rote memorization, but to its willingness to open its markets to foreign capital, to welcome Western technology, and to send students to Western institutions of higher education. The more that China retreats from central planning, the more its economy thrives. To maintain economic growth, he insists, China needs technological innovation, which it will never develop unless it abandons its test-based education system, now controlled by gaokao, the all-important college entrance exams. Yet this test-based education system is responsible for the high performance of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and East Asian nations on the international tests.
Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram, by Alexis Okeowo, New York Times Magazine
On Nigeria’s citizen vigilantes who’ve banded together to fight Islamist terrorists.
From the time Kalli wakes up, around 4:30 in the morning, until he goes to bed, sometimes as late as 2:30 a.m., he receives calls alerting him to Boko Haram sightings, impending or developing attacks and recent abductions and killings. When he hears of a village under siege, he rounds up as many of his boys as he can and heads out to the fight — without protective gear and at times without proper weapons. “Sometimes your gun won’t even work,” he lamented. It was a miracle that only 15 of his men had been killed so far. “God is with us,” he said. When he began this work, his children, whom he calls “my soldiers,” and his wives urged him to reconsider. “I don’t have enough time to get rest or sleep,” he said. “I am always engaged.” Kalli, a Muslim, says he is ready to die for his religion and his country. “These insurgents came to destroy the image of Islam,” he told me.
The Hidden Author of Putinism, by Peter Pomerantsev, the Atlantic
How Vladislav Surkov invented the new Russia.
Surkov has directed Russian society like one great reality show. He claps once and a new political party appears. He claps again and creates Nashi, the Russian equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who are trained for street battles with potential pro-democracy supporters and burn books by unpatriotic writers on Red Square. As deputy head of the administration he would meet once a week with the heads of the television channels in his Kremlin office, instructing them on whom to attack and whom to defend, who is allowed on TV and who is banned, how the president is to be presented, and the very language and categories the country thinks and feels in.
Breaking Badr, by Susannah George, Foreign Policy
Meet Hadi al-Amiri, the unabashedly pro-Iranian leader of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia. His bloodthirsty fighters might be Baghdad’s best hope of stopping the Islamic State.
As the Iraqi military threatened to crumble this summer, Amiri quickly made his Shiite militia indispensable. Following the fall of Mosul, he took his men to the front north of Baghdad, in Diyala province, quickly racking up a series of victories against the Islamic State. The prime minister at the time, Nouri al-Maliki, was impressed: He not only continued to funnel support and military supplies to the Badr Organization, but also placed all Iraqi military and security forces in the province under Amiri’s command.
While the appointment of the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, was supposed to pave the way for a more inclusive Iraqi government, Amiri’s influence has only grown under Iraq’s new leader. The Badr Organization commander is keenly aware that the new leader is still in dire need of the forces he offers. “I told Abadi: if you want us to give you all our weapons and we sit at home, we don’t mind,” he said jokingly. “But then if [the Islamic State] takes Baghdad, this is not our problem.” The clutch of assistants seated in his garden laughed.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.