Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Gali Tibbon/AFP Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Sports Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Mohamed Mahjoub/AFP/Getty Images
Gali Tibbon/AFP Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Sports Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Mohamed Mahjoub/AFP/Getty Images
Gali Tibbon/AFP Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Sports Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Mohamed Mahjoub/AFP/Getty Images

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.

 

The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi Driver Test, Puts Up A Fight in the Age of GPS, by Jody Rosen, T, the New York Times’ style magazine.

The examination to become a London cabby is possibly the most difficult test in the world — demanding years of study to memorize the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and any business or landmark on them. As GPS and Uber imperil this tradition, is there an argument for learning as an end in itself?

The origins of the Knowledge are unclear — lost in the murk of Victorian municipal history. Some trace the test’s creation to the Great Exhibition of 1851, when London’s Crystal Palace played host to hundreds of thousands of visitors. These tourists, the story goes, inundated the city with complaints about the ineptitude of its cabmen, prompting authorities to institute a more demanding licensing process. The tale may be apocryphal, but it is certain that the Knowledge was in place by 1884: City records for that year contain a reference to 1,931 applicants for the “examination as to the ‘knowledge’ [of]…principal streets and squares and public buildings.

In 2014, in any case, the Knowledge is steeped in regimens and rituals that have been around as long as anyone can remember. Taxi-driver candidates — known as Knowledge boys and, increasingly today, Knowledge girls — are issued a copy of the so-called “Blue Book.” This guidebook contains a list of 320 “runs,” trips from Point A to Point B: Manor House Station to Gibson Square, Jubilee Gardens to Royal London Hospital, Dryburgh Road to Vicarage Crescent, etc. The candidate embarks on the Knowledge by making these runs — that is, by physically going to Manor House Station and finding the shortest route that can be legally driven to Gibson Square, and then doing the same thing 319 more times, for the other Blue Book runs.

 

The Invisible Stars Who Make Hollywood French, by Mac McClelland, Matter.

The artists of France’s voiceover industry are well-paid and highly secretive. Now…if they can only survive le deluge of Netflix.

The scene plays again, without sound, and the actor recites the translated script. The director gives notes. They go back and do it again. The French-language script rolling along the bottom comes courtesy of custom-built, proprietary software that displays, as well as the words, symbols that denote the perfect timing of voice-related actions in the movie. There’s a symbol to audibly inhale. A symbol to exhale. A symbol for kissing noises, which the actors must make with their mouths on their hands.

They record, then play back what they’ve just done. Once in French. Once again with the French and English laid over each other. Perhaps a couple more times each way, as needed by the director to watch and listen for necessary adjustments.

 

The Truth About Anonymous’ Activism, by Adrian Chen, the Nation.

A look behind the mask reveals a naïve techno-utopianism.

Internet activism is at its most effective as an extension of real-world solidarity. In Brooklyn, the tiny watchdog group El Grito de Sunset Park has called attention to NYPD abuse by recording cops and releasing videos of their brutality on the Internet. The videos offer stark proof of police misconduct, brought to light by a network of committed activists who follow up the attention-getting releases with actual organizing in the community. Even after the attention has faded, El Grito will remain a resource for resistance, unlike Anonymous, whose interest in an issue dies with the limelight.

When something questionable happens during an Anonymous campaign, lulz comes to the rescue, recasting incompetence and callousness as a whimsical flight of fancy. When Anonymous leaks the personal information of thousands of BART passengers during an operation, this is “dicey although admittedly lulzy.” When an Anonymous cabal hacks a security firm, it leaks newsworthy documents only after failing to use them to blackmail the firm into firing an employee that had been investigating Anonymous. These Anons clearly value vengeance over exposing corporate wrongdoing, but Coleman sees the leak as a “welcome public good provided by the insatiable, boundless curiosity of hacking.” It is no surprise that the members of Anonymous act with the arrogant recklessness of people who believe they can do no wrong; it drips from their every insufferable video manifesto (whose comic-book-villain prose Coleman chalks up, inevitably, to lulz) and leads directly to debacles like Ferguson.

 

The One-State Reality, by David Remnick, the New Yorker.

Israel’s conservative President speaks up for civility, and pay a price.

During the Gaza war this summer, as the death toll reached twenty-one hundred Palestinians and seventy-one Israelis, and leaders around the world expressed indignation at the scale of the Israeli response to the Gaza rockets, nearly all the rallies in the country were pro-war, shows of national solidarity with the families of the Israeli dead, with the Israel Defense Forces. Some rising young ideologues in the Likud assailed Netanyahu as indecisive, weak, unwilling to “go all the way.”

Expressing doubts about the proportionality of response, even documenting the human consequences of that response, was, in this charged atmosphere, taken as deeply suspect. The images of carnage and destruction in Gaza that were so common around the world were rare on Israeli television or in mainstream dailies like Yedioth Ahronoth, where the emphasis was on rockets, tunnels, and honoring the I.D.F. When Yonit Levi, the lead anchor of the Channel 2 evening news, delivered straightforward reports about deaths and casualties in Gaza, she was rewarded with a Facebook page on which thousands of people demanded that she be removed from the airwaves, and text messages that were so threatening the police had to get involved.

 

The Only Sultan I’ve Ever Known, by Vivian Nereim, Foreign Policy.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the man who build modern, moderate Oman, may be on his deathbed. Omanis hope for the best and fear what could come next.

Qaboos has ruled completely since he took power. He is prime minister, defense minister, and finance minister. While an elected parliament can approve and block legislation, “the whole system hinges on one person,” Mukhaini said.

But the sultan, who has no children or brothers, never named a successor. Some Omanis fear that after he dies, royal infighting could destabilize the country. Others worry that old ethnic and tribal conflicts could resurface in the southern region of Dhofar or in the mountainous interior. Prior to 1970, the country’s diverse population shared little in the way of common identity. Only under Qaboos’s leadership has the state come together.

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