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.
“The Desert Blues” by Joshua Hammer, the Atavist Magazine.
In 2001, two unlikely friends created a music festival in Mali that drew the likes of Bono and Robert Plant. Then radical Islam tore them apart.
“When Mohamed Aly Ansar studied international law at the University of Bamako, in the capital of Mali, he spent his days thinking about how to bring development to his impoverished nation. But at night he had a much different dream, one that came to him over and over: He saw himself standing in the middle of the desert near a stage, watching as a helicopter descended. The chopper was carrying the Swedish pop group ABBA, and Ansar was there to receive them.
Thirty years later, on January 12, 2012, a version of that dream came true. Ansar stood on the tarmac at the airport just outside Timbuktu, searching the dark sky for the lights of a private jet. Ansar was the founder of a three-day concert series called the Festival in the Desert, sometimes referred to as the African Woodstock, and on this cool night, he was waiting for Bono to arrive.”
“The Price of Nice Nails” by Sarah Maslin Nir, the New York Times.
Manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic bias and other abuse, the New York Times has found.
“On a morning last May, Jing Ren, a 20-year-old who had recently arrived from China, stood among them for the first time, headed to a job at a salon in a Long Island strip mall. Her hair neat and glasses perpetually askew, she clutched her lunch and a packet of nail tools that manicurists must bring from job to job.
Tucked in her pocket was $100 in carefully folded bills for another expense: the fee the salon owner charges each new employee for her job. The deal was the same as it is for beginning manicurists in almost any salon in the New York area. She would work for no wages, subsisting on meager tips, until her boss decided she was skillful enough to merit a wage. It would take nearly three months before her boss paid her. Thirty dollars a day.”
“Lusitania: The Biggest Battle Over Its Biggest Mystery” by Richard B. Stolley, Fortune.
Retired venture capitalist Gregg Bemis owns the salvage rights to the Lusitania — and he thinks he can solve the 100-year-old mystery of why it sank so quickly. His biggest obstacle: The Irish government, which has fought him for years over his plans to explore the wreck.
“In the battle between preservation and property rights, preservation is currently winning: Bemis has been unable to convince the government to let him explore his ship his way. And the current dispute is just the latest in a series of legal battles that has enmeshed Bemis and the Lusitania for almost 30 years. Bemis has won some fights and lost others; along the way he’s become a minor celebrity in Ireland, thanks to coverage of his lawsuits and his knack for colorful, unsparing criticism of the country’s cultural mandarins. Even one of his own attorneys says that Bemis can come across as “an undiplomatic pain in the ass,” and Bemis is proudly unapologetic about that. To authorities’ insistence that their only priority is to protect the Lusitania, Bemis replies: “Protect it from what? They are not protecting it from the ravages of the ocean, nor the fishermen’s nets, nor the pirates, but only protecting it from the owner and historical truth.”
“Ghosts of Iguala” by Ryan Devereaux, the Intercept.
Investigating what Mexico’s government really knows about disappearance of dozens of students.
“Though there is still little clarity on the questions of why the students were disappeared, or where they were taken, statements in the federal investigation map out a criminal takeover of the region, exposing the corruption that has swallowed many of Guerrero’s governing structures. Coordinates provided by one detained gang member, for example, led authorities to a fetid swamp in an area called La Laguna, where the rotting corpse of a former Iguala police chief was recovered. The suspect also described a ranch known as Los Naranjos — The Oranges — a patch of property where gangsters dumped bodies. Another burial site, described by two suspects, stood out early in the case. There, the men said, they had buried some of the students from Ayotzinapa. When investigators examined the site they indeed found bodies — 28 of them in mass graves — but none were the students.”
“The Short Life and Speedy Death of Russia’s Silicon Valley” by James Appell, Foreign Policy.
In 2009, Moscow unveiled an ambitious plan to build a world-class technology incubator. Then corruption, brain drain, and Putin killed it.
“Of the world’s major economies, Russia’s had fared the worst in the aftermath of the global downturn. GDP shrank by 7.9 percent across 2009, including a record 10.9 percent in the second quarter. Unemployment hit a peak of 9.4 percent in February of that same year. Going into the crisis, oil and natural gas had accounted for some two-thirds of exports. Many had already long recognized that Russia’s dependence on commodities exports was making it vulnerable, but Medvedev was the first Russian president to actively engage with the problem.
His solution was a set of reforms, sketched out in a 4,000-word treatise titled ‘Go Russia!‘ The reforms were designed to harness technology in order to equip Russia for the 21st century, and they covered industries ranging from nuclear power to space technology to pharmaceuticals. Medvedev’s reforms called for, among other things, a 40 percent reduction in Russia’s energy consumption by 2020, and the commercial generation by 2050 of power by thermonuclear fusion.”
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