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.
“Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools” by Azmat Khan, Buzzfeed.
The United States trumpets education as one of its shining successes of the war in Afghanistan. But a BuzzFeed News investigation reveals U.S. claims were often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student.
“Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.
But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.”
“The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogota” by Susan Dominus, the New York Times Magazine.
After a hospital error, two pairs of Colombian identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. This is the story of how they found one another — and of what happened next.
“The four young men all knew one another well by then. Over the past six months, they had gone on outings and shared meals, talked about women, family, money, values. Even weeks in, each had stared, still unnerved and amazed, into the eyes of his identical brother. They had measured, assessed and inspected. They stood back to back, comparing height (those raised in the city were taller than those from the country); Carlos had crushed Wilber in a food-eating contest, William had vanquished them all when they arm-wrestled.
In the stands at a soccer match, Carlos watched, in fascination, as William’s hand reached down his jeans to scratch his backside: Jorge did the same thing, Carlos told Wilber. Over dinner one night, Jorge noted that Carlos and Wilber both leaned in at the same odd angle toward their plates. Jorge felt comfortable gently correcting his identical twin’s grammar; Carlos took seriously such brotherly responsibilities as instructing Wilber in how to approach an attractive Bogotá woman at a bar or how to down a shot of tequila. The twins from Santander were amazed that neither of their city counterparts had ever fired a gun, which they quickly remedied on a visit to the country.”
“Five Hostages” by Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker.
Families whose children were held captive in Syria felt that U.S. officials had abandoned them. So they secretly joined forces.
“Hovering silently over this wrenching discussion was the fact of Bradley’s fortune. He was already bankrolling the team that was trying to free the hostages; he was absorbing the families’ travel expenses; he was flying to foreign destinations himself. His generosity was without question but not, apparently, without limits. Prudent and conservative by temperament, he had forbidden his staff to discuss ransoms. Carl Mueller hinted that he was willing to sell his house, but Bradley didn’t bite. The risk of prosecution that made Bradley wary of ransoms posed an obstacle to other potential donors as well. And there was an additional complication: if Bradley was known to be involved, the ransom demands would inevitably increase.
Art Sotloff was incensed by the repeated threats of prosecution. He and Shirley had received the same outlandish ransom demand as the Foleys and the Kassigs—a hundred million euros. The U.S. government could refuse to help them, but why should it stand in their way? At one government meeting, Art excused himself to go to the men’s room, and an F.B.I. agent escorted him down the hall. The agent confided that no American had ever been prosecuted for paying a ransom. The families were confounded by the mixed message: if the government actually did prosecute them, wouldn’t these very agents have to testify against them?”
“Charlie Hebdo’s Multi-Million-Dollar Pile of Tragedy Money” by Roger Cohen, Vanity Fair.
Since the massacre in its Paris offices, Charlie Hebdo has seen a reported influx of $33 million due to skyrocketing sales, subscriptions, and donations. Probing the tension this sudden wealth has created within the staff and the country, Roger Cohen explains why Charlie Hebdo’s fate is so important.
“It is of course easier to take a detached or critical view of money when one does not have any. With millions have come machinations. Charlie Hebdo is now 40 percent owned by the parents of the paper’s murdered editorial director and cartoonist, Stéphane Charbonnier, or ‘Charb.’ Laurent Sourisseau, the writer and cartoonist known as ‘Riss,’ owns another 40 percent. Eric Portheault, the finance director, owns the rest. Their shares, once worth little or nothing, are suddenly worth a lot.
Many Charlie staffers are unhappy at this tight concentration of newfound wealth. In an extraordinary manifesto published by the daily Le Monde in late March, they declared, ‘We refuse that a handful of individuals take control, either total or partial, in absolute contempt for those who make and support’ the paper. The 15 signatories asked, ‘How are we to escape the poison of the millions that, through exceptional sales and also donations and subscriptions, have fallen into the pockets of Charlie?'”
“Just What Makes a ‘Good European’?” by Emily J. Levine, Foreign Policy.
Nietzsche, Merkel, and the long, strange history of an elusive idea. (Hint: They don’t listen to Wagner.)
“Wandering like a bohemian throughout Europe, Nietzsche was what the Nazis would later deem a ‘rootless intellectual’ and what in the postwar period diplomats would dub a ‘stateless person.’ He would likely have embraced both of these characterizations and continued to mock the national chauvinism of the English, French, and Germans alike. If anything, he looked further to the past — to the ancient civilizations that comprised the continent’s shared heritage and that would give due purpose to the new Europe as the Greeks, Romans, and Jew originally intended. Still, his travels imbued in him respect for other cultures, so much so that he believed the true artist was one who would ‘write better … think better … to make ourselves accessible to the understanding of those foreigners who learn our language; to assist in making all good things common property and freely available to the free-minded.’ It was not Wagner whom Nietzsche believed artists should model themselves after, but Goethe.”
Image Credits: FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images; Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images; GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images; ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images; Franck Prevel/Getty Images