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 Weight of the World” by Elizabeth Kolbert, the New Yorker.
Can Christina Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?
“The Framework Convention on Climate Change is overseen by an organization known as the Secretariat, which is led by a Costa Rican named Christiana Figueres. Figueres is five feet tall, with short brown hair and strikingly different-colored eyes—one blue and one hazel. In contrast to most diplomats, who cultivate an air of professional reserve, Figueres is emotive to the point of disarming—’a mini-volcano’ is how one of her aides described her to me. She laughs frequently—a hearty, ha-ha-ha chortle—and weeps almost as often. ‘I walk around with Kleenex,’ another aide told me.
Figueres, who is fifty-nine, is an avid runner—the first time I met her, she was hobbling around with blisters acquired from a half marathon—and an uninhibited dancer. Last fall, when her office was preparing for the twentieth COP, which was held in Lima, she and some of her assistants secretly practiced a routine set to Beyoncé’s ‘Move Your Body.’ At a meeting of the Secretariat staff, which numbers more than five hundred, they ripped off their jackets and started to jump, jump, jump.”
“Corn Wars” by Ted Genoway, the New Republic.
The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply.
“On September 30, 2012, agents from the FBI contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with an urgent request. They wanted bags from two passengers on an outbound flight to Beijing pulled for immediate inspection. The passengers didn’t track as dangerous criminals: Li Shaoming, president of Beijing Kings Nower Seed Science & Technology, a large Chinese agricultural company that develops corn, rice, cotton, and canola seeds, and Ye Jian, the company’s crop research manager.
In Li’s luggage, agents found two large Pop Weaver microwave popcorn boxes. Buried under the bags of unpopped snack kernels were roughly 300 tiny manila envelopes, all cryptically numbered—2155, 2403, 20362. Inside each envelope was a single corn seed. In Ye’s luggage, agents found more corn seeds hidden amid his clothes, each one individually wrapped in napkins from a Subway restaurant. Customs officers were dispatched to the gate area for the Beijing flight, where they found the two men and conducted body searches. Still more corn seeds, also folded into napkins, were discovered in Ye’s pockets.”
“Welcome to Maternity Hotel California” by Benjamin Carlson, Rolling Stone.
A full-service stay inside the Chinese birth tourism boom.
“Peter and Ellie Yang, by all outward appearances, are living the Beijing dream. They have a condo in an up-and-coming area, a white Honda that Peter keeps immaculate and a rambunctious one-year-old son, Xiongxiong. They wear brand-name jeans and own separate iPhone 6s. On holidays, they go to Sanya — ‘China’s Hawaii’ — as well as Hong Kong and Japan. On weekends, they eat out and take hikes in the Fragrant Hills outside Beijing. It’s enough to make them the envy of many. But when Ellie found out she was pregnant in 2014, Peter said he wanted to have their second child in America. ‘It’s for him to get a good education,’ Peter says. ‘But it’s also for us — to find business opportunities and to make friends. Chinese who do this tend to be well-connected.’
Peter began researching maternity hotels that operate within the underground birth tourism industry. He chatted with sales agents and scanned large photos on forums like LA Fat Dad, USA Baby DIY and America Baby Home. One option was staying in a single-family home, rented solely to birth tourists, but moving into a close-knit residential community as part of a rotating cast of pregnant Chinese felt risky. Renting an apartment in San Francisco, as some of their friends had done, was less expensive and lower profile, but Peter didn’t know anyone there. At last he and Ellie agreed on a ‘middle of the road’ option — a 16-room hotel in suburban Los Angeles for $20,000.”
“The Arc of the Sun” by David Samuels, the Atavist.
Chasing the South African pigeon race.
“I met Paul Smith, the man responsible for shipping the Queen of England’s pigeons, near a sunlit pigeon loft in Linbro Park, a light-industrial section of Johannesburg, South Africa. The loft, home to 2,453 pigeons, has a corrugated aluminum roof with translucent plastic panels to let in the sun and high-grade chicken-wire walls to encourage the circulation of air. Each of the pigeons inside the loft has a perch where it is accustomed to roosting. In two days’ time, the pigeons will be loaded into crates, put on a truck, and transported approximately 325 miles from here, to a point along the Vaal River, a tributary of the Orange River in the Northern Cape. There they will be set free, in the hope that they will fly back home.
Paul, a voluble little white-haired man in his early seventies who wears a white polo shirt, baggy cargo shorts, white Nikes, and white tennis socks, has won nearly every honor that pigeon racing has to offer. Before taking up the sport full-time, he made women’s stockings. ‘I first raced pigeons in 1959, when I was 15,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t win a race to save me life.’ He has traveled to Thailand, a haven for pigeon fanciers, 34 times. He helped organize pigeon races at the Seoul Olympiad and at the Berlin Wall. He has won the UK championship ten times and come in second ten times. The race that is closest to his heart, he confides, is the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race, which bills itself as the most lucrative pigeon race in the world. The owner of the first-place pigeon receives $150,000, with subsequent finishers taking the balance of the million-dollar purse.”
“The New Face of Jewish Terror” by Shira Rubin, Foreign Policy.
A growing radical fringe is taking aim at Palestinians — and the Israeli government.
“Gilboa Marmerstein says that her life is a ‘daily struggle.’ The 16-year-old is awaiting the day when her family will move out of their trailer, which lacks insulation, much less a connection to cable television, and build a permanent home. When I met Marmerstein recently in her living room, she wore jean shorts and a messy bun. In between discussing what it’s like to live at an outpost above the rolling hills of the Jordan Valley, she spent her time chasing her seven younger siblings. In some ways, she is an average Israeli teenager obsessed with her friends and her phone. But she spoke with gravity born of responsibility, both to family and to mission. Despite the struggle, she said, her life is also geula, salvation.
The 42 families of Mitzpe Kramim, which means ‘Lookout onto the Vineyards’ in Hebrew, say that they wouldn’t give up the tranquil, family-oriented, and righteous lifestyle for anything, especially not a 2011 Israeli Supreme Court evacuation order that declared that the land on which they live is private Palestinian property. Marmerstein mocked the irrelevance of the court decision and said she believes that sooner or later, Jews from across Israel and the world will join her in Judea and Samaria — using the area’s biblical name.”
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images; AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES; PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images; OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images; Photo credit: Oren Ziv/Getty Images