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.
“My Accidental Career as a Russian Screenwriter” by Michael Idov, The New York Times Magazine
Stifled by the Kremlin’s impositions on free speech, I quit my job as editor of the Russian GQ and found freedom in cinema — sort of.
One night, I called Ryvkin with a spur-of-the-moment idea: ‘‘Let’s write ‘Louie,’ but about me in Moscow.’’ Ryvkin had a similar background to mine (he spent his formative years in Boston) and similar comedic sensibilities; we both worshiped ‘‘30 Rock’’ and Louis C.K. Three weeks, a few joints and several pizzas later, we had a pilot. The main character, a neurotic, blocked, broke Brooklyn novelist, comes to Moscow to promote his book, gets Jew-baited on live TV by a glib Russian oligarch and reconnects with his childhood friend Roman, now an out-of-control photographer modeled on Terry Richardson. The friends spend most of the episode crafting an appropriate response to the slur and finally head over to the oligarch’s club to beat him up. When they get there, however, the offender offers the novelist a plum job in Moscow, forcing him to sell out on the spot.
“How DEA Agents Took Down Mexico’s Most Vicious Drug Cartel” by David Epstein and ProPublica, The Atlantic
… And how this helped give rise to the criminal empire of Chapo Guzmán
As brutal as the brothers were, their first line of defense was not their own men but Mexico’s law enforcement. Mexican officials’ corruption “wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” Herrod told me. The head of Mexico’s equivalent of an attorney general’s office received $500,000 a month from the cartel, a former AFO lieutenant told investigators. Certain military generals made $250,000 a month. Prosecutors were paid à la carte. The system was so effective that AFO prisoners would occasionally escape torture houses only to be returned to the cartel by the very police into whose arms they had fled.
So when Jack Robertson met Jose “Pepe” Patino Moreno, an incorruptible Mexican investigator, he quickly grew to admire the man. Robertson appreciated Patino’s humility, and respected his willingness to stand up to colleagues he knew were working for the other side. “He was one of the most decent men I ever met,” Robertson told me. “I always had a sense of trust in him that I didn’t have in anybody.” In that way, he was to Robertson what Palacios was to Herrod. In another way as well: Patino was captured by AFO members, who reportedly crushed his head in a pneumatic press and smashed his bones with baseball bats. His body, a Los Angeles Times article reported, was as broken as a bag of ice cubes.
“The Celebrity Surgeon Who Used Love, Money, and the Pope to Scam an NBC News Producer” by Adam Ciralsky, Vanity Fair
When Benita Alexander fell for celebrated doctor Paolo Macchiarini—while filming a documentary about him—she thought her biggest problem was a breach of journalistic ethics. Then things got really interesting.
Macchiarini could be secretive at times. After his Christmas proposal, he told Alexander that he could not stick around for New Year’s because he was on call for what, she said, he termed an “emergency V.I.P. surgery.” When she pressed him for details, he swore her to silence before telling her, as she recalled, that he was part of a “highly classified group of doctors from around the world who cater to the world’s V.I.P.’s.” She said Macchiarini over time revealed that he had operated on Bill and Hillary Clinton, Emperor Akihito of Japan, and President Obama. People who spent time with the couple said they heard Macchiarini talk about his high-level connections. An NBC colleague, Alisha Cowan-Vieira (no relation to Meredith Vieira), recalled, “I saw a lot of text messages between Benita and Paolo, and she would say, ‘OMG, look what he just told me.’ The texts would say, ‘I just left a meeting with PF [Pope Francis]’ or with Bill Clinton or the Obamas.”
“The Ultimate Terrorist Factory” by Scott Sayare, Harper’s
Are French prisons incubating extremism?
In 1995, Kamel Daoudi, a twenty-one-year-old engineering student from the suburbs of Paris, moved out of his parents’ apartment. He had fought with his father, an Algerian immigrant obsessed with the possibility of his son’s success in France, his “acceptance by the system,” in Daoudi’s words. He resented his father and, determined to find a different path, took up the ideals of jihad.
At a small prayer hall in his parents’ neighborhood, he met a group of like-minded men, older Algerians who felt adrift in their adopted country. France seemed to them a place of libertine excess, Daoudi said, and they shared a sense of “having betrayed one’s origins a bit, one’s values, and of being obliged, in order to return to the status quo ante, to go twice as far.” Daoudi was particularly drawn to Djamel Beghal, an avuncular and charismatic man about ten years his senior, whose intellect and worldly curiosity were, like Daoudi’s, paired with an attraction to the stark aesthetic of uncompromising devotion.
“Germany is Housing Refugees in Communist Ghost Towns” by Jesse Coburn, Foreign Policy
Will asylum seekers revitalize the crumbling housing projects of eastern Germany — or turn them into ghettos?
Danial Mahdian tottered across the deserted courtyard behind his apartment building on a gray afternoon in June, his parents, Vahid and Maryam, trailing close behind. As they walked toward the tram station, Maryam occasionally redirecting the 18-month-old to keep him on track, Vahid pointed to three other grim housing blocks lining the yard. They were long, low-slung, concrete slabs, just like his own, but wooden boards blocked their entrances. “All these buildings are empty,” the 29-year-old Afghan said in halting English.
The Mahdians’ building had been empty too, slated for demolition like the others, until the German government sent the young family to live there in early 2015, along with some 200 other asylum-seekers. An IT technician who fled Herat, Afghanistan, because of persecution from the Taliban, Vahid and his new neighbors from Syria, the Balkans, and elsewhere have brought new life to the dilapidated structure as they await decisions on their applications for asylum. Strollers line the ground-floor hallways; clothes hang out to dry on balconies; and bikes lean on mailboxes that are once again receiving mail. The new arrivals have filled the building to capacity, but there’s plenty more room in Neu Olvenstedt, the sprawling, notorious housing estate to which it belongs. A steady exodus of residents has left some 1,000 apartments empty in the communist-era complex, which sits on the outskirts of Magdeburg, an industrial city in eastern Germany.
Image credits: YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images; Victor Boyko/Getty Images for SPIMF; MAURICIO DUENAS/AFP/Getty Images PIERRE TEYSSOT/AFP/Getty Images; ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images; Sean Gallup/Getty Images