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.
“Helium Dreams” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, The New Yorker
How one man wants to transport the world’s heaviest cargo in ships that are lighter than air.
Igor Pasternak started thinking about airships when he was twelve. Back then, in the nineteen-seventies, he loved rockets. One night, he was curled up in the soft green chair that doubled as his bed, in the two-room apartment where he lived with his parents, his little sister, and his grandmother, in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. He was reading a magazine aimed at young inventors, and he came across an article about blimps. He saw old photographs of imposing wartime zeppelins and read about another kind of airship, which had never made it off the drawing board: an airship that carried not passengers but cargo. It would be able to haul hundreds of tons of mining equipment to remote regions in Siberia in one go, the article said—no roads, runways, or infrastructure needed. Just lift, soar, and drop.
Igor wondered what the holdup was. He read the article again and again. He spent the summer in the library, studying the history and the aerodynamic principles of blimps. One day, on the way there, he looked into the sky, and the emptiness seized him.
Where are all the airships? he asked himself. The world needs airships.
“The Dog Thief Killings” by Calvin Godfrey, Roads & Kingdoms
An attempt to make sense of the dog meat industry in Vietnam, an unregulated maze of black market slaughterhouses, home restaurants, and thieves who are often murdered in the open when caught stealing the family pet.
No one knows what time Nguyen Dinh Phong left his low concrete home in Nghe An Province, in the heart of Revolutionary Vietnam. The skinny 27-year-old heroin addict had already stolen everything he could from the people he left sleeping at home—his wife, his kids, his aged parents. So he screwed a fake license plate to his motorbike, grabbed a snare pole, and set off into the damp, bug-addled night to score.
The shops lining the road sold all manner of escape, everything from beer to airline tickets. On the night in question, Phong cared most about the dog restaurants that offered delicious, testosterone-soaked nights off from girlfriends, wives, and mothers. Behind their bamboo curtains, guys like him could spend a night in a haze of rice wine and dark, gamey meat dressed up in fresh herbs, a spicy rhizome called galangal, and deeply-funky fermented shrimp paste.
“How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable” by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
He’s no ordinary con man. He’s way above average — and the American political system is his easiest mark ever.
The numbers simply don’t work, unless the field unexpectedly narrows before March. Trump has a chokehold on somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the Republican vote, scoring in one poll across every category: young and old, educated and less so, hardcore conservatives and registered Democrats, with men and with women, Megyn Kelly’s “wherever” notwithstanding. Trump the Builder of Anti-Rapist Walls even earns an estimated 25 percent of the GOP Latino vote.
Moreover, there’s evidence that human polling undercounts Trump’s votes, as people support him in larger numbers when they don’t have to admit their leanings to a live human being. Like autoerotic asphyxiation, supporting Donald Trump is an activity many people prefer to enjoy in a private setting, like in a shower or a voting booth.
“Guantánamo Detainees in a Progressive’s Paradise” by Taylor Barnes, Islamic Monthly
A curious experiment in Uruguay.
In the top floor of a no-frills residential and commercial building, Abu Wa’el Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee from Syria, greets me into his apartment. His new dwelling is so small I have to skirt around the edge of his bed, which takes up the lion’s share of the space that he calls home these days.
The media had described him as “difficult” and mercurial, but he is forthcoming and kind to me. Jihad, 44, welcomes me with a bowl of fruit and brings me some hot tea from his kitchen, even though he walks on crutches, in evident pain as he raises his tall, bony body onto them to fetch me a cup. His right side frequently goes cold, a problem that’s yet to be properly diagnosed, which he guesses is due to neurological damage.
“The Olympic Games You’ve Never Heard Of” by Spike Johnson, Foreign Policy
For more than 20 years, athletes from around the world have been facing off in everything from badminton to butterfly stroke. The only rule of engagement: You must be the recipient of an organ transplant.
With focused concentration, Leslie Meigs, 25, fixes her aim on the small wooden jack at the end of the pitch used to play pétanque. Although it’s less than 50 feet away, the jack — a ball with roughly the diameter of a plum — is blocked by the larger, grapefruit-sized metal spheres known as boules belonging to her opponent from the Iranian team, Masoumeh Rezaei. To win, Meigs must land her boules closer to the jack than Rezaei’s. And with just one shot left, Meigs, who is representing the U.S. team, is losing.
Wearing a blue USA shirt and matching track pants, the 25-year-old from Houston, Texas, looks the part of an American athlete. But her uniform conceals the lasting marks of the disease that led her to this pitch — the areas of deep scarring from a bout of meningococcal meningitis and septic shock that rotted much of her flesh as a child, bringing her close to the amputation of all her limbs. When she was 18 years old, residual health complications from a childhood illness caught up with Meigs — her kidneys began to fail, and soon she desperately needed a transplant.
Photo credits: Spike Johnson/Foreign Policy; Graham Barclay/BWP Media/Getty Images; HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/GettyImages; Tom Pennington/Getty Images; PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images; Spike Johnson/Foreign Policy