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.
“Check In With the Velociraptor at the World’s First Robot Hotel” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Wired
“Please say your name in full,” the velociraptor said. The robot voice, whose only concession to human or dinosaur speech was a throatily serrated edge, came from a speaker somewhere below and behind the counter. The velociraptor requested that I check in at a touchpanel. I entered my name, inserted a credit card, and got a receipt for a room in the B wing. The screen asked me to direct my attention to the facial-recognition tower in front of me, for keyless entry, “while the machine authenticates your face.”
The velociraptor idly flexed its talons.
“The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Buzzfeed
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah travels to James Baldwin’s home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, and examines the impact of a writer whose legacy cannot be erased.
James Baldwin and my grandfather were four years apart in age, but Baldwin, as he was taught to me, had escaped to France and avoided his birth-righted fate, whereas millions of black men his age had not. It seemed easy enough to fly in from France to protest and march, whereas it seemed straight hellish to live in the States with no ticket out. It seemed to me that Baldwin had written himself into the world — and I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of his allegiances to our interiors as an everyday, unglamorous slog.
So even now I have no idea why I went. Why I took that high-speed train past the sheep farms and the French countryside, past the brick villages and stone aqueducts, until the green hills faded and grew into Marseille’s tall, dusky pink apartments and the bucolic steppes gave way to blue water where yachts and topless women with leather for skin were parked on the beaches.
“The Bidding War” by Mattieu Aikins, The New Yorker
How a young Afghan military contractor became spectacularly rich.
By 2006, the American military was focussed mostly on Iraq, and the Taliban had retaken much of the countryside in southern Afghanistan. That summer, Bradley and Myers redeployed with the Desert Eagles to Kandahar. In Operation Medusa, one of the largest battles of the war, U.S. and Canadian troops attacked Taliban fighters west of the city with tanks, artillery, and airpower. “It looked like a monster had stomped through the valley, leaving skeletons of compounds smoldering and tops of trees jagged and twisted,” Bradley wrote.
Hikmat’s mother, fearing for his safety, pleaded with him to stop working as an interpreter. Three interpreters in Kandahar had recently been captured and beheaded by the Taliban. “I lied to my mom,” he said, telling her that he had stayed on the base during the operation. He had started a side business selling fruit and soft drinks to the base, and that winter he quit his job as an interpreter in order to work on the business full time. Hikmat told me that a sergeant major at the Special Forces headquarters helped him register it at the main U.S. base, known as Kandahar Airfield, or KAF. On February 25, 2007, Hikmat signed a “blanket purchase agreement” with the U.S. military, an open-ended contract for trucking services. He started with a single rented truck.
“Welcome to the land that no country wants” by Jack Shenker, The Guardian
In 2014, an American dad claimed a tiny parcel of African land to make his daughter a princess. But Jack Shenker had got there first – and learned that states and borders are volatile and delicate things.
Heaton’s six-year-old daughter, Emily, had once asked her father if she could ever be a real princess; after discovering the existence of Bir Tawil on the internet, his birthday present to her that year was to trek there and turn her wish into a reality. “So be it proclaimed,” Heaton wrote on his Facebook page, “that Bir Tawil shall be forever known as the Kingdom of North Sudan. The Kingdom is established as a sovereign monarchy with myself as the head of state; with Emily becoming an actual princess.”
Heaton’s social media posts were picked up by a local paper in Virginia, the Bristol Herald-Courier, and quickly became the stuff of feel-good clickbait around the world. CNN, Time, Newsweek and hundreds of other global media outlets pounced on the story. Heaton responded by launching a global crowdfunding appeal aimed at securing $250,000 in an effort at getting his new “state” up and running.
“Across the Middle East, Doctors Are Being Killed Like Never Before” by Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy
Physicians, nurses and patients are under assault by the Syrian and Russian air campaign and U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen.
The first Russian airstrike missed the Sarmin field hospital in Idlib, Syria, by more than 20 yards — delivering a strong enough punch to blow out some windows but sparing the lives of the rattled patients and doctors inside.
Their luck would prove fleeting.
Ten minutes later, the Russians returned and fired on the road adjoining the hospital, killing a physiotherapist, a security guard, and 10 other patients and visitors. The trauma room was transformed into a scene of broken glass, rubble, and bloodied bodies. Mohamed Tennari, a Syrian radiologist who survived the Oct. 20, 2015, attack, told Foreign Policy that staff now see the hospital — which has been attacked 15 times since 2011 — as a “a ticking time bomb.”
“We don’t know when a bomb will explode and kill us all,” he said.
Photo credits: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images; RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images; A Majeed/AFP/GettyImages; William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images; DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images