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.
“Sunk” by Mitch Moxley, The Atavist Magazine
How a Chinese billionaire’s dream of making an underwater fantasy blockbuster turned into a legendary movie fiasco.
The script called for an epic battle. In the movie’s third act, the forces of the Eight Faery Kingdoms defend their aquatic empires from annihilation by the evil Demon Mage and his spectral legions. Five hundred extras would play the opposing armies.
But in January 2010, when Jonathan Lawrence, the director of Empires of the Deep, showed up for the shoot, in Qinyu, a resort town in coastal China, he saw only about 20 extras, mostly ornery Russians complaining that they hadn’t been paid in weeks. How would he turn 20 people into 500? On top of that, their costumes—swamp green rubber suits decorated with scales, octopus suckers, and shells—looked like poorly made Halloween getups. Some of them had fins glued to their heads.
“Ethics and the Eye of the Beholder” by Katie J.M. Baker, Buzzfeed
Thomas Pogge, one of the world’s most prominent ethicists, stands accused of manipulating students to gain sexual advantage. Did the fierce champion of the world’s disempowered abuse his own power?
Lopez Aguilar grew up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She was a star student who published a book of poems about social justice at the age of 13; when she applied to college, her high school adviser wrote that she would one day be president. She enrolled at Yale in 2006, and took one of Pogge’s classes as a junior. When he agreed to supervise her senior thesis the following year, Lopez Aguilar was thrilled.
“It wasn’t even that he was famous,” said Lopez Aguilar, now 27. It was his commitment to morality and global justice, and the way he seemed to find his young students’ ideas as compelling as his own. “It inspired me to keep going.”
“The Bank Robber” by Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker
The computer technician who exposed a Swiss bank’s darkest secrets.
A few days before Christmas in 2008, Hervé Falciani was in a meeting at his office, in Geneva, when a team of police officers arrived to arrest him. Falciani, who was thirty-six, worked for H.S.B.C., then the largest bank in the world. He was on the staff of the company’s private Swiss bank, which serves clients who are wealthy enough to afford the minimum deposit—half a million dollars—required to open an account. Falciani had been at H.S.B.C. for eight years, initially in Monaco and then in Geneva. He was a computer technician who helped supervise security systems for the handling of client data. He had grown up in Monaco, where as a young man he had worked as a croupier at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, and developed an excellent poker face. As the Swiss police escorted him from the building, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong.
Officers questioned Falciani at a nearby station. They were investigating a data theft from the bank. Since 1713, when the Great Council of Geneva banned banks from revealing the private information of their customers, Switzerland had thrived on its reputation as a stronghold of financial secrecy. International élites could place their fortunes beyond the reach of tax authorities in their own countries. For Swiss wealth managers, who oversaw more than two trillion dollars in international deposits, the promise to maintain financial privacy was akin to a religious vow of silence. Switzerland is the home of the numbered account: customers often specify that they prefer not to receive statements, in order to avoid a paper trail. In light of these safeguards, the notion of a breach at H.S.B.C. was shocking.
“Is this the world’s most radical mayor?” by Dan Hancox, The Guardian
When Ada Colau was elected mayor of Barcelona, she became a figurehead of the new leftwing politics sweeping Spain. The question she now faces is a vital one for the left across Europe – can she really put her ideas into practice?
It has become commonplace across the western world to talk of “new politics” in response to voter apathy, economic crises, corruption and the decline of established political parties. In Spain, however, the phrase has a ring of truth to it. After years of social upheaval following the financial crisis, widespread uprisings against political and business elites have transformed the country’s political landscape. Just as the Indignados, who occupied Spanish squares in their millions in the summer of 2011, inspired the global Occupy movement, it was in Spain, too, that this energy was first channelled into political movements capable of contesting elections, such as the leftwing populist party Podemos.
Colau has been involved every step of the way, and as mayor of the country’s second-biggest city, she now possesses real political power – arguably more so than Podemos, which came third in the Spanish general election last December. The question Colau now faces is a vital one for the left across Europe: can she put her radical agenda into practice?
“Freed From the Islamic State, but Far From Free” by Diego Cupolo, Foreign Policy
Depression and PTSD are rampant among the Yazidi survivors of brutal captivity.
Though fewer in number, Yazidi men also suffered. They were forced to dig military tunnels beneath occupied cities, as in Sinjar, and exploited for other hard labor projects. Some were also used as front-line decoys to draw enemy fire away from Islamic State fighters.
One such decoy was Khero Maijo, a 27-year-old construction worker from a village near Baa’j. Soft-spoken and too shy to make eye contact, Maijo was given a choice: stand guard on the front line, or have his head chopped off. “Some prisoners were given suicide jackets and sent to blow themselves up near [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces,” Maijo said, taking quick drags on his cigarette. “We were prisoners for a long time,” he continued. “I was alive, but I thought it would’ve been better to die. I never thought I would get out.”
Photo credits: VCG/VCG via Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; Shekhar Yadav/India Today Group/Getty Images; Thierry Esch/Paris Match via Getty Images; NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images; Diego Cupolo/Foreign Policy