Monday, March 22, 2010

There are few things more intellectually satisfying than a well-executed piece of long-form journalism.  While the days when literary giants like Mailer and Updike were regular contributors are long gone, modern luminaries like Michael Lewis keep the flame alive.  Today we have a wealth of sources; often the problem is knowing where to look.

It is to that cartographic end that I'm starting "The Weekly Reading," a regular update of what I'm reading and what I think is important.  While the focus will, of course, be international relations, I will include pieces from across the spectrum.  In short, if it's good, it's included.

Please use the comments page to add your own recommendations - I'm always looking to expand my academic universe.  Enjoy!

Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker - "The Trafficker"

In the early nineteen-eighties, New York was what Soiles calls a “gateway city.” Heroin and hashish were smuggled from the Middle East to Western Europe and then New York, where they were distributed across the United States. As a young agent, Soiles interrogated smugglers who had been arrested, and many alluded to a Syrian named Monzer al-Kassar. “Everybody we snatched would mention his name,” Soiles recalled. Kassar was the biggest drug trafficker in Europe, they said. There were numerous spellings of the name—Manzer, Mansour, Kazar, Alkassar—but it came up again and again, eventually featuring in more than seventy-five D.E.A. investigations. One of Soiles’s colleagues likened Kassar to Keyser Söze, the mysterious, semi-mythical villain in the 1995 film “The Usual Suspects.”

Michael Crowley, The New Republic - "Our Man in Kabul?"
Fifteen years later, in May 2002, a CIA-operated aerial drone circling near Kabul shot a Hellfire anti-tank missile at a convoy on the ground. The explosion killed several men, but failed to claim its target: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. By then, the Afghan warlord was on Washington’s most-wanted list as a leader of the post-2001 Afghan insurgency. But, eight years later, circumstances have changed once again. The United States is now considering whether it’s time to stop trying to kill Hekmatyar and start negotiating with him--a choice that could have crucial implications for Barack Obama’s war in Afghanistan.
See more after the jump

Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair - "Greed Never Left"
The absence of innocent ambition and youthful idealism on Wall Street obviously causes some very large, if hard-to-define, problems in the real world. But it presents a very specific problem for the moviemaker: it’s difficult to tell a story about the corruption of character when everyone in it is already corrupt. Having seen only 20 minutes of a rough cut of Money Never Sleeps, I cannot say if the movie is a success or how it will end, but I can say this: it’s a very different movie from the original. 

David Denby, The New Yorker - "Out Of The West - Clint Eastwood's shifting landscape"
As Wills pointed out, Wayne, swinging his bulk down the streets of the Old West, couldn’t imagine being challenged by anyone. Eastwood, ever wary, couldn’t imagine a world free of challenge.

And finally, a classic of the genre, and one of my all-time favorites:

John Updike, The New Yorker - "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"
Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.

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