Caterpillar Fungus and John Kerry: The Week in Global-Affairs Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about the world

A local resident pulls out a caterpillar fungus in the Laji mountains of China's Qinghai province. (Simon Zo / Reuters)

ISIS Inc: Loot and Taxes Keep Jihadi Economy Churning
Erika Solomon and Sam Jones | Financial Times
Syria’s oil may ostensibly be the militant group’s most profitable resource but even if US, French and Russian planes succeed in trying to bring down its crude production, local revenues like taxes could keep the Isis economy churning. An FT investigation indicates Isis earns at least as much from taxation, extortion and confiscation as oil.”

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Negotiating the Whirlwind
David Remnick | The New Yorker
“Kerry’s persistence and self-assurance, coupled with excruciating economic sanctions, is what helped him succeed with the Iranians. It’s also what led to nine months of fruitless, chaotic, and, arguably, corrosive negotiations that broke down last year between the Israelis and the Palestinians—negotiations that almost no one, not even the President, believed would lead to a breakthrough.”

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30 Lives Extinguished, but No Regrets: A Killer’s Story
E. Eduardo Castillo | Associated Press
“This is a story from the other side, the tale of a man who kidnaps, tortures and kills for a drug cartel. His story is the mirror image of those recounted by survivors and victims' families, and seems to confirm their worst fears: Many, if not most, of the disappeared likely are never coming home. ‘Have you disappeared people?’ he is asked. ‘Yes,’ he replies.”

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Has Europe Reached the Breaking Point?
Jim Yardley | The New York Times Magazine
“Many European bureaucrats and officials cling to the belief that crisis has always made Europe stronger and more integrated. Yet the optimism that carried the project forward to stop wars and create prosperity is dwindling. Now the challenge of the Euro­pean Union is whether it can succeed in continuing to bring a better and more secure life to a larger and more diverse group of citizens.”

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In a Counterinsurgency Far, Far Away
Michael Boyle and Paul D. Miller | Foreign Policy
“The multiplication of ‘failed planets’ across the galaxy created a hunger for the restoration of stability. The growing chaos eventually fueled the rise of the First Order, a neo-fascist descendant of the Empire with revanchist ambitions, led by the ruthless General Hux, with possible ties to a hard-line mystic cult known as the Knights of Ren.”

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Caterpillar Fungus: The Emperor’s Mighty Brother
The Economist
“This is Tibet’s annual gold rush. Yartsa gunbu [caterpillar fungus] is so highly valued as a medicine that it often sells for more than its weight in the metal. It has many purported benefits, ranging from preventing cancer to curing back pain. But what makes it so prized is its supposed ability to improve sex lives. It is often described as a ‘Himalayan Viagra’, good for treating erectile dysfunction and (in women as well) low libido.”