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03.11.11

This Week's Must-Read Journalism

From Washington Monthly’s investigation of bogus counterrorism instructors indoctrinating American police officers to the journalists risking their lives to cover North Korea, The Daily Beast picks our favorite longform reads from around the Web this week.

1. “How We Train Our Cops to Fear Islam”
Meg Stalcup & Joshua Craze, Washington Monthly

The federal government directs billions of dollars toward a burgeoning national strategy that will involve local law enforcement in the ground-level reporting of terrorist activity. But there’s a serious shortage of qualified counterterrorism instructors to educate police officers, and into the void has stepped an army of self-styled experts like Sam Kharoba, a Jordan-born Christian who spins wild tales of Muslim extremism. Like many other instructors who received federal dollars, he has no training in counterterrorism or law enforcement, and no particular knowledge of Islam. The bogus instructors lift their material from the anonymous sources on the Internet and have a uniform worldview: all out “civilizational war” between the U.S. and Islam.

2. “North Korea’s Digital Underground”
Robert S. Boynton, The Atlantic

North Korea controls the flow of information to its citizens unlike any other regime on earth: only an elite few have access to the Internet or cell phones, and televisions deliver only state propaganda. But even under those draconian conditions, information is beginning to leak in. A small group of information insurgents, combining Cold War-style tactics with the capabilities of modern electronics, have married activism and journalism. They slip thousands of DVDs that slyly challenge Kim Jong Il’s propaganda into the growing North Korean bootleg market. They use high-tech modified cameras to film the scenes of extreme poverty that fill North Koreans’ daily lives. The website Daily NK, where most Western media reports about North Korea begin, mans a slick operation of undercover correspondents who report from behind the country’s walls.

3. “The New Israeli Left”
Joseph Dana and Naom Sheizaf, The Nation

It’s a right-wing era in Israeli history: the country’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, has doubled down on settlement construction in East Jerusalem and left the Jewish state increasingly isolated in the international community. But just when Israeli society is least tolerant of dissent, a contingent of Jewish activists is showing increasing determination to speak for the voiceless Palestinians in the West Bank. And they’re not just reviving the old Zionist-left tactics of police-approved protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They’re venturing behind the settlement wall itself, where few Israelis bother to go and where they’re subjected to military harassment and social scorn. They don’t believe it will make a difference, but keep pushing forward “because it’s the minimum we can do,” one said.

4. “Schemes of My Father”
Eric Puchner, GQ

The author’s father moved his family from muggy Maryland to the West Coast to pursue his dream of California: mansions, luxury vehicles, and endless possibility. “I didn’t know what he was doing to make so much money, but I enthusiastically supported it,” Puchner writes. His father was caught up in the cycle of inflated credit and real estate crash that preceded the savings and loan crash of the late 1980s. The family’s impending misfortune wasn’t the worst of the young Puchner’s problems: the freckle-faced boy had had a miserable time fitting in with the effortlessly cool California teenagers, and ended up a punk-rock misfit rather than a tanned beach bum. Years after his painful experience of the Golden State, Puchner bitterly recalls the lure of a land that has always hidden a ruinious reality underneath its endless-summer mythology.

5. “How Companies Know Everything About Us”
Joel Stein, Time

The author turned his name and email address over to some of the world’s largest data-mining companies—companies that make billions of dollars every year collecting and selling personal information about unsuspecting internet users. They’re so creepy that Sen. John Kerry has proposed legislation to reign them in. Sure enough, they called back within hours with Stein’s age, salary, social security number and buying habits. Ironically, “the more I learned about data mining, the less concerned I was,” Stein writes. Most of the information kept on him was useless, and, with files sitting around on billions of other people in the world, the chance of anything sinister coming of it, he realizes, are next to none.

6. “The Sleeping Cure”
Stephen Metcalf, New York

Slate culture critic Stephen Metcalf has seen four shrinks in his entire life and, each time, something bizarre happened: every single one of his therapists fell asleep during their first session together. The string of experiences, which started after he was expelled from boarding school, left him deeply concerned about what sort of horrible mental case he might be. So he determined to re-visit each of his former therapists and ask why. Turns out, sleeping shrinks are a venerable part of the psychoanalytic tradition. Or maybe he just didn’t need therapy to begin with.

This weekly column is The Daily Beast's contribution to the growing Longreads community on Twitter, where fans of longform journalism collect and share their favorite stories. Follow along through the hashtag # longreads, and visit Longreads.com and Longform.org for suggestions throughout the week. To take these stories on the go, we recommend using smartphone applications such as Instapaper or Read It Later. You can download either at your mobile phone's application store. To send us suggestions, tweet the story to @ thedailybeast on Twitter with the hashtag #longreads. To read previous editions, visit our Longreads archive.

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