Good Reads: From Afghan interpreters, to Internet battles, to submarine history
This week's roundup of Good Reads includes the challenge of winning Iraqis and Afghans asylum in the US, how a broadband monopoly came to be, an essay by an Israeli sniper, new ancient evidence of human activity, and the evolution of the submarine.
As American troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is leaving behind thousands of interpreters and fixers to live with countrymen who view them as traitors, writes Paul Solotaroff in Men’s Journal. In 2008 and 2009, Congress opened the door for more than 33,000 Iraqis and Afghans to find asylum in the US, but these special visas are notoriously hard to claim. “Just 15 percent of the Iraqi slots were granted in the first four years...,” says Mr. Solotaroff. “In Afghanistan, the figure was unfathomably low: Only a handful of visas a year came through between 2008 and 2012.”
The main roadblock, according to Solotaroff, seems to be trepidation from the State Department, which has trouble fully vetting applicants amid the ongoing conflict in their home countries. The article focuses on Army Reserve Capt. Matt Zeller and his multi-year fight to secure asylum for Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter who saved the lives of at least five Americans. Frustrated by the slow pace, Zeller reached out to an acquaintance at the State Department who said “that the Taliban had seen the news stories about [Mr.] Shinwari and phoned a lie to an anonymous-tip line that he worked for them,” writes Solotaroff. After three congressmen leaned on the State Department and Shinwari underwent multiple polygraph tests with the CIA, he eventually received a visa for him and his family.
Living under a broadband monopoly
People in London may choose from as many as eight different high-speed Internet providers. However, Rachel Margolis in Brooklyn, N.Y., has one. Time Warner Cable services her apartment building – period. If her connection speeds slow to a crawl, Ms. Margolis has only two recourses: go without cable Internet or move to a new place.
“We actually know the exact day that [the United States] chose to go down this path,” says Zoe Chase of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. “March 14, 2002.” Back then, the Federal Communications Commission needed to decide, What is the Internet? Is it essentially an extension of our existing phone network, or is it something different? Under US law, phone companies must rent out their lines to anyone that wants to reach a customer’s home. The FCC decided in 2002 that Internet providers do not need to follow this rule. Critics of the decision say large swaths of the US must now live under a broadband monopoly. This was not the intent. The FCC wanted companies to compete with each other by building ever-faster Internet connections, but lobbying, future policy decisions, and the huge expense of building out a better network largely derailed these good intentions.
Confessions of an Israeli sniper
The Jewish Daily Forward ran an essay from a former Israeli soldier about his final days as a military sniper. While this is clearly a one-sided tale, the author, who does not give his real name but is identified as an American grandson of a Holocaust survivor living in Israel, talks frankly of his mixed emotions about hunting alleged terrorists near the Gaza border. He wants to perform well, but doing so means opening fire on people who have no chance of fighting back. “I don’t understand the seeming lack of fear I see in the men we target,” he writes. “They get shot at and come right back.”
Discovery of ancient tools
Humans arrived in South America thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a controversial new study. A rock shelter in Brazil held primitive stone tools that researchers believe date back 22,000 years, during the height of the last ice age.
If corroborated, this finding would rewrite our understanding of early human history. For decades, archaeologists pointed to 13,000-year-old spear points in New Mexico as the earliest evidence of humans in the Americas. Since then, dig sites in Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia suggest even earlier origins, perhaps 15,000 years old.
The new research, submitted by a team from Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3 University in France, has drawn skepticism. Scientists had previously found ancient human footprints in Mexico, only to discover later that they were not footprints at all. Similarly, rock shelters can be misleading, writes Michael Marshall in New Scientist. Fallen, shattered rocks can appear to be crafted tools. But the French team says the 113 unearthed tools were made from stones not found at the site. The materials must have traveled at least 15 miles to arrive at this location.
The first submarine
Submarines date back much earlier than German U-boats and the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. In a brief history of humankind’s underwater adventures, Amanda Green of Popular Mechanics traced the origins back to 1620, when a Dutch engineer convinced the English Royal Navy to build three steerable submarines out of wood and greased leather. A dozen oarsmen breathed through snorkel tubes for three hours as they rowed a dozen miles from Westminster to Greenwich and back.
While these first journeys ventured just 15 feet below the water’s surface, the US military has now devised a submarine-launched aerial drone that fires from a torpedo tube, bursts out of the waves, and then takes flight.