Passport

Technology from 1850 saves the Internet in Asia

Grapnel How do you retrieve a 21mm-thick fiber-optic cable from 2.5 miles below the ocean’s surface? Using 19th century technology, of course. On December 26th, Internet traffic across Asia was disrupted by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that damaged several undersea fiber-optic cables south of Taiwan. The outage affected Internet users from Australia to Hong Kong to Singapore.

So today, six ships are dragging specially-designed grappling hooks called "grapnels" across the ocean floor in the hopes of snagging one of the damaged lines. Initial efforts have been hindered by lousy weather, but Global Marine, the same company that laid the first undersea telegraph lines between France and Britain in 1850, expects to have all of the cables repaired by February.

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What We're Reading

Henry Bowles

PAULA BRONSTEIN/Getty Images
  • Mid-Point in the Middle East, in New Left Review. Tariq Ali's sprawling essay considers the "balance sheet" of US policy throughout the Middle East. Predictably snarky and incisive at the same time, Ali cheers for the "debits" and provides some wonderful analyses of two stormy relationships—between Fatah and Hamas and between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian public.
  • Anne Applebaum in Slate: Legalize It: How to Solve Afghanistan's Drug Problem, She's hardly the first to do so, but Applebaum makes a strong case for allowing the legal cultivation of the opium poppy as the solution to Afghanistan's drug woes.
Christine Chen
  • I Was a Child Soldier, by Ishmael Beah in the latest New York Times Magazine. A rare first-hand look at a phenomenon that's sadly all too common in Africa.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. While mourning the loss of her husband of 40 years, Didion thinks about what might have happened if she could turn back time. Kind of like when we think about the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Michael Cognato

  • As a junior Hill staffer, I used to field calls pretty regularly from people convinced the government was controlling their thoughts. For her article Mind Games, Sharon Weinberger, writing for the Washington Post Magazine, decided to find out what makes them tick.

Blake Hounshell

Jeff Marn

Kate Palmer

Editor's note: this feature normally goes out on Monday, but we waited until today because of the holiday yesterday. Next week we'll be back on our usual schedule.