Life inside a Taliban stronghold

A BBC film crew are given access to a Taliban stronghold just an hour from Kabul

“Having reported from Afghanistan for 10 years and been kidnapped by another group of Taliban fighters in Helmand, I was all too aware that this was a dangerous place, especially for Western journalists. I had arranged to meet Said Rahman, the Taliban’s self-appointed leader in the area, popularly known as Governor Badri. Now aged 27, he started fighting as a teenager against the American-led forces that swept the Taliban from power in 2001.” Image Credit

Nagieb Khaja | BBC

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The spy who scammed us?

A clandestine intelligence operative, government contracts, and a story that doesn’t add up

“On July 3, 2009, he rappelled into the sanctuary of a Virginia megachurch as flags unfurled and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” played. He hit the ground with a crisp salute, was introduced as a former Navy Seal, and told a Christian Broadcasting Network reporter that a stunt like his “really energizes the congregation and emphasizes the risks being taken by servicemen and women around the world.”” Image Credit

Ace Atkins and Michael Fechter | Outside

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In the Syria we don’t know

On the other side of the war against the Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime

“People in the city refuse to see and hear the violence in their suburbs, much as Beverly Hills ignored riots in Watts in 1965 and 1992. It becomes easy to pretend there is no war, unless a bomb falls too close or kills someone you know. One morning as I was driving through the upscale Abu Rummaneh quarter, a rebel mortar shell whistled overhead, hit a fuel storage tank, and sent black smoke soaring into the sky.” Image Credit

Charles Glass | The New York Review of Books

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The Wikipedia story

Excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Innovators

“That was when Wales and Sanger discovered Ward Cunningham’s wiki software. Like many digital-age innovations, the application of wiki software to Nupedia in order to create Wikipedia—combining two ideas to create an innovation—was a collaborative process in­volving thoughts that were already in the air. But in this case a very non-wiki-like dispute erupted over who deserved the most credit.” Image Credit

Walter Isaacson | The Daily Beast

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When island nations drown, who owns their seas?

On what will happen to a nation’s valuable maritime zone when it disappears under the sea

“The warming ocean will result in degradation and bleaching of reef ecosystems that protect the islands from erosion. The elevating sea level—rising as much as a meter by 2100, according to last year’s IPCC report—may inundate the lowest-lying islands of archipelagos such as the Maldives (average elevation 1.6 meters), Tuvalu (1.83 meters), Kiribati (1.98 meters), and the Marshall Islands (2.13 meters).” Image Credit

Latif Nasser | The Boston Globe

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Bias in the box

How race still plays a role in who gets to serve on American juries

“…jury discrimination had pervaded Hunt’s entire ordeal. Winston-Salem, where the crimes took place, was, like Statesville, roughly 35 percent black. But of the sixty jurors and alternates chosen to decide Hunt’s fate in four different trials, only one was black. After nearly twenty years behind bars, Hunt left prison on Christmas Eve 2003. He was later awarded a multimillion-dollar restitution payment from the state.” Image Credit

Dax-Devlon Ross | VQR

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‘Am I being catfished?’

An author tracks down her number one online critic

“She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.” Image Credit

Kathleen Hale | The Guardian

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How Palmer Luckey created Oculus Rift

On the birth of the virtual reality headset that could change everything from gaming to medicine

“But Luckey is first and foremost an evangelist for virtual reality. For decades, people have dreamed of a technology that would let them experience an alternate reality—artificial, crafted, entirely new. Companies poured billions of dollars into research in the ’80s and ’90s but computing technology simply wasn’t advanced enough yet; by the time Luckey started playing around with virtual reality, most had given it up for dead.” Image Credit

Taylor Clark | Smithsonian

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Weekend Reads | If we run and they kill us…

Every Sunday a pick of five great feature-length reads from the week just gone.

At Matter this week, Sarah Topol gave a gripping account of what really happened when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls in Nigeria, told by those who managed to escape. The New York Times had an in-depth investigation into the ageing chemical weapons found by US troops in Iraq, with C.J. Chivers detailing how they were never secured and what happened to those exposed to them. Paul Rincon told the story of the first spacewalk for BBC News Magazine, revealing how Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov nearly didn’t return to earth in a mission that was beset by problems. Of the many stories about the Islamic State this week, the most interesting came from Jakob Sheikh for Mashable, writing about the events that led a close friend to join the terror group. We finish with Jen Percy’s excellent piece for The Nation on her journey to meet the notorious Commander Pigeon, Afghanistan’s only female warlord. (19th October 2014)

“If we run and they kill us, so be it. But we have to run now.” Sarah A. Topol | Matter (30 min)

The secret casualties of Iraq’s abandoned chemical weapons C. J. Chivers | The New York Times (42 min)

The first spacewalk Paul Rincon | BBC News Magazine (13 min)

My childhood friend, the Isis jihadist Jakob Sheikh | Mashable (21 min)

My terrifying night with Afghanistan’s only female warlord Jen Percy | The Nation (21 min)

Click the individual stories above or head over to to get this whole collection as a reading list. To get the Weekend Reads newsletter sent straight to your inbox every Sunday just enter your email here.

Surfboards and submarines

The story of the East Germans who secretly escaped across the water to Copenhagen

“On a map, the stretch of water that separated the East German coastline from the West looks deceptively narrow. The distance between the southernmost tip of Denmark and the coast near Rostock barely measures 40km. Yet the little patch of sea between East and West Germany by Travemünde was fiercely guarded by watchtowers with radar systems, coastal patrol boats and keen informants in the fishing industry.” Image Credit

Philip Oltermann | The Guardian

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