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US drone strikes kill more civilians in Afghanistan than manned fighter aircraft

Spencer Ackerman, formerly of Wired News and now with the Guardian, reports today: "A study conducted by a US military adviser has found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted conflict caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft." The new study was referenced in an official US military journal, and shows that US officials' claims that unmanned planes can target more efficiently than manned counterparts are not true. [guardian.co.uk] Xeni

Proto-warblogger Kevin Sites returns to Afghanistan. Here's the reporting gear he's packing.

Xeni Jardin and Kevin Sites worked together to create one of the world’s first “warblogs,” when Kevin was a CNN correspondent headed into Iraq, and later, Afghanistan. Ten years later, Kevin is returning to Afghanistan to reconnect with the people whose lives he documented. He shares a snapshot of his gear bag, and the details on what’s inside, as he prepares for what may be his last trip into a war zone.

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A history of unconventional violence

At Sciencezest, Annelie Wendeberg discusses the strange history of using dead bodies — both human and equine — as particularly messy projectiles during times of war. Maggie

Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees.

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Mickey Mouse in Vietnam

The 16mm short film "Mickey Mouse In Vietnam" is an anti-war movie by Lee Savage and Milton Glaser, produced for The Angry Arts Festival in 1968. Long vanished, the movie has returned to YouTube. Buzzfeed has an interview with Glaser about the video's history:

Speaking of symbolism, is that why you picked Mickey Mouse in particular?

MG: Well, obviously Mickey Mouse is a symbol of innocence, and of America, and of success, and of idealism — and to have him killed, as a solider is such a contradiction of your expectations. And when you’re dealing with communication, when you contradict expectations, you get a result.

Disney is very protective of their intellectual property. Did you ever hear from them after you screened the film?

MG: No… There was some talk about Disney suing us, but I think the consequence of that — everybody realized — would have been negative for Disney and would have no benefit. And obviously no profit was made out of the utilization of the character or the film, so nothing ever happened.


Update: Adam Savage writes, "Lee Savage did not die a couple of years after Vietnam, as Milton seems to suggest. Lee Savage was, in fact my father and he directed inked and animated the Mickey Mouse film which he co-wrote with Milton. My dad died in 1999 after a long bout with Alzheimer's and was always very proud of the Mickey film."

A Rare 1968 Anti-War Short "Mickey Mouse In Vietnam" Has Resurfaced Online (via Neatorama)

Leaked doc shows USA has started an Internet War: Schneier

Bruce Schneier points out that the leaked top-secret list of electronic attack targets picked by the Obama administration is tantamount to a declaration of Internet War on foreign powers, and shows the US government planning attacks that make the much-vaunted Chinese attacks on the USA look tame by comparison.

That's the key question: How much of what the United States is currently doing is an act of war by international definitions? Already we're accusing China of penetrating our systems in order to map "military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis." What PPD-20 and Snowden describe is much worse, and certainly China, and other countries, are doing the same.

All of this mapping of vulnerabilities and keeping them secret for offensive use makes the Internet less secure, and these pre-targeted, ready-to-unleash cyberweapons are destabalizing forces on international relationships. Rooting around other countries' networks, analyzing vulnerabilities, creating back doors, and leaving logic bombs could easily be construed as an act of war. And all it takes is one over-achieving national leader for this all to tumble into actual war.

It's time to stop the madness. Yes, our military needs to invest in cyberwar capabilities, but we also need international rules of cyberwar, more transparency from our own government on what we are and are not doing, international cooperation between governments and viable cyberweapons treaties. Yes, these are difficult. Yes, it's a long slow process. Yes, there won't be international consensus, certainly not in the beginning. But even with all of those problems, it's a better path to go down than the one we're on now.

We can start by taking most of the money we're investing in offensive cyberwar capabilities and spend them on national cyberspace resilience.

Has U.S. started an Internet war?

Whale steak ad


Here's a WWI-era advert for whale steaks. As Bruce Sterling notes, "There’s heaps of whale meat here in the First World War. So much we can’t swallow it all. Cheaper than tuna."

Prime Whale Steak

Documentary about US Army's WWII "tactical deception unit"

During World War II, the US Army deployed a "tactical deception unit" to Europe. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, aka the "Ghost Army," consisted of artists, ad directors, actors, and other creative folks who used inflatable tanks, sound effects trucks, and good ol' fashioned bullshit to trick the German forces. It included the likes of fashion designer Bill Blass, fine artist Elsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane. A documentary about the Ghost Army, directed by Rick Beyer, aired last month on PBS. You can watch it for free right here! The Ghost Army story would make for a great black comedy too! The Ghost Army (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

Know your chemical weapons


These know-your-chemical-weapon posters were produced by the Medical Training Replacement Center at Camp Barkeley near Abilene, Texas as training materials for soldiers being sent to fight in WWII. They're a weird mix of cheerfulness and atrocity:

Of the four chemicals mentioned here—phosgene, lewisite, mustard gas, and chlorpicrin—three were used in World War I. (Lewisite was produced beginning in 1918, but the war ended before it could be used.) Phosgene, which irritates the lungs and mucus membranes and causes a person to choke to death, caused the largest number of deaths among people killed by chemical weapons in the First World War. (Elsewhere on Slate: A firsthand account of what it felt like to be hit by mustard gas.)

The smells that these posters warn soldiers-in-training to be wary of are the everyday scents of home: flypaper, musty hay, green corn, geraniums, garlic. The choice of analogies seems particularly appropriate for soldiers raised on farms­—a population that would become increasingly small in every war to follow.

Four WWII Posters That Taught Soldiers to Identify Chemical Weapons by Smell (via Kadrey)

(Images: National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Inflatable tanks tricked Hitler

Megan Garber on how the Allies "saved thousands of lives by embracing the artistry of war." [The Atlantic] Rob

Anatomical pinball table


Canadian artist Howie Tsui redesigned a pinball machine to turn it into a crude simulation of a musket-ball rattling around a soldier's guts for a War of 1812-themed exhibition currently running at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre at Queens University in Kingston. It's meant to demonstrate the way that repetition and concentration can inure you to the horrors of war:

The first part of his exhibition is a re-themed pinball machine, which now, having been Tsui-ed, is called Musketball! Tsui repainted the front glass panel and it now shows a British soldier reeling back as his guts explode from a musket shot (no rolling around inside for this one). The playing surface is painted with organs, tissue and bone, with the words “mangled viscera” at midfield. It would all be tame in a modern shooter video game, but it’s shockingly graphic on a vintage board.

I step up to the game and fire my first ball, which gets back in the gutter faster than I thought possible. I fire the second ball — which I note are gold, not silver, to which Tsui says, “I kind of blinged it up a little bit.” This ball stays in play just long enough to hit a few bumpers and set off sound effects of rifle shots and artillery blasts. I fire my remaining three balls, and my final score is slightly less than one-tenth of Tsui’s high score. “It’s your first time playing. I had to do a lot of testing,” Tsui says, showing he’s also talented in the art of diplomacy.

“After a while,” he says, “you sort of get hooked on the game, and the whole idea for me is that it distances the player from the idea of violence.”

Pinball, bones and animal skins: Howie Tsui’s wonderful horrors of the War of 1812 [Peter Simpson/Ottawa Citizen]

(via Kadrey)

Contest: design peaceful uses for 3D printers

Bas writes,

3D printing is being condemned in the media because of the potential for printing guns. Engineers at Michigan Tech believe there is far more potential for 3D printers to make our lives better rather than killing one another. To encourage thinking about constructive uses of 3D printing technology Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab and Type A Machines is proud to sponsor the first 3-D Printers for Peace Contest.

A fully assembled Type A Machines Series 1 3D Printer goes to first place and a MOST RepRap 3D printer kit will go to the second prize winner who create designs that enable 3D printers to encourage peace. Winning open-source designs will discourage conflict (e.g. designs for appropriate technology in the developing world to reduce scarcity or designs that improve economic development -- see examples and pictures). Designers are encouraged to consider: If Mother Theresa of Ghandi had access to 3D printing what would they print? What kind of designs could help reduce military spending and conflict while making us all safer and more secure?

Michigan Tech has already saved tens of thousands of dollars using 3D printable scientific and engineering equipment and our labs have developed 3D printable tools to test water quality, recycle waste plastic and found that 3D printing consumer goods is better for the environment than shipping conventional goods from China. Jo

Anyone in the United States may enter and there is no cost to enter. Here's the guidelines. Deadline for submitting entries: September 1, 2013

Michigan Tech Launches 3D Printers for Peace Contest

US military continues to abuse and abandon wounded soldiers

In 2010, The New York Times uncovered systemic abuse within units meant to help wounded Army soldiers transition through months-and-years-long treatment and rehabilitation. Today, The Colorado Springs Gazette has a profile about one of the soldiers who stood up for Warrior Transition Units back then. The abuses exposed by the Times weren't fixed and Jerrald Jensen ended up becoming a victim himself. After questioning the mistreatment in the system, he was nearly given a less-than-honorable discharge, which would have cost him long-term Veteran's benefits — a pattern that the Gazette has found happening over and over among the most-vulnerable wounded Army men and women who need the most care in order to rehabilitate from their service injuries. The treatment described here is disgusting, all the more so when you compare it to Jensen's service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Exposing this kind of crap is why journalism exists. Maggie

53 years of nuclear tests as electronic music

I've seen this video described as a musical depiction of all the nuclear bombs ever detonated. But that sort of makes it sound like you're about to get a particularly bombastic version of the 1812 Overture. Instead, "1945-1998" by Isao Hashimoto is more like an infographic with sound effects — or, possibly, a mash-up of the games Simon and Global Thermonuclear War.

What you get is an interesting depiction of nuclear tests through time — 2053 of them (including the non-test explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki). I found it particularly interesting to watch the slow ramp up over the course of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when months or years would tick by between tests. After that, beginning in the late 1950s, you see these patterns of sudden flurries of explosions, usually happening in the US and the USSR almost simultaneously. The cultural sense of panic is almost palpable.

No internet for Syria

Nicole Perlroth: "Syria’s access to the Internet was cut on Tuesday. The most likely culprit, security researchers said, was the Syrian government." [NYT] Rob