The Bionic Men of World War I

Medical historian Thomas Schlich wrote a fascinating essay for CNN about the history of prosthetic body parts and the "Bionic Men of World War I." From his article:

In all nations involved in the war an emerging generation of so-called "war cripples," as they were referred to in Germany, loomed ominously over the pension and welfare system, and many government bureaucrats, military leaders and civilians worried about their long-term fate.

One solution was returning mutilated soldiers to the workforce. Various prostheses were designed to make that possible, pushing prosthesis manufacturing in many countries from a cottage industry towards modern mass production.

In the United States the Artificial Limb Laboratory was established in 1917 at the Walter Reed General Hospital, in conjunction with the Army Medical School, with the goal to give every amputee soldier a "modern limb," enabling them to pass as able-bodied citizens in the workplace. While the United States remained the largest producer of artificial limbs worldwide, Germany's prosthetic developments incorporated a particular quest for efficiency.

German orthopedists, engineers and scientists invented more than 300 new kinds of arms and legs and other prosthetic devices to help. Artificial legs made of wood or metal, sometimes relatively rudimentary, and often recreating the knee-joint in some way, enabled leg-amputees to stand and move around unaided.

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North Korea threatens "merciless" war against the US over Seth Rogen movie

North Korea has threatened "merciless" war against the USA if a James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy called "The Interview" is released. The movie involves a plot to assassinate North Korean hereditary dictator Kim Jong-un. A North Korean state spokesman called the movie an "act of war" and a "blatant act of terrorism" and "reckless US provocative insanity." The spokesman called the film's director a "gangster filmmaker" and said that North Koreans had greeted the production with "a gust of hatred and rage." Read the rest

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Iraq asks for US air strikes, as extremists take control of largest oil refinery

The refinery in Baiji, northwest of Baghdad, in 2009. [Reuters]

The Iraqi government today asked the US to execute air strikes on Sunni insurgent strongholds. Read the rest

Duration of WWII vs duration of movies about WWII

In today's What If?, Randall "XKCD" Munroe tries to answer the question: "Did WWII last longer than the total length of movies about WWII? For that matter, which war has the highest movie time:war time ratio?" (Cue the theme from M*A*S*H). Read the rest

US official backs Marines' request to classify photos of forces urinating on Taliban corpses

A still from a 2011 video posted online that showed Marines urinating on dead bodies. [Reuters]

"In an apparent expansion of the government’s secrecy powers, the top official in charge of the classification system has decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan," reports the NYT's Charlie Savage. Read the rest

Moving, effective video about kids in war

I was moved to tears by Save the Children's video, which is powerful and beautifully made. I donate to Syrian relief through the UN High Commission on Refugees. Read the rest

White House leaks name of Kabul CIA chief, yet no one goes to prison

Soldiers take photos as U.S. President Barack Obama (C) shakes hands with troops after delivering remarks at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, May 25, 2014. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The identity of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan was exposed over the weekend by the White House when his name was included by mistake on a list given to news organizations of senior officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with US troops.

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Piketty, Capital, and the World Wars: does government policy make a difference in wealth concentration?

I'm halfway through Thomas Piketty's magisterial Capital in the Twenty First Century, a vital, incredibly influential, brilliantly researched history of wealth concentration stretching back through several centuries and spanning the globe. Even Piketty's critics can't fault his methodologies, though there are critiques of his conclusions -- which propose that unregulated capitalism will produce a hereditary class of the super-rich -- on both the right and the left.

Here's a sharp critique from the left, published in American Prospect by Robert Kuttner. Kuttner takes issue with Piketty's conclusion that government intervention between WWI and WWII and after WWII had no real effect on the distribution of wealth; according to Kuttner, the shocks to hereditary wealth from WWI created a series of policies intended to restore old money fortunes, triggering a global depression. By contrast, the post-WWII period saw a series of pro-labor interventions driven by a strong trade union movement, and an ensuing flattening out of wealth distribution and a degree of unprecedented social mobility. Read the rest

For transgender US military personnel, the rule is still 'don't tell.'

From a Washington Post profile of trans servicemen and women:
More than two years after the repeal of the law that barred gay men and lesbians from serving in the military openly, transgender service members can still be dismissed from the force without question, the result of a decades-old policy that dates back to an era when gender nonconformity was widely seen as a mental illness.... Transgender service members are increasingly undergoing procedures to align their bodies more closely with the genders with which they identify. Medical experts, meanwhile, are urging the Defense Department to rescind a policy they view as discriminatory and outdated, noting that some of America’s closest allies, including Canada, Britain and Australia, have done so seamlessly.
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Syria's lethal Facebook checkpoints

An anonymous tip from a highly reliable source: "There are checkpoints in Syria where your Facebook is checked for affiliation with the rebellious groups or individuals aligned with the rebellion. People are then disappeared or killed if they are found to be connected. Drivers are literally forced to load their Facebook/Twitter accounts and then they are riffled through. It's happening daily, and has been for a year at least." Anyone have any corroboration for this? Read the rest

Donald Rumsfeld, unconvicted war criminal, is upset with the IRS

Noted horrible shitbag Donald Rumsfeld has one thing in common with you and I, dear reader: he is not happy with the IRS, and wishes he hadn't spent so much money preparing and filing his taxes. Here is his annual open letter to the Internal Revenue Service, no doubt to promote his stupid narcissistic book. Here are my thoughts on the matter. Read Rummy's letter below. Read the rest

Putin launches Russian invasion of Ukraine; UN security council meets

One week after Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovuych fled Kiev and the government snipers who'd murdered dozens of protesters ran for the hills, Vladimir Putin has received approval from the Russian Parliament to invade the country. In Crimea, an area where armed gangs loyal to Yanukovuych have taken control, protesters have been beaten and been made to kneel. The Ukrainian navy has taken to sea. The Russian ambassador to the USA is said to be withdrawing. Russian tanks are in Crimea. The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss intervention.

Twitter's #russiainvadesukraine is a good place to stay abreast of affairs.

On the Guardian, Conal Urquhart is maintaining a running feed of new developments. Read the rest

Venezuela: 15 Years of Solitude

"The democratic Venezuela that so often received exiles from neighboring countries and gave asylum to political refugees fleeing military governments is once again alone." Maruja Tarre, a Venezuelan journalist, reflects on the violent situation in her home country. Previously: "Snowden and Venezuela: My bizarre experience in the surveillance state," an essay on Boing Boing by her daughter Isabel Lara, about the experience of being spied upon in Venezuela.

Will US condemn UK for using terrorism laws to suppress journalism?

Journalist Glenn Greenwald after being reunited with his partner, David Miranda, in Rio de Janeiro's International Airport after British authorities used anti-terrorism powers to detain Miranda. RICARDO MORAES/REUTERS

In a disturbing ruling for democracy, a lower court in United Kingdom announced today that the detainment of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was lawful under the Terrorism Act, despite the fact that the UK government knew Miranda never was a terrorist. This disgraceful opinion equates acts of journalism with terrorism and puts the UK on par with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Miranda has vowed to appeal the ruling.

Glenn Greenwald has much more on what this means for press freedom, but I’d like to expand on one particular point: Read the rest

Mercury Waltz, a sequel to Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy

It's been nearly four years since Kathe Koja's amazing novel "Under the Poppy" was published, plunging readers into a dark world of eros, war, and puppetry (seriously). Koja is a chameleon of a writer, whose career began with grotesque, lascivious, splatterpunk horror novels like The Cipher, then transitioned into spare, quietly brilliant YA novels like Buddha Boy, and then emerged in the entirely indescribable territory of Under the Poppy, to which she has now returned with a new novel called The Mercury Waltz.

Koja stopped in at John Scalzi's blog Whatever for an online interview about the book: Read the rest

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