Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old is a stunning act of remembrance

Everyone raised in my hometown learned to recite In Flanders Fields in school. Every year, as November 11th, Remembrance Day, drew near, we were taught about the First World War. We made poppies. We prepared for a concert to honor our veterans. Elderly men with often vacant, watery eyes would visit our classrooms and talk to us about their time overseas. Sometimes they cried. Other times, they laughed as they talked about long absent friends and their lost youth. As I grew older, I marched in my town's annual Remembrance Day parade: first as an cadet and later in a different uniform. Each year as we gathered at the armory after the parade had ended, there were fewer survivors of the First and Second World War there to greet us. Decades have passed since those days. The men and women who served their fellows and the future generations that would become of them have largely passed on.

No matter where I am in the world, I take pause on November 11th, as many others do, to remember those that gave up their lives in the name of democracy and decency. I try to hold the millions that died from hate, xenophobia and greed. I give thanks that I am now too old and too broken to fight. I fear for those in uniform today that will see things that will never leave them and for those who deployed who will never come home.Amidst these meditations, I wonder over who will carry the torch of remembrance of wars and atrocities past, once those who survived them are no more. Read the rest

British shopping center creates Christmas tree out of Remembrance Day poppies

Britain, like most of western Christendom, celebrates Christmas with ornamented trees. The British mark Remebrance Day for World War I on November 11 by wearing paper poppies. A shopping mall in Salisbury, England, has ingeniously combined the two events by making a giant Christmas tree out of paper poppies.

One tweet described the red tree as an oddity, saying: "Christmas and Remembrance Sunday, together at last in one oddly conceived package."

Another comment described it as "tasteless", while a further tweet said it was "disrespectful". But the Royal British Legion said it was "grateful to all individuals, as well as any shops, pubs and other commercial enterprises, which choose to show their support for the Armed Forces Community".

There's something about the way monumental paganism remains an emergent property of the British condition, even (especially) when it's trying to do blithely inoffensive corporate promotional material.

MARKETING CONSULTANT: George, something's come up about the sign by the poppy tree. It's Selfridges. They object to some of the text.

GEORGE: What now?

CONSULTANT: It's the line that reads "KNEEL BEFORE THE BLOOD TREE! FUCK BEFORE THE BLOOD GOD!" They're wondering if it could say "copulate" or "make love" instead of "fuck".

GEORGE: (sighs angrily) There's always something. Read the rest

Ebola outbreak in Congo: things are getting worse

The latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has proven a sumbitch to contain. Since this latest "oh shit" moment in the history of this infectious outbreak started on August 1st, the brave healthcare professionals and epidemiologists throwing their shoulders into the problem have reported 200 total cases of the disease, 117 confirmed Ebola-related deaths and 35 deaths that are probably related to the illness. This latest outbreak, the 10th to have cropped up in Congo since 1976, is proving more difficult, logistically, than past outbreaks have been. The epicenter of the outbreak is in North Kivu Province: chockablock with danger as government forces, local militias and regional warlords get their violence on. This makes getting folks in the region to the care that they need and, just as vital, containing the disease, far more difficult than it already is.

From The New York Times:

Congolese rebels have killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack in the center of the latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, Congo’s military said Sunday. The violence threatened to again force the suspension of efforts to contain the virus.

Congo’s health ministry has reported “numerous aggressions” in the new outbreak against health workers, who have described hearing gunshots daily. Many are operating under the armed escort of United Nations peacekeepers or Congolese security forces, and ending work by sundown to lower the risk of attack.

The World Health Organization hasn't classified the outbreak as a world health emergency, yet. Read the rest

Joachim Rønneberg, saboteur who wrecked Nazi nuke program, dies at 99

The Nazis never got close to building the bomb, but they understood the science and knew what was coming. A top-secret raid led by Norwegian resistance fighter Joachim Rønneberg destroyed a heavy water-producing plant in Rjukan, Telemark in 1943—a key victory that put Nazi nuke research to bed. Ronneberg died this week at 99.

The following year, Ronneberg chose a team of five other commandos in an Allied operation codenamed Gunnerside.

"We were a gang of friends doing a job together," he told the BBC during the 70th anniversary of the mission.

The men parachuted on to a plateau, skied across country, descended into a ravine and crossed an icy river before using the railway line to get into the plant and set their explosives.

"We very often thought that this was a one way trip," he said.

After the explosion, the men escaped into neighbouring Sweden by skiing 320km (200 miles) across Telemark - despite being chased by some 3,000 German soldiers.

With a wry smile, Ronneberg described it as "the best skiing weekend I ever had".

Rønneberg told a BBC interviewer that he only realised the importance of the mission after the bomb on Hiroshima. When reading elaborate counterfactual histories concerning different outcomes to World War II, remember that in all of them Germany gets nukes for Christmas in 1945. Read the rest

Trump planned Venezuela coup, inasmuch he is capable of "planning" anything

The Trump administration "held secret meetings" with officers in Venezuela's military to discuss overthrowing President Nicolás Maduro, reports The New York Times.

American officials eventually decided not to help the plotters, and the coup plans stalled. But the Trump administration’s willingness to meet several times with mutinous officers intent on toppling a president in the hemisphere could backfire politically. ... Mr. Maduro has long justified his grip on Venezuela by claiming that Washington imperialists are actively trying to depose him, and the secret talks could provide him with ammunition to chip away at the region’s nearly united stance against him.

“This is going to land like a bomb” in the region, said Mari Carmen Aponte, who served as the top diplomat overseeing Latin American affairs in the final months of the Obama administration.

Read the rest

Inside the secretive world of B2 Bomber pilots

The B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber looks like one of Batman's rides. In service since the mid-1990s, the B2's distinctive flying wing shape, even after decades in service, still looks like the future – and an expensive future, at that. Each B2 costs $2.1 billion. As such, only 21 of the stealthy aircraft were ever made.

Congress, even in the heyday of "what about potential war with Russia," refused to pay for any more. It's an aircraft with a mystique that comes both from its exotic design and how little information we have on the pilots who fly it, and their experience of flying one of them.

Recently, journalist William Langewiesche was given the opportunity to become familiar with the bomber and those that pilot it. More intriguingly, given that the bomber scarcely has space in its cockpit to accommodate a pilot and co-pilot, Langewiesche, by the sound of things, was allowed to join a B2 flight crew on a mission that would take them all the way from the United States to a bombing run on an ISIS camp in Libya.

From The Atlantic:

Night came quickly after a short day. Once they passed into the Mediterranean, the pilots used their radar to find three tankers that had come from Germany to meet them for their second refueling, and to map some thunderstorms that were active in the area at the time. Because of its composite structure, the B-2 is particularly vulnerable to static discharges and lightning strikes, and is required to stay 40 miles away from thunderstorms—twice as far as other airplanes.

Read the rest

Warring militant groups are making the fight against Ebola even more dangerous than it already is

Around a month ago, Ebola popped back up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scant days after the World Health Organization had declared that another outbreak of the disease had come to an end.

Trying to contain the Ebola virus, which is transmitted via bodily fluids, can be a nightmare for healthcare professionals, especially in areas where medical resources and the infrastructure required to rapidly deploy field investigators, ship HAZMAT gear or refrigerate vaccines is non-existent. Doing it in a war zone? So much worse. But that’s where the latest outbreak is going down.

Congo’s North Kivu Province is hotly contested by a number of militant groups, vying for control over the region’s mineral resources. There’s a lot of shooting. There’s a lot of blood. The local population, fearing for their lives, is highly mobile. This makes it hard to track Ebola or treat those who risk further spreading the virus. In the midst of this untenable situation, even those brave enough to risk their own lives to keep the disease at bay are now proving vulnerable.

From The Guardian:

The WHO said a doctor in Oicha had been hospitalised with Ebola, and 97 of his contacts had been identified. “It is the first time we have a confirmed case and contacts in an area of high insecurity. It is really the problem we were anticipating and at the same time dreading,” Salama said.

Karin Huster, coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Mangina, the epicentre of the outbreak, said new patients were arriving at the emergency treatment units every day.

Read the rest

Ebola in a war zone: what could go wrong?

A few days after skipping out on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola decided, ‘nah,’ cropping back up in a town of around 60,000 potential carriers called Mangina, located in Congo’s North Kivu province. Since the latest outbreak was identified, four people have died of the hemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organization is hoping that the strain of Ebola that’s shown up in North Kivu province is the same as the one that Congolese health workers and an international team of medical professionals were able to put down, this past July: they have a vaccine for that particular strain and it works fabulously. The WHO plans on giving the vaccine a go with this new outbreak—fingers crossed! Unfortunately, in addition to the possibility that the vaccine might not work for this Ebola outbreak, those tasked with stemming the spread of the disease are facing a threat that doesn’t involve contracting a virus: Working in an active war zone.

From The New York Times:

But North Kivu Province, the volatile region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the new outbreak is centered, creates security complications that health officials did not confront in the outbreak they just defeated in northwest Équateur Province, 1,550 miles away. The World Health Organization is worried about the safety of medical workers in North Kivu and their access to areas controlled by militants.

“This new cluster is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director general of the health agency and the head of its emergency response unit.

Read the rest

Japanese students recreate Hiroshima bombing in VR

A group of high school students in Japan spent two years recreating the sounds and sights of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 in painstaking detail.

The Aug. 6, 1945, bombing of Hiroshima killed 140,000 people. Three days later, a second U.S. atomic bomb killed 70,000 people in Nagasaki. Japan surrendered six days after that, ending World War II.

“Even without language, once you see the images, you understand,” said Mei Okada, one of the students working on the project at a technical high school in Fukuyama, a city about 60 miles east of Hiroshima. “That is definitely one of the merits of this VR experience.”

Wearing virtual reality headsets, users can take a walk along the Motoyasu River prior to the blast and see the businesses and buildings that once stood. They can enter the post office and the Shima Hospital courtyard, where the skeletal remains of a building now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome stand on the river’s banks, a testament to what happene

Can anyone actually find this? Here's another clip. It's frustrating that there seems to be no good video of this anywhere online, let alone the VR experience itself: just brief moments polished into news clips sharing the same AP wire copy. Read the rest

Graffiti has been a part of military life for at least 5,000 years

War is a thing of terror, traditions, heartache and often, boredom. Passing the time between patrols, and the banality that comes from life in the field, is a constant challenge. Some people read. Most exercise. Everyone complains about the food. Soldiers write, train and call home--if there's someone there that'll pick up the phone. Video games? Totally a thing, in some instances. If you have a Sharpie, or a knife, there's a good chance that you might wind up doodling, scratching or scrawling something, at one point or another, to prove that you were there, where ever ‘there’ might be.

Jonathan Bratt, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a current company commander in the National Guard, put together a great read on the history of military graffiti for The New York Times. Starting with 5,000-year old cave paintings and navigating conflicts across the span of history, Bratten touches on the artwork and vandalization that soldiers, living in Death’s shadow, undertook to cure themselves of boredom and, in some cases, serve as proof of their existence.

From the New York Times Magazine:

World War II brought U.S. troops to Europe by the millions, and this time they were accompanied by a friend: Kilroy. Kilroy was a mysterious phantom, asserting his presence in the scrawled phrase “Kilroy was here,” often accompanied by a cartoon doodle of a bald head just peeking over a wall, nose and fingers visible. And Kilroy was everywhere. Troops claimed that when they’d storm a beach or take a village, they’d somehow find that Kilroy had gotten there before them.

Read the rest

CDC joins investigation into 'sonic attacks' in China, Cuba against U.S. personnel

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will join a government investigation into 'sonic attacks' that have left more than 25 U.S. personnel with mysterious ailments. Read the rest

Google promises no more use of its artificial intelligence tech in weapons

Alphabet, Google's parent company, promises not to allow use of its artificial intelligence technology in weapons and in certain forms of surveillance. Read the rest

US AIR STRIKES HIT DAMASCUS - Trump announces Syria air strikes in response to chemical attack

President Donald Trump appeared on television tonight to announce that the United States military is now striking 'chemical weapons sites' in Syria by air, with coordination from the military forces of France and Britain. Read the rest

This man is capturing the memories of World War II veterans while he still can

The Second World War came to an end 73 years ago. The men and women who served during the war are rapidly succumbing to the ravages of old age. In my lifetime, I know I'll mourn the loss of the last surviving WWII soldier, as I did the loss of Florence Green, the last surviving veteran of the First World War, in 2012. What the veterans of these horrific conflicts saw and in many cases, were forced to do in combat, should never be forgotten: their deeds and memories give color to every discussion we could have about why war should be avoided at all cost. While there's no stopping their deaths, one man has dedicated his life to preserving as many of the life experiences that the veterans of the Second World War lived through as possible.

The CBC recently ran a fascinating profile on Rishi Sharma. He's a 20-year-old man from California that's dedicated years of his life to interviewing the surviving veterans of World War II. According to the CBC, Sharma has conducted over 870 interviews with U.S. veterans in 45 American States. Recently, he made his way to Canada to hear what our old soldiers had to say about their time at war.

From the CBC:

Sharma says he's been interested in the Second World War since he was a child. He'd pore over books, watch the History Channel and once aspired to be a marine. When he realized how easily accessible war veterans are, he began reaching out to them.

Read the rest

Watch military swarm drones lock on and surround a target

Autonomous weapon bans (previously) are currently being debated, but in the meantime, the US Department of Defense continues work with its Perdix Micro-Drone project. Ostensibly for surveillance, it's clear these could easily be modded with lethal weaponry. Read the rest

Russian nerve agent attack may leave Skripals with 'limited mental capacity'

The military-grade nerve toxin attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia may have left the victims with 'compromised mental capacity,' a British judge said on Thursday. It is unclear whether the former Russian double agent and his adult child will recover from being poisoned with what the UK says was a Russian chemical weapon known as 'Novichok.' Read the rest

The last male white rhino in the world has died

The last male white Rhino in the world has died at 45 years of age.

The rhino, named Sudan, had been suffering from age-related ill-health for some time, according to AFP.

During the 1970s and 1980s the white rhino was damn near wiped out in Africa, thanks to the high demand of its horn for use in dagger handles in parts of Yemen and as a medicinal ingredient in China. Sudan's death all but cinches the death of the white rhino sub-species. Early in the new millennium, the species was nearly obliterated in the wild, as the few remaining white rhinos, numbering perhaps 20 to 30, were killed in the crossfire of the First Congo War, among other conflicts, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

With Sudan's passing, you'd think that the fate of the white rhino would be cinched. And you'd be right--theoretically.

While there are no more male specimens of the species, thanks to us, a few females remain. It's hoped that it may still be possible to use Sudan's genetic material to keep the species going:

"Sudan was the last northern white rhino that was born in the wild. His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him," said Jan Stejskal, Director of International Projects at the Dvur Kralove Zoo.

"But we should not give up. We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species.

Read the rest

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