War of Images

WikiLeaks.org has released graphic video of a U.S. military attack in Baghdad on July 12, 2007 in which twelve people were killed, including a Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, and driver, Saeed Chmagh. The video, from an on-board camera in one of the two Apache helicopters which carried out the attack, records the pilots' jocular banter and the scene on the street below as they fire upon a group of people. According to the New York Times, a senior U.S. military official has confirmed the video's authenticity, which WikiLeaks claims it received from whistle-blowers within the military.

The video has sparked an intense debate over what this kind of evidence reveals about the context in which these killings occurred. Shortly after the attack, a U.S. military spokesman said that "There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force," but none of the people in the video appear to present any immediate threat to the helicopters or to any coalition soldiers on the ground. Minutes into the video, after the first rounds of gunfire, a van pulls up and tries to pick up a severely wounded Chmagh, at which point the helicopters open fire again, wounding two children and killing other people in the van. The Economist's Democracy in America blog argues that the scene the video captures "is more ambiguous than it first appears" and that "no matter how precise our weaponry gets, no matter how much information we feed into our targeting systems, the decision to fire will always be based on incomplete information and come down to fallible human judgment." But The New Yorker's Raffi Khatchadourian examined the footage according to the rules of engagement and takes just that incomplete information to task, finding inconsistencies in what the Apache pilots seem to observe on the ground and what they then report up the chain of command; these distinctions are incredibly important because the pilots were describing the scene in order to receive permission to open fire. More directly, Andrew Sullivan called the video evidence of a clear war crime, and The Atlantic's James Fallows said of the video today: "at face value it is the most damaging documentation of abuse since the Abu Ghraib prison-torture photos." Reuters released a statement saying that the deaths of Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were "tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones."  

Perhaps most importantly, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists stated yesterday that "The video...confirms our long-held view that a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident is urgently needed." The military investigation conducted in the wake of the attack found no wrongdoing and no disciplinary action was taken, but because the WikiLeaks video cannot provide the context for these deaths and so many questions remain unanswered, a more objective and complete investigation is needed to supplement the incredibly valuable evidence WikiLeaks has made available.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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