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Healthier brains through gaming: JJ Shepard at TEDxColumbiaSC

Ph.D. candidate in computer science. His research focuses on "serious games" that have been used to teach foreign languages, generate simulations, visualize ...

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William Volk may not be the world's oldest game designer, but he's up there. He started out as a play tester for Avalon Hill in 1979, and since then has worked for Activision and other major players in the game space. His current job is with PlayScreen, where he's working on their Word Carnivale iOS game, which is not violent at all. But over the years Volk has worked on slightly violent video games and has watched public outcries over video game violence since 1976. He's also tracked how much less violence we've seen since lead was removed from gasoline. (Editorial interjection: Aren't most remaining pockets of massive gun violence in cities where many poor kids grow up in apartments that have lead paint?) Due to technical problems during the interview, some of the conversation is missing, primarily about the recent spate of multiple murders. It seems, for instance, that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza was heavily into violent video games, which is sure to spark plenty of new discussion about how they affect players. But then again, as Volk reminded me in an email, "If people were influenced by video games, a majority of Facebook users would be farmers by now," a meme that has been floating around Facebook since last year, if not earlier.

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A Wild Town

Detroit is know for many things, but especially for its high rate in crime and violence. Even though this might be something that should keep one from going there, also reasons exist that make this place truly interesting. Florent Tillon was one of them who discovered its intoxicating, violent beauty and wanted to reveal it to the public. 

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World War 2 might be the last war any Western nation fought that came with a simple, obvious moral certitude. Fighting against Nazi Germany and Japan, both aggressors, amounted to fighting for the ideals that at the end of the war made it into universally agreed principles. You can't easily say that about the various wars we have seen ever since. World War 2 also deeply transformed Europe, the continent. Europe started to unite into an often ill-defined, yet oddly effective superstructure that now, after the inevitable fall of the Soviet-Union, encompasses almost the entire continent. This might explain our ongoing fascination with World War 2, as the generation that fought the war (or what was left of it afterwards) is slowly and steadily dying. That generation is the only connection left to both the experience of the war and to the world before it. (more)

Martin Roemers's The Eyes of War makes that connection explicit, throwing in, however, what one might want to call a cruel twist: The eyes in the book are unable to see anything any longer. The women and men portrayed in the book are blind. They stopped seeing things around the time the world around them transformed.

As it turns out, there is a very large number of people blinded by or right after the war, soldiers, of course, but also many children whose playgrounds were riddled with unexploded, live ammunition. When you're a child, the world is your playground, and what could be more exciting than dealing with all that strange stuff and all those strange people around you? "The war was an exciting adventure," says Peter Witteveen (born in 1938), "and I still have good memories of it. But then I was still able to see." Witteveen lost his eyesight when he tried to pry open some ammunition his sister had found, causing it to explode.

In what one might perhaps consider part of the true new European spirit, The Eyes of War does not make any distinctions between nationalities. In the book, the blind are the blind, regardless what side they happened to be on, regardless of whether they were fighting or merely playing or maybe just being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. War seems to be a lot about just that: Trying to stay in the right spot, away from where things (or people) get blown up. Each of the people in the book get the chance to tell their story, regardless of what it might be. For each person you only get to see the face, ravaged by war and time.

It is to be hoped that books like The Eyes of War will now also be made for the wars we either brush aside or ignore or simply pretend they didn't even happen. The Europeans seem to have learned a lot from the war that destroyed almost their entire continent and left many millions dead. The ultimate price of war always is human suffering, and to make us less eager to support a war - or maybe more eager to speak out against one - we need to hear about that suffering. Martin Roemers has given us an opportunity to do just that.

The Eyes of War, photography by Martin Roemers, essay by Cees Nooteboom, 128 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2012

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Germans aren't so eager to go to war any longer. Here's the irony: The very same countries that after World War 2 set out to exorcise German militarism are now complaining about the country's unwillingness to fight wars. There are German soldiers ("troops") in various locations, though. German warships are fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia, and there are German soldiers in Afghanistan. (more)

To get crucial votes in the German parliament (the constitution requires parliamentary consent to all military actions on a regular basis - the German chancellor can't just start a war) politicians came up with all kinds of justifications. When German soldiers for the very first time since World War 2 participated in a war again - NATO's campaign against Serbia - the foreign minister invoked Auschwitz and the specter of death camps. To get a majority for Afghanistan the defense secretary said that civilization was being defended at the Hindu Kush (I am not making this up). Politics can be so similar to the art world: When you don't have any real argument, ludicrous hyperbole will do.

Politics aside, there are other repercussions of the post World War 2 exorcism. Germany has become a thoroughly demilitarized country. For example, it would be unthinkable for a German chancellor to use soldiers and/or tanks or other military equipment as a backdrop for a major speech. As a matter of fact, the visual culture around the German military is very different from the visual culture around the US military. Germans know their history very well, so everybody is careful to avoid creating something that looks like it was out of the past. This is part of the reason why Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht ("Death will come later, maybe") by Jörg Gläscher is such an interesting book.

Most of the photographs in the book were taken in Germany, some in actual deployment zones. For the most part, the landscape provides clues where the photographs were taken, but that's a bit besides the point. What I find really interesting here is the way German soldiers are portrayed going about their business. There is none of the heroism that makes so much of what I see usually coming from places like Afghanistan. Gläscher does not seem interested in portraying war (or war games) as something that might be heroic.

There is a portrait of a grubby looking soldier, who is resting against shot-up car, balancing something like a sniper rifle on his boot. It is a very matter-of-factly photograph. Even though the soldier appears to be somewhat in charge of things (he's aiming for a bit of a tough-guy look in his face) it is the rifle that seems to be bearing down on the man. Who really is in charge here? And what does that mean? What does this tell us about war?

Crucially, wouldn't getting a somewhat more critical and less overtly heroic depiction of US soldiers in the media open up all kinds of possibilities? Possibilities that would allow understanding both the nature of war and of what it does to people?

Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht is a book that demonstrates that photography can play a very interesting role investigating war. Editorial photographs of the military do not have to look like they are straight out of the military's PR material. Given we are now constantly at war (with some wars, such as the drone war in Yemen not even being openly declared any longer) we need to be talking about war and what it does to people.

For a while now, Germans were said to be the people who got out of their military obligations by providing money (for example, Germany did not participate in the first Gulf war). But is that so different from what we all are doing? The extent of our involvement in all the various wars is to pay our taxes and to call soldiers "heroes" (unless those very soldiers are brothers or sisters or sons or daughters). For a while, we used to stick ribbons to our cars. We don't seem to be doing that much any longer - what do you know, those ribbons are magnetic, so they come right off. How convenient! We shop, while they fight our wars.

Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht; photographs by Jörg Gläscher; essays by Holger Witzel, Ingo Schulze, Jochen Missfeldt, Kathrin Schmidt, Peter Bialobrzeski, Tanja Dückers, Wolfgang Prosinger; 136 pages; Kehrer; 2011 - unfortunately, there appears to be only a German-language edition of this book

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coondoggie writes "From deep in the Department of Creepy today I give this item: The FBI this week put out a call for new research 'to advance the science and practice of intelligence interviewing and interrogation.' The part of the FBI that is requesting the new research isn't out in the public light very often: the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which according to the FBI was chartered in 2009 by the National Security Council and includes members of the CIA and Department of Defense, to 'deploy the nation's best available interrogation resources against detainees identified as having information regarding terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.'"

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