Mule versus machine

 

THE WORLD

The U.S. military would love to send sure-footed robots to Afghanistan so that machines -- and not soldiers -- can hump bulky equipment straight up mountains. Boston Dynamics has worked since 2004 on what it calls its "Big Dog cargo 'bot," yet the robot is still too big, too noisy and too expensive to run. And the Marines are working on driverless all-terrain vehicles, reports wired.com, but those machines haven't proved tough enough to survive in a war zone. There is a perfectly fine alternative already available: Pack mules. Mules, born of a female horse and a male donkey, are dependable animals that proved their worth back in the 19th century; that means we don't have to spend millions of dollars on research and development. Now the military says it's considering the restoration of an Animal Corps, which would bring back not only mules but also veterinarians and animal handlers to keep the "combat mules" battle-ready. Meanwhile, some troops in mountainous Afghanistan have begun renting mules and donkeys, though on missions in areas with roads, "they use John Deere ATVs -- the regular kind, not the driverless models."

WASHINGTON

Billboards portray supermodels wearing next to nothing, but the signs still have to watch their language -- even if the object is saving lives. A board of health in Kennewick, Wash., suddenly reversed itself and voted against endorsing a colon-cancer awareness campaign, reports the Tri-City Herald, after some people complained that the billboard's bluntly worded question "What's up your butt?" was in poor taste.