Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chicago Sight: Navy Pier

Shots of Navy Pier from the ferris wheel. West toward the city. East toward Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Red Cross Ambulance Hoax

Zombietime documents another fraud with which you should be familiar: The Red Cross Ambulance Incident.

On the night of July 23, 2006, an Israeli aircraft intentionally fired missiles at and struck two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances performing rescue operations, causing huge explosions that injured everyone inside the vehicles. Or so says the global media, including Time magazine, the BBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and thousands of other outlets around the world. If true, the incident would have been an egregious and indefensible violation of the Geneva Convention, and would constitute a war crime committed by the state of Israel.

But there's one problem: It never happened.

A close look at the photographs refutes most of the story's claims.

Excellent collaborative work. An excellent example of looking closer and thinking harder.

Update, 9/3: The Red Cross removed the high-resolution photo from their web-site shortly after this fraud was exposed. "The ICRC has ignored requests for information about why the photo was deleted, so we can now reasonably conclude that they are deliberately covering up the evidence..."

Update, 9/5: It seems some are trying to rehabilitate this story with the facts and evidence shuffled around, casting more doubt on both new and original stories. 9/6: Zombie extends his post to refute these.

Update, 9/22: The ICRC admits to deliberately, quietly removing the high-res photo from their web-site "in order to keep the moral high-ground on the issue." (I wonder if that reasoning would have worked for Nixon?)

Update, 9/25: A red-cross worker was, indeed, murdered, but no one seemed to notice.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Released "Unharmed"?

Kidnapped Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were released by their Holy Jihad Brigades captors after being forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

New York Times: "2 Kidnapped Journalists in Gaza Freed Unharmed"

JERUSALEM, Aug. 27 — Two journalists kidnapped in Gaza were released unharmed today after being forced at gunpoint to say on a videotape that they had converted to Islam.

Omri Ceren notes:

We are beyond certain that if Muslim prisoners at Gitmo were forced to convert away from Islam as a condition of their release, the New York Times would not be putting the phrase "released unharmed" into their lede.


Being forced to convert is a harm. It might be the oldest harm short of death - being forced to renounce your faith and your god. Millions of people - literally millions - have died rather than deign to utter words that would force them to give up their faith. No wonder liberal journalists are utterly baffled by fully half of the United States - they don't think having to give up your religion is harmful.

The U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, ...

Update, 9/4, Mark Steyn:

Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Chicago Sight: Graffiti

Graffiti in a north-side Chicago park. I have no idea who it belongs to or what (if anything) it means.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Soccer-Playing Iraqi Children Murdered

Consider this evil. Gateway Pundit reports:

In August... at least 29 Iraqis and most of them children have died while playing soccer by terrorists specifically targeting innocent Iraqis.

And asks, "Where's the international outrage?... Where are the protests?"

Deliberately butchered. Evil beyond description.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Party like a North Korean

What's oppression really like? How bad is it? What would you endure for freedom?

175 North Korean refugees were found in an abandoned house in suburban Bangkok, Thailand. Further:

There was no immediate explanation on how so many North Koreans had managed to cram into a house with at least 10 bedrooms without Thai police being aware of them. Nor was it known immediately how long they had been there.

Today's version of the Underground Railroad.

[8/26] Good news! They won't be sent back to North Korea. Further: "Because of the North Korean government's poor human rights record, virtually all of its citizens are granted the status of “persons of concern,” which exempts them from being deported back to North Korea and makes them eligible to seek asylum."


Here's a party idea. Simulate those living conditions for a day.

They say "at least 10 bedrooms," so let's call it 11. Let's say the house is like one here in the U.S: living room, dining room, and family room, too.

Dividing people among these 14 rooms means 12 or 13 people to a room.

So divide each room in your place into 12 or 13 different parts. You get one of those to sleep in. When you're moving around your house, be mindful of the people in each room. Don't step (or sit) on them, but make a path through them.

Better yet: invite friends and family to fill every spot.

Don't forget to lay low so the neighbors or police don't get suspicious.

Not sure how we'll work meals. Get creative. There probably aren't enough dishes, cups, or silverware to go around, so you'll have to share.

Don't forget--the house is abandoned. Probably no electricity or running water. Make that part of the party, too. No air conditioning: Bangkok expects high temperatures in the low 90's a couple days this week.

Wait your turn for the bathroom. But with no running water, what will you do? Go in a bucket and take it outside? That's probably what they do. But let's not go that far: just wait your turn for the bathroom (and consider how long you'd have to wait).

What about laundry? Get creative again.

So how bad would things have to be for you to flee a country and live like that? Not just for a day, but like those people, some period of time?

By the way, Thailand is a long way from North Korea. It looks like they traveled 2,000 miles (3,000 km): think about what they endured just to get there.

Via Gateway Pundit.

P.S.: If you really do throw this party, let me know!

Update 8/24: I still haven't found any more information their living conditions or the size of their house.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke

Last night and tonight I watched Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.

I liked a lot about it.

The images and stories of the hurricane and early evacuations were powerful. Stories of those rejecting the denial and saying, "we're leaving now!"

The tangents he takes are often interesting. He spends a lot of time on New Orleans' history, music and culture. Scenes of celebration.

I liked the cinematography (though my taste is nothing to brag about).

The scenes of death and devastation were heart-wrenching, even sickening, but had to be shown. I commend him for showing them unflinchingly. (Maybe why this ended up on HBO, though the language would have landed it there, too.)

I was surprised to see Brendan Loy interviewed. He's a key hurricane blogger (and reasonably conservative politically).

With the images and stories, you hear a lot of things: early warnings ignored; people being told, "if you stay, you're on your own." "We rode out Bessie in 1965, we can ride this out."

I don't think it was obvious, but it occurred to me that the people showing up at the Superdome were expecting only to be there a few hours, then return home. A serious miscalculation.

Ray Nagin gets criticized, but seems to be granted forgiveness. Same for Governor Blanco.

The New Orleans police get bashed a bit.

Bush, FEMA, the Federal Government and the Army Corps of Engineers are hammered relentlessly. This seems to be Spike Lee's core message. And that's fine. It's his right.

My main problem with it is how anyone can get on and say just about anything, and then he moves on to the next thing. Celebrities, community leaders, "activists," and ordinary people say some pretty outrageous things. Though he spends time countering some claims (e.g., that the levees were intentionally dynamited), he lets lots of stuff pass unscrutinized.

The over-the-top quote of the first night: I didn't catch his name, but he's wearing a suit, looks like a community leader. He throws out a bunch of qualifiers then says that the way evacuees were separated from their families was just like slavery.

I couldn't believe my ears. But others heard it too: "And don’t even get me started on the outageous, and completely unchallenged, claim that rapidly evacuating people out of the airport — which necessitated, for the sake of efficiency, a somewhat inprecise process of shipping them off wholesale to far-flung cities — is equivalent to “slavery.” Cripes."

Reinforces the perception that whatever you do--including helping people evacuate--you'll be accused of racism.

I didn't have time or motivation to write down everything deserving scrutiny. Here are a few random ones [my comments interspersed].

Spike Lee's 40 Acres and A Mule Productions' tag-line: "By any means necessary. Ya dig. Sho 'nuf." "By any means necessary" is Malcom X's call (potentially) to violence, isn't it? What does Lee consider "necessary?" Distortions? False claims? Propaganda?

I got a big kick out of this. Brendan Loy (a hurricane Katrina blogger appearing in the film) gives us his web-site, "irishtrojan.com". I go there seconds later and see Fair and balanced - not.

Others weigh in:

Some of my previous Katrina posts:

Update 8/23: Looks like I'm one of Brendan Loy's 200 hits within minutes of him speaking his URL.

Update, 9/25: Star Parker: "He has produced a self-indulgent, deceitful and exploitive film about a tragedy."

Chicago Sight: Pacific Garden Mission

Pacific Garden Mission, a Chicago fixture since 1877 and producer of the "Unshackled" radio programs since eons past (1950 to be exact). Though it's been on South State Street forever, they're moving to a new location soon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Recognizing Staged Photos (And Why They're Wrong)

From the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics:

Never distort the content of news photos or video. ... Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events.


Though many instances of staged and faked photos are pretty subtle, or require research (e.g., comparing photos taken on different days by different news organizations), you should train your skeptical eye to catch the most obvious ones.

Caution: graphic image. A baby's corpse, covered in heavy dust, but with a perfectly dust-free, brightly colored pacifier pinned to him/her. [Update, 8/27: EU Referendum says, "As to its apparent cleanliness, we are dealing here with low-definition photographs and it would be unwise to rely on them for the finer points of detail. What might not be visible on these photographs might be very obvious on the high definition copies which - so far, the agencies have not released. Further speculation, therefore, is a route down which we do not want to go."]

Similarly, scenes of destruction, also covered in heavy dust, but with a dust-free stuffed animal in the foreground.

I have to admit: these images didn't strike me as staged until someone pointed it out. I didn't give much thought to the implications either.

Yeah, ok, so someone put it there. So what? The destruction is still real, isn't it?

Yes, but here's the problem: with a staged photo, you know someone tampered with the scene. But how much? [Update, 8/27, from above:]Did he meticulously clean the pacifier and chain at the scene? (Unlikely.) Did he bring it with him and pin it on the baby? (More likely.) But what else did he tamper with? How else was he involved? Any photos of him pinning it on? (Why not?) Did he bring the pacifier knowing he'd find a baby there? How did he know he would? Was he complicit in the act that drew Israeli fire? Did he make sure the baby was in its path? And how much of this has he done in the past?

See, once you start down that road, it's not clear where to stop. That's why it's wrong. That's why it's unethical. [Update, 8/27: Above strike-outs reinforce this. Trust is damaged: where do we stop trusting, and/or begin again?]

Further, the one doing the tampering is really trying to manipulate or mislead you. If you want to be manipulated or misled, that's your choice, but you should have the right to know that it's taking place.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Photojournalism in Crisis

An excellent essay by David D. Perlmutter at Editor and Publisher. Highlights for me:

I'm not sure, however, if the craft I love [photojournalism] is being murdered, committing suicide, or both. ...

[T]he photojournalist standing on the crumbling ramparts of her once proud citadel now sees the vandal army charging for the sack led by “zombietime,” “The Jawa Report,” “Powerline,” “Little Green Footballs,” “confederateyankee,” and many others.

In each case, these bloggers have engaged in the kind of probing, contextual, fact-based (if occasionally speculative) media criticism I have always asked of my students. And the results have been devastating: news photos and video shown to be miscaptioned, radically altered, or staged (and worse, re-staged) for the camera. Surely “green helmet guy,” “double smoke,” “the missiles that were actually flares,” “the wedding mannequin from nowhere,” the “magical burning Koran,” the “little girl who actually fell off a swing” and “keep filming!” will now enter the pantheon of shame of photojournalism.

A few photo-illusions are probably due to the lust for the most sensational or striking-looking image—that is, more aesthetic bias than political prejudice. Also, many photographers know that war victims are money shots and some will break the rules of the profession to cash in. But true as well is that local stringers and visiting anchors alike seem to have succumbed either to lens-enabled Stockholm syndrome or accepted being the uncredited Hezbollah staff photographer so as to be able to file stories and images in militia-controlled areas.

It does not help that certain news organizations have acted like government officials or corporate officers trying to squash a scandal.

News picture-making media organizations have two paths of possible response to this unnerving new situation. First, they can stonewall, deny, delete, dismiss, counter-slur, or ignore the problem. To some extent, this is what is happening now ...

The second, much more painful option, is to implement your ideals, the ones we still teach in journalism school. Admit mistakes right away. Correct them with as much fanfare and surface area as you devoted to the original image. Create task forces and investigating panels. Don’t delete archives but publish them along with detailed descriptions of what went wrong. Attend to your critics and diversify the sources of imagery, or better yet be brave enough to refuse to show any images of scenes in which you are being told what to show. I would even love to see special inserts or mini-documentaries on how to spot photo bias or photo fakery—in other words, be as transparent, unarrogant, and responsive as you expect those you cover to be.

Hat-tip: Powerline

Friday, August 18, 2006

Got Their Headline

USA Today, front page above the fold: "Wiretap program illegal"

Powerline, yesterday: "...the ACLU and the Democrats got the headlines they wanted from one of their own."

[T]he federal courts have held on a number of occasions that the President has the constitutional power under Article II to order warrantless surveillance for national security purposes. The Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Circuits have so held, as has the special FISA Court of Review. And those cases dealt with domestic warrantless intercepts, as opposed to the international communications that fall within the NSA program.

Consistent with unanimous precedent in the Federal Courts of Appeal, I would expect the 6th Circuit to reverse Judge Taylor's ruling and uphold the NSA program.

If that happens, we'll see if it comes with its own front-page headline.

The judge's decision analyzed by Powerline and surveyed by Patterico.

Related Moment of Irony: looking for the article on USAToday's web-site (not posted as of 6am), I find this story's headline instead: 9/11 panel heads: FBI lags on promised improvements.

Update, 8/23: Via JustOneMinute:

[Ann Althouse writes] It suggests that there are no good legal arguments against the program, just petulance and outrage and antipathy toward President Bush. It helps those who have been arguing for years about result-oriented, activist judges.

He notes the New York Times' about-face, and the judge's potential conflict of interest with the ACLU. More headlines than they bargained for.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Debunking 9/11 Myths

Hats off to Popular Mechanics editors David Dunbar and Brad Reagan, authors of the new book, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts.

The book comes out of the work they did back in 2005 (see here).

Glenn and Helen interview the authors at PoliticsCentral (caution: 33 minutes long). Listen for some of the same themes I touch on in my Conspiracy Theories post:

I think that extends to contradictory views of the military and government as well. On the one hand it's hyper-efficient ... coordinating this massive conspiracy ... and on the other hand they're bumblers ... why couldn't they scramble jets...

"...What you find is that these theories build on themselves..." [I.e., creating their own body of self-referencing faux-evidence.]

Debunking conspiracy theories is a lot less glamorous and sensational than promoting them, but sometimes the truth is that way.

Visit the book's blog.

Chicago Sight: Loyola

Art deco sculptures decorate a building at Loyola University's Lake Shore campus.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Media Credibility-Repair Plan

An open letter to Reuters and the Associated Press:

With your credibility taking a hit over faked and staged photos, consider this credibility builder.

For the next Hezbollah* media event, send two extra film teams. The first team looks and acts like an ordinary film crew, but wear hidden cameras and microphones and focus on the hosts. The second team hides out at a distance, scanning walkie-talkie channels, using zoom lenses and directional microphones.

Then take all the raw footage, transcribe it into English, put it together into a single time sequence, and publish it with your stories.

I realize that journalistic ethics instruct you to "Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public." It's pretty clear "traditional open methods" have failed. What is and isn't staged is "vital to the public."

You owe it to your own reputation to bring us this kind of reporting. To help your readers separate fact from propaganda.

Maybe today's cease-fire renders my idea moot, but somehow I don't think so. We'll see.

* Hezbollah, Hamas, or any such media event.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Chicago Sight: Midway's Plane

The World War II fighter plane at Chicago's Midway airport.

Hezbollah "Fauxtography" Round-Up

Photos and news stories coming out of Lebanon are now under intense scrutiny, and for good reason. Hezbollah clearly has journalist allies.

As well as digital doctoring, there's staging. Photojournalist Bryan Denton comments to his peers:

i have been witness to the daily practice of directed shots, one case where a group of wire photogs were choreographing the unearthing of bodies, directing emergency workers here and there, asking them to position bodies just so, even remove bodies that have already been put in graves so that they can photograph them in peoples arms. these photographers have come away with powerful shots, that required no manipulation digitally, but instead, manipulation on a human level, and this itself is a bigger ethical problem.


i have also heard from friends of mine in lebanon, respected photographers, that this was not an isolated incident.

David Kopel touches on a few important points:

At Qana at least, it appears that the media may have been complicit in the production of controlled, staged images using dead children as props, which were falsely presented to the public as authentic, spontaneous photos of a rescue operation.

[To those who] raised the argument "who cares about staging; all the matter is that the Israelis killed the children." That argument is wrong on two levels: first it is a gross violation of journalistic ethics to present a posed/staged photo as if it represented spontaneous activity; there is little doubt, at this point, that the media at Qana perpetrated this violation, and have been attempting to cover it up ever since. ...

We do know, as my article details, that the media were forbidden to examine or inspect the building where the children were allegedly killed; A.P. spokeswoman Linda Wagner, in response to a question from me, did not deny this fact, but instead sidestepped the question.

That's bad.

Bryan Preston: "It’s low-budget movie production, totalitarian style."

Caution: graphic images. From Preston's post, this video is a must-see. Further, the blog EU Referendum presents a case that seems more and more believable every day: Qana - the director's cut and Stretcher Alley.

Lost in the fraud is the human tragedy of these Hizbollah human shields.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Reuters Prints Faked Lebanon Photo

Freelance Lebonese reporter Adnan Hajj has been caught altering a photograph. Pajamas Media rounds things up. Reuters acknowledges that the photo was altered and has dropped Hajj.

Reuters appears reluctant to launch a full investigation, but bloggers are picking up the slack and finding more fraud. (And more.)

Mockery, as always, follows close behind.

Update, 8/7: Reuters pulls all 920 of Hajj's photos. Here's the letter I sent them:

I commend you for looking closer at Adnan Hajj's photographs.

For the sake of transparency and your organization's reputation, may I suggest making all his work available for public scrutiny? You could publish them in an ombudsman area apart from the news, and exactly as he submitted them (i.e., highest resolution, the names he gave each, all his notes, etc.).

Further, may I suggest you investigate his ties to Hezbollah? Perhaps a spot-audit of his phone records would be in order.

Finally, please carefully consider the distinction between faked and staged images, and your critics' arguments concerning each.

Best Regards, -Me, Chicago

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Conspiracy Theories

In the spirit of looking closer and thinking harder, consider the Conspiracy Theory.

From the USENET sci.skeptic FAQ, with my emphasis added:

0.8: What is a Conspiracy Theory?

There are two general categories of conspiracy theory: Grand and Petty.

A Grand conspiracy theory is a belief that there is a large-scale conspiracy by those in power to mislead and/or control the rest of the world. Consider the following example:
There is a conspiracy amongst the computer programmers to control the world. They are only allowing the public to have simple machines, while they control the really powerful ones. There is a computer in they call "The Beast". It has records about everyone. They use this information to manipulate the politicians and businessmen who ostensibly rule the world into doing their will. The Beast was prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
Grand conspiracy theories divide the world into three groups. The Conspirators, the Investigators, and the Dupes. Conspirators have a vast secret. The Investigators have revealed parts of the conspiracy, but much is still secret. Investigators are always in great danger of being silenced by Conspirators. Dupes are just the rest of us. Often the Conspirators show a mixture of incredible subtlety and stunning stupidity.

Evidence produced by the Investigators is always either circumstantial or evaporates when looked at carefully. The theories can never be disproved, since any evidence to the contrary can be dismissed as having been planted by the Conspirators. If you spend any time or effort digging into the evidence produced by Investigators then you will be labelled a Conspirator yourself. Of course, nothing a Conspirator says can be believed.

Petty conspiracy theories are smaller than the Grand variety, and sometimes turn out to be true. Watergate and "Arms for Hostages" episodes both started life as Petty conspiracy theories. Just because a theory involves a conspiracy does not make that theory false. The main difference between Grand and Petty Conspiracy Theories is the number of alleged conspirators. Grand Conspiracy Theories require thousands or even millions.

So then grand conspiracy theories are really a form of unverifiable sensationalism, even paranoia.

I'd add that deliberate misinformation campaigns (e.g., by the KGB) do bear some similarities to Grand Conspiracy Theories. A reasonably large number may participate (e.g., those in the KGB's employ), and may dupe a number of others.

Conspiracy theories work well in novels and movies, since the author has control of all the facts. (E.g., The Davinci Code.) They break down in real life, where the Investigators must account for all pertinent facts, convoluting their theories (often to the point of absurdity) to fit. That's when you see the telltale signs described above: "Conspirators show a mixture of incredible subtlety and stunning stupidity."

One celebrity's remark (I think Dana Carvey) stuck with me. Mocking OJ Simpson's defense team (who painted the prosecution as conspirators): "Those prosecutors must be the smartest, dumbest and luckiest people in the world, all at once..." Well put.

The FAQ's author mentions Watergate as an actual conspiracy (and it was). Less than a dozen people participated. Charles Colson was one. Consider his own reflection (from the book Kingdoms in Conflict, p 70):

In my Watergate experience I saw the inability of men--powerful, highly motivated professionals--to hold together a conspiracy based on a lie. It was less than three weeks from the time that Mr. Nixon knew all the facts to the time John Dean went to the prosecutors. Once that happened Mr. Nixon's presidency was doomed. The actual cover-up lasted less than a month.


By the way, Colson is speaking in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. He continues:

Yet Christ's powerless followers maintained to their grim deaths by execution that they had in fact seen Jesus Christ raised from the dead. There was no conspiracy, no passover plot. Men and women do not give up their comfort--and certainly not their lives--for what they know to be a lie.

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