George W. Bush pursues disastrous policies in his fictitious War on Terror. He created a grossly inefficient Department of Homeland Security. He started wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. He bullied US Soldier checking Islam woman in Baghdadthrough unconstitutional and illegal laws, policies and executive orders. He violates human rights by decree. He allows and encourages torture, detention, ignoring habeas corpus and illegal surveillance. He does not have the sense or maturity to withdraw from lost causes.

Every policy enacted by Bush goes straight against longstanding wisdom on how to control terrorism. The huge resources in both lives and money thrown at this single issue are totally out of proportion with the possible benefit. The only results, after five years, are increased terrorism, hundreds of thousands dead and costs in the $ trillions. There are zero benefits to justify this gross mismanagement.

A historical perspective on failed strategies

The new Bush strategy simply escalates a non winnable war in Iraq by sending more troops. Let’s look at another war where a similar strategy ruled the day:

The beginning: In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 Special Forces advisers to A watch tower at the Guantanamo Detention CampVietnam. By late 1963, there were about 16,000 advisers in the country. August 14th 1964 saw 21,000 advisers to the South Vietnam military. A few days later, air attacks on North Vietnam started after the alleged Gulf of Tonkin naval attacks.

Legislative action: Congress approved the Southeast Asia Resolution giving President Johnson unique powers to conduct a non-declared war.

The escalation: In March of 1965, 3,500 additional Marines were dispatched, setting up camp at Da Nang. President Johnson authorized US independent ground force attacks on the enemy, rapidly sending more troops. By the end of 1965, the US had 184,000 troops in Vietnam. That rose to 389,000 by the end of 1966. Late 1967 welcomed a total of 486,000 American personnel. In 1968, an average of 1,200 Americans died in Vietnam each month. A peace demonstration against the Vietnam war in Rome, Italy

Disappearing public support: The 1968 Tet Offensive made it obvious the US was not winning the war. Public US support plunged. President Johnson’s approval rating fell as low as that of President Bush today. Johnson decided against a second term. Peaceful and some violent demonstrations took place around the globe. President Nixon declared numerous plans to end the War in Vietnam, none of which were believed by the public.

Limits of military force: By 1969, there were 553,000 American troops in South Vietnam. The US military found it could not use its enormous fire power on an enemy it could not see and could not engage on its terms. North Vietnam quickly found ways to kill Americans. The war spread to Laos and Cambodia. Massive air bombings did not change the course of the defeat. The fall of Saigon 1975 and refugees fleeing by helicopter from the US embassy

Withdrawal: Eventually, the US plan was to vietnamize the War. In 1971, several of the US “allies” withdraw from the scene. US troops declined to about 197,000 in 1971. In 1972, the (almost) last US ground troops left Vietnam. Massive bomb attacks against North Vietnam continued into 1973.

Peace: The Paris Peace Accord went in effect the same year. The US gradually withdrew all support to the South Vietnam and Saigon fell in 1975, finally ending a war that started in the 1940s, involving the US, Australia, Korea, France, Russia, China, Cambodia, Laos and others. Tiny North Vietnam prevailed.

Clearly, the Vietnam War was very different from that of Iraq. At the same time, there are sufficient similarities to provide some lessons to those that are teachable. The Vietnam War was a bad idea supported by almost no one. There was no ethical or moral justification. Superior fire power did not win against a determined, skilled and underrated combatant. Nor did almost unlimited financial resources bring the expected results. Massive ground troop escalation did not help. Advising, equipping and training the friendly forces ended up as too little, too late tactics.

A Seattle man during a peaceful parade against  Chechnya warsThe Russians did not win in Afghanistan. Nor do they win in Chechnya. Iraq did not win against Iran. Napoleon did not win against Russia. Nor did the Swedes in the late 1700s or Hitler almost 200 years later win over the Russian Winter. Mussolini lost every war he entered. Germany is known for starting but not winning wars. So is France. The British did not win wars in North America.

The French War on Terror in Algeria in the early 1960s is a splendid example of Algerian, Muslim insurgents winning its war against the mighty France. The Algerians used common insurgent tactics and the French military had no answer. France lost and got out. As will happen in Iraq, civil war followed. That war is still going on – over forty years later.

Wars are lost by powerful countries. It is not a matter of superior fire power, perceived just causes, industrial and financial might, determination or staying the course while accepting the sacrifices deemed justifiable. Many wars are lost because the enemy found a way, not necessarily militarily, to beat you. Other wars are lost because the idea was so bad no one, internationally or domestically, supported it.

George W. Bush will not win the Iraq war, mostly because it was and is a terrible, unethical idea. It is a classic example showing that winning the (initial) battle does not imply winning the war. Going to war without knowing who the enemy is, nor how to win against him is a stupid idea. Depending on the resolve of the Democratic Congress, the war will likely continue till the end of his term. Then the next president will have to do the withdrawal that should happen right now. How many American lives – 3,000? 50,000? How many Iraqis – maybe a few hundred thousand? What if the war spreads – any casualty number to the millions is possible. Then of course, there is the financial cost which will be, minimum, in the several trillions.


Back to regular programming

This is Part 2 of my four part series on this gruesome issue. Part 1 detailed the specifics of the Bush actions related to the wars. This part will discuss the consequences of these actions.

Woman in shock by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade CenterLike most others in the US and around the World, I woke up that 9/11 2001 morning, turned on the TV and life changed. I witnessed almost 3,000 people die in one of the deadliest terrorist attack ever. Nothing I will say can diminish the horror of the crime of that day or the honor of countless courageous people. Enacting a strong policy to catch and punish the perpetrators of that act was and is the right thing. But things went very wrong as discussed in Part 1. Here I’ll show just how wrong it went.

In four separate but connected parts, I discuss some fundamental reasons why the War on Terrorism turned into a disaster.

Part 1 – Bad Strategies Lose A Bad War on Terror

This is Part 2 – Consequences of a Lost War on Terror

Deny disaster: No one has won a military war on terror because it means making war on an invisible enemy. That is especially true if the military force is not ingenious. Bush spent thousands of lives, exhausted the US military, wasted some 1/2 trillion dollars and created MORE terrorism. It backfired massively as seen by the people of the US, Congress and the rest of the world.

Subjects in this second part of the essay:

Part 2a – State of the Union – The War on Terror Death March

This post is a quick update of current events as of mid January 2007. Tonight, as I write this, Bush will give his State of the Union address. Some expect him to moderate his views some. I very much doubt it.

Part 3 – Exiting a Lost War on Terror

Botch priorities: Terrorism is an insignificant part of mortality. One of the deadliest terrorist attacks,9/11, caused less than 3,000 casualties. As tragic as it is, that loss is limited compared to other events. Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 70 million people. The deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Kim Jong-Il easily exceed 100 million. George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon An elderly woman enjoying peace from insurgent caualties during attacks in Baghdadcaused fewer casualties but far exceed any threat to human life from terrorists.

Jumble goals: The notion of “war” against ideas and/or tactics is simply silly. You can declare, and win, wars on nations, such as Panama, Grenada or Japan. You cannot declare generic wars on terrorism, gay marriage, drugs, abortions, crime, illiteracy or AIDS. You cannot win unless you know what specific enemy you fight, how to eliminate that specific enemy threat and when the mission is accomplished. In five years, the White House has yet to define what terrorism is.

Ignore failure: The resources thrown at the War on Terror are out of proportion with any possible benefits. The cost is enormous and the benefits are negative. The War sacrifices thousands of lives; it does not save lives or reduce terrorism. George W. Bush ignores the “right” ways to fight terrorism and, no wonder, fails. Can he deal with withdrawal as he must? Perhaps history can guide but probably not. George W. does not see it the way others do.

Part 4 – Preserve Life, Not War

Overlook alternatives: Instead of Mr. Bush’s policy “Protect American lives by fighting Terrorism”, act on “Protect life by fighting Death”. Stop wars and genocides. Combat famines and plagues. Protect against flooding, wind and eruptions. Fight Global Warming. Make safer and more efficient cars, ships and airplanes. Fight ordinary health hazards. Defend human rights. Stop war crimes. Place a proper priority on fighting terrorism and use the right tools.


Images in this Essay

A young girl doing ordinary thingsWith a few exceptions, the images in this part of the essay are my own. Almost all of them show people doing ordinary things. There are a few images associated with terrorism shot by other people. I wanted to convey that, ultimately, callous government acts hits real people. This essay is about human rights violations by the American government. This essay is about people.

I felt pictures of ordinary people doing, mostly, ordinary things was the right way to go. People generally likes to do everyday things. They do not want to fight wars, kill kids or destroy homes and families. They certainly do not like to bury their siblings, sons or daughters killed in some incomprehensible distant war.

Terrorism is not a daily concern, nor a threat, to most people outside Baghdad and a few other places. It is an insignificant factor in mortality statistics. George W. Bush thinks differently. It would be better if he learnt to look into the eyes of the people – American or not – rather than believing his fate is to defend the world from illusions only existing in his own mind.


Ignore the disastrous consequences

Bush’s policies delegated the US from a world leadership role following “winning the cold war” to an isolated, secondary has-been. The US lost the moral war and thereby any chance of leading the world. It demonstrated military weakness. Super weapons do not work against invisible enemies.


Destroy International Relations

Here is the 101 course in “How to Fail in International Affairs”. The Bush White House pursues failure with a curious mix of gusto, ruthlessness and ignorance. The result is International Relations in Shambles: A sleeping girl in Tokyo ignoring International Affairs

  • Lose International Credibility: The US was the last super power and its actions are still examined intensely and nervously by allies and foes. Any controversial issue becomes an international event, with the White House typically the last to know. The Vietnam war is perhaps the most obvious case but both the Iraq war and the War on Terrorism approaches similar levels of “anti American” sentiments across the globe. The net effect is isolation of the US in a hostile world.
  • Intimidate Friendly or Neutral States: In their desperately heavy handed search for “allies” against Iraq, Bush and Rumsfeld managed to insult Germany and France into rejection of most US policies at the time. Dick Cheney has a flair for insulting Russia. Although relations improved, the memory will last indefinitely, both in America and overseas. Surprising as it may seem, several Arab states traditionally have been US supporters. Bush’s unquestioned support of Israel, no matter how many civilians slaughtered, damaged or destroyed those relations.Man looking for Dick Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld
  • Alienate Non-allied States: The Famous “Axis of Evil” nonsense not only angered North Korea and Iran to the point of pursuing nuclear weapons, it also alienated traditional supporters of, or stake holders in, the “evil” countries: China, France, Russia, South Korea, Syria and many others.
  • Lie: This includes: 1) produce false evidence of Iraqi WMD in front of the UN, 2) declare “Mission Accomplished” when it is not, 3) claim success and progress when there is none, 4) hide torture and human rights abuse as a top level policy, 5) deny the reality of the Iraqi Civil War and 6) blame others for policy failures.
  • Use the Wrong Tactic at the Wrong Time: The US military will not win the War on Terrorism. The use of the US military damaged international relations and demonstrated political and military weakness. The result is an encouraged terrorism.
  • Allow Nuclear Proliferation: The US openly supports India’s development as a nuclear power. It implicitly allows Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions as a thank-you for its role against terrorism. It allows Israel’s long standing nuclear program and is faced with a potential Israeli nuclear attack on Iran. It is powerless against the Iran and North Korea ambitions.
  • Enable Terrorism: Practically every single “anti terrorism” policy, act or initiative from the Bush White House has backfired, causing more world wide terrorism rather than less. A foreign policy disaster, it not only causes more terrorism but also polarizes the US itself.

Does any of the above make any difference? One result is that other governments and ordinary Lonely prople in the night worrying about US goods, services and income receiptspeople reject the US as a leader. Again – so what, the US rules no matter what, right? Consider this: in 2005, the US exported $1,750 billion of goods, services and income receipts. Meanwhile, the US imported a comparable $2,450 billion of stuff. Foreign owned assets increased by almost $1,200 billion. In 2005 alone, foreigners invested in/lent to the US $1,900 billion. The US national debt is $8.5 trillion. About $2 trillion is held by foreigners, in particular China and Japan. The US economy heavily depends on foreigners and overseas markets.

That is a lot of financial clout held by foreign countries. These countries have no interest in bringing the US or the dollar down as it would hurt them as much as it would hurt the US but the uncertainty remains. Can the system spiral out of control? Of course, it can. Can foreigners use their financial clout to influence US policies, especially international policies? You bet – they do it all the time.


Misunderstand the terrorist enemy

Terrorism goes back as far as civilization itself, yet dealing with it poses major difficulties because of its covert, invisible and convoluted nature. Inflexible, unimaginative and ignorant policies from George W. Bush view terrorists as a clearly defined bunch of murderous lunatics and outcasts. That is a big and disastrous mistake. Defining “terrorism” is next to impossible (Sources: here, here, here and here):

  • Twelve separate international conventions have been signed, each covering a specific type of criminal activity ­ seizure of airplanes, political assassination, the use of explosives, hostage-taking, etc. Broad ratification of these treaties has been difficult to achieve. The more fundamental issue of creating a comprehensive, binding international convention against terrorism has been set aside. RMan surprised Bush does not knows the terroristsrepeated efforts remain unresolved. The UN says “the question of a definition of terrorism has haunted the debate among States for decades.”
  • The lack of international definitions of terrorism leads to chaos in dealing with terrorism, for instance: The U.N. does not regard Hitzbullah or Hamas as terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia uses this distinction to get away with funding Hamas, while Iran and Syria use it to provide funds and support to Hitzbullah.
  • Without a clear definition of terrorism, U.N. member states — including the liveliest terror sponsors — pay no penalty for interpreting these measures in any warped way they might choose, or effectively ignoring them altogether. The U.N. passed resolutions a few years ago sanctioning a highly abbreviated list of a few hundred Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates worldwide. The sanctions are at best erratically enforced.
  • The ultimate result of this lack of understanding will be that terrorists, protected by their patrons at the U.N. itself, will use its graphic and ruinous terms to define the meaning of terrorism for us.
  • The Bush doctrine is both naive and vague: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” In declaring a War on Terrorism, Bush defiantly stated his intent to pursue nations providing aid or safe haven to terrorism. His suggestion that every nation had a decision to make on the issue is heavy handed, insulting and out of line of any diplomatic convention. Five years later, the White House has yet to define clearly what constitutes a terrorist organization. Fewer and fewer countries are willing to decide any matter George W. Bush’s way. US Congressmen feel the same way, even Republicans.
  • In the Bush lexicon, terrorism is a catch-all term for interpreting diverse conflicts, from separatist movements to paramilitary activity to arms and narcotics trafficking. The failure to define terrorism enabled the White House to label almost anybody opposed to its policies as a terrorist organization. Groups as diverse in structure and objectives as Peru’s Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Basque Fatherland and Liberty, the Communist Party of the Philippines and Hamas are on the State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
  • The White House further narrowed its focus by applying the al-Qaida label to virtually any Islamic group labeled a Woman reading about war crimes and terrorist organizationsterrorist organization on the shakiest of evidence. Regional, independent groups are suddenly al-Qaida supporters or affiliates. The administration implies that the sole enemy is a global conspiracy of Islamic groups. The Islamic bias is clearly wrong as the government’s own terrorism reports demonstrate.

Here are a few nouns, all of which are more or less related to “terrorism”: separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, reactionary, vigilante, paramilitary, guerrilla, rebel, jihadi, mujaheddin, fedayeen, death squad, anti-terrorist, anarchist, partisan, instigator, provocateur, revolutionist, communist, ultraist, intelligence agent, right winger, left winger, insurgent, fanatic, religious nut, pro-lifer, activist, extremist, zealot, freak, maniac, pro-animal-righter, nationalist, anti-nationalist, militant, assassin, ex-employee, high school student, veteran, mercenary, suicide-by-police….. There is a least a hundred “names” for terrorists as a result of its diverse nature.

Another man reading about MIPT terror databasesThe Department of Homeland Security sponsors and pays the bills of the National Memorial Institute for The Prevention of Terrorism, formally an independent non-profit organization. MIPT maintains a public database on terrorist organizations and events. The database is available here and is called TKB for short. Effectively, this is the government’s official list or terrorist organizations. The database contains information on 31,275 terrorist events, accusing organizations of causing 45,954 fatalities and 108,680 wounded. Of the 32,275 events, 21,668 are attributed to an “Unknown” or “Other” category. There are 880 named groups, responsible for a total of 8,607 events and 19,933 fatalities.

Of the 880 named groups, 550 are not accused of causing any fatalities at all. Of the remaining 330 groups, only 38 are associated with more than 100 fatalities. Only 5 of the groups are directly linked to US fatalities in the TKB database. That’s the official data, contrasting wildly with official rhetoric. It also does not reflect reality – a subject I’ll return to later in this essay. Man angry about US terrorism in Nicaragua and Libya

Here is a valid point: thousands of terrorist organizations are active at any point in time. They all have different goals, come from unique backgrounds and employ different tactics. The vast majority are local groups posing no threat to the US, the international community or even their homeland. There is no way to generalize or find a single way to deal with all these fractions, nor is there a need to deal with most of them or worry about their actions.

Is the US innocent of terrorism? Consider the US government level support for or conduct of terror. Needless to say, none of these events are listed in the TKB database:

  • In 1931 Nicaragua, the US established training schools for right-wing militia, dismantled two liberal governments, and helped to orchestrate fake elections.
  • The US helped overthrow the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in 1973.
  • In 1981 Nicaragua, the CIA organized the “Contras” to overthrow the progressive Sandinista government. Many Contras had already received training from the U.S. military as members of the Somoza National Guardsmen.
  • The US supported a right-wing junta in El Salvador that ended up being responsible for 35,000 civilian deaths between 1978 and 1981.
  • The US trained thousands of Latin American military personnel in torture methods at the School of the Americas.
  • The US bombed a suburban Beirut neighborhood in March 1985. This attack killed 80 people and wounded 200 others.
  • The US bombed Libya in 1986. This event is listed by the UN’s Committee on the Legal Definition of Terrorism as a “classic case” of terrorism.
  • The US attempted assassinations, exploded boats and manufactured explosive cigars, conducted industrial sabotage and the burned sugar fields in Cuba. Castro survived.
  • The US supplied arms to various combatants in the Middle East, including massive support, in funds and arms, for Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians.
  • The US provided over $7 billion in arms, funds and training, to the Mujahideen in its Afghan war against the USSR in the 1980s. Part of the Mujahideen is today known as the Taliban.
  • The US actively supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s as an ally against Iran and as a potentially profitable future source for raw materials such as oil and a market for exports.
  • The US conducts chemical warfare in Colombia: crop-duster planes spray broad-spectrum herbicides onto the Colombian countryside and the people who live there, leading to widespread illness, displacement, and hunger. Lady dancing, ignoring bombs, terror and Colombia herbicides

Some say terrorism is borne out of three factors: first, the terrorist’s only option is using violence to protest his anguish – he or she is beyond hope. Second, the terrorist is compelled to draw attention to his/her cause using the only means available – violence. Third – it is a convenient, low cost way to achieve a specific goal, especially as state sponsored terrorism. These three factors are valid in many cases but not all. Many extreme organizations have lots of opportunities to further their cause peacefully but chose not to. Bombers of abortion clinics or animal farms are prominent examples.

The bottom line: terrorism is an incredibly complex issue and requires sophisticated responses. Without a clear view of what and who you fight, there is no win. You must know why you fight and how you fight, depending on the precise target. You must realize the target is not one generic bunch of fanatics but an incredibly diverse group of states, parties, factions, interest groups and ordinary citizens. The Bush doctrine fails all of these points.


Threaten Human Rights

Take the USA Patriot Act – one of many examples: The “War on Terrorism” threatens the US Constitutional Rights in at least the following areas (Source: here):

  • First Amendment – Freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.
  • Fourth Amendment – Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • Fifth Amendment – No person is to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
  • Sixth Amendment – Right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury, right to be informed of the facts of the accusation, right to confront witnesses and have the assistance of counsel.
  • Eighth Amendment – No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment shall be imposed.
  • Fourteenth Amendment – All persons (citizens and non citizens) within the US are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the laws.

Here are some of the actual violations of Constitutional Rights (Source here, with additions by me):

  • 8,000 Arab and South Asian immigrants have been interrogated because of their religion or ethnic background, not because of actual wrongdoing.
  • Thousands of men, mostly of Arab and South Asian origin, have been held in secretive federal custody for weeks and months, sometimes without any charges filed against them. The government has refused to publish their names and whereabouts, even when ordered to do so by the courts.Woman thinking about  immigration court hearings
  • The press and the public have been barred from immigration court hearings of those retained after September 11th and the courts are ordered to keep secret even that the hearings are taking place.
  • The government is allowed to monitor communications between federal detainees and their lawyers, destroying the attorney client privilege and threatening the right to counsel.
  • New Attorney General Guidelines allow FBI spying on religious and political organizations and individuals without having evidence of wrongdoing.
  • President Bush has ordered military commissions to be set up to try suspected terrorists who are not citizens. They can convict based on hearsay and secret evidence by only two-thirds vote.
  • American citizens suspected of terrorism are being held indefinitely in military custody without being charged and without access to lawyers.
  • The government maintains lists of individuals suspected of terrorism or terrorist related activities. These lists are proven to be wildly inaccurate. Air lines maintain similar lists. Some of these lists are simply racial profiling.
  • Federal detainees allegedly associated with terror are classified as enemy combatants with no rights under US law or the Geneva Convention in spite of court orders to the opposite.
  • Such detainees are subject to religious contempt and disrespect in violation of the Geneva Convention and US law.
  • Such detainees are subject to harsh treatment, including torture, even murder, as approved and endorsed from the White House and down in violation of numerous treaties and US laws. The purpose is to extract information in violation of the Geneva Convention.
  • US, and other, citizens are subject to illegal surveillance by various US agencies, such as NSA. This includes cell and land phone tapping, tracking Internet usage such email and chat room activity, monitoring bills, such as credit cards and phone records, and tracking bank statements. No doubt this list is incomplete.

Man suspicious of cell and land phone tappingThese are just a few examples. It is by no means a complete picture of the abuses. Earlier, I listed 15 separate laws and acts, most passed in response to 9/11 and Iraq. None of these extremely objectionable cases have, to my knowledge, prevented any credible act of terrorism or saved lives. They mostly abuse innocent people by removing basic parts of human and civil rights.

Do illegal detainment, torture, intimidation and other US tactics effectively prevent terrorism? The answer is simply NO. None of these acts prevents terror according to many authoritative studies on the subject. At the best, they are a minor deterrent which any determined terrorist easily bypasses. At the worst, they actually lead to more terror as retaliation. Many terror acts are blackmail aimed at the release of associates held in custody.

The US government use illegal tactics. Quite possibly it commits war crimes. The tactics are ineffective and counterproductive – they encourage, not suppress, terror as has been repeatedly proven in history. They attract strong criticism from the entire world with disastrous effects on US credibility and ability to lead in any area, contributing to a vicious cycle of escalating terrorism such as is obvious in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Ignore international treaties

Let me quote yet another lost cause related to George W. Bush’s dim view of international laws. After all, he has stated the Geneva Convention no longer is relevant. He is thumping his nose at the UN Charter, the Hague Convention, the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, just to name a few. Here are the facts about the Geneva Convention:


Disregard the Geneva Convention

Note: This is a reprint of parts of my essay On Ethics – Part 5:

Man praying for the Geneva ConventionsThe four Geneva Conventions protect POWs and restricts certain kinds of warfare. They are some of the most successful international treaties. They clearly define and relate to Ethical standards. They have evolved over time in different versions. The first version was adopted in the 1860s. The last major revision dates to 1949. Signatory nations (about 200) are required to pass national laws making it a crime to violate the Conventions.

In 1997, two protocols to the Geneva Conventions were added. They give protection to guerrillas in civil wars or wars of national liberation. A third protocol was added in 2006.

Article 4 of the current Conventions may be of interest, considering the current debate of denying the rights of the Conventions to certain “terrorists”. Please do judge for your self. Here is a much shortened version:

Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Conventions, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:


2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of Ghost of an organized resistance movementtorganized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
c) That of carrying arms openly;
d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.


I am no lawyer. But it seems to me the above applies to many individuals currently denied the rights of the Geneva Conventions. Here is an excerpt of those rights:

Article 13Hand held by a Detaining Power according to the Geneva Conventions

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Conventions. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

Article 14

Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honor. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favorable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.

…………..Elderly hands enjoying respect for their persons under the Geneva Conventions

Article 17

Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. If he willfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.


No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.


Does this sound like what is known to be going on in prison/POW camps around the World? Do you trust George W. Bush to come up with a better version? Or is his version simply a way to cover his behind from prosecution? Some White House lawyers think Woman demonstrrator for human rights as denied by the White House top lawyerso:

  • The White House’s top lawyer warned more than two years ago that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for “war crimes” as a result of new and unorthodox measures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism, according to an internal White House memo and interviews with participants in the debate over the issue.
  • The lawyer focused on a little known 1996 law passed by Congress, known as the War Crimes Act, that banned any Americans from committing war crimes—defined in part as “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions.
  • Noting that the law applies to “U.S. officials” and that punishments for violators “include the death penalty,” Gonzales told Bush that “it was difficult to predict with confidence” how Justice Department prosecutors might apply the law in the future. This was especially the case given that some of the language in the Geneva Conventions—such as that outlawing “outrages upon personal dignity” and “inhuman treatment” of prisoners—was “undefined.”


Can’t win militarily

Flutist against torture terrorism in Iraq Somaila and FranceWhat makes us think we can beat terrorism? Every one knows no conventional army will ever win a war against terrorists. The point is well proven in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Somalia, Indonesia, Bali, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Cambodia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Congo, the Balkans, Central America, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho. That’s just mentioning a few modern time examples. If you go back over the centuries, you will find thousands of similar examples.

Terrorism is not reduced by laws, illegal detention, torture, executions, killings of a few, shots in the kneecaps, B-52s, awe and thunder, disposing some dictator or repressive regime, Special Forces, data mining, freezing assets, wire tapping, threatening relatives, destroying homes, offering candy, building schools, training police forces or any of the countless methods tried throughout history. Female against major terrorism in Chechnya

A modern government, most of all that of the US is incapable of preventing acts of terrorism. That is not to say it is easy to commit an act of terror. It is quite difficult outside obvious hot spots such as Iraq, Israel, Palestine and some less developed areas.

Take a clue: the lack of Russian success in controlling major terrorism out of Chechnya, Israel losing the recent battle against Lebanon’s Hitzbullah, Sri Lanka’s untenable battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Irish IRA fought successfully for almost 30 years before accepting a political solution, not a military victory or defeat. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all are engaged in long unsuccessful campaigns against all kinds of terrorist groups. The Philippines have fought various uprisings/terrorists for the last fifty years, battling Communists, Islamic and Muslim Fronts and various Revolutionary Councils. In Mexico, there is terrorism in Nuevo Laredo; groups like Zapatista National Liberation Army, People’s Revolutionary Woman relaxing, not worried about George W. Bush battling Communists Islamic  and Muslim FrontsArmy and Revolutionary Army

of the Insurgent People are the most prominent Mexican insurgent groups but there are at least twenty other active groups – not to mention countless criminal organizations.

In the 1970s, the US experienced the actions of some 20 different groups, labeled as terrorists by some, as freedom fighters by others. Today, none of these groups are active. That is not thanks to George W. Bush’s War on Terror or illegal laws. It is due to two factors – 1) many were defeated by plain ordinary, if sometimes excessive, police work and 2) others grew older and experienced changing priorities. This is an excellent example how terrorism can be beat. I’ll come back to this example. Similar trends were seen in much of Europe and Japan.


Destroy US influence

Girl not in a Vietnam camp, thinking about WatergateNever has the US influence been in as steep decline as it is now. Watergate and Vietnam were no high points but this is worse. Part of the reason is that not only is the War on Terror and all its related disasters such clear losers, so are other issues important to the world. Global Warming is the principal reason for justified overseas anger. Then the stark US arrogance and heavy handedness wins no friends. Here are additional factors:

U.S. military superiority doesn’t produce proportional results. The military cannot fight insurgents or terrorists. No matter the huge firepower, it cannot be used on invisible enemies. Nor does it do much good against suicide bombers. Moreover, practically the entire US military might is concentrated in one minor theater – Iraq. No one believes the US could take on another foe.

New rivals are eroding American economic influence. China, India, soon-Russia, the EU are nabbing at the US heels in technology, education, finance as examples.

The U.S. globalized faster than policy makers have been able to adjust. The US budget and trade deficits must be financed somehow. China, Japan are investing, relying on the US somehow stays solvent. We wish you the best of luck.

Foreign influence on U.S. economic health has grown dramatically while the American policy response hasn’t kept pace. Foreign owned assets in the US amount to some $13 trillion. Plenty of aggressive and skilled competition raises the stakes – and the strangle hold on US companies.

America’s technological gap is shrinking. Maybe Microsoft or Intel would disagree. But both outsource to India and China, giving away invaluable skills and technologies. The US educational system falls further and further behind those of hungry competitors.

Political polarization hurts U.S. leadership. The remaining US political will is concentrated in a few limited areas: the infamous and irrelevant War on Terror. Impractical and uneducated ideas about gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, school prayer, Mexican border fences and immigrant labor. Important issues are ignored: medical insurance, social security, deficits, global warming, R&D, education and much else.Terroroists looking for US weakness

Terrorists look for weakness to capitalize on. The loss of US prestige makes us all the more likely terrorist targets. It is well known throughout the world that the 1.4 million active duty US war machine is running out of steam. The Baker report states: “U.S. military forces, especially our ground forces, have been stretched nearly to the breaking point by repeated deployments in Iraq”. Repeated combat tours wear out personnel and equipment: less than one-third of Army units are currently at the required combat readiness levels. That is weakness not just in numbers but morale as well. Terrorists will capitalize.

Poor people suffering financial terror and deploring the Bush Israel policyAnother element of the Bush policy is supporting Israeli actions no matter what, refusing to consider Arab views. This is a clear shift from more moderate policies of the past. The moderate policies produced opportunities for peace while Bush’s policy destroys such hopes. The payback certainly will not be less terrorism, but more. Remember Carter on the White House grounds getting Begin and Sadat to shake hands after two weeks with the three of them holed up in peace negotiations at Camp Davis back in 1978? Egypt and Israel are still at peace. Imagine Bush doing something similar. Nah – won’t happen.


Sacrifice Human life

Man worried about Iraq War on Terror sanity and accountabvilitySooner or later, some sanity and accountability has to enter any enterprise, policy or activity. In the War on Terror, there are two kinds of costs: human life and $$$s. On the benefit side, you have security, prosperity and freedom. On the accountability side, you have, depending on the precise issue, organizations such as the UN, governments or business entities. Let’s stick with the accountability of governments, specifically that of the US. Let’s compare the cost versus the benefits.

Terrorism over the past 20 years has cost the lives of about 20,000 people, world wide. That includes 9/11, the Beslan school massacre, the Moscow Theatre incident, Russian apartment bombings, attacks on US embassies in Africa, the Bali bombings, the Beirut Marine bombing, the air plane bombings, including Lockerbie, and subway attacks in London and Madrid.I'm no terrorist bombimg Beirut Marine Barracks or Lockerbie

The terrorism death toll is some 7,000 Americans of which about 6,000 are due to 9/11, the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Add some 300 allies (including domestic terror) and 50,000 to 700,000 Iraqi civilians. The Afghan civil death toll is perhaps 20,000, of which about 4,000 in 2006; no one knows nor cares.

Over the last 20 years, US traffic fatalities killed almost a million people. Heart attacks claimed almost 11 million lives. The 7,000 victims of terror and war in Iraq and Afghanistan are tragic because they lack meaning. But so do the 142 times as many traffic fatalities. Looking strictly at numbers, a slight improvement of 0.7% in car safety would save more lives than any war on terrorism can. A 0.06% improvement in saving heart attack victims would do too.

Speaking of human life, how come NATO permits Afghanistan to be the #1 producer of opium, compared to producing almost none under the Taliban regime? “Not a military issue”, the generals say. The 2006 crop is up 60% supplying 90% of the world demand. How many lives are lost to heroin addiction from Afghan opium?Man wondering why NATO permits Afghanistan to be the #1 producer of opium

The opium trade threatens Afghanistan falling back into its corrupt heritage and war lord dominance. The Taliban may well get back in control as a result. Some say the Taliban is largely behind the explosive growth in opium production. They use it as a way to control the farmers – and the people – while discrediting the government and immobilizing the foreign troops. Drug money will feed terrorism.


Create Economic waste

Woman scared by Bush wasting trillions of dollarsTrue cost starts with $1/2 a trillion of US funds and $16 billion from the UK. Then there are unknown funds from other “allied” countries and unknown cost to Iraq or Afghanistan. What’s your guess? Who knows, maybe around $700 billion?

Assume this was a War on Terror only. Then the cost is equal to $100 million (round number) for each of the 6,000 American terrorism and war causalities. If you only count the actual American terrorism victims, the cost is $200 million for each victim. If you include civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost drops to as little as $1 million per victim, although I’m sure no one cares about such a number.

That’s the cost. Now, where are the benefits? They better be pretty big. Let’s look. We have a huge hole in Manhattan where no recovery is in sight. We have two devastated countries, Iraq more than any. We have lurking civil wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and North Korea realize the US is a paper tiger and act accordingly. So do most of the world. The whole Mideast is a disaster waiting to be ignited. Only huge amounts of money will save this horrible mess. Guess who’s going to pay? Woman not being able to pay trilions for a useless war

So the direct cost is maybe $700 billion. Then we have the so called benefit side. The benefit side only contain additional costs such as rebuilding a couple of countries, pacifying the Mideast and making the US safe. How much? No one knows. Maybe it reaches a couple of $ trillion? Let’s call the real cost somewhere around $3 trillion mostly out of US pockets. That’s not as bad as it might sound. It boils down to a modest $40,000 per US household. You can afford it – right?

Unfortunately, the $3 trillion will not win the War on Terror. It will intensify it. Most likely, some of the trillions will end up with enterprises such as the Taliban Adventure Camp Grounds Co., the Iranian N.Clear PPY., The Baghdad Fireworks, Inc. and the Al Qaeda Special Effects LLP. Very likely, after collecting, they will pay us a visit.


The Scorecard

The Part 1 judgment on the Bush Doctrine was pretty harsh:

  • Create a Department of Homeland Security: DHS is an 186,000 people behemoth with far more failures than successes. I know of no proven prevention of terrorist operations. I know of no lives saved. Today, you rarely hear about the Department. I hear it is almost impossible to find their offices.
  • Fight overseas rather than at home: How do you take a limited, targeted war to some one else’s land? Bush simply invaded a couple of them. Neither the Taliban, nor Saddam had anything to do with 9/11. The War on Terror became something entirely different: a lost, undefined cause benefiting no one but terrorism itself. Consequently, terrorism increased.
  • Protect national interests: The War on Terror has nothing to do with the War on Iraq. Iraq was never involved in 9/11 or any other act of international terror. After years of denial, Bush admits the control of the oil is vital. The Baker Report confirms that statement. The Iraqi War is finally illegal. Terror increased dramatically following the invasions.
  • Make your own laws: The US government’s preference for secret, illegal operations is an ethical, legal and international catastrophe. Bush et al stand a real and fair risk of War Crime convictions. Even US courts are fed up. The administration is desperately pushing through unconstitutional laws to defer the risks. This endorses the notion and validity of terrorism.

Here is the scorecard for Part 2 – the Consequences of Bad Strategies:

  • Destroy International Relations: The US lost international credibility by using the wrong political, diplomatic and military tactics. It intimidates friendly or neutral States. It loses leverage by alienating non-allied states, allowing nuclear proliferation and enabling terrorism. It is viewed as an unreliable and unpredictable liar, more dangerous than rouge states.
  • Doesn’t know the terrorist enemy: The Bush administration sees terrorism in incredibly naive black and white terms. It defines anything not to its liking as terrorist driven or supported, be it drugs, bombs, Congress, abortion or Islamic. After five years, the Bush administration has not told anyone exactly who they declared war on. In fact, they do not know. How do you win a war when you do not know who the enemy is?
  • Threaten Human Rights: The Bush administration and George W. Bush personally, ignores and violates more laws and treaties than any administration in history, in the US but also internationally. That includes the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. It allows unethical acts on an unprecedented scale.
  • Ignore international treaties: This is a partial list being broken by George W. Bush: the UN Charter, the Hague Convention, the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Under international law, he is liable for war crimes.
  • Disregard the Geneva Convention: The Geneva Conventions are among the most respected international treaties ever. Even Nazi Germany respected them for Western POWs. George W. Bush breaks them as he sees fit without a notion of the consequences. He ignores 900 years of Habeas Corpus legal principles without losing sleep.
  • Can’t win militarily: The inability to militarily win a war on ideas such as terror is documented in history over and over: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Somalia, Indonesia, Bali, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Cambodia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Congo, the Balkans, Central America, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho all are such failures. Why not learn from past mistakes?
  • Destroy US influence: Never has the US influence been in as steep decline as it is now. Watergate and Vietnam were no highlights but this is worse. The War on Terror turned from supportable goals to clear losers, as have other issues important to the world. Global Warming is another principal reason for justified overseas anger. Then the stark US arrogance and heavy handedness wins no friends.
  • Sacrifice Human life: How can 3,000 lives tragically lost on 9/11 lives justify the extermination of hundreds of thousand other lives? How is that put in perspective with cars killing a million people in the US over the last 20 years? Terrorism is an insignificant part of mortality, anywhere on Earth, except Baghdad where the US is ultimately accountable for the mindless killings.
  • Create Economic waste: What cost/benefit analysis justifies a price of $ trillions with no demonstrated benefits except actually making terrorism more of a threat, not less. What sane person throws more money at an item that promises to cost even more while providing ever increasing pain? Sane or not, that is what George W. Bush has done, is doing and insists on continuing to do.

The score remains a miserable 100% failure. That isn’t good. If you have any insights in positive factors, please comment on this post and I will certainly respond. As Bush said in his January 10 “New Strategy” speech: “Anyone with a better idea, do speak up”.

Part 3 (”Part 3″ button below) will discuss the possible ways to withdraw from this mess. If you like, the “Part 1″ button takes you to; you guessed it, “Part 1″. That is all for Part 2 of this series on the War on Terror. Stay tuned.

Part 1
Part 3

Thanks, Karl

Man thinking of Bush 100% failure rate
Man wondering about 3,000 lives lost 9/11







A Temporary Link Target

Refugees from terror in Uganda Sri Lanka Congo

Sorry, the next releases are not quite ready yet. They will be online shortly. Subscribe to my RSS feed to get automatic notification or check back soon.




Here are some of the photographer’s secrets that many of us don’t really want to talk about. It all started in Part 3 of this series ( follow this link to the original Part 3 if you like) which contained seven photographs. All except one image were either staged or faked in some manner. I thought maybe you’d like some background information on each of them. Here are the stories of each of them. The accounts of each may differ – after all, we are dealing with legends.

Originally published August 18th, 2006, this post is still very popular. I decided to upgrade it a bit and republish it. For one thing, I added the photos I discuss so you don’t have to go back and forth to Part 3 of the series to view and read as you had to earlier.

The first picture shows the execution of a prisoner. It is not a fake – the man really died after being shot in the head by South Vietnam Lt. Colonel Ngyen Ngoc Eddie Adams 1968 Saigon Vietnam  Execution of Vietnamese man by Colonel, later General. Ngyen Ngoc Loan, Saigon Police of Chief Loan, Saigon Chief of Police. The picture was taken by Eddie Adams in 1968’s Saigon. So what is wrong? The execution was originally to take place inside a nearby building. The Colonel decided that the photographers needed more drama, better angles and light, not to mention keeping the inside of the building clean. The execution was staged on the street with a careful setup of the photo opp. Apparently it was important to the Colonel how his profile was displayed. Mr. Loan later became a General, was evacuated to the US where eventually he died in peace. Mr. Adams won a Pulitzer Price. The prisoner simply died and disappeared. His wife never found out what happened to him. No trial and no one seem to know the exact crime committed.

Adnan Hajj's manipulaated fake photo Israeli attack on Beirut, LebanonThe second picture (two actually) is the root of the 2006 summer Hajj journalism crisis. Here is the “After” version paired with the “Before”, original version. The ethics are thoroughly discussed in Part 3. No need to add anything except my view is that the whole thing was quite overblown. I still think the original version is far superior to the fake one. Not that either is that great.Bigfoot fake photo running in the snow

The third photograph shows Bigfoot, or something, laboring away in the snow. There are dozens of Bigfoot pictures just as there are photos of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters and other legends. These pictures invoke strong passions in some people. TV Documentaries are made. Museums devoted to the subject pop up. Self proclaimed experts make speeches. Souvenir shops make money. Photographically, all or most can easily be explained as faked, staged or both. They may even be “real” enough to be explainable by natural events. This photographic trend goes far back. We will examine that in more detail later. To me, this picture may simply show a heavily clad man climbing a snowy hill, shot by a focus challenged photographer.

Picture number four is one of the most famous of all times. It is – rightly so – a living symbol of courage, triumph, the American spirit and victory over evil. It certainly is a phenomenal image – taken by Joe Rosenthal on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. It earned him a Pulitzer Price and everlasting fame, even though he never seemed to use his fame – he was a staff photographer in San Francisco after the war for a long time. Three of the six Marines died shortly after the flag raising. The memory of all, in particular the three survivors, gained some more fame in the recent Clint Eastwood film, following the John Wayne movie of 1949. So what is the controversy? Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

“Following the flag raising, Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed. Upon seeing it, AP photo editor John Bodkin exclaimed “Here’s one for all time!” and immediately radiophotoed the image to the AP headquarters in New York at seven A.M., Eastern War Time. The photograph was picked up off the wire very quickly by hundreds of newspapers. It “was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days.”

However, the photo was not without controversy. Following the second flag raising, Rosenthal had the Marines of Easy Company pose for a group shot, which he called the “gung-ho” shot. This was also documented by Bill Genaust. A few days after the picture was taken, back on Guam, Rosenthal was asked if he had posed the photo. Thinking the questioner was referring to the ‘gung-ho’ picture, he replied “Sure.”

After that, Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, told his editors in New York that Rosenthal had staged the flag-raising photo. TIME’s radio show, ‘Time Views the News’, broadcast a report, charging that “Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted… Like most photographers (he) could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion.” As a result of this report, Rosenthal has repeatedly been accused of having staged the picture, or covering up the first flag raising.

One New York Times book reviewer even went so far as to suggest revoking his Pulitzer Prize. For the decades that have followed, Rosenthal has repeatedly and vociferously refuted claims that the flag raising was staged. “I don’t think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing… I don’t know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means.” Genaust’s film also shows the claim that the flag raising was staged to be erroneous.”

Besides, there are many “versions” of the photo: here are two of them – the lower one above is the same as that shown in Part 3; the upper one published in the Wikipedia article quoted above. Now we are back to the “Reality” thing. Apart from the general controversy, which of these versions represent “Reality”? Both of them are manipulated as you can clearly see, one by a liberal dose of dodging to brighten the center, the other much darker and less detailed..

What about picture number five? Robert Capa was one of the most famous ever of war photographers. He covered just about every war from the Spanish civil war to the early part of the Vietnam wars. His D-day photos, most of which were destroyed in a London lab, are some of the most harrowing war pictures ever shot. They famously inspired Steven Spielberg in the very grim opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Capa was killed by a Vietnamese land mine in 1954. Yes, there was a Vietnam War that early.Robert Capa photo Spanish Civil War Dying, shot soldier

Now, examining the picture, it looks real enough. The soldier is shot in the head. Part of his brain is shattered as shown behind his head. This is clearly a dead man. The trouble is that some sources report the man being well and alive after the allegedly staged picture was taken. In fact, it is said he thoroughly enjoyed his evening meal but was killed shortly thereafter. Whatever the truth of this photograph, no one disputes Capa was one of the greatest war photographers of all time. Personally, I think the photo is real.

Mr. Capa led quite an interesting life. He always stayed in hotels – never had a home – and was constantly broke. He was known to misplace his Leicas, requiring the delivery of new ones from suspicious editors. For a while, he was the hero of Hollywood but went back to war. He was one of the founding fathers of the legendary Magnum Photo Agency, still the premier photographer society and agency of the World. Check out their superb essays in New York Times.

Hippolyte Bayard faking his own death, dragging himself dead out of river, taing his own death photo and sending suicide note to comptitorsLet’s continue to photograph six. It is from 1840, France. This is a rather tragicomic affair. The apparently dead person is the photographer himself, Mr. Hippolyte Bayard. Magically, he could take his own picture after dying by drowning. He also managed to drag his dead body out of the river into the pose in the picture. Even more astonishing, he managed to send the death picture to his antagonists with a suicide note attached to the back. It seems Mr. Bayard was jealous of more successful inventors of photographic processes and made a strong stand. Incidentally, if the picture is indicative of his photographic process – we did not miss much.

To my astonishment, doing the research on this particular photo, I found that death hoaxes like this are quite common. Most might be somewhat more believable than Mr. Bayard’s pioneering effort but faking death happens all the time. Live and learn.

Photo number seven dates to the American Civil War. The war coincided with photographers becoming sufficiently mobile to do field work. Maybe some Manipulated, Fake photo of dead Civil War soldierother time I’ll get into the history of photography during the time. I guarantee it is both hilarious – the tragedy of the war notwithstanding – and indicative how a new craft can go berserk in pursuit of fame and money. There is an incredible amount of faked, staged, altered photographs from this era. It’s not just an American phenomena – the same thing happened in the Crimean War. Alexander Gardner is the photographer of record of this Confederate soldier killed in the Gettysburg battle of 1863. The photograph is quite famous – in fact, it is viewed as one of the best to come out of the Civil War. Yet it is a fake. Here are some quotes:

“Of course, I had seen the photo of the dead “sharpshooter” lying before his stone wall between the large boulders many times over the years. It really is doubtless the greatest photo shot of a dead soldier to come down to us from the Civil War. And it has become more known since it was “discovered” to be a fake. Until 1995, I wasn’t aware of a stereo view that also existed showing the same scene. The four photos taken down the hill were new to me also, and I was, of course, in awe that the photographers had moved the body to make them.”

“Frassanito further wrote that the body was first photographed DOWN the hill and then, on inspiration, the photographer’s carried the body some 75-yards UP the hill to make the much more interesting composition at what would become known as “The Sharpshooter’s Home”. Source: here

Faked Photo of John Kerry and Jane Fonda at Vietnam War DemonstrationAnd now a little bonus of magic and wizardly since you all seems to like the subject:

Many of you probably have seen this fake photograph in various political campaigns. The event never happened. The photo is a composite of two photos taken separately of each of the two equally famous individuals. The two photos involved in the composite were taken about a year apart. The picture is a complete fake – they never met or were at the rally simultaneously or if all..

Perhaps more than the other photos in this essay, this image raises a real ethical issue. Where is the true limit? Darkening the sky over Beirut? Moving a soldier into a more photogenic position? Faking one’s death in a deranged manner? Or is an utterly cynical fraud and smear campaign such as this photo beyond any reasonable limit? You be the judge. Fake Beach Photo from the Indian Ocean Tsunami killing hundreds of thousands

Here is another cynical example of the irresistible urge to make money on other people’s agony. This, of course, is a sample of the gross, myriads of fake pictures from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, killing hundreds of thousands. As you can easily tell, the fake is not very well done. For instance, no one is watching, in despair, the huge wave seemingly feet away. In fact, no one seems very concerned about their allegedly imminent death. And, oddly, every one must be on the beach, yet dressed for anything but the beach.

Incidentally, there are lots of fake 9/11 “photos” floating around, equally disgusting. There’d appear there is enough hardship, real pictures available without having to produce these hacks.

The next two are a bit lighter. How can you avoid monsters and UFOs in a discussion such as this? There is nothing complicated about these two samples. They are, of course, fakes.

Three UFOs on a peaceful flight over Italy (maybe)Maybe you ask yourself – how do you do things like this? There is the old and the new way with many variations on pretty simple schemes. The old way relied mostly on darkroom work. The simplest form was to manipulate a print from a negative by dodging, burning or masking. Dodging means you reduce the light reaching the photo paper while exposing the negative on the paper. You can use a mask, a piece of paper or your hand to lessen the exposure of some part of the image. The result is that the print is “bleached” where ever you reduced exposure. The “bleaching” can go as far as to totally remove the original image from the print. Burning is the opposite of dodging; you add extra exposure to some part of the print, again by using various tools such as your hands covering the areas you don’t want to burn. The result is a print that is darker in the areas you burnt. Again, you can totally remove the original image, or part thereof, if you so desire.

There are many ways to manipulate the final print by using more than one negative, thereby combining several images into one final print. There are so many ways of doing this that it’s hard to summarize any particular darkroom technique. An example might be that you use one negative for half the exposure of the photo paper and another negative for the Loch Ness monster up for a bit of fresh Scottish air second half of the exposure. Then you have a print combining, equally, the two negatives. That may not be all that exiting a print but when you combine masks, dodging and burning, then you have a set of very powerful tolls available to you.

Yet another technique is to produce a new negative from one or more others. You can, for instance, produce a print using several negatives as I just described. Then you can take a photo of that print and now you have a new negative which you continue to manipulate in some fashion.

Other tools in your arsenal include special chemicals, both in developing the negative and in processing the print. Again, there are countless ways to proceed. A simple example is the “old fashioned” sepia print – it is simply a regular print processed with a special chemical.

There are many types of photo paper with different characteristics available. In black and white processing there are filters for higher and lower contrast as well as different intensity or flavoring of the print, such as warm colored or cool colored flavors. Color processing adds some more tools, for instance, the ability to change the mix of differently colored lights by using color filters in the printing process.

Let’s not forget the camera itself. There are countless ways to manipulate the image. You can use hundreds of filters. You fit exposure and depth of field to your perception of what you want as a final image. Soviet manipulation of photograph to eliminate those fallen from grace

Next, years ago we entered the digital photo world. Tools such as Photoshop have been around for many years. In its basic form, Photoshop does all of what I described above as dark room techniques. Burning, dodging, masking, combining images and applying filters are essential features of Photoshop. Then Photoshop adds many more tools for convenience and making the workflow from the camera to the print shop easier.Another Soviet purge example in a photograph with before/after views

You’d probably be surprised to know there are not that many things (within reason) that Photoshop can do that you cannot do in an old fashioned darkroom. The main difference is that it is usually quicker to do it in Photoshop. But the flip side is that few Photoshop users can beat a master printer’s dark room work. There still, in my mind, is a trade off between the “simplicity” of digital processing versus the incredible quality of a proper darkroom print.

Does all of this sound like esoteric geek speech by a pro photographer? Well, I am a pro photographer and there is not a single thing discussed above that I have not practiced. In fact, just about all pro photographers practice these methods and use the same tools. Perhaps the foremost practitioner of these “tricks” was Ansel Adams. He even wrote three books on the subject.

Manipulating Dick Cheney, the famous non-veteran with Practically all professional photographs that you have seen are manipulated in some fashion. So why are some viewed as “fakes” and others as “art”? The distinction is subjective. What is art to one person is rubbish or fake to another. It really boils down to the perceived intention of the photographer. Is the photographer manipulating you for some utilitarian reason or is he/she demonstrating artistic insight on some divine level? Most of the pictures above are pretty obvious manipulations with little or no artistic value or intention. Those are the simple ones. The “fine art” scene is not a simple one.

What about the remaining two picture sequences above? Both are from the nineteen thirties and the USSR. It’s easy to see that the picture on the right seems to lack the image of some person. You got to hand it to the Russians. They were real good at purging millions and they were pretty skilled at erasing any evidence the purged people even had existed at some point. That included manipulating photographs to reduce quesions on an embarrsing level for some obscure reason.

Finally, to the left is a little satiric fake of my own. Who can tell what Cheney’s legs really look like? Considering his priorities do not include being part of real shooting War while being a bit careless with shotguns in a friendly manner.

So here you are – knowing, perhaps a bit more about photographic history and how fakes and stages are done. They seem to be driven by a mix of tragedy, comedy, greed and stupidity. Coming up, we’ll look at more examples and reasons for these manipulations. So please stay tuned. Leave comments as you see fit – I really appreciate them.


George W. Bush declared War on Terror. He threw the might, money and prestige of the US behind it. This war is not winnable. It is a misguided waste of huge resources. Hundreds die each day for no good reason. Unethical and illegal behavior damaged US influence world wide. The US entered two equally non winnable full scale wars and destabilized the whole world, in particular the Mideast. The US is viewed as a greater danger to peace than North Korea or Iran by almost the entire world.

WTC 9/11 Dust SceneLike most others in the US and around the World, I woke up that 9/11 2001 morning, turned on the TV and life changed. I witnessed almost 3,000 people die in one of the deadliest terrorist attack ever. Nothing I will say can diminish the horror of the crime of that day or the honor of countless courageous people. Enacting a strong policy to catch and punish the perpetrators of that act was and is the right thing. But things went very wrong.


Here is what Went wrong

Cop watching Seattle ProtestersGeorge W. Bush’s War on Terrorism quickly became a War on Islam and then the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. It became an excuse to change America towards totalitarianism allowing torture, illegal detention, big brother surveillance, suppressed human rights and obstruction of long standing laws and international treaties. By 2006, anyone can see the war is (1) lost and (2) destabilizing the world.

All wisdom gained by others in their fight against terrorism over a thousand years is disregarded by George W. Bush. He favors some black and white idea about a steadfast Ranger out to clean up injustices in the world ranch land. The bad guys all are the same – they are not red blood, church going American Republicans supporting America’s right to rule as it pleases. With me or against me. Black and white. Aryan or not Aryan…. ah well, perhaps this last one goes a bit too far at this time. But the step to totalitarianism is a lot shorter than you think.

The US, mostly through CIA, set up secret but now well known or sometimes rumored international concentrations camps in Cuba, Diego Garcia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, not to mention in Iraq and the US itself.

The governments of Canada, Germany, the UK, Spain, Ireland Italy, France and Sweden officially protested various other related, illegal CIA operations on their territory. That includes the capture and detention of their citizens by the CIA.

Some of these programs are now subcontracted to foreign forces such as Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and others to neutralize the bad publicity and to avoid the explicit EU investigation into the issue. These counties are known for harsh and abusive treatment of prisoners. They are not much concerned about human rights.

George W. Bush and his loyal Cabinet, in particular Dick Cheney, consistently defend such practices as necessary in the alleged fight against terrorism. There is absolutely no proof that is true. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

In four separate but connected parts, I discuss some fundamental reasons why the War on Terrorism turned into a disaster.

This is Part 1 – Bad Strategies Lose A Bad War on Terror

Pursue bad strategies: The George W. Bush’s strategy is three fold: 1) centralize the security of the US into a huge bureaucracy, 2) fight terrorism overseas with military force, secret operations and 3) claim exceptional power to override longstanding rights of US citizens and others. The first point is yet another example of federal madness. Most of the last two points are illegal. The strategies so far cost up to $1/2 trillion, countless lives and the moral high ground required for world leadership. They saved no lives but caused a dramatic increase in terror.

Subjects in this first part of the essay:

Part 2 – Consequences of a Lost War on Terror

Deny disaster: No one has won a military war on terror because it means making war on an invisible enemy. That is especially true if the military force is not ingenious. Bush spent thousands of lives, exhausted the US military, wasted some 1/2 trillion dollars and created MORE terrorism. It backfired massively as seen by the people of the US, Congress and the rest of the world.

Part 2a – State of the Union – The War on Terror Death March

This post is a quick update of current events as of mid January 2007. Tonight, as I write this, Bush will give his State of the Union address. Some expect him to moderate his views some. I very much doubt it.

Part 3 – Exiting a Lost War on Terror

Botch priorities: Terrorism is an insignificant part of mortality. One of the deadliest terrorist attacks, 9/11, caused less than 3,000 casualties. As tragic as it is, that loss is limited compared to other events. Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 70 million people. The deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Kim Jong-Il easily exceed 100 million. George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon caused fewer casualties but far exceed any threat to human life from terrorists.

Angry Marcher in Seattle

Jumble goals: The notion of “war” against
ideas and/or tactics is simply silly. You can declare, and win, wars on nations,
such as Panama, Grenada or Japan. You cannot declare generic wars on terrorism,
gay marriage, drugs, abortions, crime, illiteracy or AIDS. You cannot win unless
you know what specific enemy you fight, how to eliminate that specific enemy threat
and when the mission is accomplished. In five years, the White House has yet to
define what terrorism is.

Ignore failure: The resources thrown at the War on Terror are out of proportion with any possible benefits. The cost is enormous and the benefits are negative. The War sacrifices thousands of lives; it does not save lives or reduce terrorism. George W. Bush ignores the “right” ways to fight terrorism and, no wonder, fails. Can he deal with withdrawal as he must? Perhaps history can guide but probably not. George W. does not see it the way others do.

Part 4 – Preserve Life, Not War

Overlook alternatives: Instead of Mr. Bush’s policy “Protect American lives by fighting Terrorism”, act on “Protect life by fighting Death”. Stop wars and genocides. Combat famines and plagues. Protect against flooding, wind and eruptions. Fight Global Warming. Make safer and more efficient cars, ships and airplanes. Fight ordinary health hazards. Defend human rights. Stop war crimes. Place a proper priority on fighting terrorism and use the right tools.


Images in this Essay

With a few exceptions, the images in this part of the essay are my own. I shot them during a recent mock (as in film making) replica of the Seattle WTO demonstrations a few years ago. It was a rather dreary Sunday morning with the fake demonstrators marching back and forth with great enthusiasm or at least loads of patience.

I wanted to convey that, ultimately, cold and seemingly distant government acts hits real people. This essay is about civil rights violations by the American government. I felt a civil demonstration was the right thing to use. Even if the WTO subject maybe is off the mark a bit, the thought is not.

Bush’s goal: Preserve American Lives by Fighting Terrorism

WTO Protesters SeattleIn the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a shocked American people welcomed any decisive action by its government. Bush, after waking up from his apparent coma following the attacks, consulted his neoconservatists friends and ended up with a knee jerk, poorly defined The War on Terror. The American people and the world supported the stated concept, emotionally welcoming any action. Clearly, those responsible for the horrible acts had to be tracked down and punished. Had that simple, clear strategy been enacted and kept in clear focus, we would not be in the mess we are in, collectively throughout the world.

Over five years from that awful day, knee jerk reactions and naive revenge acts should be done with but aren’t. Osama bin Laden enjoys his freedom, taking delight in mocking a weaker and weaker US. Al Qaeda remains active. Terror surges. There are hundreds of new terrorist organizations. A few are very powerful. Iraqi insurgents, fighting a local tribal and religious civil war, now kill some 5,000 people a month. But the original goal of finding those guilty of 9/11 no longer truly matters.

Marching in SeattleAlmost all attention today is on the war in Iraq. This war has no connection with 9/11 or terrorism. It is a lost cause with horrifying and very expensive consequences with no favorable outcomes for the US. The war in Afghanistan closed a few terrorist camps that probably relocated to Denmark, Cuba, Sudan, Idaho or wherever. The Afghan war, led by NATO, is heading towards defeat with Taliban controlling more and more territory. Finding those guilty of 9/11 now hardly matters.

There was a hidden strategy: Enhance Presidential power to disregard almost any law and treaty. Dominate the world by force, threats and intimidation. Protect territorial and energy interests. Show that the US can do what it pleases given aircraft carriers, cruise missiles, Marines and B-52s. Dump human rights of any one not “supporting the one and only right view”, whether guilty or not. Punish and humiliate anyone standing in the way, especially the Islam world, courts and Congress. Put reluctant allies in their proper place. Enrich friends and supporters, such as Israel, neoconservatists, the oil industry and Halliburton. All in all, show those bastards, whether congressmen or foreigners, who the Boss is.

The strategies were all deeply flawed. On whom did Bush declare the War on Terror? No one seems to know, assuring failure, best forgotten. The Iraq war became a disaster growing worse by the day. In Afghanistan, Taliban is staging its comeback. Terror is, literally, exploding.

WTO Protesters SeattleThe hidden goals failed as well. The influence of the US Presidency and that of the US declined. US political and moral leaderships are defunct. The US military does not dominate the world. Intimidating Congress and the world backfired. Friends go to jail, leave office or lose out some other way.

The man just doesn’t give in. In December of 2006, Bush wants to send perhaps 70,000 more US troops, “surging” Baghdad. James Baker’s bipartisan “Iraq Study Group” and practically the whole world want a withdrawal, the sooner the better. Bush declared his by now desperate, opposite view. A chorus on neoconservatists and others jumped all over the Baker report and “defeatists” around the globe.

The Democratic Congress may or may not demand a disengagement plan, depending on the winds de jour. Look for Bush’s resistance and vetoes to any opposition to his illusionary “Win” goal. By now, his denials are similar to those of Richard Nixon in his last weeks as President. They are no more believable than those of the famously irrational Baghdad Bob who at least was funny.

On Dec 9th, 2006, a survey states a record 71% of Americans disapprove of the Bush war strategy. The war cost Republicans control of both houses and much of local state influence. The few and only original Coalition “allies” do all they can to get out of the mess. So does the US military.


The knee jerk 9/11 strategy and tactics

The simple and clear policy “punish the devils causing 9/11″ somehow required a total flip-flop of American policies and of international values. The Bush strategy focused on these goals:

George W. Bush’s War on Terrorism policies ended up violating US laws and international treaties. The principal goals deteriorated into 1) heightening Presidential power, 2) rewarding friends and 3) staying out of War Criminal Tribunals. Currently debated, who is the worst President ever? Mr. Bush is leading the contest, beating Richard Nixon. The moral deficiencies of the White House encourage terrorism by showing weakness.


Create a Department of Homeland Security

Recognizing that the government may be vulnerable by ignoring the many signs of 9/11 ahead of time, what better way to neutralize such an inconvenience than reorganizing all involved agencies into a totally inefficient behemoth? Hence the DHS, which is mostly known for issuing consternating alerts, vague security warnings and for harassing any one unlucky enough to be in their power. It makes air line passengers take off their shoes and dump their deodorants. People wait in endless airport queues on incompetent new federal security personnel practicing their aimless jobs. This is the outfit that could hardly find its way An Older Department for Homeland Securityto a drowning New Orleans or keep track of the famous 11,000 mobile homes destined for housing relief.

Never mind that any idiot could smuggle a nuclear bomb, 10 grams of polonium (apparently capable of wiping out the whole US population – in theory) or a ton of anthrax into any US harbor. Or a thousand insurgents invading Philadelphia or Seattle in some old scow complete with Iranian missiles, AK-47s, IEDs, SAMs, mines, car bombs, suicide belts and RPGs and the rest of the stuff seen daily on the streets of Baghdad.

What can you expect from the 186,000 employee outfit with a 27 billion budget that screwed New Orleans so spectacularly after Katrina? This outfit has no apparent contingencies for truly dealing with homeland security, such as protecting chemical plants or nuclear power plants, each one capable of killing millions? Do you trust the biggest federal bureaucracy in modern history to do a credible job, considering warrant less searches, forced vaccinations, federal neighborhood snitch programs, federal information databases and an “Information Awareness Office” using military intelligence to spy on domestic citizens?

Its officials state: “we don’t do the doing, we do the coordinating”. It takes 186,000 coordinators and $27 billion to keep something or another coordinated? Who is “Doing”? The outfit spent $6.4 million on radiation detectors that claim ceramic tiles, granite, marbles, cat litter and bananas are actually nuclear bombs while missing several shipments of uranium.

Are we safer? No, we are not, only poorer.


Fight overseas rather than at home

Suicide Bomber London SubwayIt’s better to kill terrorists overseas than have them come here to attend flight school, collect Social Security, blow us all up and embarrass the President. That makes sense. According to Mr. Bush, thousands of terrorists have been tracked down overseas and disposed of in some manner, presumably by execution, torture or illegal detention in secret camps around the world. The bin Laden head of the serpent may remain alive but the rest is hacked off, skinned and neutralized. So Mr. Bush likes us to think.

First, if that is true, what on Earth are we doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan? How come our troops suffer from all these insurgents and suicide bombers? Why are the US troops encamped behind sand bags, barbed wire, blast walls and vehicle traps instead of spreading the gospel of Democracy and winning the hearts of the population? Why is there a need for the Green Zones? Why are private, very expensive body guards/mercenaries needed to protect any one moving around in the Mideast?

Second, quite a few terrorists/insurgents are obviously still alive and very deadly indeed. They have no difficulty enlisting additional man power (as opposed to the US Army). It is nice that these rapidly growing armies so far stay in the Mideast rather than invading the US.

Why can’t these highly financed, well managed and very skilled groups get on an airplane, ship, balloon or submarine heading for the US en masse? It’s hard to believe the 176,000 coordinators of the DHS will save us all. And how is the US war in Iraq preventing such a possibility?

There are a number of prominent US dignitaries studying the matter of the Iraq war. The Baker report spread some light on the Iraq war but is discarded due to Bush’s standard of blind sided, stubbornly closed mind. The new Democratic Congress will yelp and Bush will veto. In 2009, a new President will inherit the mess. Nowhere are there any signs that the basic, original issue of punishing the criminals of 9/11 is addressed in a credible manner.

Unfortunately, no one seems to study or even care about the War on Terror in its original form. It’s out of fashion. Could the cost of these lost wars be put to better use? After all, we talk about 1/2 trillion dollars or more. Who thinks killing perhaps 700,000 Iraqis will save the US from terrorism?


Protect national interests (Daddy, Dick or Exxon?)

Man with bullhorn for WTO demonstrationIf the Iraq war is not about terrorism or the fabled WMD, what is it about? Personally, I think it is about George Bush Sr. being the target of an alleged Hussein murder plot in Kuwait 1993. George W. Bush, the son, said: “The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man. He’s cold-blooded. He’s a dictator, and he’s a tyrant.” No kidding.

There is the Texas factor, walking with a swagger and all that. Bring’m on. All Texans know about oil. That’s valuable stuff, easily worth a few hundred thousand lives. Dick’s old Halliburton outfit could use a lift as well. How much has that poor little corporation made in Iraq? While on the subject, add its profits from Katrina to the modest total.

The Iraq Study Group, as opposed to the deafening silence of almost all others in the government and Congress, does clarify that oil is a prime reason for controlling Iraq. The report states that “It has the world’s second-largest known oil reserves”. It continues to say, in Recommendation 63:

The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil
sector by the international community and by international energy companies.

The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize
the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency,
transparency, and accountability.

To combat corruption, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government to post all oil contracts, volumes, and prices on the Web so that Iraqis and outside observers can track exports and export revenues.

The United States should support the World Bank’s efforts
to ensure that best practices are used in contracting. This support involves providing
Iraqi officials with contracting templates and training them in contracting, auditing,
and reviewing audits.

The United States should provide technical assistance to
the Ministry of Oil for enhancing maintenance, improving the payments process,
managing cash flows, contracting and auditing, and updating professional training
programs for management and technical personnel.

This is not a hands-off policy or recommendation. It’s filled with control measures and involvement Marchers in Seattleof the US on several levels. Who are the “international communities and energy companies” – Exxon, Gulf, Chevron or Shell? “Post all contracts etc on the web” – then what remedies are in effect if the numbers don’t add up? The US/World Bank is to “ensure best practices… create templates” = control business terms such as price and supply? Iraq needs “US assistance to…. organize payment processes…. manage cash flow…. set up contracting” – what a glorious business opportunity for, say, Halliburton. There are easily billions to be earned.

Who can claim oil is not a main motive to US involvement in Iraq? Add Bush’s recent statement that withdrawing US troops would turn the oil fields over to the insurgents. That is not acceptable. The bottom line is that control of the oil, less so WMD or whatever, is the major US goal.

The US invaded Iraq with some support from the UN. That support was based on vague statements of terrorist support by Saddam and very precise but untrue statements on Saddam’s WMD. The need to control oil was certainly not mentioned for good reasons. The UN would never support such a goal as it is Young Marcher against WTO in Seattlean illegal infraction on a country’s sovereignty and assets.

Allowing control of Iraq’s oil to insurgents bent on revenge on the US is clearly not a good idea. Could it happen upon a US withdrawal? Perhaps it could, perhaps not. However, that oil will not flow without major rebuilds, the funds for which are not available in Iraq. Hence, US presence in Iraq to control the oil is just an economic goal, not one of controlling terrorism.

We are not in Iraq to control terrorism or to catch 9/11 criminals; we are there for selfish, macho and irrelevant reasons, chief of which is oil.


Make your own laws (MYOL)

Shouting Demonstrator SeattleSince 9/11 2001, an astonishing amount of laws, acts, orders and policy statements deal with the aftermath of 9/11. They cover the wars, the treatment of detainees and abuses of the American people. A common theme throughout is deception, evasiveness and plain old protecting your behind.

Human Rights laws and War treaties come in many forms. The original idea of Habeas Corpus goes back to the 1100s and Magna Carta. In November of 2001, George W. Bush declared the right to hold anyone suspected of terrorism or of being an “enemy combatant” in custody indefinitely, without charges being filed, without court hearings and without access to legal consultants. That invalidates 900 years of justice and it’s just for starters.

The government is clearly violating all kinds of laws and treaties in the name of “protecting the American people”. The general strategy is one of drastically increasing Presidential power without any checks or balances. Judicial and legislative counter responses have largely been ineffective.

Here are some of the legislation violated: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, The Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, the Hague Convention, the Nuremberg Charter, and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, just to name a few. Surely this is a record for any US President and without parallel world wide with a few Loud Protesters in Seattleexceptions such as Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong Il and perhaps Idi Amin and ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier.

How is this abuse preventing terrorism? Easy – it isn’t. Wiretap and spy – forget it, too easy to bypass. Torture and harsh, illegal treatment of detainees – never stopped any true terrorist. Abuse the American people’s rights – come on. Ignore longstanding laws and treaties – so do the terrorists assuming they heard of them. Control assets and flow of funds – ask the Colombian drug lords or Corporate America how effective that is. Increase security at airport or a harbor or two – every one knows both leak as sieves. Publish the vulnerability of unprotected chemical or nuclear power plants and the possible loss of millions of lives – why not send out the blue prints as well? Ban exploding shoes and nuclear shaving cream – now that’s a good idea. Exclude, by law, terrorists not only from Presidential events but also “other events” – another impressive concept.

Wounded Civilian after Terrorist AttackA bunch of hardly legal, bad laws will not stop terrorism. These laws are subject to domestic and international astonishment and contempt. The laws act only to destroy the reputation, status, influence and power of the US around the world, encouraging terrorism. Ignoring longstanding international treaties and Protocols will encourage, not diminish, terrorism. Holding the moral high ground is essential in the fight against terror.

Here are the sordid details:

  • The US Constitution of 1789: 1) incorporates the concept in Article 1, Section 9: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” 2) Article 3, Section 3: Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. 3) No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
  • The US Bill of Rights of 1791 states: 1) The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
  • Authorization for the Use of Military Force of Sept 14, 2001: 1) Granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. 2) The Act is used by the administration for engaging in electronic surveillance without obtaining a warrant from Court as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
  • Emotional Protester SeattleExecutive Order of Sept. 23 2001: 1) Defines terrorist and associated individuals and organizations as “Designated”, 2) blocks all property and interests in property of designated individuals or entities, 3) blocks any transaction or dealing by U.S. persons for the benefit of designated individuals or entities, 4) deters donations or contributions to designated individuals or entities, 5) heightens public awareness and knowledge of individuals or entities linked to terrorism 6) alerts other governments to U.S. concerns about individuals or entities aiding terrorism, and promotes due diligence by such governments and private sector entities operating within their territories to avoid associations with terrorists, 7) disrupts terrorist networks, thereby cutting off access to financial and other resources from sympathizers and 8 ) encourages designated entities to get out of the terrorism business.
  • Financial Anti-Terrorist Act of Oct. 17 2001: 1) Increases the federal government’s powers to investigate and prosecute the financial supporters of terrorism. 2) It’s folded into the Patriot Act.
  • USA Patriot Act of Oct 26, 2001: 1) … dramatically expanded the authority of American law enforcement for the stated purpose of fighting terrorism in the United States and abroad. 2) …. restricted due process for individuals involved in terrorism, 3) … private financial institutions are asked to enhance transaction transparency, to search for a common customer identification system, and to find ways to prevent their financial services from being used for money laundering or the funding of terrorism, 4) restricts immigration of certain allegedly terrorist risks and 5) criminalizes “material support” to terrorists and to foreign terrorist organizations.
  • Airport and Transportation Security Act of Nov 19 2001: 1) Replaced private employees with 44,000 federal employees, 2) Provided deadlines for luggage scanning (never met), 3) Intensified checks of carry-on items, 4) Supervised air and sea security operations, 5) Improved onboard security – reinforced, locked cockpit doors, surveillance devices, security agents and 6) Improved airport security. Unemotional Marcher Seattle
  • Terrorism Risk Protection Act of Nov 29 2001: 1) The Act provides for the continued availability of insurance against terrorism risks and addresses multiple insurance and liability issues arising out of the September 11th attacks. 2) The bill today allows access to the frozen assets of terrorists, terrorist organizations, and terrorist sponsor states.
  • Homeland Security Act of Nov. 25 2002: 1) creates the Department of Homeland Security by combining 22 government agencies. 2) I already discussed this Act above. 3) The act is updated each year as part of the budget process.
  • The USA Patriot Act II, or the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of March 28 2003: 1) The government would no longer be required to disclose the identity of anyone, even an American citizen, detained in connection with a terror investigation, 2) Current court limits on local police spying on religious and political activity would be repealed, 3) The government would be allowed to obtain credit records and library records without a warrant , 4) Wiretaps without any court order for up to 15 days after terror attack would be permissible, 5) Release of information about health/safety hazards posed by chemical and other plants would be restricted, 6) The definition of terrorism would be expanded – individuals engaged in civil disobedience could risk losing their citizenship; their organization could be subject to wiretapping and asset seizure, 7) Americans could be extradited, searched and wiretapped at the behest of foreign nations, whether or not treaties allow it, 8 ) Lawful immigrants would be stripped of the right to a fair deportation hearing and federal courts would not be allowed to review immigration rulings.
  • The USA Patriot Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, March 9 2006: 1) Makes most of the Sad Protester in Seattleexpiring Patriot Act permanent, 2) Permits the records of ordinary Americans to be secretly obtained without adequate safeguards, 3) Continue to gag recipients of records demands without any prior court finding, with new criminal penalties, 4) Allows sneak-and-peek searches under a broad standard; new time limits would still allow such searches to continue to remain secret for weeks, months or even years. 5) Allows secret eavesdropping and secret search orders that do not name a target or a location with enhanced court oversight, 6) Omits modest limits on a host of additional Patriot Act surveillance powers, 7) Creates additional death penalties, 8 ) llows Justice Department, not federal courts, to determine that a state has a competent death penalty system, 9) Expands the jurisdiction of the Secret Service to impose “exclusion zones” – which cannot be entered on pain of federal imprisonment – to non-Presidential events, 10) Force more organizations to check people against flawed government lists, through increased Treasury Department penalties.
  • National Security Surveillance Act of 2006 (stalled): 1) permits eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) without the court oversight, 2) telephone calls are monitored without obtaining a warrant as required.
  • Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 (pending): 1) A statutory framework, with congressional and judicial oversight for the President to conduct electronic surveillance on the international communications of suspected terrorists, while protecting the rights and liberties of American citizens, 2) The bill mandates that the President obtain a warrant for surveillance on a suspected terrorist once he has sufficient evidence to do so, 3) for those unusual cases where the President does not have sufficient evidence to obtain a court order, but still wishes to conduct surveillance on a suspect, the bill requires that the Attorney General certify, under oath, that continued surveillance is necessary to protect the United States, 4) a Terrorist Surveillance Subcommittee within the Senate Intelligence Committee with the exclusive jurisdiction to oversee and monitor the details of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
  • Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Oversight and Resource Enhancement Act of 2006 (proposed): 1) Requiring the US Supreme Court to review all appeals of cases challenging the legality of the domestic surveillance program acknowledged by the president last December; 2) Requiring the US Attorney General to provide semi-annual reports to the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees to “fully inform” them of any electronic surveillance undertaken without a court order. Only chairmen of each congressional intelligence committee would have access to the documentation; 3) Allowing the government to conduct warrant less taps of communications between parties outside the US, even if Americans are involved in those exchanges; 4) Extending the deadline from 72 hours to 168 hours for authorities to make after-the-fact applications for warrants in “emergency” situations; and 5) Authorizing the addition of lawyers and judges to the various agencies charged with implementing and overseeing the surveillance program.Chatting Marchers Seattle
  • Secure Fence Act of October 26 2006: 1) Constructs hundreds of additional miles of Southern border fences, 2) constructs more vehicle barriers and checkpoints 3) provides more electronic surveillance, including flying drones.

The above is just a sample of the various federal and state laws, acts, executive orders, policies, regulations and who knows what. Just count them: 15 separate items containing 54 more or less important points. Confusing? Well, it’s meant to be. First, much of it is a smoke screen to cover very shady and largely illegal actions by the highest echelons of government right down to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib with side trips to uncontrolled NSA surveillance and secret “terrorist” data bases. Second, it’s a vast example of protecting your butt from War Criminal Tribunes.

Here is more from various sources – clear evidence of the evasive, illegal path of the White House refusing to acknowledge the findings of the Supreme Court of the USA:

  • On January 11, 2002, the United States announced that it was refusing to abide by the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. The United States explained that the prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Pakistan [and elsewhere] were not actually prisoners of war, but were in fact “unlawful combatants.”
  • On June 29 2006: The Supreme Court Protesting WTO in Seattlestruck down the military commissions President Bush established to try suspected members of al-Qaeda. It emphatically rejected a signature Bush anti-terrorism measure and the broad assertion of executive power upon which the president had based it. The high court’s justices said President Bush had overstepped his power when he created a system of military tribunals for foreign-born alleged terrorists.
  • On July 12 2006, The Bush administration agreed to apply the Geneva Conventions to all terrorism suspects in U.S. custody, bowing to the Supreme Court’s recent rejection of policies that have imprisoned hundreds for years without trials.
  • On August 14 2006: White House worked with Congress on the military tribunals Mr. Bush invented for Guantanamo Bay. But the president remains determined to have his way on the other big issue — how jailers treat prisoners to allow interrogators to continue abusive practices plainly banned by the conventions and to make sure they cannot be held accountable.
  • On Sept. 7 2006: Bush urged Congress to authorize him to wage the war on terrorism on his terms. At stake is defining how the rule of law governs the executive branch as it deals with captives who it suspects are terrorists. The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terror suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance.
  • On Sept. 29 2006: Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), a bill ceding enormous powers to the executive branch to name enemy combatants and “unlawful enemy combatants” potentially from among U.S. residents. It also abolishes the basic right of Guantanamo detainees to ask a judge to consider whether there is legal cause to imprison them — the right of habeas corpus. Ironically, this bill leaves potentially innocent and low-level detainees imprisoned forever, while providing military tribunals for the 14 recently-transferred and suspected al-Qaeda high-level operatives.
  • On Oct 17, 2006: President Bush signed the MCA into law on October 17, amid demonstrations at the White House which resulted in arrest for 17 protesters dressed as detainees. Legal experts declared the Act to be utterly flawed, an embarrassment and plain unconstitutional.
  • On December 15, 2006: U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled in support of the Military Commissions Act. He declared that detainees at the military’s Guantanamo Bay facility are not entitled to challenge their imprisonment in the normal United States court system, but must go through the process outlined in the MCA.War on Terrorism and the Military Commissions Act.

The point is this: there is a clear pattern of civil rights abuses through most of these Act and Orders. Most are plainly illegal and unconstitutional. Others may be border cases. But all violate the ultimate test. They do not reflect the ethical standards of America. They are utterly inconsistent with a true democracy. They abuse US citizens and citizens in all of the world’s countries. They roll back centuries of common decency, experience and liberty. What is the Supreme Court doing to defend the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Please ask them.

This being New Years Eve, I just read this “The Bill of Wrongs – The 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations In 2006” in Slate. Read it, I’ll only repeat the Top 10 list:

  1. The Hubris By George W. Bush (Blame the victim with utmost arrogance)
  2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
  3. The Abuse of Jose Padilla
  4. Extraordinary Rendition (Shipping alleged subjects around the world)
  5. Government Snooping
  6. The State Secrets Doctrine
  7. Slagging the Courts
  8. Slagging the Media
  9. Guantanamo Bay
  10. Attempt to get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui

That isn’t a bad list. How about adding my own:

  1. Escalating an illegal, expensive, deadly War in Iraq, citing a fictitious War on Terror
  2. Ignoring Global Warming, citing cost (see item 1)
  3. Allowing Torture as a Policy, leading to….
  4. Slagging up to a thousand US and international laws and treaties, leading to….
  5. Ducking War Crimes Courts by inventing new laws, then….
  6. Slagging the American People
  7. Slagging the UN
  8. Slagging Islam
  9. Slagging Everybody
  10. Slagging Me


The Scorecard

The final – in this Part 1 – word and judgment on the Bush Doctrine:

  • Create DHS: DHS is an 186,000 people behemoth with far more failures than successes. I know of no proven prevention of terrorist operations. I know of no lives saved. Today, you rarely hear about the Department. I hear it is almost impossible to find their offices.
  • Fight overseas: How do you take a limited, targeted war to some one else’s land? Bush simply invaded a couple of them. Neither the Taliban, nor Saddam had anything to do with 9/11. The War on Terror became something entirely different: a lost, undefined cause benefiting no one but terrorists. Consequently, terrorism increased.
  • Consider national interests: The War on Terror has nothing to do with the War on Iraq. Iraq was never involved in 9/11 or any other act of international terror. After years of denial, Bush admits the control of the oil is vital. The Baker Report confirms that statement. The Iraqi War is finally illegal. Terror increased dramatically following the invasions.
  • Make you own laws: The US government’s preference for secret, illegal operations is an ethical, legal and international catastrophe. Bush et al stand a real and fair risk of War Crime convictions. Even US courts are fed up. The administration is desperately pushing through unconstitutional laws to defer the risks. This endorses the notion and validity of terrorism. Marching off in Seattle

The score is a miserable 100% failure. That isn’t good. Part 2 (”Part2″ button below) will discuss the consequences of these failures. That is all for Part 1 of this series on the War on Terror. Stay tuned.


Thanks, Karl


A Temporary Link Target

Sorry, the next releases are not quite ready yet. They will be online shortly. Subscribe to my RSS feed to get automatic notification or check back soon.


Global Warming could end life. Food chains destroyed, coastal cities abandoned, ecosystems gone, crop failures, glaciers melted, killer weather, social breakdown, extinctions?. Many, including me, know such disasters are possible. Too few of the world’s politicians do, or so they pretend. Is it real or a fad, such as the famously wrong Club of Rome disaster forecasts? Answer: No. Global Warming is real, deadly and here.

I need your attention. These disasters and much more may happen. There is plenty of evidence supporting that view. But there are ways to save us. We must act now. Politicians must act decisively . International solidarity must be enlisted. The key words are “ACT NOW”. Act now means act now. There is plenty of urgency. I’ll provide the truth, you decide what to do.


Is Global Warming Real?

Global Warming, or Climate Change, stands for the actual and forecasted increase in world average temperature, both in the atmosphere and, a little later, in the oceans. This increase is associated with a sharp increase in GreenHouse Gases, such as CO2 and methane, also known as GHGs.

Temperatures are currently up about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1750s. Carbon emissions are up by 600%. The increase in the atmosphere’s GHG concentration is about 55%. GHG concentration is far above historical levels, going back thousands of years. Both trends are accelerating, not slowing.

An example: The Yellow River is crucial to China and its thrust for modernization, supplying water for 140 million people, supporting thousands of factories and many of the new cities. It is essential to diverse and threatened older cultures, such as nomads. From an article in the New York Times:

“Grasslands were turning to desert, raising fears that the [Yellow] River’s source could be endangered…. [Scientists] found that the problem is much broader and is being caused by global climate change.

[Chinese officials] found that the glaciers feeding the river had shrunk 17 percent in 30 years. …. Glaciers across the entire Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which includes the Yellow River source region, are now melting at a rate of 7 percent a year because of global warming. The report also said average temperatures in Tibet had risen by 2 degrees since the 1980s

…. The combination of less rainfall and warming temperatures had thawed the surface layer of active permafrost and disrupted the underground water channels. Moisture is being absorbed deeper into the warmer ground, and less water is funneling into the Yellow River,

The warming trend has literally moved the ground. Some sections of Highway 214 now gently undulate because of melting permafrost. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the marvel that recently opened as the world’s highest railroad, has already reported track problems from the warming ground surface.

A nomad in a camouflage jacket described how the shoreline had receded more than 20 yards during the past decade. Other nomads have noted steadily rising temperatures,”

Perhaps the Yellow River has little impact on life in your part of the world. But there are similar abnormalities happening much closer to you, wherever you are. If not, there soon will be. You’ll notice if you have not already.

China is the second biggest emitter of GHGs and will be number one in a few years. The US currently holds the top position. Politicians in both countries see no need to effectively control emissions. Let’s look at the tale of concerned scientists. It’s about current events in the seventh biggest emitter: the Northeast US:

Changes consistent with global warming are already under way across the Northeast [US]. Since 1970, the region has been warming at a rate of nearly 0.5 degrees F per decade. Winter temperatures have risen even faster, at a rate of 1.3 degrees F per decade from 1970 to 2000. This warming has been correlated with many noticeable changes across the Northeast, including:

  • More frequent extreme-heat days (maximum temperatures greater than 90°F).
  • A longer growing season.
  • Earlier leaf and bloom dates for plants.
  • Shifts in the mating cycles of frogs to earlier in the year.
  • Earlier migration of Atlantic salmon in northeastern rivers.
  • An increase in heavy rainfall events.
  • Earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and river.
  • Earlier spring snow melt resulting in earlier high spring river flows.
  • Less precipitation falling as snow and more as rain.
  • Rising sea surface temperatures and sea level.
  • Reduced snow pack and increased snow density.

If Global Warming trends continue unabated, we will be extinct. If current trends flatten out, we are still in serious trouble. A big break in trends may save us, such as using 60% less fossil fuels. This is not an alarmist forecast. It is based on clear evidence seen in real life today. My upcoming essay in its three parts is meant to explain why.

CO2‘s life cycle in the atmosphere is about 100+ years. That of methane is shorter but still substantial. That means the emissions in the early 1900s are still around in the atmosphere. Current record emissions will affect the climate up to a hundred years into the future. That means the required break in our current emissions pattern must be that much more dramatic and painful.

Global Warming is a complex, interrelated system with three influences: 1) Compounding effects (aka risks) include: Continued GHG releases. There is a potential vicious loop where the warming trend causes the release of additional gases – one example is the warming of Siberian lakes, currently releasing vast amounts of methane. 2) Mitigating factors (aka opportunities) include: Conservation of energy, shift to non carbon fuels, capturing and storing carbon gases and geoengineering (modification) of carbon gases. We also have 3) Adaptation (aka band-aids) – we can adapt our ways to the climate changes by, say, moving to a safer area or substituting an extinct food source with a viable one.

The oceans serve as a huge depository for carbon, amounting to 36 TERATONNES. That’s 36 thousand billion metric tons – a whole lot. The atmosphere contains 0.8 teratonnes and biomass stores 1.9 teratonnes. Oceanic carbon is freely exchanged with the atmosphere in a complex balancing act. Let’s hope this precarious balance is not upset by, say, warming of the atmosphere and/or the oceans. Remember the Amazon rainforests – once a depository for carbon, now the deforested Amazon is a major emitter of carbon.

Although most agree the problem is real, there is less consensus about what precisely the future will bring and when things will happen. Every one acknowledges the huge uncertainties. You deal with a) the effects that are already present – temperatures and carbon emissions are up, b) the possible future catastrophic events due to continued GHG emissions and c) the uncertain political willingness to deal with the problem and – d) the impact of those who still argue there is no problem.

The Doomsday extremist scenarios assume no change or too little change, too late. A few scientists argue that we have already entered the positive, vicious feedback loop that cannot be reversed. Such a loop truly dooms mankind. Most still see solutions, difficult and hugely expensive. Politicians balk at such costs. What and who will prevail?

The other extreme, believing Global Warming is a myth, argues that the rise in temperature is a normal cyclic event. Some even claim that the temperature is cooling, allegedly based on satellite data. Some other opinions: Forecasts of future temperatures are worthless (I might partly agree there). Human acts have no significant impact on GHGs – the gases are practically all natural. Melting ice caps and coastal flooding are science fiction fantasies and political fear mongering. The enormous cost of reducing carbon gases does not produce benefits, only hardship.


The Kyoto Protocol

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was born in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. This treaty did not set any mandatory limits on emissions of GHGs. Instead, it opened the door to subsequent Protocols to deal with limits.

The Kyoto Protocol of 2005 is such an agreement. It requires signatories to reduce GHGs. Here is the original press release:

The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of GHGs by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this target represents a 29% cut).

The goal is to lower overall emissions of six GHGs – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs – calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.(Wikipedia)

About 160 countries have signed the Protocol. The protocol splits the requirement of nations to reduce emissions into two categories: “Annex 1” countries, mostly highly industrialized, are required to reduce emissions by large amounts and “Non-Annex 1” countries, mostly less developed, are not subject to any targets at all. “Annex 1” countries, groups and individual companies may purchase carbon credits (CERs) if they are unable to reduce gases as dictated.

The US and Australia signed but did not ratify the protocol and do not recognize the Kyoto goals. India and China, Non-Annex 1 countries, are not required to control gases at all, in spite of being major polluters. China is the largest polluter after the United States. India’s contribution to emissions is sky-rocketing. The US, Australia, China and India spew out 45% of the world’s CO2 emissions. None of this output is regulated by the Protocol.

The EU 25 (25 countries making up the European Union) contribute about 15%, Russia about 6%; Japan some 5% and Canada 2% of world emissions. These countries are about the only ones obliged to deal with the problem. Many of them already are very low level carbon polluters, making it close to impossible to meet the Kyoto reduction goals. These countries only stand for some 28% of the emissions. Suppose they cut their emissions to zero. The Kyoto goal of a 29% reduction would still fall short.

The remaining 128 countries stand for 27% of the GHG pollution – most with no obligation to control emissions. The bottom line is that most polluters get away with it – The US and Australia on legalities, China and India on, perhaps, superb negotiating skills. The developing world is actually making money on the deal using the carbon credit (CER) system. Mysteriously, this distribution of capital (CERs) from a few industrial countries to the less developed world was deemed necessary to reduce GHGs. My view is this is a highly inequitable system, likely to kill the whole process. There are better ways to finance development – much more to come.

The 12th Conference on Global Warming just finished its business in Nairobi, Kenya. A follow up to the Kyoto Protocol, 189 countries participated in the 2 week session. The US attended as an observer but made it perfectly clear that any decisions by the Conference would be utterly ignored by the US. The conference ended, as expected, with no decisions and a no-urgency attitude, deep divisions and much disagreement. These conferences, sponsored by the UN, have little to do with seeking solutions. They are political
showcases where some 6,000 attendees argue a lot, eat terrifically expensive meals, sneak off to a safari or two and contribute amazing amounts of rhetoric platitudes. Here is a sample:

The idea [about using sulphur dioxide to fight GHGs] is circulating at the UN climate change conference at Nairobi, where the reaction ranged from caution to concern about side effects. “Yes, by all means, do all the research,” Indian climatologist Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the UN network on climate change, told the Associated Press.

How is that for encouraging new ideas? The concerns are most likely right (SO2 can kill) but condescending platitudes are not. I’m sorry, but this conference just makes me mad.

The apparent Conference goal was to determine/renegotiate who can pollute how much beyond 2012 and how to sell carbon credits at the maximum dollar price. None of the goals were achieved. Interestingly, 2012 and beyond goals are supposed to be established although none of the goals from Kyoto 2005 are even close to be realized. No solutions. No urgency. This is $200 million and around 800,000 man hours spent on nothing every year. This is the 12th annual conference since the 1992 Rio meeting. Assume the same cost each time: that means $2.4 billion and 9.6 million man hours have been spent on these non events so far. Wasteful?

Trading CERs – carbon credits – is by now a major industry. A CER is a note allowing the buyer to emit a specific amount of GHGs, usually expressed as tons of CO2 equivalent. It is priced at, depending on CER market conditions, around $20 per ton of GHG emissions. CER prices fluctuate wildly, partly because of the market’s immaturity. Here are sample statements from Nairobi showing the open greed:

“…. A British merchant bank that has established the $1 billion Climate Change Capital fund that invests in carbon markets. She thinks there’s plenty of money to be made if the politicians and bureaucrats set stringent limits on how much carbon companies can emit.

“…. Every unit of carbon dioxide that goes out the window is a unit that could be sold.”

“…. Poor nations…. also are very eager to get their hands on funds that they believe will be generated when rich countries impose limits on CO2 emissions on themselves and begin trading emissions permits.

Less developed countries stand to benefit from selling their carbon credits manipulating, for instance, their deforestation practices. Some say this will transfer several hundred billion dollars from mostly Western Europe, Canada and Japan. That kind of money gets the additional attention of bankers and investment houses, eager to become clearing houses and trading partners against a modest fee.

A Non Annex 1 country that voluntarily reduces its emissions receives a carbon credit it can sell to any country, group or company that cannot meet its quota. The monitoring of actual improvements in emissions from the less developed world is spotty and unreliable, making it almost impossible to verify their rights to CERs. The oil rich, polluting OPEC countries also look for a piece of the pie. So do high polluting countries from the former Soviet block, such as Belarus.

There is no wonder many view the Kyoto Protocol as dead. Apart from the opposition of the US and Australia, many economists question the effectiveness of the Protocol. It is critiqued as inefficient, naively over-optimistic, inequitable and unlikely to significantly reduce Global Warming.

Cost benefit analysis generally shows it is more cost effective to stay out of the Kyoto Protocol than to comply. I’m not sure how such a cost benefit analysis deals with the possible extinction of mankind.

Kyoto and its predecessor UNFCCC have done little to reduce carbon gases or temperatures. It resembles an elephant stumbling along in a glass shop with a case of political brinkmanship. How will this thing make a difference?

What is the alternative? George W. Bush’s hands-off “voluntary industry policy”? I don’t think so. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate which the US does support? The countries involved do account for 50% of GHGs. The Partnership imposes no mandatory limits or incentives. It is up to each country to set its own policy. This, of course, brings on the wrath from the rest of the world for very good reasons. Global Warming is not a local or national problem; its scope is and must be world wide.

Here is a piece of news that came in from Bloomberg late November 2006:

Nobel Laureates Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming

[Nov 20 2006] Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.

The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth’s temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court’s usual ideological lineup, would “light a fire” under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.

Below is an extract from a letter to George W. Bush from Senators Boxer, Binganam and Lieberman:

[Nov 15, 2006] As incoming Chairs of three important Senate Committees on global warming, we seek your commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007. The U.S. must move quickly to adopt economy-wide constraints on domestic GHG emissions and then work with the international community to forge an effective and equitable global agreement.

Scientists are now warning that we may be reaching a “tipping point” beyond which it will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas, including global warming. If we are to leave our children a world that resembles the earth we inherited, we must act now to address GHG emissions.

Maybe, just maybe, there are signs of hope. Any start, any initiative is good enough for me. I’m sure to follow this carefully. But George W. Bush is a formidable obstruction to all initiatives labeled climate change.

Hundreds of other organizations and agencies involve themselves in Global Warming. None, to my knowledge, has sufficient clout to deal with a world wide issue. In the final analysis, the UN is the only organization that can act on this scale. The UN has made its choice and that is the Kyoto Protocol. Let’s hope Kyoto develops into a more effective instrument – very soon.

Carbon Taxes, CERs

Some higher echelons of society currently concern themselves with the notion of carbon taxes. This tax, not implemented internationally, would be levied on those that cannot or will not meet emission reduction targets. This concept is similar to the CERs (carbon credits) already in effect. The first goal is to make polluters pay, thus providing the incentive for them to better their ways. The second goal is to use the money to reward those exceeding the targets, thereby encouraging successful programs. The second point is valid for the CER system. It may or may not be the way a carbon tax would work.

Some countries already have carbon taxes. Sweden implemented its version in 1991. Finland, the Netherlands and Norway followed. The idea is discussed in the EU and a few other countries, including the US (at some level, certainly not that of George W. Bush) and Canada.

As an example, the Norwegian tax amounts to about 1.7% of total tax revenues and may have reduced carbon emissions by about 2.3% from what it might have been (Source: the Stern Report). As a result, emissions increased far less than economic growth. This program has been in effect for more than 10 years. The results are modest compared to the goals of the Kyoto Protocol that looks for emission reductions of some 70%.

The revenues from the Norwegian tax goes to the government’s regular tax income stream, not to low polluters as the CERs do. Further, the tax is not coordinated with that of any other country, including the rest of the Nordic countries, all of which have carbon taxes. Thus, the cost of pollution differs from country to country, which is both inequitable and unwise from a competitive stand point.

Therein lies the problem: although a carbon tax may be quite effective, it takes real political guts to make it ruthless enough to ensure emission goals. It’s equally difficult to coordinate national taxes with the rest of the world in an equitable manner.

To maximize the payoff of a political solution to Global Warming, it really is not critical to include every country in an initial stage. Getting the EU, the US and Canada, Japan and Russia to enact a coordinated tax system is easier than the Kyoto attempts to make 200 nations agree. Once these industrial countries have effective programs in place, strong pressure could be placed on China and India to join. At that point, over 70% of GHG emissions would be controlled by an equitable system. The rest of the world could join the club only if they prove willing to take action, not subsidies, to reduce their emissions.

The CER system, on the other hand, is coordinated internationally and nationally. A CER is a CER, wherever you live. The CER price is based on a supply and demand. Many view the CERs as an equitable and fair system. I disagree, given its current form, being effectively a subsidy or entitlement from a few to a mass of countries with no obligations.

In EU, CER trading is handled by a its Emissions Trading Scheme, operating like a specialized commodity market where the trading partners are companies, groups and nations involved in emissions. Its may top $100 billion within a few years. This market is a prototype of what might be installed on a world wide basis – or at least in the Kyoto countries. Whether or not the biggest player – the US – will participate depends on a) the next President – Democrat or Republican? or b) whether a better solution than CERs is on the table. George W. Bush will not take action on any alternative under any circumstance.

Summary carbon taxes, CERs

Get the EU, the US and Canada, Japan and Russia to enact a coordinated, hard core tax system. Once these countries have effective, agreed on programs in place, place strong pressure on China and India to join. At that point, over 70% of GHG emissions would be controlled by an equitable system. The rest of the world could join the club only if they prove willing to accept the responsibility, not subsidies, to reduce their emissions.

Imposing Limits

The US passed the Clean Air Act in 1963. It was amended in 1966, extended in 1970 and amended again in 1977 and 1990. I’ll deal with the 1970 version here. Canada, the UK and others also have enacted Clean Air legislation.

The 1970 law empowers EPA to establish and enforce emission standards for certain airborne pollutants. These standards are quite demanding and in some cases overly ambitious. The auto industry, for instance, required extensions due to technical and economic issues. The law has four main parts: 1) a national air quality standard, 2) a performance standard specifying limits for different industries and regions, 3) limits specific to cars (90% reduction of certain emissions), 4) rules for engaging states in the enforcement of the law.

At the time, acid rain was quite an issue, destroying forests, fresh water supplies and soils. Acid rain is caused by industrial emissions of SO2. Power plants and the pulp and paper industries are examples of SO2 polluters. These industries faced major capital expenses to reduce emissions to the set standards. Typical remedies are elaborate scrubbers attached to smoke stacks. These are expensive, both as capital investment and as operating costs.

Emission trading is a related scheme: a facility is issued a license to emit a certain level of a pollutants. After installing clean up equipment, the facility has the right to sell the surplus part, if any, of the license. This is similar to CERs but with the important difference that the emission trading is not a subsidy from one nation to some non-regulated country. It is a US company to a US company trade.

The 1970 Act resulted in major reductions in many polluting emissions. SO2, for instance, turned almost immediately from a rapid increase in the ‘sixties to an equally rapid decline, starting very soon after the Act was passed. SO2 emissions today are only 30% of what they would have been without the Act. The Act was expensive to industry but very friendly to the environment.

Some say the Act does not sufficiently reduce SO2 even at the current 70% reduction. Another major problem is the lack of targets for CO2 – an obvious issue today.

The landmark 1970 Act was amended and extended several times up till 1990. Ronald Reagan did his best to ignore the Act. The Candidate Bush promised mandatory reduction targets for SO2, CO2, mercury and nitrogen oxide. The President Bush forgot that promise immediately after taking office. VP Dick Cheney is doing all he can to ROLL BACK the Clean Air Act as a favor to his buddies.

The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the CAA and its mandatory limits is now a case before the US Supreme Court. The case is brought by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveals total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”. Source: Slate and others.

Under previous administrations [Clinton] the EPA did enforce these very same regulations [on CO2]. Now [under George W. Bush] they are saying they aren’t required to use this authority.

“The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the ‘standing’ issue)”.

Chief Justice John Roberts—whose distaste for the baby penguins, the polar ice caps, and anything else ….characterizes the scientific reports in this case as “spinning out conjecture on conjecture”.

Scalia shoots back that he’s not a scientist, laughing, “That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”….Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”

The EPA’s argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can’t clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don’t want to clean it up; 3) You can’t make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess.”

Roberts chimes in that even if the United States reduces its own emissions, it would be irrelevant if China doesn’t regulate its own greenhouse gasses. Scalia wants reassurance that a “reduction by two and a half percent in carbon dioxide … would save two and a half percent of the coastline.”

Garre insists that there is a “likely connection” between greenhouse gases and global warming but that “it cannot unequivocally be established.”…. argues that carbon dioxide is not a “pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

“A decision dismissing the case on standing grounds is a real possibility.”

That, dear Reader, is the Supreme Court in action. They sound like a hapless sub committee to the UN chaotic and inefficient Nairobi Conference. Scalia LAUGHING about it?

Bush and Cheney are trying to pass a Clear Skies Act watering down the CAA. EPA estimates this Clear Sky Act would kill 4,000 Americans a year due to its lax standards, not to mention no coverage of GHGs. Of all people on Earth, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the two biggest human contributors to Global Warming and environmental problems. It’s a crime, it’s a shame and it’s unbelievably stupid. America and the world deserves better than these two lunatics. To be polite about it.

Summary imposing limits

Extending the Clean Air Act to cover GHG emissions is an obvious, simple common sense initiative. That would curb the disastrous US carbon gas emissions. CAA has a proven, successful track record. Extending the CAA concept internationally could reduce many ill effects of Global Warming. Criminally incompetent and corrupt, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney see it differently. They do their best to go the opposite way. They force us all to face disaster.



Global Warming is a very complex issue indeed. It is also a very serious problem facing all of us. That is why I have invested in a 120+ page essay, examining many of its facets ranging from what is happening in GHG emissions, temperatures, polar regions, tundras, coral reefs, ocean currents, precipitation and much else. I evaluate the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol and the Stern Report. I look at the hopelessly ineffectual political playground. I’ll even suggest some approaches to reduce the ill effects of Global Warming. Stand by!

Thanks – Karl

Top Posts in this Blog

There really is a lot of stuff to read in this blog. It usually is not that easy to navigate around a blog with a lot of content. I’m trying to reduce that problem by providing a lot of navigational help. I’ll add even more in the future. Right now, I have a Table of Content page (TOC in the top menu) that provides links to posts, grouped by subject area. And there is another helper located at a new page “Top 11” (see menu on top). It lists and links to the most popular posts on the blog. Here goes:

Top 11 posts

Here are the links to the Top 11 posts. Why 11 you may ask. Please do. Answer: Why Not? And why not the Top 12?

That’s the Top 11. Check out the Table Of Content for more navigational help. You’ll see the posts organized by main subject areas, making it easier to find what you care about.

Announcement: Here is a glimpse of that’s next. In a few days, I’ll publish a major post (in three parts, actually) on Global Warming. This is a subject of real importance and I’ve taken a long, hard look at it. It’s a huge post, well over 100 pages Word equivalent. But then, the importance of the subject is huge too. I hope you’ll find it of value.

Thanks Karl

A New Look And Feel

November 3, 2006

Here we go again – a new look and feel for the site. I aimed at a design that is easier to use and more attractive than the previous one. I hope you agree. Apart from graphical changes, perhaps the most important change is the menu bar on top of each page. This menu compensates for less reliance on the standard WordPress widgets. I believe that the menus, and the pages they lead to, are much clearer than the widgets.

As of right now, the site design is in beta. There may be some bugs and minor incompatibilities to older posts. Please comment on any problems you may have. Or just give me some feedback on what you think of this new and quite different design. You will see additional changes in real time as I refine the site and fix whatever bugs there may be.

Again, feedback requested, Karl

This essay looks at individual ethics as determined by factors such as race, culture and religion. The last essays dealt with violence, in particular War and its relation to Ethics. A conclusion was simple: Ethics and Morals are totally incompatible with any aspect of War or other forms of violence. War means utter destruction in all possible ways. Another conclusion said that peaceful means of spreading “good” Ethics are not truly effective.

Down to Earth

What about us as individuals? I stated that, generally, our personal Ethics convictions are stronger than those of governments and other institutions who would like to control our thoughts. How come? What is driving this individual strength? Is it stubbornness, inflexibility, Young woman thinking hardignorance, stupidity, fear, bravery, a Higher Power, peer pressure or opportunistic plots?

It may be all of that to some degree. Ethics on a personal level do not exist in isolation from the World around us. But however these Ethics are formed in us, they stay with us while evolving over time. I’ll make a brave effort to classify and discuss some of these individual influences.

Regardless of the strength of our individual Ethical convictions, there are times when other, external factors override them. For instance, soldiers may well be ordered to commit acts that are inconsistent with their personal Ethics. This has led to numerous Court Martials in the current Iraq war. In World War I, some one thousand soldiers were executed for cowardice or desertion – largely because the conflict between personal ethics and the will of superiors became too big. Other examples of curtailed personal ethics include prisoners, POWs, slaves, refugees, hostages and other groups whose civil liberties are curtailed. But the curtailment of Ethical standards does not mean their permanent withering in the individual.

Perhaps a graph of mine (it’s got a Star wars feel, doesn’t it?) will help – hopefully it will not cloud an already difficult subject. The text at the bottom “No Start, No End” indicates that this process is as long as life. The process starts at birth and ceases at death. Some will argue this process started at the dawn of time and will continue as long as there are individuals to carry the torch. Perhaps it is so.

The process flow starts at the left, continues in a clock wise matter to the upper right, lower right and back towards the left.

The process flow starts at the left, continues in a clock wise matter to the upper right, lower right and back towards the left.How ethics interact with reality and moralityHere is the idea: Mother Earth (and the Universe) provides a wealth of information of various kinds – some positive, some negative. The 1a and 1b callouts give some examples of the information our brains receive at an astonishing pace (Arrow marked 2). Our senses together with our brain process this information in real time (Callout 3).

The processing is guided by some very strange rules, only partially understood. It involves using some of the information, discarding some and adding interpretations based on experience and who knows what. The result is an interpretation of the incoming data that is safe for us and possibly utterly distorted and perhaps totally inaccurate – callout 3, again, in the graph.

The interpretation goes on to create selective, practical and actionable information. This information is judged against prior knowledge. The brain reaches a verdict as to the value, relevance and importance of the current information. The verdict, of course, varies. It might lead to an action, it might not. It may provide feedback – or not (Arrow 6). It might become part of our database for future use, or it might not. Perhaps the verdict and its data will be reprocessed. It might simply be ignored and quickly discarded – probably the vast volume of incoming data ends up discarded. Arrow 4 illustrates these phenomena in the graph.

Our judgments and possible actions depend on our three built-in yardsticks: Our interpretation of data (the perceived Reality), our tribunal judgments (the personal Ethics) and our action engine (the derived Morals). That is callout 5 in the graph. Now, the task at hand is to examine what fuel drives the three engines.

What influences do we need to consider? Well, all of them. But let’s be a bit realistic here – we don’t have all day. I’ll group this discussion into four parts: Individual, Crowd, Negative and Irrelevant influences.

The Images

As always, here are a few comments on the images used in this essay. I’ve said before it is not easy to illustrate abstract themes. There are no pictures of Ethics or Morals. Apart from a few diagrams obtained from various places, I’ve chosen to add images of people. After all, this blog is really all about people, images, art and how we all really relate.

The images are all shot by me. There is no relation between the text and the individuals in the images. The individuals shown are just people who happened to pass before my camera. That’s all. No hidden agendas

Diversity in Action

We are all unique individuals. We’re made up of a bunch of atoms and molecules that combine into “us”. “We” have no exactly similar counterpart anywhere, even going back to the beginning of life millions of years ago. For one thing, our DNA uniquely identifies us from the rest of the World.

We do not exist in isolation. We have unique racial, cultural, generational, sexual and national backgrounds. We may be educated, or not. We have parents and relatives who we may or may not know. One or more persons raised us and spent a long time with us. We live in a suburb, a city, a hut or a cave. We live in a democracy or a dictatorship or under some other political system. We may be lucky enough to have supportive people around us, or not. Maybe we are poor, maybe not. Hopefully, we are happy but depressions are common. Circumstances such as where you live may mean you are ahead of the time curve or perhaps way behind. We may be in a relationship, or not. A list like this can go on for a long time. In fact, let’s make it a slightly reorganized and grouped list:

Race and Racism

To North Americans, “race” quickly is translated to the “racism” issues of African Americans. That leads to affirmative action controversies, civil rights and historical or current injustices. Injustices include persistent inequality, exploitation, racial profiling, open or hidden discrimination, youth unemployment, ghettos, gangs, crime, hate groups, lack of respect and self respect, discriminatory pay levels, unfairness of standardized aptitude tests, unequal access to education, inaccessible legal rights, and illegal biases of financial and insurance companies. There are many other issues. Further, many of the same issues apply to Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian individuals, to name a few.

In other words, “race” is usually confused with “racism”. These are two very different concepts.


I could cite statistical data, research papers and show images and graphs to support all of the racism in the paragraph above. You may want to check out my essay on Gordon Parks for at least some powerful images. However, I won’t dive into details when most of us know quite well the validity of racism issues. It’s impossible to deny the influence of racism in the personal Ethics and Morals of anyone in North America.

What North Americans are less aware of is the prevalence of racism issues in other parts of the World. Most are aware of the Holocaust and its devastating effect on Jews in Western Europe and adjacent areas. Fewer are aware of the thousands of years of violence against and discrimination of Jews in many parts of the World. Pogroms date back almost 2,000 years. They have occurred in Russia, England, Germany (prior to Nazi Germany), Poland, Romania, Libya, Egypt, Argentina, and elsewhere. They have killed thousands and caused massive relocations (ethnic cleansing). Ironically, Russian pogroms partly led to the establishment of Israel. It is also a major cause of the Jewish immigration to the US and the resulting strength of Jewish influence.Lady in conversation

Pogroms and similar racial violence are not limited to Jews. The white American treatment of Native Indians falls in the same category. Gypsies and other European minorities have suffered similar fates. Armenians were exterminated or forced into exile by the Turks in the early 1900s. Kurds, caught between Saddam Hussein and Turks, suffered extreme violence but are still alive.

Then you have Sunnis versus Shi’as. Tutsis versus Hutus. Bosnian Muslims versus Serbian Christians. Mid East immigrant workers in Northern Europe. Mexicans in the US. French African immigrants versus the rest of France. British Arabs blowing up subways filled with mostly non-Arabs. Saudi and some other Arabs attacking up the Trade Towers twice. Algerians blowing up the French and vice versa. Arab insurgents attacking US and British troops. Chetnyans killing Russians and very much vice versa.

Going back in time to biblical times and beyond: you will find Egyptians slaughtering Israelites, Israelites killing Canaanites, Israelites eliminating Amalekites and Assyria and Babylon exterminating various Mid East enemies. Scythians wiped out Cimmerians. Julius Caesar killed most of the Helvetii tribe, Gauls, Vercingetorix and Avaricum. Never heard about these names? There is a very good reason – they ceased to exist.

This is just a small sample of racial genocides, wars, discriminations and terrorism. Racism results in some of the most lethal Ethical issues that have faced the World for thousands of years. These perceptions, distortions and conflicts are thoroughly burnt into our Ethical conscience.

Racial issues are so powerful, influential, politicized, misunderstood, persistent and deadly that you wonder how the World, not to mention individuals, can possibly deal with them. What will it take to reduce or eliminate racism? How many dead will it take? How many more destroyed people? How can deeply rooted prejudiced Ethics be updated? The sad answer is no one knows the solution. As “true” Ethical persons, all we can do is look inside us and practice those Ethics and act as morally as well as we can. The good news is that there are plenty of people doing just that. The bad news – those that don’t are as deadly as always.

That concludes the racism subject.


Many attempted racial solutions are part of the Ivory Tower World. That World deals with riots, terrorism and hate crimes. On an individual basis, race – as opposed to racism – may be a tremendous strength. Race is one of the most basic factors in the makeup of our Ethics and Moral, not to mention our individual view of Reality. Race defines a culture, a common heritage and a form of solidarity. That is good. Racism may spill over into this. That’s bad.

On the balance? Race versus racism? Who wins? I personally, as a Northern European, belong to a race where racial issues are traditionally almost non-existent. I’m very lucky in that respect and I wish all of you had the same fortune. If not, let’s hope some day MLK’s Dream will come true for you


Culture is many a thing. It might be a culture of bacteria. It might be the culture of Africa. It might be the culture of rap music lovers. Man soncentratingYou name it. It’s a huge subject ands we need to limit ourselves right away. All we care about here is how culture impacts our individual Ethics.

As individuals we usually think of ourselves as belonging to a main culture. We often belong to sub cultures as well. One’s main culture might be “I’m Irish”. A sub culture might be “I live in Boston”. Another might be “I’m a Beethoven lover”. We typically have a good understanding of our cultural makeup.

Any culture defines a set of values, attitudes and behaviors. Muslims pray at certain hours. Jews do not eat pork. Beethoven lovers go to the symphony, usually dressed up. The Amish do not drive cars. Employees adhere to a dress code, whatever it might be. Artists are driven to perform their art. And so on.

Let’s look at a current example of cultural clashes, remembering this is 2006, not 1956.

Many Muslim women wear full or partial veils or head scarves. It is a statement of their culture and religion, a simple matter of their ethical and moral makeup. Quite recently, a Yorkshire, UK, teaching assistant insisted on wearing her full-face veil in the presence of male teachers. She was fired and is taking the matter to court.

A major political fight resulted, going all the way up to Tony Blair. One side sees “visible statements of separation and refusal to integrate into the British society”. The other side sees discrimination and obstruction of human rights. Some proclaim wearing a veil is “impolite” just as is wearing your shoes entering a mosque. The middle ground wonders if perhaps politicians should spend their time on more important subjects.

Those more important matters might include why British Muslims turn to suicide bombings in the middle of London and others are arrested on suspicion of planning to blow up Trans Atlantic airliners. Or it might include the common and deadly riots by immigrant Muslims all over France, involving perceived suppression of cultural Muslim values.

The veil issue simply does not go away. The issue has spread to at least France and Germany, and recently, the US. It is, of course, tempting to extend the argument that “different behavior” should be outlawed. We might require Jews to eat pork at least once a week. How about requiring Quakers to serve as National Guards in Baghdad? Maybe prohibiting Hawaiian shirts? Or force Amish teenagers to take driving lessons?

Most of us would agree there are more important issues to deal with, Ethical or not. The sorry point is that the veil issue prevails. If the matter of clothing can take on these proportions, what about more important cultural differences, such as those involving life and death?

So we are influenced by this mix of cultures, some important to us, some somewhat less relevant and others totally irrelevant. We end up with a mix of values, attitudes and behaviors that we assimilate. As we do, the values become part of our Ethics. Some of these are life long. “I’ll always be Irish”. Others change over time – rap lovers might become Beethoven fans as they age. Moreover, some cultures change over time. The dress code at IBM today is drastically different that in the 1960s. So are the views of divorce or abortion.

Most of us are quite comfortable with our “cultural” Ethics. That’s not surprising since the cultural environment acts as a support group or security blanket as long as we are not torn away from it. There are issues though, such as:

  • Diversity means that a culture may benefit from the contributions of other cultures. This is quite a misunderstood item, often confused with racism, inequality and discrimination. Diversity to me means an open mind to the ideas of other cultures. It is basically a personal Ethical standard, not a legal or rule bound item. That, of course, does not prevent Ivory Tower ideas such as a diverse work place or higher education (meaning quotas) or a diverse school system (meaning busing). The real problem is that many of us like being part of our culture and see no particular reason to mix with others. Some even view diversity as a threat to the purity of one’s own culture. That was the view of the Nazis.
  • Equality means different cultures are viewed and treated as equally valuable. Often this involves gender and racial issues. Different cultures have different attitudes about either of the two issues. Some cultures by tradition do not, even today, view women as equal. Women are stoned to death for infractions to rules created by men. The Western culture did not even begin to consider women as equal until the early 1900s. Up till the sixties, many Westerners strongly felt women should remain at home, raising children and cooking dinners. I dealt with racial issues in the prior section.
  • Protection of minorities means we have a defense mechanism against of a lack of cultural equality. Again, we have the influence of Ivory Towers. Let’s concentrate on the US: banks must be Equal Opportunity Lenders. Employers must be Equal Opportunity Employers. Sexual harassment is outlawed. Governments provide social services. We are all equal in the eyes of the justice system. The justice system defends the right of minorities. Why 90% of inmates are male? Why over 40% are black? How can 50% of all women in the work force experience sexual harassment? So in spite of the lofty laws, we might conclude men are far more criminal than women, blacks are far more criminal than whites. Men find it OK to sexually harass women (and in some famous, recent cases, other men and children). How does that impact our cultural values and the resulting Ethics? Let’s turn some of the statistics above around: 92% of blacks are not under any kind of correctional supervision, nor are 98% of whites. More than 99% of Americans are not in jail. This attitude is more positive when considering personal Ethics, but there are major problem areas as indicated above. Yet, it is hard to claim minorities are well protected by society. It comes down to personal Ethics to consider the rights of minorities.
  • Rights and entitlement deal with issues such as human rights versus unfair demands for handouts. Consider welfare programs such as Social Security. Consider Affirmative action or Positive Discrimination as some call it. In the first case, some percent of recipients are committing fraud. In the second case, for every beneficiary of the rights, there is a loser. Very few oppose human rights but some violate them and other take undue advantage. There is an abundance of data indicating different cultures have vastly different attitudes to these items. How come? Some cultures are so disadvantaged they are forced to over use the “system”, legally or not. Other cultures are so used to excessive handouts that they automatically take advantage to its maximum. Since no nation can keep giving excessive handouts for ever, there will be a clash at some point in time. Many European countries and, famously, the ex Soviet Union fall in this category.

Culture is a complex issue with many implications on our values and Ethics. Culture is largely a positive in providing positive attitudes and values to our Ethics system. Still, there are numerous potential issues. Some were discussed above, such as diversity is viewed with deep suspicion by some. Equality is still lacking in the Ethics of many. Many minorities suffer from injustices. Social assistance programs are violated. While some cultures are more vulnerable to the fallacies of culture, all indications are that the vast majority of us benefits from these influences to become law abiding, socially aware individuals.


Few would argue religion is not one of the major influences on our individual lives, whether that is as Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or what have you. Many agree religion can be an important ethical yard stick. Still, it is a deadly influence. Look at some examples in history:

  • The Crusades: The Pope sanctioned about nine major and some minor military campaigns against “pagans, heretics and Muslims” in the name of Christianity during the 1000s to 1300s. The Crusades were, in part, an outlet for an intense religious piety which rose up in the late 11th century among the lay public. A crusader would, after pronouncing a solemn vow, receive a cross from the hands of the pope, and was thenceforth considered a “soldier of the Church”. And the crusader was off to a heroic battle. The Islamic World sees it differently.
  • The Reconquista: The Christian Kingdoms of Hispania (today’s Portugal and Spain) defeated and expelled Muslims, ending more than eight centuries of Moorish rule. The Reconquista started in 722, lasting till 1492. It was a process not only of war and conquest, but mainly of “repopulation”. Christian kings took over locations abandoned by the Muslims. This is an early example of “ethnic cleansing” based on religious differences.
  • French wars of religion: This is a series of armed conflicts between Huguenots (Protestants) and Catholics fought for most of the last half of the 1500s. It devastated a generation, but is an example of how the state, society, and religion were all bound up together in people’s minds resulting in a deadly experience. “One faith was essential to society holding together. Without the right faith and God upholding the natural order, disaster was certain.”
  • The Thirty Year War: Fought primarily in Germany from 1618 to 1648 between Protestants and Catholics, this religious war claimed some 20% of the German population due to battles and famines. In the end, Catholic power was diminished, and the Germany was divided into many small factions. It is viewed as leading to German romantic nationalism. This, in turn, eventually led to social nationalism – Nazism.
  • The troubles of Northern Ireland: Well known to most of us, this modern day religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics caused some 1800 civilian and about 1300 combatant deaths. Some 40,000 were injured. This gruesome conflict used massive amounts of torture, civil rights violations and, of course, indiscriminate bombings against civilians.
  • Jihads: Although the term stands for many things, it usually refers to wars of religion. The objectives are: 1) Elimination of persecution [of Muslims], 2) Dominance of Islam, 3) To force the disbelievers to pay Jizya, 4) To help the weak and the oppressed, 5) To seek revenge for the murder of a Muslim, 6) To punish those who violate their oaths, 7) To fight to defend (Muslims or Islam) and finally (8) To recapture the occupied territory. Jihads are highly regulated and subject to clear ethical goals. They have nothing to do with terrorism as believed by many Westerners. Jihads are much more a religious doctrine than actual acts of violence. Of course, militants use this concept to justify terrorist acts.
  • Milhemet Mitzvah: Sometimes viewed as the Jewish version of the jihad, it is “the war that the people of Israel were commanded by God to wage, for example, against the former peoples of the Land of Israel.” Like the jihad, this is more a concept than actual acts of violence in its intent. As with jihads, this concept is used as a false justification by radical factions that do indeed commit violence.

So what does all this tell us? For one thing, millions have died as the result of religiously inspired violence. For another, religious differences as formulated by Jihads and Milhemet Mitzvah do not necessarily mean violence but are part of a greater religious standard or expression. Either way, religion and violence, theoretical or practical, have more in common than most like.

Religion does not stand for violence on most people’s personal level. It stands for faith, goodness, comfort and spirituality. Yet, on that personal level, religion is used by some as an excuse for extremism or radicalism:

  • Politics: American politics are influenced by two main religious factions: the Religious Right and the Jewish community. The Religious Right and the Jewish community both are cultural factions with strong beliefs, built from the grass roots and up. Both represent moral views of its constituents. Then the national interests of the faction rolls back to further radicalize or focus the beliefs of the members. Additionally, we have George W. Bush who believes his acts of state crimes are justified by his recently discovered religious faith.
  • Creation and Evolution: This is a long fought battle between religious diehards and the rest of us. Often absurdly argued and acted on, it nevertheless represents an important aspect of the individual’s belief system, whichever side you are on. In this essay, the focus is not who is right and who is wrong. The point is simple – a great variety of factors play a role in our ethical makeup. Too, often, they lead to undesired effects. Such as, school children are force fed the opinion of others which may well penalize them in their later life.
  • Abortions rights, Animal rights, Religious discrimination, Priesthood sexual abuse, Gay rights, Birth control are all issues with religious overtones. They are quite similar to the two items discussed above in our belief system.

On the one hand, religion is one of the most powerful positive parts in our ethical makeup. On the other hand, there are just so many negative aspects ranging from uncontrolled violence to human rights abuse. These negative factors trace back to individuals who typically believe they are right in their negativism.

Other influences

The influences of race, culture and religion are major influences on us as individuals. Still, it only scratches the surface of what makes up our moral and ethical beings. Here are some other factors, perhaps to be covered in more details in later posts.

  • Age, gender and sex
  • Residence, Location, Nationality
  • Education, Money, Work
  • Family, Supporters versus Crowds
  • Health, Mental, Physical
  • Time warps

Individualistic Diversity

Race, Culture and Religion – speak about complex issues. Morals, Reality and Ethics – more complexity. Paired with my earlier essays, we are looking at some serious stuff. Thousands of authors have covered the same subjects. Some influential and/or credible, some not. I like to keep it simple and basic. What is the point of all of this?

Well, I took it all back to fundamental beliefs on a high level, philosophical level. Then I descended somewhat to a more practical investigation of state/national level ethical issues. Finally, I arrived at the level of individuals and what influences their ethical belief system, covering fundamentals such as race, culture and religion. What have I or we learnt?

Laughing manFrankly, I’m not sure. There are just too many valid but conflicting views. And there are far too many invalid views, as judged at least by me and my standards. It seems we are all benefiting from our highly individual ethics, realities and morals. At the same time, it seems like the equivalence of jail. We are stuck with influences that do not do us – or others – any good. The mix can be deadly.

I see diversity as the major point. Like it or not, no one can sort out a universal truth or divine belief system. No one has the authority to judge personal ethics, ignoring legal aspects that may force authoritarian beliefs on another being. We truly are all different and nothing will change that.

So how do we live with such diversity? One way is simply to deny it and keep fighting the battles – the moronic approach. Or, in spite of the validity of any particular belief system, we try to overcome the differences. Many have suggested the means of that approach, whether affirmative action, education or forced activities such as bussing. I have no particular solutions, except we better work on it or else. Perhaps I can be more specific as we go along. I hope so.

It comes down to individuals making a stand for what they believe in, no matter what. It shows to the rest of us what is possible. Here are some individuals that proves the point made:

Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Betty Friedan, Dalai Lama, David Suzuki, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosa Park, Jane Addams, Ramsey Clark, Susan B. Anthony, Patsy Mink, Martin Luther King, Susan Sontag, Jane Fonda, Jerry Rubin, Samuel Gompers, Emma Goldman, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Harry Wu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Virginia Woolf, Richard Sheppard, Oscar Romero, Mohamed Elmoutaoikil, Heberto Castillo Martínez, Leung Kwok-hung, Olof Palme, Benigno “Ninoy” Simeón Aquino, Jr. and many others.

It is tempting to do a list of the opposite type of people. If you like, simply fill in the names of recent US Presidencies, Cabinets and most of the Congress of the US of A. You may start with the Nixon era. Remember Spiro Agnew, Wilbur Mills, Gary Condit or Bob Livingstone? They’ll qualify just fine for starters. How about Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Marv Albert, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson or Bill O’Reilly? Then you can continue across the World. Start in the UK with John Profumo, Hugh Grant, David Blunkett or Edwina Currie. Finding ethics challenged people is easy.

You see, it all comes down to who you are and how you grow. It’s that simple. So who are you? Consider this quote from Gandhi:

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the World – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.

What’s next?

As you may imagine, this has been a long ride, far longer than I imagined in the beginning. To me, the ride was necessary. I’m planning one more installment that deals with all the ethical standards for specific groups of people. That includes individuals from the board of HP to Enron officials to Congressmen to lawyers to doctors to just about anyone participating in real life. There are thousands of “Ethical Standards” developed, published and perhaps occasionally read. It seems no organization of significance can live without defining its own ethical view. Are they of any value?

Then I will, finally, get back to my roots in art and photography. That certainly will include the ethics and morals of various artistic endeavors.

As always, thanks to all of you,


This fifth issue of my Ethics series continues to deal with institutional “Ivory Towers” and peaceful means to establish global Ethics. We’ll Man with his flutediscuss diverse topics such as the Ten Commandments, The Geneva Conventions, Magna Carta, Foreign Aid, The United Nations and Global Warming, including the Kyoto Protocol. I’ll use these practical examples to make my point: While usually well meaning, these programs rarely have the impact one might hope for, with some few exceptions. Some power center – often the US – stands in their way to protect self interests.

The last essay dealt with violence, in particular War and its relation to Ethics. The conclusion of that essay was simple: Ethics and Morals are totally incompatible with any aspect of War or other forms of violence on a nation to nation level. War means utter destruction in all possible ways. This essay will reach the conclusion that the peaceful means of spreading “good” Ethics are by no means as fatal as War but still not truly effective. We’ll need to look further for success stories.

The Ivory Tower View of Peaceful Means

The World does not totally lack universal Ethical standards. Magna Carta is a legal version of Ethics that is still going strong after some 800 years. The Ten Commandments is another example – even more so as most major religions build on similar, basic Ethical standards. The UN and its agencies is one example. The Geneva Conventions are yet another example, as is the Kyoto Protocol. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Ivory Towers.

The Images

As always, here are a few comments on the images used in this essay. I’ve said before it is not easy to illustrate abstract themes. There are no pictures of Ethics or Morals. Apart from a few diagrams obtained from various places, I’ve chosen to add images of people. After all, this blog is really all about people, images, art and how we all really relate.

The images are all shot by me. There is no relation between the text and the individuals in the images. The individuals shown are just people who happened to pass before my camera. That’s all. No hidden agendas.

The Ten Commandments

Girl looking outReligion is a very powerful influence on Ethical standards, not to mention daily life, throughout most of the World. Many Christians think of religion as a 2,000 year phenomena. It goes much further back. The Ten Commandments go back almost 3,300 years. Some say Christianity goes to the beginning of time although most scientists and logical people do not quite agree.

Religion and Ethics go hand in hand in most people’s mind. It certainly is a thoroughly researched issue. Some of these researches impact the daily life of billions of people. Consider issues such as World hunger, genocide, human abuses, AIDS, marriage and divorce, gay rights, contraception and sexuality, priest abuse, religion and politics (such as collaboration with the Nazis) and abortion. All of these items reflect Ethical religious actions/inactions and/or failures. Not all of us agree with the religious point of view. No one can deny the power of the church.

The Ten Commandments are an admirable set of Ethical rules. They are short, to the point and indisputable to most people. They are interpreted in somewhat different ways by various Christian factions. Muslims reject the Christian version but support a very similar set of their own. Buddhism and Hinduism also support very comparable thoughts. Astonishingly, the atheist Soviet Union had a Moral Code with a somewhat similar content. There is no question that the Ten Commandments and its counterparts are powerful ethical standards with a Worldwide influence.

Here are links to some alternative commandments:

The Geneva Conventions

The four Geneva Conventions protect POWs and restricts certain kinds of warfare. They are some of the most successful international treaties. They clearly define and relate to Ethical standards. They have evolved over time in different versions. The first version was adopted in the 1860s. The last major revision dates to 1949. Signatory nations (about 200) are required to pass national laws making it a crime to violate the Conventions.

In 1997, two protocols to the Geneva Conventions were added. They give protection to guerrillas in civil wars or wars of national liberation. A third protocol was added in 2006.

Article 4 of the current Conventions may be of interest, considering the current debate of denying the rights of the Conventions to certain “terrorists”. Please do judge for your self. Here is a much shortened version:

Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Conventions, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:


2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
c) That of carrying arms openly;
d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.


LoversI’m no lawyer. But it seems to me the above applies to many individuals currently denied the rights of the Geneva Conventions. What are those rights? Here is an excerpt:

Article 13

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Conventions. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

Article 14

Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honor. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favorable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.


Article 17

Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. If he willfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.


No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.


Does this sound like what is known to be going on in prison/POW camps around the World? Do you trust George W. Bush to come up with a better version?

The Geneva Conventions did neither protect POWs in Japanese hands during WWII nor make life easier in Hanoi Hilton. The Conventions did largely protect Western POWs in Nazi hands during WWII. It did not protect Soviet POWs. The Nazis killed some 3 million Soviet POWs, compared to some half a million German POWs killed by the Soviets.

The Western Allies generally treated German POWs well during the War, but there are rumors about some 1 million German POWs killed right after the War by the US. Israel is widely criticized for violating the treaties by using excessive force (such as cluster bombs against civilians) in the recent Mid East flare up.

You want to read the whole thing? Here is a link. Or read on for some recent evolutions, not all part of the conventions but certainly relevant:Girl with drink

1993 saw the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal is a part of the UN and was established by the Security Council. It has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity. It goes on to cover grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and violations of the laws or customs of war. The tribunal deals exclusively with events committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. The most infamous indicted is Slobodan Milosevic, previous president of Serbia, up till his death in March of 2006. The tribunal indicted 161 persons. About half of these cases are decided. In 43 cases, the tribunal found the defendant guilty.

In 1998, an international conference adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This treaty created an International Criminal Court. The Court opened for business in 2002. It deals with three current cases – all against African nations – Uganda, Congo and Sudan. The former Liberian President Charles Taylor is held by the Court for trial. The Court received a number of complaints regarding the invasion of Iraq but declined actions for various reasons. The US, along with Israel, China, Iraq and a handful of other nations voted against the original treaty. The US did eventually sign but never ratified the treaty. George W. Bush has effectively killed any US support of the Court. George W. Bush wants assurance no Americans will ever be held responsible for war crimes by the Court.

For all its failures, the Geneva Conventions provide some of the best known and respected non-religious Ethical standards in existence. They are successful in its almost universal national acceptance. They helped innumerable POWs, although by no means all. Almost all people on Earth know about them and approve. Universally, a deviation from the Conventions is a serious crime, both legally and ethically

The Magna Carta Legal and Ethical Code

Justice is a critical component of any Ethical and Moral system. Magna Carta has provided such a system for some 800 years. Originally, it was a political charter aimed at limiting the power of English kings. It contains 6 clauses covering a multitude of issues. Over time, it has been revised and suffered ups and downs in influence. The US Constitution is one major point of influence. It provides a basis for common law in many countries.

The four basic points of Magna Carta, easily traceable to modern law and ethics:

  • Independence of church from state: “In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire…..”, “Wherefore we will and firmly order that the English Church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all respects and in all places forever, as is aforesaid.”
  • Freedom from undue taxes: ” Neither we nor our bailiffs will seize any land or rent for any debt, as long as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient to repay the debt; “, “No sheriff or bailiff of ours, or other person, shall take the horses or carts of any freeman for transport duty, against the will of the said freeman”, ” Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take, for our castles or for any other work of ours, wood which is not ours, against the will of the owner of that wood.”
  • Habeas Corpus – no imprisonment without due process of law: “No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”, “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice”.
  • Rights of unencumbered inheritance: “If any ….. Shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir….. Shall have his inheritance by the old relief, to wit, the heir or heirs….”, “A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance….”

Magna Carta did not prevent any number of Wars since the 1100s. It did not prevent the Holocaust. It did nothing to prevent arms races. Nor did it limit the murders conducted by many despots and dictators. But it is a powerful document providing a fascinating window to the ethics of a far past that still is valid. Here is a good link.

Foreign Aid (Solidarity)

Foreign aidDevelopment aid from the rich countries to the Third World is an attempt to practice Ethics on an international basis. Early on, there was a goal to contribute 1% of GDP in aid. This is now generally reduced to .7%. Some view this as a mostly symbolic effort with limited practical results. Some cynics view it as an attempt by the rich to control the poor. Foreign aid by practically all industrial countries is declining. To quote some facts from this source:

  • In 1970, rich countries of the OECD agreed at the United Nations (Resolution 2626) to give 0.7% of their GNP as aid to the developing countries.
  • Over 35 years on, most of the 20 or so rich OECD countries have never reached that figure, or come close.
  • The rich countries have given an enormous $2.2 trillion dollars in aid since 1960
  • Still, the accumulated total shortfall in their aid since 1970 amounts to $2.5 trillion (at 2003 prices).

That’s a $2.5 TRILLION shortfall. Extrapolate the numbers to 2006 to a shortfall of around $3 TRILLION. Is that all you can expect of the ethical credibility of industrial nations? This is a program based on fundamentally Ethical standards. It is supported in theory by a large part of the World. Of course, you’ll notice from the graph which country is dead last in this type of foreign aid.

The United Nations

The United Nations is a dysfunctional, corrupted, bloated, expensive and inefficient organization. Still, it is the only game in town. For all its faults, it is a major platform to resolve international issues, sometimes with Ethical guidance. The UN has accomplished many good things. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights attempts to reconcile global Ethics. The Security Council provides some important checks and balances on World politics. The various agencies produce some successes, although mostly at an enormously bloated cost.

Here are the official UN goals to be reached by 2015 (or as specified):

  1. Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  2. Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
  3. Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
  4. Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
  5. Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
  6. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
  7. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources.
  8. Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
  9. Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.
  10. Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction— nationally and internationally
  11. Address the least developed countries’ special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction
  12. Address the special needs of landlocked and Small Island developing States
  13. Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term
  14. In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth
  15. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries
  16. In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies— especially information and communications technologies

Do you know any other organization with similar goals? This may be day dreaming but the goals are still backed by the authority of 192 nations. Even a limited success would be good news.

Do you notice something odd? Global warming is not mentioned. Nor is a goal of reducing international tensions or providing better security. The list passes on resolving international conflicts, such as war. Nowhere is reducing or controlling nuclear proliferation mentioned. There’s nothing about sanctions and other measures against rouge nations. Terrorism is not even mentioned. Fiscal goals or becoming more efficient aren’t worth a point. There is little about promoting freedom and democracy.

Global Warming and the Kyoto Protocol

Few scientists claim Global Warming is not a serious threat to mankind. Almost everyday, more alarming evidence is surfacing. A fair part of the World’s politicians agree. So do most sane people. But most of us will be dead before it really becomes a true and practical disaster. So the Ethical goal of saving the World is immediately clouded by various other issues such as the substantial short term cost to reduce the dangers.

There still is resistance to the notion of climate dangers. Check out this link. Or try this one. Ah, the power of Special Interests.

Here is a list of more realistic evidence of global warming from EcoBridge (use this link for details or follow the links below item by item):

  1. Graph of Historical Trend of Warming Temperatures
  2. Carbon Dioxide Increasing in Atmosphere
  3. Methane Also Increasing
  4. More Frequent Extreme Weather
  5. Disappearing Glaciers
  6. Melting Arctic Sea Ice
  7. Melting Antarctic Sea Ice
  8. Greenland’s Ice Sheet Melting
  9. Tropical Diseases Spreading
  10. Oceans Warming With Coral Bleaching & Disintegration

Carbon emissions by countryThe Kyoto Protocol is an agreement based on UN climate control guidelines. It requires signatories to reduce green house gases. About 160 countries have signed the Protocol. The US and Australia signed but did not ratify the protocol, rendering it effectively dead.

In all honesty, it is a strange agreement. It splits the requirement of nations to reduce emissions into several categories somehow related to ability to pay for the necessary work (or negotiating skills). India and China, both full signatories, are not required to reduce gases at all, in spite of being major polluters. North America is the largest emitter of these gases and will do little or nothing. It is followed by China, doing nothing. India’s contribution to emissions is sky-rocketing, doing nothing. Perhaps Australia is counting on its gases disappearing into its ozone hole? How is this for complex Ethics?

The bottom line is that some major polluters are getting away with it – The US and Australia on legality, China and India on, perhaps, superb negotiating skills. The rest of the World is caught in the middle. Many try their best in spite of the controversy and special interests.

Here is a corporate (BP) view on the Kyoto Protocol:

Global warming is real and needs to be addressed now. Rather than bash or mourn the defunct Kyoto Protocol, we should start taking the small steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions today that can make a big difference down the road. The private sector already understands this, and its efforts will be crucial in improving fossil fuel efficiency and developing alternative sources of energy. To harness business potential, however, governments in the developed World must create incentives, improve scientific research, and forge international partnerships.

Lord Browne of Madingley is Group Chief Executive of BP plc.

Apparently the solution is to leave the private sector alone but provide subsidies to ensure leaving it alone. Is this hypocrisy, anyone? Does it suggest arrogance?

Although the means of reducing dangerous gases have little to do with Ethics, the overall goal of saving civilization certainly has everything to do with Ethics and Morals. How about all of you guys with young children? What do you think about the World 50, 60, 70 years down the road?

US Ethics

The truth is that the peaceful efforts to spread universal Ethical standards have never quite succeeded. One or another power source has always stood in the way of these initiatives to protect against perceived disadvantages. The US, as represented by its government, is one such power.

  • Imposing the US views on the rest of the World: Let’s see. Consider Korea, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Grenada, Teheran/Iran, Lebanon, Panama, Nicaragua, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Philippines, Iraq and Liberia. These are just the countries the US has engaged in war or war like actions since WWII. That averages to one war every four year – just like the election cycle. It does not count the nations that the US is applying close to war like pressure on, such as Iran of late and North Korea being the Axis of Evil. Then we have the War on Terrorism. That alone covers much of the rest of the World (George W. Bush: “You are either with us or against us” or “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”). The World is not impressed, in particular with the frequent “moral” rhetoric of peace, collaboration, friendship, freedom and democracy against the reality of frequent wars and direct support of many dictatorships. The World is also concerned that the US supports or at least accepts the nuclear buildup of India and Pakistan in spite of rhetoric to the opposite.
  • The Geneva Conventions, originally signed by the US in the 1880s: The US has gone through two days of infamy, according to popular opinions: The first was Pearl Harbor. The second was 9/11. I believe the third day of infamy (in reverse) will be when George W. Bush signs away part of the Geneva Conventions. Not only that, he will demolish long standing humanitarian and legal foundations of civilization. That act alone will hasten the steep decline in power, respect and influence triggered by the absurd policies of George W. Bush and friends. For those interested in the Ethics of US recent war conduct – please read some of Ramsey Clark’s writings. Here is a great link.
  • Magna Carta: How is the US Justice System doing as an Ethical outpost? Let’s think. What about fixing Presidential elections? What about the courts allowing gross breaches of civil rights by the President. What about racial profiling? What about the death penalty, rejected long ago by the rest of the civilized World? Does anyone believe we all have access to equal treatment in court? Can a poor person pursue just causes in a system of $300 per hour lawyers?
  • Foreign Aid: 60 years ago, the US implemented the Marshall Plan in an enormously successful rebuild of war torn Europe. Such an effort has never been repeated. Today, with a universal OECD goal of providing .70% of GDP in foreign aid, the US contributes about .14% compared to Norway’s .92%. The US contributions are the lowest (percentage wise) among major countries. As badly perhaps, the US uses various trade policies to protect domestic industries against foreign competition. The World is no longer impressed, especially given the US official, empty words of free trade, generosity and solidarity.
  • The United Nations: The US has long viewed the UN as a thorn in its backside. This is reflected in the $1.5 billion owed to the U.N. by the US and the associated black mail. It is reflected in a long term contemptuous and antagonistic attitude. Just sending a major bully such as John Bolton with “his haircut an offense to the World” is telling the story. Think about the maneuvers of George W. Bush to gain some legality for his Iraq war. Think of the lies supporting those acrobatics that were presented by Foreign Secretary Colin Powell.
  • Global Warming: This is an issue ignored by George W. Bush. He wants to keep cost down for big business and push North Slope oil drilling. Ecology and forward thinking is not his strength. Consider Hurricane Katrina proving even his backward thinking is flawed. On the other hand, Governor Schwarzenegger of California is driving the global warming issue quite hard as a political expedience. Aside from that, there appears to be little hope of any substantial contribution from the US to resolve one of the most obvious threats to mankind. Yet US rhetoric stresses its commitment to environmental safety. Who believes the rhetoric?

Sadly, the US is one of the fiercest opponents to many Ethical international efforts while promoting its own interests to great dismay in the rest of the World. Is the US the Ethical nation it claims to be? Is the US a moral country? If so, how is it moral? Is it worse or better than others? If so why? Does the US stand on Ethical and Moral issues hurt it or not? How does the rest of the World view the US? You judge for yourself. I will expand on my views in a future post.

Where are we?

Ivory Towers, Ivory Towers. “The term Ivory Tower designates a World or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life” (From Wikipedia). I suppose that is a cynical view of the various programs described above. And it’s perhaps not an entirely accurate metaphor. Much of my discussion is about Government responses to various international attempts to promote Ethical programs. I can’t honestly characterize these Government responses as “intellectual”. I certainly can buy the “disconnect” part of the Wikipedia definition. On the other hand, “the practical concerns” are very real.

Man in deep thoughtHow about my version: “The term Ivory Tower designates a World or atmosphere where governments engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday people.” There, I only changed two words but that’s my story. Really, I only needed to change one word, not two. Which one, do you think? Who inhabits the Ivory Tower?

I have gone from the very high level viewpoint of philosophy down one level to existing, major programs on the international or national level. It is easy to show the limitations of agreements and action on high level Ethical issues. While philosophers provide lots of theory, those Ethical views are sometimes misused. Governments say one thing but often act differently on Ethical and Moral issues. Moreover, different philosophers and Governments have wildly diverse interpretations of Ethical matters.

Because of its role in the World, I’ve paid special attention to the US, both in the prior essays and this one. Does the US live up to its responsibility as a World Leader? No, it does not. And its role as a World Leader is declining rapidly as a result. The rest of the World views the US as a threat, not an asset. Ten, fifteen years ago, the US was at the top of its game. The Cold War was won. Everyone discussed how to use the Peace Dividend. Then the Dynasty of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice brought it all down. That is just too bad.

However, look at many of the global efforts on Ethics. Most programs, commandments, treaties or protocols have a basic element of well meaning Ethics. They quite often, not always, mean to do the right thing. The problem lies in execution, the Moral part. Too often, the political will is lacking for one or another reason. Expedience, polls and election days rule. The conclusion must be that there are serious conflicts and distortions regarding Ethics and Morals in the higher echelons of our societies.

So our quest needs to continue. We’ll jump down one more level and look at the diverse Ethics on the individual level.

Thank you


This fourth issue of my Ethics series deals with institutional “Ivory Tower” Peaceful argumentviolence and its relation to Ethics. Generally, this means examining War as an Ethical, or not, instrument to spread one’s belief system to others that are not receptive to such intrusion.

I’ll discuss various ideas about War, its true nature and how some justify it. The next issue in this series will, among other topics, examine the Geneva Conventions as the major non-violent way to control at least some aspects of War.

The conclusion of this essay is simple and adds to my prior War essay: Ethics and Morals are totally incompatible with any aspect of War or other forms of violence on a nation to nation level. War means utter destruction in all possible ways.

Please read on.

The Ivory Tower View on Violence

It would be nice if there was a set of rules making up an accepted, standard set of Ethics, practiced throughout the World. There have been many attempts to accomplish this. Sometimes, this is done by imposing one’s own beliefs violently on others without asking permission or agreement. But there are also peaceful attempts to practice Ethics on an international level.

Imposing One’s Ethics on Others

Wars are fought to control others, their thoughts and assets. Terrorists aim at the same thing. Hitler saw a thousand year empire, dominated by the Aryan race, ideals and Ethics. The Catholic Church has used a variety of bloody means to spread their religion and Ethics over parts of 2,000 years. Various dictators enslave their citizens by attempting to control their thoughts. Iraqi insurgents want to impose their will by killing just about anyone at anytime. Israel try to control Palestinians, protecting their self defined right to exist. The US has controlled Native Americans in a similar manner for a couple of hundred years. There are thousands of examples of a similar Thoughful ladynature.

Many think George W. Bush seeks World dominance using the buzz words “Democracy (Bring’m on/Shoot to kill/With me or a Terrorist)”. He attempts famously to stabilize the Mid East, spread democracy and win the mythical, un-winnable and totally illogical “War against Terrorism”. Actually, he is losing his wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and against Terrorism. The price is thousands of lives as well as the catastrophic loss of the US standing in the World. Whatever happened to Compassionate Conservatism? Remember that empty phrase?

Rarely if ever have these violent schemes worked. They probably never will unless the ultimate psychological warfare agent is invented, turning us all into George Orwell type robot citizens. Barring that horrible idea, the simple fact is that most persons’ belief systems are quite resilient to the power of others. Just witness the recent Iraqi poll asking the US to get the hell out of their country. Of course, this opinion is shared by many millions of Americans. This is personal Ethics at work, clashing with lunatic Government morals.

Let’s examine War in more detail from an Ethical point of view. You may want to glance through my earlier essay on this subject (Link: here). That essay views War and its effect on those unlucky enough to get in its way. War has a terrible, inhuman effect on people that most North Americans, except veterans, cannot imagine. It is over 140 years since some limited parts of the domestic US saw the real impact of War. Most of the rest of the World has not been as lucky.

The Images

As always, here are a few comments on the images used in this essay. I’ve said before it is not easy to illustrate abstract themes. There are no pictures of Ethics or Morals. Apart from a few diagrams obtained from various places, I’ve chosen to add images of people. After all, this blog is really all about people, images, art and how we all really relate.

The images are all shot by me. There is no relation between the text and the individuals in the images. The individuals shown are just people who happened to pass before my camera. That’s all. No hidden agendas.

Ethical Justifications of Armed Conflict?

Here is one definition of a justifiable war: “A war is only just if it is fought for a reason that is justified, and that carries sufficient moral weight. The country that wishes to use military force must demonstrate that there is a just cause to do so.” Just causes include:

  • Defend against aggression such as invasion, attacks on a friendly nation and violations of human rights.
  • Defend against attack. Recapturing things taken. Punishing wrong doers.
  • Correct a grave, public evil such as aggression or massive violation of the basic rights of whole populations.
  • Punish a rouge country to the extent justifiable: the whole people, the leaders or specific individuals in the rouge country.
  • Stop, if justifiable, the triumph of evil or to put right actions that “shock the conscience of mankind”.

What a bunch of vague, useless BS. “If I think Billy is nasty, it’s OK to kill him”. That’s what the points above say. Let’s just hope George W. Bush doesn’t read these foolish points. He would like the lack of checks and balances implied above too much. Who determines whether “violations of right” have taken place? Who asserts the ownership of “things”? Who can justly establish that someone is a “wrong doer”? What is a “grave, public evil”? Who defines “massive violation”? Who will decide if a “punishment is justified”? What precisely is the “triumph of evil”? What is considered a “shock to mankind”? Enough said.

History of Ethics and War

Cold room worker
There are three major influences on Ethics in War, two going back a long time. Cicero was active in the centennial proceeding Jesus and St. Augustine lived about 400 years later. Carl von Clausewitz is more recent – active only about 200 years ago. The following are abbreviated quotes from BBC of the UK (Source: here) and other sources:

Cicero (about 75BC):

Cicero argued that there was no acceptable reason for war outside of just vengeance or self defense – in which he included the defense of honor. He also argued that a war could not be just unless it was publicly declared and unless compensation for the enemy’s offence had first been demanded. Cicero based his argument on the assumption that nature and human reason biased a society against war, and that there was a fundamental code of behavior for nations.

St Augustine of Hippo (About 400AD):

St Augustine was a 4th century Christian who lived in Algeria and Italy. He believed that the only just reason to go to war was the desire for peace.

We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.

A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.

True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.

Carl von Clausewitz (About 1800+):

Clausewitz was a Prussian general, theorist and philosopher who principally fought Napoleon. He said “war is the continuation of policy by other means”. His On Kriege treatise details his military theories. They remain influential to this day. Some claim he was influenced by another famous military theorist and philosopher – Sun Tzu who wrote The Art of War around 500BC. Here are some of Clausewitz ideas as seen by commentators:

“Clausewitz was a proponent of total war as used in the Third Reich propaganda in the 1940s. He did not coin the phrase as an ideological ideal. Indeed, Clausewitz does not use the term “total war” at all. Rather, he discussed “absolute war” or “ideal war” as the purely logical result of the forces underlying a “pure,” Platonic “ideal” of war. In what Clausewitz called a “logical fantasy,” war cannot be waged in a limited way: the rules of competition will force participants to use all means at their disposal to achieve victory.”Line of fishmongers

“Some argue that the essentials of Clausewitz’s theoretical approach remain valid, but that our thinking must adjust to changed realities. Knowing that “war is an expression of politics” does us no good unless we have a valid definition of “politics” and an understanding of how it is reflected in a specific situation. The latter may well turn on religious passions, private interests and armies, etc.

While many commentators are quick to dismiss Clausewitz’s political context as obsolete, it seems worthwhile to note that the states of the twentieth century were very different from Clausewitz’s Prussia, and yet the World Wars are generally seen as “Clausewitzian warfare”; similarly, North and South Vietnam, and the United States as well, were quite unlike 18th-century European states, yet it was the war in Indochina that brought the importance of Clausewitzian theory forcefully home to American thinkers.

Clausewitz himself was well aware of the politics that drove the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that bears a great deal of similarity to the current struggle in Iraq. The idea that states cannot suppress rebellions or terrorism in a nuclear-armed World does not bear up well in the light of experience:

Just as some rebellions and revolutions succeeded and some failed before 1945, some rebellions and revolutions have succeeded and some have failed in the years since. Insurgencies were successfully suppressed in the Philippines, Yemen, and Malaysia–just a few of many examples. Successful revolutions may destroy some states, but the revolutionaries simply establish new and stronger states – e.g., China, Vietnam and Iran – which seem to be quite capable of handling threats of renewed insurgency.”

“One criticism of Clausewitz has been his seeming failure to address the ethical considerations of war. He saw ethics as a political question; not an issue of concern for pure theory.” (Source: here)

This makes a little bit of sense although Cicero and St. Augustine say about the same thing as in the previous section. Clausewitz is more modern and influential while being more pragmatic than Ethical in his thinking. So, how does it really work? Read on about the Unethical War.

The Unethical War

Kid looking guilty
War is often started on unethical grounds as opposed to the vague “moral” justifications above. Here are examples of such unethical justification as told by the BBC of the UK (Source: here):

War is right if it is in the national interest: This doctrine, in the most extreme form, says that if a war is in a country’s national interest then it is morally right for that country to go to war. This looks as if it’s giving permission to powerful nations to invade any country that has resources they need, or that is harboring terrorists that they want to capture. But in fact, considerations of ethics and justice still have a significant effect. If a country is seen to behave unjustly it creates great political problems for itself. Invading another country, even if it has something you want, may well produce more trouble than benefit.

The Right of the Ruler: This says that the decision of the ruler of a state on whether to wage war is final, and there is no moral argument that can be used against it. This tradition is reflected in the phrase ‘the divine right of kings’, meaning that the ruler’s actions carry with them God’s support. While this seems repellent to modern thinking, it was supported by the Christian church during many periods of history, when the monarch was guided by the church in war decisions.

Holy wars: Religious leaders have sometimes declared that there was a religious duty on believers to go to war. This idea appears often in the Bible and has been used to justify suicide bombing in recent times. Centuries ago it was the main justification given for the Crusades.

Much closer to the truth, don’t you think? Perhaps with respect to War, Un-ethics win out. Surprised?

The US Army War College Quarterly:

“There is a popular disposition to regard ethics as absolute and enduring, yet they are neither. That which is considered ethical alters with time and varies between civilizations and even families. At some impalpable level, the impulse to ethics does appear to arise from within and may be a collective survival strategy conditioned by biological and cultural evolution. Yet the specific content of a civilization’s or a society’s ethics is generally determined by accumulative tradition, epochal convenience, and local habit. Theethics of war and conflict are especially fluid.

We live in a stage of Western civilization in which nameless casualties inflicted by bombing campaigns are acceptable, while the thought of summarily shooting a prisoner of war fills us with revulsion, even if the blood of war crimes drips from every finger of that prisoner. We are allowed to impose embargoes that strike the most powerless members of foreign populations, bringing deprivation, malnutrition, and deformity to the voiceless, while merely annoying antagonistic decision makers. Yet we must treat foreign entrepreneurs who torment our poor with narcotics as white-collar criminals entitled to the legal protections of our own Constitution. Where is the absolute ethical quality, or even the logic, of this unexamined behavior? Our military and foreign policy ethics have the nature of a great historical chain letter that warns but does not reward.

Ethics are enablers. Personal, social, or military, they allow us to interact without needless viciousness and without generalized violence to the soul, the body, or society. In the military sphere, ethics in war allow us to disguise psychologically the requirement to butcher other human beings, masking the blunt killing behind concepts such as just war, higher causes, and approved behaviors. Ethics in war on the part of a Western society do not so much protect the objects of our violence as they shield us from the verity of our actions. Military ethics are ceremonial in the religious sense: they rarify and codify the darkness, implying a comforting order in the chaos and void. So long as we believe we have behaved ethically, we can, statistically, bear the knowledge of our deeds.”

Cynical? True? Enabling? Self serving? You be the judge.

Where are we?

War is the principal way of attempting to force one nation’s beliefs and Ethics on others, without their consent, permission Man in yellow jacketor agreement. As it should, War attracts a lot of philosophical and Ethical thinking. I believe the Ivory Tower opinions, views, treaties, theories and statements hide the reality of War as experienced by real people.

War is death, extreme destruction, utterly immoral and unethical. As I write this, a research organization, employing what independent sources say are valid and unbiased methods, claims 650,000 Iraqi have been killed as a consequence of the US invasion. Previous semi-official estimates were in the 30,000-50,000 range. That is what death and extreme destruction means. That’s 650,000 lives. That’s 260 times the death toll of 9/11. How do you justify it takes two hundred and sixty Iraqi lives to revenge one American life? Perhaps George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice can enlighten me? Beyond simply stating that this Lancelot approved study “is not credible”.

The Ivory Tower people do not mention kids without legs, with horrible burns or permanently destroyed in some other way. Nor are civilian populations starving or freezing to death mentioned. Insanity, shell shock and other psychiatric illnesses are ignored. The transformation of ordinary kids into rapists, torturers and murderers or, for that matter, insurgents, terrorists or suicide bombers is not considered. Decennium old refugee camps with deplorable facilities are unmentioned. War crimes are mostly well hidden. Propaganda is passed off as truth. “Ethics” boil down to a mountain of pious lies.Girls talking

Ethics and War are incompatible concepts, both on a high level and on an individual level. War is utterly destructive in all manners possible. Ethics are destroyed along with everything else into a cold, devastated, dark and lifeless landscape.

What is the good news? Wars do end. At least one lasted a hundred years, another thirty years. The various Indochina/Vietnam wars persisted for perhaps thirty five years. Most last from one to five years. People do recover to the best of their abilities and circumstances. Ethics are gradually restored till the next war. But the wounds never go away totally. Vietnam veterans on all sides still suffer after some thirty odd years. So will the veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Meanwhile, their leaders retire. Some devote their time to building library monuments to their greatness. Others simply get richer, play golf and eventually die in peace. None visit their victims.

This concludes Part 4 on my Ethics series. The next issue will examine peaceful attempts to spread Ethics on a global level.

Thank you


Graph of Ethics, Reality and Morals

Your notions of Reality, Ethics and Morals define your personality. Personal Ethics derive from many influences, some good, some bad. The brain provides a biased, personal and easily fooled picture of the surroundings. Combining your Ethics with a distorted view of Reality defines your Morals. These then guide your actions.

Personal Ethics often deviate from higher level “Ivory Tower” Ethics that make up religion, laws, treaties, protocols, government policy and much else. Ivory Towers are sometimes well meaning but fail miserably on Morals. Now we have the clash of giants.

The institutional Ivory Towers mean less to most of us than the personal World directly around us. That World is uniquely “ours”. We own and are owned by our race, our culture and our religion. Those items are far more important than a UN resolution, however ethical, important and moral it may be.

“Ethics is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives.”

Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist and philosopher (1905-1982)

What Clashes of Giants?

Man looking out a windowThe basic idea of these essays on Ethics is simple enough – examine Right versus Wrong. However, there are thousands of Ethical “standards”, based on many schools of thought. A large number of thinkers provide worthwhile, and some not so valuable, contributions. These jungles of Ethical influences impact our lives in an astonishing number of ways.

Bear in mind four key features that strongly impact our Ethics – Distortions, Individualism, Diversity and Conflicts. Our view of Reality is biased by distortions created by our senses as well as simple, external physics. Our individual Ethics are based on many diverse influences. Combine our views on Reality and Ethics into equally individual and diverse Morals. The Morals determine what we as individuals actually do.

An ideal World of clear and well defined Ethics is a mirage. We do not live in a perfect World. Ethics and Morals are often at odds. Higher level “Ivory Tower” Morals create additional conflicts because of its own conflicting set of distortions and diverse goals

The bad news is that this is not a very encouraging story. The other news is that individual Ethics are far stronger than those of most institutions. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad news.

Distortions and Conflicts

Most of my esteemed and alert readers are North Americans. You are sufficiently wealthy to own (or perhaps borrow) a computer and intelligent enough to find this blog and read it. Here’s Reality as perceived by some:Girl in a crowd

  • Reality as perceived by many North Americans differ from that of most citizens of Baghdad, Beirut, Darfur, Dhaka, Tongsa, Bossangoa and some parts of Cleveland.
  • A homeless person’s perception of Reality differs from that of a Washington lobbyist charging $300 per hour or those of union bosses such as Frank Massey or Jimmy Hoffa Jr.
  • A person suffering from AIDS in Runudu, Namibia or Songkhia Thailand experiences a different Reality than that of most Western Government or Corporate officials.
  • Our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo live in a different Reality and are forced to different Morals than those of most Americans, including our Government officials such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice.
  • Reality as seen by criminals of all kinds differ from that of, say, Pope John Paul, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa or Billy Graham – all giants in their time.
  • Neo Nazi members of Aryan Riders, Aryan Nations, National Vanguard, National Alliance, White Revolution, National Socialist Movement and others around the Globe have a view of Reality (as well as Ethics and Morals) shared by almost no one else.

Then we have the diverse individual views of Ethics – our value system or our judgments of the World:Girl looking lost

  • Some people lack Ethics – sociopaths, psychopaths and some “insane” persons, for instance. They cannot distinguish Right from Wrong. To be avoided.
  • The Ethics of terrorists, whether European, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Chetnyan, Afghan, Sri Lankan or other, are dysfunctional, yet intensely personal.
  • FDR’s Ethics allowed interning 120,000 persons of Japanese heritage – mostly US citizens – in WWII, largely to reduce competition for US farmers.
  • The Ethics of Joe McCarthy resulted in an absurd ghost chase of so called Communists. This bears some similarities to recent acts by the late HP board.
  • The Ethics of British Queen Victoria bears little resemblance to those of Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, John Holmes, Michael Jackson or Courtney Love.
  • The Ethics of the poor versus those of the rich may or may not be different, but they are based on different premises, influences and realities.

Finally, a few conflicting examples of individuals and groups whose perception of Morals – how they act – differs from most of us:

  • The US Government sanctions torture and inhuman, illegal treatment of individuals, disregarding the Geneva Conventions and other laws and treaties.
  • In its mythological terrorist war, The US Government sanctions illegal spying on its citizens and those of other nations.
  • We live with the Religious Right, Ku Klux Klan, Congressmen such as DeLay, Foley and Hastert, priests preying on children and Enron/HP style leaders.
  • Insurgents and suicide bombers in Iraq and elsewhere kill innocents. So do/did dictators ranging from Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Hussein to Pinochet.
  • People, whose distorted moral convictions force them to kill, maim or endanger individuals engaged in legal abortions or the animal trade and Man looking over his shoulderresearch.
  • Gang leaders recruit children into crime. Drug dealers create addicts. Sex offenders destroy children and others. Con artists impoverish the elderly.
  • CEOs and other corporate officers with lots of personal power, ego and riches may view Morals (and act) differently than the guy or gal in the mail room.
  • North Korea just exploded its nuclear bomb, universally condemned as an irrational, unethical and immoral act. But what is the moral justification of Iran, Israel, Pakistan, India, South Africa, China, Russia, UK, France and the US of A?

The alert reader may detect some patterns here. Some of you can see dotted lines. Almost all of the examples above are negative in nature. Many deal with institutions with a failing grade. Other examples illustrate individuals with twisted Reality, Ethics and Morals traits. Are there distortions or conflicts? Do you see diversity and individualism?

There are relationships between our perceived Reality, our Ethics and our Morals and the Ivory Tower view. What drives our most basic characteristics? How do we separate the good from the bad and act on it? Do Governments and other Ivory Tower institutions conform to Ethical and Moral standards? Do we always agree with those higher level standards?

Let’s face those questions. Read on, please.

Our Ethics and Morals Discussion

I will recap and add to some of the ideas from On Ethics – Part One. In the next two posts, I will discuss the conflicts of the Ivory Towers – why international ethical programs often fail. Then, I’ll examine the influences on our diverse personal Ethics. Later, I’ll talk about how photography plays a unique and quite interesting albeit distorted role in this discussion. This will include some ideas about the Ethics, Morals and conflicts of street photography.

The Images

As always, here are a few comments on the images used in this essay. I’ve said before it is not easy to illustrate abstract themes. There are no pictures of Ethics or Morals. Apart from a few diagrams obtained from various places, I’ve chosen to add images of people. After all, this blog is really all about people, images, art and how we all really relate.

The images are all shot by me. There is no relation between the text and the individuals in the images. The individuals shown are just people who happened to pass before my camera. That’s all. No hidden agendas.

ON ETHICS – PART 1 and 2

In Part 1, the point was that Ethics are powerful influences on society. I discussed a few aspects of that influence – such as the impact of several philosophers (Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Hegel) on the German Nazis. That is not to say that the philosophers supported the Nazi ideology even if they had been alive. In fact, all indications are that these philosophers would have been devastated to know their thoughts were misused as some sort of security blanket by Nazi criminals.

Part 2 examined the attitude against torture of the people of various nations. A survey of 27,000 individuals around the globe discovered large differences. Many Westerners demonstrated high Ethics, based on their negative attitude towards torture. In less developed countries and those with a totalitarian past, people had a much more expedient attitude and thus rank lower on an Ethical scale. The showing of the US was poor relative to other Western democracies.

More from Philosophers and Thinkers

  • Confucius – his primary thought related Ethics directly to politics, involving morality, social relations, sincerity and justice.
  • Muhammad – no one can deny the power of Islam. Of course, many religious persons, such as Buddha and Jesus, have also yielded enormous power over long periods of time.
  • Cicero provided a doctrine for ethics in warfare. More about that will follow. His philosophy is largely based on politics – in particular the defense of the Roman Empire about 45-75BC.
  • Seneca lived about the same time as Jesus, he was a Stoic focusing on a harmonious life within an uncontrollable universe. His influence lasted a long time – Shakespeare, Racine and Corneille all were quite influenced by his writings – some 1600 years later.
  • St. Augustine, about 400AD created a Christian doctrine for warfare. More will follow below. He was a follower of Cicero for some time.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli provided systematic studies of several perhaps inconsistent writings – he promoted “realistic”, perhaps ruthless politics as well as “idealistic republicanism”.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau – apart from his devotion to nature, argued in favor of an absolute democracy based on the sovereignty of all people.
  • Man in deep thoughtBaron de Montesquieu advocated the division of government power. The division of power in the US Constitution is partly based on the Baron’s work.
  • Spinoza – individual, rational egotism guided by reason would make government obsolete.
  • Adam Smith – mostly an economist of long standing influence based on his treaties of efficiency based on the self interest of artisans and traders.
  • John Stuart Mills – the utilitarian idea striving to produce the greatest happiness to all people. He also argued for free economic markets.
  • Carl von Clausewitz – the philosopher of War of the early 1800s. His On Kriege is said to have influenced War and Strategies ever since, including nuclear proliferation. There is more to follow.
  • Karl Marx is truly remarkable in his influence on modern life as a philosopher, historian and revolutionary. Much of his thoughts from the mid-1800s were revised to fit the liking of the many “Marxist” governments. “Marxism” certainly has declined rapidly over the last decades. Still, almost half of the World’s population lived in “Marxist” countries only 20 years ago.

Our environment is shaped by many ideas, some which have survived for thousands of years. These ideas are part of our laws, our constitutions, our Ethics and, ultimately, our daily lives. Yet it is clear that different individuals absorb this alphabet soup of influences in drastically different ways. Let’s see how, starting with the fallacies of Ivory Tower Ethics and Morals.

On Torture

The survey quoted in Part 2 examined ethical attitudes of people in various countries. The poor attitudes of the US in the survey did not per se apply to the US Government. However, to expand a bit, consider this:Man looking up

  • The US Government vigorously opposed a UN protocol against torture, claiming it could not accept inspections of US prisons by international organizations, aimed at preventing torture. The US opposition was supported by Cuba, Syria and Libya, no advocates of human rights. The rest of the World overruled the US position.
  • The US Government and Bill Clinton fought hard to introduce a UN initiative that would protect US “peacekeepers” from prosecution by the International Criminal Court of the UN. Based on vague political arguments of, at the time, Bill Clinton, the US wanted special treatment relative to its expectations on other countries. George W. Bush finally killed all US support of the International Criminal Court.
  • President George W. Bush asserted he will ignore the McCain anti torture bill passed by Congress whenever he so wants. The bill and the ensuing policies violate longstanding international laws, protocols and treaties. The World is truly and justly astonished at the callousness of US policy and its acts of torture.
  • Amnesty International condemned US acts of torture, calling such acts “widespread” throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere. They also mentioned acts of torture by various US institutions, such as the police, against US citizens.
  • The United Nations Committee against Torture demanded that the United States close all secret prisons, hold accountable senior military and civilian officials who authorized, acquiesced or consented to acts of torture committed by their subordinates.

The question remains. Is the US an Ethical country? So far, the evidence says no. I’ll get into more details as I go along. Keep reading.

Where are we?

This is the end of Part 3 of the Ethics series. I’ve filled in some blanks to support upcoming essays. The main point from Part 1 stands: Ethics are powerful influences on society. The impact of individual philosophers and thinkers has been and is enormous, for better or worse. I posed a number of statements about practical issues, many of which I will discuss in detail in upcoming posts.

Thank you


People of different nations view the issue of torturing prisoners differently. A survey by BBC et al measured and compared these views in countries around the globe. The conclusions may surprise you. I believe the results not only reflect the torture issue but are also pretty good indicators of national Ethics standards.

Are countries that accept torture perhaps less ethicalor moral than those that don’t? Some may say that is an unfair assumption. For one thing, people living in a war torn or crime ridden environment may accept torture as a necessary defense more readily than those lucky enough to live in peace. It’s easy for those living in peace to be “pure” when an issue does not immediately threaten them.

There may be perceived justifications for accepting torture, just as there are reasons why others can afford the high road. But so what? A person’s view on torture is still is a fundamental attitude closely related to Ethics and Morals. Justifications don’t count.

The data used here comes from a BBC of England survey, interviewing 27,000 people in various countries. Here is the question about the interviewee’s positions:

Most countries have agreed to rules prohibiting torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

1 – Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives.

2 – Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human right.

Position 2 reflects an Ethical view – torture is bad no matter what. Position 1 reflects an expedient attitude, perhaps based on fear, but still less Ethical. Here are the results using tables from an article by Bob Harris:

The top table sorts the countries in terms of “Ethical Purity” (Position 2 above). The bottom table sorts them by “Expedience” (Position 1 above). Largely, but not exactly, the bottom table is the inverse of the top table.

Let’s look at the top table first. The most “Ethical” countries are those with typical Western values. The high rank of South Korea might be surprising considering the tension with its Northerly neighbor – I’m sure the survey was done pre-nuclear times.

The countries ranked low clearly have a different attitude than the top ones. The Indian values look like a fluke – Bob Harris suggested perhaps the interviewer stuttered.

The poor Israeli values may reflect their security situation – I’d expect the attitude of Palestinians might be similar or worse.

Russia and China both rank low together with several less developed countries. That may be the price of a totalitarian heritage.

Now let’s view the bottom table, showing “Expedient” countries that rank high on the “Less Pure” scale. Israel and Iraq come out as the most “Expedient”. Many Western countries are far less open to torture as a weapon in their struggles.

Now, let’s look at the US. Here is the sad situation. The US is ranked worse than average in both tables.
It ranks close to the Philippines, Iraq and Ukraine on “Ethical” standards. Its Ethical attitude is far lower than that of Italy. How about that?

In “Expedience”, the US is right there with Russia and China, neither of which are viewed as human rights advocates by World opinion. Should we infer neither is the US?

What is going on here? Remember that this is the view of the PEOPLE, not the governments. If this was the Ethics or Moral standards of the US top government, I’d not be surprised at the poor showing. But it is not. Consider this (Source: here):

Just two months ago we saw minute-long videotape footage of several guards viciously beating two young men in California Youth Authority custody. This followed revelations four years ago that some wards had been handcuffed and slammed into walls, shot at close range by CYA staff with potentially lethal riot guns and forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs.

Remember the disturbing 1996 videotape of naked prisoners crawling on their bellies in a Texas jail as they were hit with batons, kicked and in some cases bitten by German-shepherds?

Do you recall Corcoran State Prison, where eight guards were accused in 1997 of staging gladiator-like fights between inmates, then shooting and killing some of them in the name of prison security?

And who can forget Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, raped with a stick in the custody of New York City’s finest that same year?

Has the Ethical attitude of the US always been poor? Is it a result of the Iraq and other wars? Does racial tension explain it? May it be caused by high crime rates? Is it because of being a melting pot of so many diverse cultures? Is it the Government impacting the Ethics of the people or is it the other way around? Are the crimes of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib reflections of the people of the US in general? Did 9/11 result in a shift in US attitudes?

I have no idea about the causes. What I do know is that this dismal showing will be evident in many upcoming posts in this series. The US largely leads the way in resisting worthwhile international programs, fundamentally based on Ethics and Morals. The drastic difference between its rhetoric sermons and its real, often unethical actions has long frustrated the rest of the World. Hate in the US is not an unknown concept, nor is torture.

Let’s finish by quoting Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetorical view on the Abu Ghraib horror (bolding by me):

“The images that we’ve seen that include U.S. forces are deeply disturbing, both because of the fundamental unacceptability of what they depicted and because the actions by U.S. military personnel in those photos do not in any way represent the values of our country or the armed forces. As President Bush has stated, their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people.”

There is a lot of evidence to the contrary. The BBC survey simply confirms those sad facts.

Where are we?

I’ve been off line this blog for about a month. Part of the reason is I needed to do some things besides this blog. I’ve been busy in my day to day business, at the moment working on some fancy Web Designs as well as photography.

But I have also spent considerable time on this Ethics series. Ethics is a complex subject and I needed to spend some time to collect my thoughts. I wanted to walk down the trail a bit. I’m close to done and the result will here soon. That means some four or five massive posts in the next week or so.

As always, thank you


Am I nuts?

Sales are down!I’m an impulsive person who easily gets in trouble. Consider this – I’m doing the “On Reality” essays. Those writings are mushrooming into all kinds of controversial issues. Now, I’m heading into another “deep” issue – Ethics – just on the whim of my mind. I’ve got no real good reason for doing either series. Both subjects – reality and ethics – have been on my mind for most of my life. But like many of you, I never really thought about either that much. Now that I actually do think about it, it’s a different matter. I keeps me up at night. It occupies my mind. I’m compulsive.

The reason I got into a series about ethics is quite trivial. Today, I read a pretty ordinary story about a photographer who questioned the ethics of street photography after being challenged by some one she shot. I’ll quote and reference the story later in this post. After mulling it over, I decided on this Ethics series as a complement to my Reality series. Get a life, Karl.

My starting assumption is that Ethics is another of these “self evident” truths that are not – just like Reality. Many of us take for granted we know its meaning. But after scratching the surface, a different view soon arises. Ethics is just a point of view. None of us think about it in exactly the same way. As we shall see ethics play an influential role in our lifes. This influence is sometimes good. It might mean, say, a fair justice system. Or the influence is bad – such as serving as an inspiration or excuse for race crimes or even major wars.

I’ve quickly found that ethics is a far more complex issue than reality. As with Reality, Ethics can easily lead us into danger. Serious danger.

Here is a simple example. I don’t really want to sound political, but here goes. George W. got to have a totally different concept of ethics than a) the rest of the World and b) an overwhelming majority of Americans. He lies. He condones torture. He imprisons people illegally. He fights for his right to illegally wiretap and do surveillance of anyone. He lies about the reasons to sacrifice thousands of lives in a non-winnable war. This is the short list but it serves as my introduction to Ethics. And Ethics testyes, I do realize there are plenty of others as bad as or even far worse than Mr. Bush. But he is (or wishes to be) the leader of the World.

Like Reality, Ethics is not a new subject. Discussions of Ethics go way back. There is a fair degree of common sense agreement of what ethics are, to many of us. It is the process/rules of doing the right thing as well as the knowing what the right thing is. Not knowing the right thing is bad. Not doing the right thing is bad. Those who do not conform to or agree with the value of Ethics are sometimes labeled as sociopaths. Being moral and being ethical is about the same thing – being Good.

So far so good. This must be easy. But hold it – let’s look at what I said. “Right”. “Wrong”. “Moral”. “Immoral”. “Ethical”. “Unethical”. “Sociopath”. Or “Good”. These are just words. All of them are subject to interpretation and disagreement. That’s what we will discuss. Things won’t stay easy.

There’ll be two major parts – the first one is looking at ethics in general. The second part will look at ethics in photography. After all, this blog is about art and photography, not philosophy. Or politics. This post will just lay some groundwork. Much more to come.

As usual, a few comments on the images in this post

Illustrating very abstract ideas such as reality and ethics in a relevant manner is not easy. There are no photographs of either. We don’t know what either looks like. So adding illustrations to my narrative is comparable to adding yet another abstract layer. But I try.

The two images above are just a couple of light hearted cartoons. Can ‘t take ourselves too seriously. Then, the two photos accompanying Jodie’s article below are mine. I did not want to mess with her rights, so I choose a couple of street scenes I’ve shot. These are related to the ideas in the article. The rest are portraits of the actors mentioned in the text. First comes Plato, then Socrates. Kant is followed by Nietzsche and Wagner. I’m sure you recognize the last one.

A few quotes to get us going

Let’s define one kind of non-ethical person – the sociopath:

“Individuals with this disorder have little regard for the feeling and welfare of others.” ….. “may exhibit criminal behavior. They may not work. If they do work, they are frequently absent or may quit suddenly. They do not consider other people’s wishes, welfare or rights. They can be manipulative and may lie to gain personal pleasure or profit. They may default on loans, fail to provide child support, or fail to care for their dependents adequately. High risk sexual behavior and substance abuse are common. Impulsiveness, failure to plan ahead, aggressiveness, irritability, irresponsibility, and a reckless disregard for their own safety and the safety of others are traits of the antisocial personality.” Source: here

Ouch – that’s sure bad. No doubt many of us “normal” people have experienced people like that. I have, to my sorrow. But look closely at what the quote says. How many of us can honestly say we have not, perhaps, done SOME of those horrible things? At some point? Be honest, now. Immediately things get murky.

Let’s check a few other quotes (Source: here ):

Albert Schweitzer: “Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. This is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.”

George Bernard Shaw: Do not do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”

HH the Dalai Lama: Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

Mark Twain: Always do right–this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”

Omar N. Bradley: Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

T. S. Eliot: The highest form of treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

William Penn: To do evil that good may come of it is for bunglers in politics as well as morals.”

Perhaps my favorite one is that of the good General Bradley above. He died in 1981 but his statement is oh so true today. But for the rest of it, again, look closely. I don’t see much more than largely empty words although expressed cleverly. Perhaps I’m dense. Where’s the meat?

The article that was my trigger

Here is a link to the article I read this AM, but the full text follows except I skipped the picture in question. There is a link to Flickr where the picture is published together with a great deal of comments you might find interesting.

“A cheap shot at street photography



CAREFUL who you photograph – you could be assaulted. Or at least be ordered to hand over $5.


Guy in crowdJodie is a Melbourne photographer with an attractive folio of work who spotted a chap sitting on the steps at Flinders Street Station, so she snapped him. She was startled by his reaction. “He came over and said that I had to give him $5 for the picture I just took of him,” she says. “I told him I didn’t have $5 and things started to get slightly ugly. He then told me to give him the film. When I told him it was digital he got more pissed and I deleted the photo – well one of them – in front of him.

“I (moved) away and he started abusing me with all kinds of insults, telling me he would smash my camera in my face.”

Jodie escaped but was faced with a dilemma: should she upload the photograph to her Flickr website? She did, but with the reluctant subject’s face blacked out (follow link HERE). Now she wants to know if she did the wrong thing.

You might say that $5 is a reasonable fee to pay a model. You wouldn’t get Megan Gale for five bucks. But perhaps paying an angry person in this situation is tantamount to admitting that you have done something wrong.

We have explored the legalities of street photography in the past but this is more an issue of ethics and etiquette. Should photographers always ask before snapping just because it is polite? Or does that destroy the spontaneity? Many of the greatest photographs ever taken are of unsuspecting subjects.

But another issue arises in the context of discussing Jodie’s picture, and that is to do with the pornography of poverty. This is a term coined to damn aid agencies that use photographs of misery to boost their fund-raising efforts or to describe the tourist in India who takes pictures of crippled beggars because they are so “colourful and exotic”.Lady in crowd

Marshall McLuhan called the photograph “the brothel without walls” – the most voyeuristic medium of them all. But while we understand erotic voyeurism, it is not so easy to understand the appeal of poverty as a fit subject for photography.

The simplest explanation is that seeing photographs of paupers excites schadenfreude – smug pleasure in the misfortune of others. Or perhaps pity. But these explanations don’t stand up to scrutiny. Schadenfreude is the intense pleasure you feel when you see two Mercedes collide. And pity does not attract – it repels.

The poverty-as-art photograph is always a picture of a stranger. It is unthinkable that we should photograph someone we know in misery. Occasionally a photographer breaks through the anonymity and forces us to get to know the subject, as Eugene Smith did with his photographs of the Minamata victims – the people poisoned by mercury in their environment, above. Smith’s photographs are both great art and a compelling document. He crossed the line from observer to participant and was severely beaten by thugs hired by the offending company. But this does not describe the tourist photographs of the beggars in India. As McLuhan says, this type of photography turns people into things.


Plato looking downSmith told his students: “Humanity is worth more than a picture of humanity that serves no purpose other than exploitation.”

The Imaging rule is this: it’s OK to take a spontaneous photograph of any person who looks as though they would be able to take a picture of us in another time and place. We draw the line at snapping people who look as though they will never be able to scrape together enough money to buy a camera.

Jodie did the right thing. She agonised over the rights and wrongs. She was not indifferent to the implications of what she was doing.”

As I said, this is not a remarkable event, nor even a very good article. The article actually contains two distinct parts – the first covers the event it self, then comes the “pornography of poverty” tirade with its absurd “Imaging rule” conclusion.

As to the first part, the ethics issue, to me, is very simple: It is perfectly ethical to shoot a picture of anything wherever it is legal to do so, unless there are common sense reasons not to shoot, such as it might endanger someone. The man demanding money was Socrates before executing himselfsimply a jerk. The photographer does not have to destroy any pictures or paint out the face of anyone.

If the picture is used commercially, then the rules are different but that was not the case.

The second part of the article makes an ethical issue out of nothing. It rambles about how you can only ethically shoot people who are on the same ” level” as yourself. What? That would sure make life difficult for National Geographic photographers on assignment in some godforsaken part of the planet. Or taking pictures of Saudi princes. I stand by my statement on ethics in the previous paragraph.

The article raised some pretty trivial ethical issues but they were sufficient to set me off on MY tirade which you are currently reading. It does not take much to set me off like Don Quixote. I do quite a bit of street photography. I’ve been through the same experiences as Jodie above. I believe in standing up for my rights and ethics while using common sense and a smile.

I also do a lot of shooting in private places such as music clubs and bars, as is obvious if you check out my portfolios. That’s an entirely different matter – you better get appropriate permissions. So far, I have never been denied such permissions. Be up front, honest, considerate and friendly. It’s certainly ok to offer something in return, such as a few prints, unless you are on an actual paid assignment. which again is a different story.

Street photography does carry ethical issues. I’ll return to the subject later.

This was a bit of everyday ethics that we photographers deal with all the time. There is much more to our story, though. Let’s go climb a few ivory towers and check out the view.

The philosophers – does it matter what they think?

Kant the scholarEver since studying philosophy in high school, I’ve had nothing but trouble attempting to understand what philosophers talk about. Every time I try to find out what they think about some subject, they seem to talk about something else. But I can’t ignore this wealth of thinking about human conditions. Bear with me. There is a point. A pretty important one.

In ancient Greece a few hundred years BC, there were Socrates and Plato. Both have shaped quite a bit of philosophical thought and influenced other areas as well. Both are credited with “ethical” insights. It seems, though, that Socrates used his ethical thinking to somehow inspire him to view his self inflicted execution as the ethical thing to do. Then Plato seems to have viewed ethics as a way make himself feel good or, then, maybe not. He felt the same way about appetite. Or not. Try this:

“… human well-being (eudaimonia) is the highest aim of moral thought and conduct; the virtues (aretê=‘excellence’) are the requisite skills and character-traits. If Plato’s support for an ethics of happiness seems somewhat subdued that is due to several reasons. First of all, his conception of happiness differs in significant ways from ordinary views. He therefore devotes more time to undermining the traditional understanding of the good life than to describing his own conception. Second, Plato regards happiness as a state of perfection that is hard to comprehend because it is based on metaphysical presuppositions that seem both hazy and out of the realm of ordinary understanding. Hence there is not — as there is in Aristotle — much talk about happiness as a self-sufficient state of the active individual; the emphasis is, rather, on problems and difficulties that need to be solved. Third, Plato’s moral ideals appear both austere and self-abnegating: the soul is to remain aloof from the pleasures of the body; communal life demands the subordination of individual wishes and aims. The difficulties of assessing Plato’s ethical thought are compounded by the fact that it was subject to various modifications during his long life.” Source: here

Quite a mouthful. “Difficulties of assessing Plato’s ethical thought”? Right. Perhaps this ethical thing isn’t so self evident after all. Which is my point so far.

Jumping ahead some 2100 years. Here is Immanuel Kant. His famous view was “it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible”. A bit cryptic. However, he is a proponent of the deontological view of ethics. This means:

“…. particular kinds of acts are morally wrong because they are inconsistent with the status of a person as a free and rational being, and thus should not be carried out under any circumstances whatsoever. Conversely, acts that further the status of people as free and rational beings should always be carried out, under any circumstances whatsoever.” Source: here

Trying naively to decipher this, it sounds to me like an excuse for the “free and rational” to do whatever they want. I’m not alone in that thought. Let’s check out some real meat:

Wagner looking stern“What is so bad about Kant? According to Peikoff, Kant downgraded the physical world to which we gain access through our senses as a mere “phenomenal” realm. It was nothing but an appearance as compared with the “noumenal” world, which only faith, not logic, could grasp. In ethics, Kant spurned individual happiness as a matter of no moral worth; instead, persons were to subordinate themselves entirely to a duty that bore no relation to their interests as human beings.”

“These doctrines, Peikoff holds, paved the way for Hitler. The Nazis rejected reason – Kant taught that reason can teach us nothing of the world beyond mere appearance. Hitler’s movement demanded that individuals sacrifice themselves for the common good – again, a theme straight out of Kant’s ethics. So pervasive was Kant’s influence. Peikoff argues, that no important group in the Weimar Republic dissented from the baleful doctrines of irrationalism, altruism, and collectivism. The decadent expressionist artists of the left shared the same Kantian irrationalist assumptions as their right-wing detractors. No one in Weimar Germany had the intellectual resources to mount an effective resistance to Hitler, hence his triumph in 1933.”

“Peikoff does not put all the blame for Nazism on Kant; other philosophers, like Plato and Hegel, must take their share of responsibility. But, however implausible it may at first sight have seemed, I was not exaggerating in stating that Peikoff regards the Hitler looking scaredmild-mannered sage of Königsberg as a proto-Nazi. Peikoff goes so far as to say of life in the Nazi concentration camps: “It was the universe that had been hinted at, elaborated, cherished, fought for, and made respectable by a long line of champions. It was the theory and the dream created by all the anti-Aristotelians of Western history.” Source: here

Suddenly the air is a bit chillier. The guys I have been quoting are responsible for Nazism, Hitler and concentration camps? Not all agree with Mr. Peikoff’s quite provocative views. In fact, some completely disagree.

Here are not one but two points.

First, perhaps this ethics/philosophy deal should be viewed with some seriousness. Maybe the questions around Reality, Ethics and Philosophy aren’t just little mind games played by people that matter little, or not at all, to most of us. Maybe these abstract things influence our lives in a major way?

Second, issues about ethics are arguable. People openly disagree on matters. Lively discussions follow. There is also the matter of social stigma. We all like to appear to be nice, law abiding, “ethical” citizens. We seldom brag about cheating on taxes or shoplifting. Rarely do we admit we just loved getting back at that boss of ours by placing a python in his desk drawer. Or talk about that little DUI matter – much overblown as it was.

Yes – Ethics do count

That’s about it for now. I started out with some loose statements such as “Being Good” is ethical. “Being Bad” is not. Then, quickly, things started to slip downhill. Perhaps more than a few of us share some things with those dreaded and very unethical sociopaths? Then the big one. Were scholars such as Plato and Kant inspirations to the deaths of millions of people? Some think so. The quote above by Mr. Peikoff is not unique although highly disputed on theoretical grounds. Such as, it is not fair to blame the creator of an idea if it is misused by some deranged lunatics. Either way, ethical concepts are not clear-cut. They are complex, controversial and influencial to power centers all the way down to the common man.

Kant, Hegel and Plato are not the only philosophers who may have influenced the Nazi murky ideology. Nor is Nazi ideology alone in misusing ethics as a part of manipulating our heritage. Friedrich Nietzsche – viewed as a brilliant philosopher who famously stated “God is dead” – was widely admired by the Nazis, much because of Nietzsche’ Ubermensch theory. Hitler himself said Wagner and his music were great inspirations but took an active interest in Nietzsche as well. Here is my final quote, about Nietzsche:

“Nietzsche, the self-described “Immoralist” and “Anti-Christ,” rejects moral discourse, rational moral principles, and indeed morality altogether. Morality is for “slaves” who are unable or unwilling to seize the power that they want. The (aesthetic) ideal is the Übermensch (Superman or Overman), who is beyond good and evil, who acts on his Will to Power, and who is completely indifferent to the needs, rights, and claims, or existence, of other persons. Grassian presents this as a disagreement over the nature of morality, but it is really a disagreement over whether morality, in any recognizable sense, even exists.” Source: here

Pretty ugly words about someone viewed as a major influence to not only Nazis but also today’s psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, students, Ayn Rand followers, the French Left Wing and many others.

Now, what does this have to do with photography and art? I believe art is by necessity closely related to values, in particular those of the artist. Values do not exist in a vacuum. They are made up by many individual influences – good, bad, inherited, learnt, forgotten, misrepresented, enforced and invented. Our personal perceptions of Reality and Ethics influence our value systems. Understanding Reality and Ethics means we can create, judge or simply grasp Art and Photography with some rationale. The same goes for life itself.

Thank you


Reality is beyond our reach

It is time to return to the roots of this series after a number of digressions. I’ll recap earlier points, such as what we “see” is not necessarily the Truth. There are many distortions between the object and the image formed in our minds. Placing a camera, film, scanner and/or a digital chip between the object and your brain results in even more issues.

This series deals with “things we see”. It is not hard to generalize many of the arguments to a broader part of our lives. Are our emotions independent of our perceptions of “reality”? Is touch and feel less off the mark than what we “see”? What about our hearing – is it accurate? Does a burger really taste the way we think is tastes? For all I know, the answer to each question is “No”.

Not only that, our perceptions are unique to each of us. No one sees things the way the next person does. That truly has wide reaching consequences. Answers below.

Nothing is what it seems

The On Reality essays started early August 2006 by stating that we humans see nothing but light as it is emitted or reflected by the various objects around us. We don’t actually see the objects themselves. Since light is a highly variable and unreliable element, an object constantly looks different to us. Nevertheless, our brain makes us believe we know what objects look like. The brain, together with our eyes, does that by introducing additional distortions to “compensate” for the original fallacies. How can we call any of this “knowing reality”?

Part 1 of On Reality concluded that we do not know what reality is, nor do most of us care. But for me as a photographer – and a documentarian as well – this is an important subject. So it is, or should be, to anyone judging what reality is – such as newspaper editors, historians, investigators, CIA spooks and anyone actually interested in the “Truth”.

A view aside – “Reality” as seen by philosophers

Discussions of Reality are hardly a new subject. Philosophers have made mighty deep and complex statements on the subject for thousands of years. Practically every philosopher of fame has his own False movementview. There are additional “schools of thought” for those that don’t quite have a unique idea.

I did study some of these views as a background to this series. Many of the ideas are way above my head. I’m not a philosopher, I’m an artist photographer. I did reach some conclusions: to many of these geniuses, reality is a very suspect phenomena. Many agree we have no idea what it is, except perhaps on a limited level. So far so good. I agree.

Now, these essays of mine are no attempt to compete with these guys. All I do is try to relate simple physics and well known, down to Earth facts to the subject of photography and our minds. End of story.

The previous posts

On Reality – Part 1 – discussed light being a highly suspect basis for establishing “reality”. In Part 2, I digressed onto a somewhat different path – photojournalism and faked/staged photos, largely because of the Reuters Beirut scandal. This digression lasted through Part 3 and 3a. In Part 4, the passing of Joe Rosenthal set me off on journey through photography of war. This became a personal statement on the “reality” of war itself, in particular its horrible effect on those unfortunates directly involved.

This post

This post returns to our perceptions of Reality, hooking up to the discussion oLines are not curvedf light alone. I’ll cover three additional sources of distortions: the camera, our eyes and our brains. The simple conclusion is that each of these three elements add more complexity to our perceptions. It becomes even more impossible to objectively know “Reality”.

We make up our personal views of reality and argue endlessly with those having a different perception of the same thing. Sometimes such differences lead to war, perhaps only in your house but maybe on a far grander scale. Sometimes a journalist gets fired after “improving” reality. Sometimes friends cease being friends. Occasionally strangers become friends. Some get married while others divorce. And so on.

Images in this post

It is not easy to illustrate what goes on in our brains. Especially since that is a highly personal subject. I ended up with five pairs of two images illustrating some aspect of reality as seen in various ways.

  1. Two commonly used “illusions”. They show how easy it is to fool our smart brains.
  2. Two images of George W. discussing reality. The guy perhaps has too much power given his really strange view of reality.
  3. Two images of recent presidents in a context that defies any illusion of reality. At least it does in my senses.
  4. Two faked images very popular in the late 1800’s. Photographers seriously attempted to capture a reality beyond our senses.
  5. Two cartoons illustrating the fallacy of expectations. Reality is not always what we expect it to be.

Where is the Truth?

Cameras record the “Truth?” – Sorry

A camera essentially is a very simple mechanical object. It consists of a lens, a shutter system and a back end device such as a digital chip or a film. This device catches the light remaining after passing through the lens and the shutter system. That’s about it. Of course there are additional elements supporting the three basic ones – light meters, flashes, digital software and much else. Let’s stick with the basics.

A lens is just some pieces of glass or, occasionally, plastic in a tube. It gathers light to be recorded by the back end of the camera. We’ve discovered, over the last 150 years or so, that it is not possible to build an accurate lens. Today’s lenses are incredibly complex. This complexity is caused by attempting to correct the distortions caused by using the lens in the first place. No matter how hard the engineers try, no lens passes on the light hitting it accurately. Each brand, focal length, focusing system Bush views realityand even individual lenses have different and, to some extent, measurable characteristics. A lens passes on only a part of the light it receives, depending on engineering and the amount and quality of the glass involved. As a result of all these factors, the lens records a distorted version of the light it receives, no matter how much money you spend. Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here.

Then we have the shutter system. Better yet, we might include the aperture device and call it the light control system. While we are at it, let’s add the light meter present in most cameras. There are endless engineering variations of these systems. All of them share one characteristic. They are inaccurate. Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here.

Finally, the poor back end receives this distorted junk. As you might guess by now, any variation of back ends introduce their own set of inaccuracies. If you are a Photoshop affectionate, you may have played – or even used – some of the fancy plug ins that attempt to change the characteristics of various back ends. There are plug ins that “compensate” for or “emulate” all kinds of film brands. You can make your digital photo look like it was shot with HP 400 black and white film. Or Velvia color film. Or anything else you may fancy. There are other plug ins that make your film images look like they were digitally shot. Or take your digital shots and correct for white balance, exposure, grain and much else.

Scanning software often contains similar controls.George W. Bush and propaganda

Now, if the back end of the camera was accurate, then none of the above would be needed – right? Right. Here are some facts. In a film camera, you load a particular film. That film possess unique features starting with brand, batch, age all the way down to the individual roll and how it was stored from manufacturing and on.

In a digital camera, there is a chip with various unique characteristics ranging from resolution and sensitivity to size. The chip is associated with onboard software doing who knows what to the image. RAW images may – or not – bypass the onboard software to produce an “accurate” image. Of course, that image is not accurate at all. Some digital cameras allow you to modify the onboard software for white balance, shooting situation (”Hawaiian sunsets”, “Cathedrals” etc.) and much else. Removing “red eyes” has become quite an industry because most camera manufacturers knowingly put the flash in the wrong place.

In short – as to the back end of the camera – Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here.

All we can expect of a camera is that it gives us images we like. Or images we can “improve” using various tools. We must control the images as we shoot. We must deal with the distorted images produced by the camera. These are subjects for later posts. Please just accept the unavoidable fact that the camera gives you a highly distorted view of the light from the subject you’re shooting. No truth. No accuracy. Plenty of distortions. No matter how much you spend. Sorry.

A last comment about cameras. They give us an image frozen in time. You press the shutter button. The shutter fires for a given period of time. The back end records the light received in the period of time. The image is done and reflects only that period of time. That leads us to two very different devices – our eyes that record images in an analog manner and our brain that processes those analog images in real time. This is way more complex and sophisticated than that poor camera.

Eyes tell the “Truth?” – Sorry.

Superficially, our eyes share some characteristics with a camera. They have lenses, irises and corneas with aperture and focusing controls. They understand and adjust for different light levels. There is a retina back end consisting of seven layers of light sensitive receptors that pass information to our brains. The eyes’ focusing, aperture and light controls are infinitely more sensitive and fast than those of any camera, however costly or “digital”.

George W. Bush and Hillary ClintonSo do our eyes accurately record the Truth and pass it on to the brain? No. Your eyes have limitations as well. Some of us are near sighted, others far sighted and some color blind. Others are simply blind. Not to forget crossed and/or wandering eyes. To older people, focus muscles get worn out. The eyes may contract illnesses. The lenses and corneas are easily damaged. Many lenses are shaped in an inaccurate way, resulting in distortions. The receptors may get temporarily blinded by sudden changes in light levels.

There are big businesses involved in fixing your eyes. Eye glasses, sun glasses and contact lenses eat up billions of our dollars while introducing even more distortions. Many of these devices change the focus and color of the light reaching your eyes. Some even change to color of the eyes themselves. Surgery chains happily operate on your eyes at a remarkably low price, changing your point of view completely.

The eyes and the rest of the visual system do not operate on light or colors the way a camera does. The system The two Clintonstransforms the light entering the eyes to initially straight lines that eventually combine into curved lines and contours. Colors and light levels are judged by comparing the curves. Colors are no longer represented by K values. Light is no longer measured by absolute levels, as is done in the photo cell of a light meter. This process introduces a fair degree of inaccuracy. It is the basis of the many illusions with which some (such as psychiatrists) like to work or play. I added two if these illusions to this page.

Add the analog feature of our eyes and visual system. There is no such thing as one view of our surroundings. The eyes constantly receive new information. They react to the information in an eternal cycle of adjustments deemed necessary. Consider the fact that most of us have two eyes. Each eye receives a two dimensional view. The visual system combines the two dimensional views into one three dimensional view. Take that, you one-eyed, two dimensional cameras.

Think about it. Here are your relatively tiny eyes that have incomparable power and flexibility relative to any camera at any price and size. But accurate? Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry.

Ah – the brain fixes it all – Sorry.

The brain does fix it all, in a manner of speech. It is in complete charge of our perceptions. It even adds a whole emotional dimension to the the information from the eyes. Of course, the brain controls the eyes themselves, not to mention all of you. A regular control freak, your brain.

The trouble is we don’t quite understand what our brain does with that relatively straight forward stream of distorted light entering the eyes. We can’t control the process. We do know that what we see is an interpretation created by the brain. What are the rules for this interpretation? Here you enter a real complex issue studied by many very clever people with lots of theories, some of which are contradictory.

One theory states that the brain creates an interpolated view that is based on incomplete information from the eyes. This, again, explains the visual illusions mentioned earlier. Manipulate the incomplete information reaching the brain and it makes predictably bad decisions. There are Little fake elvesvarious theories how this interpretation works, such as the one claiming the brain uses the complex math of Bayesian science.

The brain also makes basic assumptions such as light is usually coming from above. It relies on prior experience to produce a predicable, safe interpretation. It is almost like the old (very outdated) saying in IT circles: You will never go wrong by buying IBM. The brain produces an image that it thinks you will like. It even goes as far as making sure that image won’t hurt you too much.

Then there is the “Gestalt” theory. It states that the brain receives a bunch of sub components of the visual image. The brain then combines these sub components into the whole according to a set of rules. This theory claims the brain uses six distinct rules to achieve its goal. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Other theories claim the rules depend on personality, race, gender, occupation, education, age, attitudes, values and so on. I suppose that makes intuitive sense.

A completely different theory discards most of the above. The brain receives sufficient information and does not make interpretations as stated above.

There you are. Full circle and total confusion. Does any of this sound like the visual system is capable of presenting Reality? Is it even designed to show Reality? It doesn’t seem so to me. Apart from pointing out to me that I have no idea what goes on, it appears clear that presenting reality is not even a major concern. And it’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

It seems to me we, again, have to state: Don’t look for accuracy or “Truth” here. Sorry.

So what? Distortions can be dangerous

Let’s play with a few examples and quotes dealing with the meaning of this.Catching fake reality

First, a simple one. Doesn’t food look much more appetizing if you are hungry? The brain uses some rule to tell us we better get ourselves some food to satisfy our needs. This sure can kill you financially if you are in a supermarket.

Second, look up at two tall buildings side by side. Take a picture of the same thing. Compare the picture with what you saw using your eyes. Do the two representations of the same objects look different? Of course they do. You figure it out.

Next, let’s look at all the theories of witness reliability in criminal and other investigations. Most say that reliability is quite low. But why? There are many explanations, opinions and studies published, discussed, disputed and trashed. There is a whole industry of hired “experts” apparently able to judge witness reliability. Perhaps who is paying the expert’s fee influences the conclusions. Perhaps not. Eitherway, this is an issue worth looking at to understand how our brain treats “reality”.

Mr. Magoo goes over the edgdeFor instance, there are the questions surrounding the crash of TWA Flight 800 outside Long Island. Law officials found no less than 348 eye witnesses to the crash. A little over half saw the plane being on fire before hitting water. The rest – almost half – saw no fire. There was and is the conspiracy rumor of a missile attack on the plane. Investigators compared the witness accounts to the black box and recorders information. There are many opinions why different types of evidence seemed so contradictory. Some say the discrepancies have perfectly normal explanations – the accounts from witnesses were largely correct and the flight data was too incomplete. Others say witnesses were subject to a mind game fueled by the publicity and thus totally unreliable. The truth – who knows. Probably somewhere in between the two theories.

Then we have the debate on a child’s reliability as a witness in possible sexual abuse cases. Here is a quote:

“It has been learned and amply documented that the issue of TRUTH when applied to children’s statements is multidimensional. The focus on how children’s statements might differ from adults’ statements has compelled a scientific return to an understanding of child development in moral, cognitive, emotional and social spheres. Many volumes have recently appeared on the suggestibility of children, the creation of false or distorted memories, motivation, and other aspects of truth-telling, all of which attempt to explain why some children’s reports of sexual abuse are not true, even though the child may appear to be sincere. “

So the reliability of this class of witnesses is low. Interviewing techniques very much influence the child’s eventual testimony and actual memory of the incidence (if any).

Here is another quote:

“Numerous psychological studies have shown that human beings are not very good at identifying people they saw only once for a relatively short period of time. The studies reveal error rates of as high as fifty percent — a frightening statistic given that many convictions may be based largely or solely on such testimony.Reality may not go your way

50%? It appears the brain might be wrong as often as it is right. Just like meteorologists. Don’t decide on bringing an umbrella along based on the weather forecast. Don’t bet your life on the recollections of others.

A final set of quotes:

“Visual perception is one of the most complex processing tasks that the brain is called upon to perform. It is not surprising, therefore, that when it goes wrong, the results can be dramatic. It is significant that …. ‘visual perception disorders’, e.g. agnosia, cause only gross errors in perception (sufferers are unable to identify objects as a whole, e.g. a face, a deer..).” Source: here

“Most people assume that what you see is pretty much what your eye sees and reports to your brain. In fact, your brain adds very substantially to the report it gets from your eye, so that a lot of what you see is actually “made up” by the brain (see Seeing more than your eye does). Perhaps even more interestingly, the eye actually throws away much of the information it gets, leaving it to the rest of the brain to fill in additional information in its own ways. A characteristic pattern ….. provides an excellent example of how the brain is organized to actively “make sense” of the information it gets, rather than to simply absorb and respond to it. In so doing, it provides some valuable insights into the sources of our sense of “reality”. Source: here

I can’t say the jury is out on this one. Clearly, there are so many distortions that any view or opinion of “reality” must be suspect. After thousands of years, we still do not really know much about reality. Reality is largely a personal perception with limited base in true reality. The consequences of this are very significant. The false reality starts wars, puts innocent people in jail and destroys others.

Distortions are part of life


Light comes from objects emitting a specific type of energy. Such objects include the sun, stars, lamps, fires, chemical and physical reactions, certain animals, insects and other creatures. Even if we only consider the light emitted from one source, the light is not a constant. For instance, the distance between us and the light source is a very significant factor. So is the question whether or not the light source is visible (”on”). Few light sources provide similar light. K values and spectrums are different. Then we have all sorts of distortions impacting the quality of light, such as dust, clouds, wall colors, bending of light and much else depending on the circumstances.

Light makes it possible for our eyes to “see”. Light makes it possible to make photos. Light is very variable and distorted. So seeing should not be believing.

Cameras, eyes, brain

All three of these items add distortions to the already distorted light. Perhaps the brain is the biggest culprit of all. Depending on who you believe, the brain may make up a fair amount of our view of the environment. We do not know how the brain accomplishes that. We do know the brains of different people use different rules. People see things differently. Sometimes that is a good thing. Sometimes it is disastrous.

We cannot honestly say we know reality. All evidence, most of it quite trivial, speaks to the contrary. We simply have to live with that fact. Most people do not care. But they should.

Upcoming posts in this series

The series is not over with this fifth post. I’ll expand on photo staging, faking and plain lying. I’ll cover propaganda photography. I’ll feed you my view on censorship in photography. I’ll try to explain how artistic manipulation differ from “unethical” manipulation. I’ll reveal what really goes on in those darkrooms. I’ll tell tales on what a computer can do to “reality”. Finally, what does this all mean? Are there rational ways to deal with these fallacies, considering much of our culture depends on the mental traps?

As always, thank you for your visit to my blog. I hope it was worth your time.



As those that return to this site will notice, it has a brand new look. I’ve used the optional WordPress CSS editing facility to make changes to the template used originally. I felt several items needed improvement. They are:

  1. Better readability. I’ve increased the font size a bit to make it easier on your eyes. I’ve changed the color scheme for the same reason.
  2. Easier navigation. I changed the headings’ look and feel so it is easier to see where one post starts and another stops. Headings and other parts of the posts are now a bit more consistent.
  3. Better compatibility with my other sites. Part of this is a look and feel issue – this site now is more “part of the family”. But over the years, I’ve picked up a trick or two that I will now be able to use on this site. That should improve your experience as a viewer.

Incidentally, this is by no means meant as a criticism of the original theme author. He or she did a great job and I still use much of the original code.

For those interested in CSS and, in particular, WordPress publishing, I’ve set myself up so I can use DreamWeaver as my editor for editing posts based on the relevant stylesheets and page layouts. This means I don’t have to go through as many cycles as before to make things look right. It also makes it easier to use, and improve, the private stylesheet I now use. I can do a lot of the required testing off-line. For those that don’t quite understand why I do this testing: there is not one major browser that renders a WordPress site or post the same. Everyone of them – IE, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, Safari or Netscape, not to mention a myriad of versions for each browser – differ in how your precious posts present themselves to viewers. I’ve learnt the hard way.

Earlier, I tended to favor Microsoft’s new beta “Window’s Live Writer”. It’s one of the best entry level editors around but, still, it is nowhere close to Dreamweaver. Of course, it helps that I’ve used Dreamweaver for years. Maybe, I’m in a different category than the intended audience for, say, WordPress’ built in editor.

I should tell you that you need to consider – as I do – the current site as a beta site. No doubt there will be usability issues coming up and, gasp, bugs to be fixed. There will also be frequent changes to the site as I refine it.

I’d be eternally grateful for comments on the site, any difficulties you may run into, bugs and any other suggestions. In return, I’ll do my best to answer any questions that may arise from my statements above. You can post comments and questions or email me personally here.

Thanks a million,


Some Admin Issues

August 29, 2006

There is no doubt my “Can Celebrities Shoot” essay is wildly popular. It appears to be so popular that it is difficult to access the web site containing all the images and side articles of the celebrities. Part of the problem is that my post has been picked up by external sites such as Netscape. No doubt the web master of the celebrity site is wondering what hit him. Hopefully he is working without pause to fix the problem. Meanwhile, please be patient. There is nothing I can do to to fix this short of pulling the post. Except apologize to the web master on the celebrity site for making his life difficult. Fame is hell.

Another issue. I test the posts against several browsers and resolutions to ensure quality. In general, we test out fine although a high connection speed together with a high monitor resolution are good things. However, the beta version of IE 7 (now a release candidate) has caused me all kinds of headaches. Essentially, the current IE 7 causes display problems in WordPress. While this is really a problem for WordPress, not me, I’ve done my best to work around the various issues to present the best possible viewer experience. Nevertheless, some of you IE 7 beta people probably have experienced some display oddities. The standard IE 6 does not have these issues and hopefully Microsofties are addressing their problems.

Thank you


Here is a multimedia War Photo Documentary showing human suffering during war. It is a political, yet real and honest statement of my view of war. The purpose of this very explicit, violent presentation is to show “War Destroys People”. To support this point, I use any technical means available to me. So do other documentary artists. Will you see “Reality”? From a technical view, no, not at all. From a human point of view, yes indeed. War does hurt people.

Joe Rosenthal – with Respect

Joe Rosenthal in the War Joe Rosenthal died at 94 last Sunday. His major fame came from his Pulitzer winning Iwo Jima picture. It is said to be the most printed and copied photo ever. The stories behind this picture have been endlessly discussed. Even I got into the act in a previous “On Reality” essay. No point in adding more to all those discussions.

Except for a brief period during WW II, he was not a war photographer. He was not a Robert Capa, nor a Hemingway.

Yet his one famous picture is a symbol. It stands for the triumph of good over evil. It implies the sacrifice of war is worth it. It shows clean indisputable heroism. The picture suggests hope, optimism, pride and stands for just causes. The American way is the true one. Unfortunately, three of the six people in the photo died in battle within days. That might have been a damper but wasn’t. The picture’s power easily overcame the infinite suffering lodging behind it, unseen.

Rejected by the Army due to poor vision, he worked the Pacific War, as well as other theaters, for AP. He appears to have experienced considerable combat prior to the Iwo Jima invasion. After the war, he returned to San Francisco. He worked for the SF Tribune for some 35 years, to my Joe Rosenthal as an elderlyknowledge never again to seeing combat. Although I know little about his life prior to Iwo Jima and thereafter, his life appears to be peaceful as was his eventual death.

But nothing should be taken away from Joe Rosenthal. He took the picture of a century. His fame is deserved. He will always be remembered for that moment on an obscure mountain in the 1945 Pacific, over sixty years ago and counting.

After hearing about his death, I decided to do a tribute to him, consisting of a sample of his work. Amazingly, I could find very little of his photos beyond endless versions of his, apparently, one picture of fame.

War on a macro level – No Gain at High Cost

But it lead me to another, more ambitious subject. War coverage is not exactly limited to one picture from 1945. Especially since that picture has little to do with real war. It does not show people maimed, killed, driven insane, dislodged, fleeing, tortured, starving, degraded, gassed or imprisoned. War – to real people – is a horrible, dirty, painful business with little or no meaning and a lot of suffering.

Let’s consider a few examples on the higher “macro” level. Here is my point. There is an old saying that “War is too important to be left to Generals”. My take on it is “War is too important to be left to Generals, the President, the Cabinet, Congress or any other crazed fool out to make his reputation or fortune”. How to do it then? Easy: let us just NOT do it. Plenty of others have managed that. Yes, I know. I’m just a simple minded artist with no understanding of the Big Issues. Luckily, we have others, such as Mr. Cheney who knows better and who is an excellent shot as well. Labeled a man of mystery, his incomes from defense oriented businesses and Halliburton are far too complex for a thoughtless photographer to understand. All I can say, it all seems to be closely guarded secrets. The issue, though, is: Who the heck makes money from engaging in War? Certainly not me.

There have been three major invasions of Russia: Sweden’s King Karl XII, Napoleon and Hitler. All met exactly the same fate. They lost. A lot of of the invading people died from starvation, cold, exhaustion, illness and, a few, from battle wounds. The Russians uses the same tactic every time. It’s called Quit And Run. Or perhaps Quit, Burn and Run is a better term. Napoleon was the only invader to actually conquer Moscow. His victory turned hollow when he saw the Russians burn their capital to the grounds. Napoleon conquered nothing but burning debris. No food, little shelter. No surrendering Government. No defeated people. Napoleon realized his victory actually was his final defeat. He turned back to France, defeated. Few of his grand army made it back. The Russians rebuilt the country they had devastated in front of the advancing French army.

Quit and Run, such a simple, devastating tactic if used right. Think about it, George W. Be creative.

World War One, costing tens of millions of lives, led to yet another World War. World War Two led to the Cold War. Korea? After well over 50 years nothing has been accomplished except South Korea is briefly an Asian Economic Tiger. The North is starving while building nuclear bombs with no apparent objection from the rest of the World. Iran eagerly follows the same path, minus the starving.

German soldier shooting mother and childAnyone remembering the Iraqi-Iran war? It went on for years, killing countless people in a death spiral almost without equal. It led to nothing except Iraq was supposed to have real mean, battle hardened troops. I suppose we know better now. The Iraqi did not even achieve that. Probably all the battle hardened, mean troops were killed in some swamp trench, attacking or, possibly defending, Important Targets. Maybe by poison gas, popular at the time.

Europe followed up on an ancient legacy of major wars with revolutions, friendly to the West, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The West did nothing. The Soviets responded with mass killings, offering nothing but hardship in return. Then they disastrously invaded Afghanistan, costing them their empire. The Russians, wise from that experience, used their diplomatic skills to wipe Chetnya off the map using explosives rather than talk. Surviving Chetnyans responded by blowing up Russian apartment houses, an airliner or two, occupying a theater and a school. Russia again responded with their customary sensitivity. The price was a thousand Russian lives or so against the gain of a handful of Chetnyan lives.

The Vietnam War killed almost 60,000 Americans with no known benefit. Some claim great restaurants run by Vietnamese refugees are a benefit. That’s stretching it. Hanoi Hilton, Da Nang, Tet, the Wall and countless other memories are terrorizing too many good people. Some learnt from it. Lyndon Johnson did. But now we have George W. who did not learn.

Vietcong and the North Vietnam army did learn, ahead of the battles. They used a variation of the age old Russian Quit and Run tactic in a hugely successful manner. They only lost when they abandoned the tactic. Such as they did when launching the disastrous Tet offensive. They still won. The US never caught on and learnt nothing.

The Soviets and the Americans, in a rare act of common aim, shot down civilian airliners full of innocent people. An American fighter jet managed to down a ski lift gondola full of innocent people by bravely flying very low. Unfortunate accidents, no one is to be blamed.

Earlier, Kennedy was handed a Cuban Missile Crisis – he did win that one albeit almost at the price of wiping out the planet. It sure worked better than Eisenhower’s denial of U2 flights over USSR in spite of one just being shot down by the Soviets. Later, Kennedy declared himself to be a “Berliner” and promptly flew back home. Around then, Khrushchev attempted to scare the UN into submission using his shoe as a sort of weapon. Meanwhile, the USSR and the US wildly built nuclear capabilities suitable to destroy not just Earth but parts of the Universe as well. These were the Glory Days of the Cold War. Interestingly though, the Cold War was one with far less casualties and suffering than your average war. In fact, both the main players prospered. Except, of course, USSR eventually went broke, ending the Cold War.

What about Mrs. Thatcher’s Falklands war? It has to be one of the most astonishing wars of all times. The Iron Lady ensured victory through uncompromising stubbornness and by Staying The Course. French made fighters fought British fighters. A British submarine sank a formerly American cruiser. A French made Exojet missile sank a British destroyer. Later, British made, Argentinean owned, bombers sank a number of British ships. Funny how the international arms trade works. The price was about 1,000 dead on both sides, not to mention the loss of ships, airplanes and other hardware. Is that a reasonable price for a set of tiny, desolate, wind blown islands with no strategic value down in the South Atlantic? In particular since both sides demonstrated considerable incompetence, such as having no clue how to operate their hardware? Granted, the freedom of many sheep from the neighbor, vile Argentineans was assured. The pubs in capital Stanley remain on British soil. No doubt, the tales of the victorious and heroic Battle Of Stanley in 1982 remain alive in these establishments. I doubt either of the combatants can point at any hard benefit from this oh so cute, almost romantic war.

In Europe, “ethnic cleansing” developed into major conflicts as it has many times in the past. This time, they focused on a dizzying array of ex-Yugoslavia provinces, cities, countries, counties, villages, blocks, streets and even houses with religious/racial pockets of population suddenly eager to kill each other. America leaped to rescue, but learnt that the Apache helicopters can’t fly in mountainous terrain This dampened the courageous attempt of humanitarian help. Instead, NATO, led by America, bombed the area into dust.Dead German soldiers

We take pride in the successes of Bay of Pigs, Grenada and Panama. We tried exploding cigars on Mr. Castro in the name of the Fair Cause. Now, America and a few token, reluctant “allies” wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We may expand the Good Cause into potentially even worse Near East conflicts. Why not? The recent Near East adventures have cost thousands or even hundreds of thousands lives, not to mention the destruction of nearly a whole continent. Even Reagan had the sense to get out of Lebanon after losing hundreds of sleeping Marines. Clinton got out of Somalia after a massacre.

We lived – most of us – through 9/11 as well as deadly subway attacks in Japan, Spain and the UK. George W. declared War on Terrorism. He did not get out. He jumped in (others) head first. He did not realize that battle is ago old. It has been fought for decades by men far more knowledgeable (let’s be kind) than Mr. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld,

How about the IRA, the Kurds, the Japanese Red Army, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Basques and the Palestine killers at the Munich Olympics or the Cambodia Killing Fields? Remember the plane hijack crisis in the 70s for an assorted hopeless, obscure causes? How about the handicapped American thrown off a cruise ship to his death? Or the innocent airline passengers killed and thrown onto the runways in an attempt to get free gas for the next hijack flight? I’m not even touching on al-Qaida, the PLO as they once were, PHFL, DFLP, ANO, PLF, DPLF, PKK, DHKP, PMOI, Hamas, the Hitzbullah, GIA, IMU and maybe a few thousand more organizations viewed as terrorists. They come and they go – usually undefeated, often undetected – but mostly, they kill.

I’m even curious to find an American Church of Reality here in the US with the clever motto of “Understanding Reality The Way It Really Is”. Its leader is declared to be a terrorist. He is quite proud of the attention. Good work, Homeland Security. I guess you nailed one. Code Red.

In Asia, India and Pakistan play a game of brinkmanship using nuclear weapons. Wasn’t Kashmir supposed to be a romantic place not so long ago? Ceylon/Sri Lanka seems to accept its place as a dangerous place to visit or live in. Indonesia and other nearby islands aren’t too healthy either. Bali is out of favor thoroughly. Earlier, Mao’s Cultural Revolution used a Little Red Book to turn children into judges, throwing their parents and others to the wolves. Then, later, the Tiananmen Square massacre restored order after a feeble democratic student upheaval. The price? No one knows, nor cares.

Then we have George W. who, in his Texan manner, led us into the Iraq adventure. Within days, the Job Was Done. Well, perhaps not. In fact, the job isn’t done at all. George W, has decided the next President, not him, is responsible for the mess. The cost of this disaster is enormous in, oh, so many ways. Money is no objection. Neither is the casualty rate. Everyone counts the American Sacrifice in an abstract sort of way, but no one really cares about the tens or hundreds of thousand of, say, Iraqi victims.

George W., his cabinet, party and a few “patriots” remain “Optimistic”. Stay the Course. No Quit And Run. Halliburton, the real winner, is doing Great and hugely Profitable Work. Oil is good at any price – just think of the value of those Iraqi reserves at $75 or so a gallon, sorry it’s still a measly barrel. Good investment. American Democracy is Winning albeit still just around the Corner. American Power is Best, not to mention Fair and Honorable. All is Well. Progress is made. No Civil Wars on the Horizon. Those nasty Insurgents are Quitting and Running. Everyone is happy, except for a few soldiers doing bad, bad un-American things. Except for a hundred or so Iraqi killed every day. Small price to some, enormous to others.

Dead Russian soldierSome Democrats and foreign “allies” remain supportive of the Bush War – well almost – well not really – actually not at all. Look at those poll numbers. Where are Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Maria Cantwell, Joseph Biden and John Edwards these days? They might wish they were in one of Cheney’s undisclosed locations. As long as Cheney is properly disarmed at the entrance, of course. Just joking. They are out there being optimistic yet not too optimistic or, suddenly, even pessimistic. They are the ones quitting and running. They do not understand the Russian version of Quit And Run either.

These days we better be careful of perfume and shaving cream getting mixed up whenever we fly. Or explosive shoes. Or combs. Or nail scissors. Or hair wigs. Or anyone with a beard. Not to mention a Dark Complexion. Remember the innocent Brazilian shot to death in London because the police believed – without evidence – he was a Near East bomber?

Now here is the question. Are we better off, given any of the above thrills? Did anyone end up happier, richer, prouder or, at least, less depressed? Not counting government officials, arms dealers and other riff-raff, of course. I think not.

Our real people troops in these wretched and useless foreign countries sure are not running, nor quitting .They are just killed, maimed and despised by all in the “operational theater”. Very few of our real life troops quit and ran in any of the hopeless, and many, conflicts braved by their Chief In Command over time. Many just died or simply went crazy. That’s been the case since the American Revolution. These troops are our kids. They are the ones knowing the facts of war. They should be the future of our country, not dead.

The USA has not seen war domestically for close to 150 years. Take Hiroshima – About 140,000 people died in the 1945 attack, some immediately, some over the next few months. Many more died from delayed causes. That’s out of a pre-attack population of about 310,000. About 50% death rate. A whole city structurally wiped out.

The bombing of Hiroshima was an atrocity. Foreign cities and countries suffered losses on a level unimagined in this country. Very much, lucky us. Just realize that those experiencing such total violence have a different take on war than those that don’t have the experience. I’m sure those involved closely in 9/11 would agree.

9/11 was child’s play compared to what has happened in other countries. Yes, I know. It’s punishable by eternal wire tapping to say something is as bad as 9/11. But 9/11 serves as an excuse for all kinds of undemocratic and illegal acts. So it will for many years to come. That is not good.

Don’t get me wrong. I woke up that September morning, turned on the TV and was changed irrevocably like most of us. The horror of that day will be with me forever. The heroism displayed by so many was, and is, without question, doubt or comparison. America truly is a remarkable country. As long as you exclude the opportunists, the cowards and the incompetent leaders. NY Fire Men and Police with many others spent the day risking and losing their lives, desperately trying to deal with massive horror. George W. spent the day on AirForce One. In almost total silence. Cheney withdraw – in silence – to his first undisclosed hole in the ground.

dare I?

I dare. In spite of all illegal government activities, free speech still is a valued and trusted part of our constitution. Still, who is this guy being – maybe – critical of the honor of the American Way of Life and Its Glorious Past, Present and Future. What right does he have? Well, for one thing, I have the right of Anger.

I’m an immigrant. I’ve lived legally in the US for over thirty years. I enjoy the Freedom, the American Dream and all the Good Things of this country. Not least, the opportunity to change my life from one career to another, much more fulfilling, is an great gift. Today I consider myself to be an artist. Yesterday, I was not. That’s a great freedom, not available in all countries.

I grew up in a country that has not been at war for a few hundred years. It is famous for economic and social stability. In my days, there were no racial issues – today there may be some. Strangely enough, in my high school days, I was part of the school’s Conservative Youth Party. I even spent five years as an officer in their Navy – this was during the days of the last Vietnam war. Of course, for me there was no war – just play. Sort of like it was for George W. Today, they hardly have Armed Forces. They spend their money on other areas. Such as helping people, at home and abroad.

I knew plenty of deserters from the real war at the time. They practically invaded my city. It was in the middle of the glorious (to some) sixties. My country was second to none in the excesses, the free thinking and the rejection of past hypocrisy. All of it eventually left me with a sense of social justice, equality, people awareness and perhaps a revolting tendency. It might have pounded some honesty into me. And a fair degree of anger and a critical, maybe cynical eye.

I went to America and slept through many years of successes – former bosses allowed to disagree. I did not sleep through a number of tragedies, in my health and in that of near ones. More than the average number of tough deals have been handled. That’s what, finally, woke me up and turned me into an artist and an advocate for certain causes.

War is one of those causes. With my background, it should not be surprising that I hold the views I do. War is something to hate. It is not something to be optimistic (”All is Well”) or triumphant (”The Job Is Done”) about. I do not really care about the macro view. I’m reluctant to take sides.

I do, however, care about the poor souls that get in the way of war, one way or another. Which, by the way, does not make me all that different from lots of American, non-American, non-Terrorist, non-Weirdos people here and around the Globe. Many of these people know about War first hand – most Americans do not with the exception of relatively few Soldiers, Marines, Navy and Air Force men and women.

So that is the real subject of this post. The message is “War destroys People”, applying equally to the armed forces and civilians of the various nations involved.

War on a micro level – War Destroys People

This series is supposed to be about reality. My point all along is that reality is something we know very little about. Reality is distorted in all kinds of manners. Some of these distortions are physical in nature – the sun’s cycle and its different lights, light distorted by weather, different light sources’ K value and so on. See “On Reality 1″ for meat. Then there are different sources of distortions – those that are man-made.

Gettysburg deathsSome of these distortions are just for the hell of it or because you can make money off it. Art is a great and socially well accepted example of such deviousness. Then there are many not so noble variations on the theme. Paparazzo. National Enquirer. Certain journalists. Parts of the Justice system. Forgery. Etc.

There are other, perhaps even more serious, offenses. Propaganda. Censorship. Both of these tend to be run by very authoritative and rich agents such as governments. Both are used in war. The American Government – especially, but by no means uniquely, the Bush administration – uses both tactics to an embarrassing degree. I’ll have a lot to say about this in later “Reality” installments.

The two goals of the activities are: 1) to defend the current war to the domestic civilians 2) to hide the terrifying suffering of all involved in the war. I won’t expand in this context. That’s for later. Instead, let’s get to the point of this post.

I’ve prepared an eight minute multimedia presentation intended to illustrate, very explicitly, war as experienced by real live or soon-to-be dead people. This is no “embedded journalism” BS. This is graphically dramatic images of the horror of war on a personal level. It covers conflicts from the last 150 years. It shows several sides in those wars with no opinion of “who is right”. There are no heroes. None of the real people are recognizable. For many horrible reasons.

The presentation may be labeled a piece of propaganda by some, just as may be the case of any documentary. The difference compared to real propaganda is that I tell you what I’m doing. Another difference is that, as an artist, I have creative freedoms that, again are openly acknowledged. I produce documentaries to make a point. In this case, the point is “War Destroys People”. To make that point, I use any available technique to amplify the impact of my message. I gladly doctor the images to clarify the message. In general, the images as shown are even darker and more expressive than the originals. The music – a Contemporary String Quartet – is chosen to support the idea.

I’ve cleaned up old, scratchy, low quality Internet images. Then, they are more believable. Even so, most of the images are of very low quality. But they do make the point. In my opinion. This manipulation of you, dear reader/viewer, by me and probably many others before me explains the nature of this post. The goal is not to deceive you, It is to open your eyes, to consider another point of view, to surface some issue of importance.

Details of the Multimedia Presentation

Do not watch this presentation is you object to pictures of explicit violence and its consequences. Some images are very graphical. Do not watch this is you are too young. Let your parent(s) know. The rating is definitely MA. Protect yourself.

A fast Internet connection is practically a must to watch this show. Although the presentation uses a fairly low quality mpeg 1 format, the download size is from 90 to 140 MB. As you hit the download link, one of two things will happen. First, The video may start almost immediately – actually while Parents at grave of fallen soldierthe file is downloaded. This is a good solution if it works to your satisfaction. Success depends on your setup. IE and Windows Media Player has good support. Firefox as well works well but tend to like Quicktime which in its free form only plays in a tiny window. The video is designed to be viewable full screen.

The second thing that might happen is that the video file is simply downloaded. This may take its time – usually 4-5 minutes with a fast connection. Then it may play itself automatically or you may need to load it into your favorite player – there are many such players available from companies such as Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple. There is no spamming, advertising, nasty scripts, adware or even any installation or interference with your system whatsoever related to the download. This is true as long as the file is downloaded from Leading Design. Please alert us if others attempt to offer our presentation in any form. Please note, I’m not really able to provide extensive troubleshooting or technical support of your private system.

All of the images are originally downloaded from the Internet. I claim no rights whatsoever to them. I respect all copyrights that may be involved. I do claim a copyright to the design and production of the video itself. Please do not attempt to sell this product. That is plain illegal.Burning building

Finally here are three download links. Just hit the first logo and and you’ll experience an anti-war statement as shot by some very brave and, in some cases, a few very immoral or at least very cynical photographers. The presentation may or may not be streamed. If streamed, you may suffer from buffering and download speed issues resulting in jerky, poor quality. If so, use the second logo which uses a smaller version of the video. Finally, the third option is to download the video file without streaming and run it any way you please.

Any of the download alternatives require a bit of patience. Please hang in there, just as you have to with any Web video program. Even when streaming, your player may take minutes to set up its buffer. Thank you.

Possibly streamed download (Try first – medium quality)

The War Multiimedia Presentation by Leading Design


If the above link and your particular setup causes problems such as poor or jerky playback quality, then use the link below to download a lower quality, smaller version of the file. That may resolve any issues you have with a streamed download.

Possibly streamed download (Try second – lower quality)

The War Multiimedia Presentation by Leading Design


If the above link still causes problems, then use the link below to download a zipped version of the file. Unzip the downloaded file and run it in your favorite video player. That should resolve any issues you might have with a streamed download.

Zipped download (Best quality but not streamable)

The War Multimedia Presentation by Leading Design

This is the safe bet but it takes a few minutes to download the video file. On the other hand, the video file is higher quality than either of the two you get above. You may want to download this file in the first place in spite of the wait and minor hassle involved.

Thanks for your attention and thanks for bringing my hit number to above 30,000 in about six months. Humbled, I hope you get some value out of your visit.


Thank you, Readers

August 24, 2006

Little did I know three weeks ago that I’d reach the mile stone of a 1,000 readers (excluding you syndicated ones) this soon. No doubt other blogs grow quicker, but this one is aimed at a very special, limited and, I think, sophisticated audience. To me, this mile stone is quite special. Thank you all.

I’ll keep writing about photography, art, artists and reality as I have in the past. Here is a short list of the most popular posts so far:

  1. Can Celebrities Shoot? – This one sure fired you up!
  2. On Reality 3a – This is the one discussing faked photos. Much more to come.
  3. Stanley Kubrick The Photographer. I’m glad you liked this one. He was quite a guy.

In On Reality 3a, I wrote about Joe Rosenthal and his Iwo Jima picture. The date of my post is 8/15. Joe Rosenthal died at 94 on 8/20 2006. For a few days, this piece of news passed me by. When I realized what had happened, I felt a bit funny about discussing his work in my post. I felt the post was disrespectful, although unintended. The post does not actually contain any criticism.

Even so, I am working on a tribute of respect to Joe Rosenthal and the symbolism of his WWII work. As I do, the scope of the tribute is expanding to include all people affected by war. It will state my personal view on war. War is not something to be “optimistic” about, as our leadership seems to be. Rarely are there winners, but a lot of dead, maimed, lost and hurt people. That is reality. Thus, this post – soon to come – will be part of the On Reality series of this site. It’s main part will be a multimedia presentation showing war for what it really is.
Again, thank you all for spending some of your precious time with me on this site.


Can Celebrities shoot?

August 21, 2006

HandsIn several past posts, I’ve commented on my theory that highly talented people – such as Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks, Tony Bennett and Henri Cartier-Bresson – did great work in art forms different from that of their principal fame. I started to wonder if that is generally true. I came across a web site devoted to celebrities and their photography. I don’t know what you’ll think about what I’m about to show and discuss. I found some of it hilarious and some of it depressing.

Here is a note on the pictures in this post: I’ve selected about an equal amount of photos by the celebrities from a) the “best” of them and b) the “worst” of them – according to my opinion, of course. The pictures occur in a random order. They are not linked to the text at all. Can you spot the good ones from the disasters? Maybe yes, maybe no – after all, it is just a matter of personal taste. There is no right or wrong answer and certainly no score card.

Here is a link to the Celebrity Site “Take Great Pictures, Celebrities That Shoot“. The article covers no less than 19 celebrities and their photographic talents. The site includes side articles and slide shows. I thought that this must prove or disprove my talent theory. Here is what I’ll do: For each of the 19, I’ll provide a link to their photo slide show for you to explore. Click on the name of the reviewed person.

I’ll make some statements on my view and show some quotes from or about each celebrity. Again, the principal question is – Can Celebrities Shoot? Check my totally subjective ratings!

Let’s go:

The Celebrities

1 – David Berkeley – a musician and song writer who did some photographic work on assignment in Alaska for a travel guide. A quote:

“What draws me into photography as a form is similar to when I write songs. Both photography and song writing are very emotionally instigated and desired forms. Some things just call out to take a picture of it, such as a stupid sign or a striking shadow. That is easy to capture, but often I have to be moved by something visually to photograph it. What I really like about photography is that I can see an image I want to capture but then the trick is to try and figure out a way to photograph it. You can’t create that emotion with just a mirror image of what you see. You have to try and figure out the best way the camera can capture it and still convey the emotion that you felt at that moment.”

Not a bad statement at all. I think it is right on. Question is, do his photos live up to his words? I think there are several photos of his that are quite nice. But there is little commonality or any particular insight. Have camera, will travel. Grade: C.

2 – Matthew Modine – Veteran actor, perhaps best known for his role in Full Metal Jacket (Directed by Stanley Kubrick!). He published a book about his experiences playing a photographer in the film. Here is a quote:

My interest in photography really began with the tremendous generosity of my friend Joe Kelly giving me the Rolleiflex to take with me on my trip to London to work with Stanley Kubrick. Joe said that Stanley would be really impressed (he felt) if I had a knowledge and understanding of photography.

Now that’s a novel idea – having a camera promote your career. Most of the pictures are from the movie set. Enough said. Grade E.

3 – Barry Zito – Oakland A’s Pitcher. A happy amateur enthusiast. The enthusiasm is reflected in his work but it is pretty much snap shots. Curiously, he uses a Canon EOS 7N – a film camera much beloved by me and one of my principal cameras.

Q: ….It seems like you try a number of different styles of photography, whether it is candids, landscapes, or abstracts – what kind of photography is your favorite to shoot?

BZ: Hmm… I don’t know. I like shooting people. I mean, I’m an extroverted person and I love capturing someone’s spirit through their eyes. But I don’t even like to say I’m a photographer. I just like to document my life and have experiences, some of which not everyone gets to enjoy and see, so I put it on film or digital. I’ve already got 7,500 pictures just from the past three years with so much random stuff. I’ll bring my camera with me to restaurants and bars and always have it on me because I never want to miss that shot.

Well, the pictures are all over the place. Exposure is a weak area. But he’s got the right idea and some humility – bring that camera along and keep shooting. One day it will work. I did the same for many years. Grade C.

4 – Carmen Electra – Actress. It appears most of her photographic experience occurred when:

“Carmen and fellow actress Bai Ling, who appeared on the cover of the May 2005 issue of Playboy, snapped when they were able to borrow a D2X from WireImage Professional Photographer Michael Caulfied the night of the Force of Nature Concert for Tsunami Aid at Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.”

The most interesting part are the pictures that Carmen Electra apparently took of herself. It reminds me a bit of the equally astonishing picture of Hippolyte Bayard that I discussed in “On Reality 3a” below. Of course, he managed to photograph himself while dead. Ms Electra apparently is not dead in the pictures she took of herself. Grade: F.

5 – Brendan Fraser – Actor in a great many films. There are no quotes available. Too bad, I’d like to find out more about his photography. This guy has got talent although perhaps not much patience and discipline. But then, why should he? It’s not like his livelihood hangs on this. I do like his stuff. It’s got this nice improvised, irreverent vitality feel – check it out. Grade A-.

6 – Kyle MacLachlan – Prolific actor, mostly on TV. Link to article doesn’t work. The photographs are labeled “Photos From Around The World” and they seem to be. Snap shot quality, nothing special that I can detect. Grade C-.

7 – Robert Tourtelot – “Renowned litigator best known for his high profile work in the OJ Simpson trial”. Ah well. Here is a series of quotes:

“In the last four years, however, Tourtelot has committed a lot of time and energy to the craft of photography. “Digital cameras drew me back in and peaked my interest,…”……“He has also committed himself to learning formally, saying, “I’ve studied a lot at the UCLA extension school and completed a course at the New York Institute of Photography.” Returning to photography, he says “makes me look at the world differently…”

“Robert Tourtelot photojournalistic approach reflects his opinions on the condition of contemporary photography, “I am of the firm belief there exists in Photography today a certain element of ‘elitism’ amongst certain well-known photographers, galleries and critics.”…..”that is so out of focus that I want to laugh. Of course the reviewer or whoever is commenting on the photo accepts the photographer’s explanation that it was shot this way on purpose to convey some sense of mystery or whatever.”

I always like people who can consider changes in their lives from one career to something entirely different. They may have dreamt about such a change for ages and finally act on it. I’m not sure if Mr Tourtelot is one of them but he may be. I personally certainly made the change of a life time when I abandoned my high tech, high pay career for photography and art.

Many of his photos are quite nice. There is a commonality, a line of though missing in most of the work of others discussed in this post. Nice going. Grade B-.

8 – Marty Stuart – Country Music Entertainer who is “Shootin’ From The Heart”. I like that. Let’s see if it is true, as reflected in his photography. Quotes:
“As an entertainer Marty has enjoyed a special kind of relationship with his subjects, because they are more often then not close personal friends. It is this connection that has allowed him a unique kind of access that other photographers would not ordinarily be able to achieve.”“Stuart feels country music gets back to the core of human existence and through his through (huh?) the craft of photography he’s succeeded in capturing a fading generation of stars, in a not-always glamorous profession.”

I suppose that tells us something – sounds interesting. Unfortunately, the slide show displays only two pictures. Hard to tell if they come from the heart or if they capture a fading generation. I guess we have to buy his book to find out. Amazon reviews are positive so he must have something to say. Grade: none.

9 – Frank McCourt – Celebrated Author (Winner of a Pulitzer Price) with the “Luck Of The Irish”. Maybe so. Here is another example of an alleged photographer that seem unable to shoot anything but himself. That’s right – every picture in the article and the slide show is showing Mr McCourt having a grand time. I hope his Pulitzer Price work wasn’t quite as obnoxious as “his” alleged pictures of himself. First prize for worst photos so far. I wish he had the insight to keep them in the family album in the bottom drawer. Grade: F-.

10 – Leonard Nimoy Photographer/Director/Actor/Photographic Expressionist AKA Spock of Star Trek. Oh man. Mr. Spock surely must be one of the multi-talented people I’m so desperately (by now) searching for. Let’s check a quote:

“While he’s also published two books of poetry, it is photographic images that have drawn Nimoy completely away from show biz. He worked on Shekhina some seven years, and he’s continuing to devote his energies to photography rather than on acting or directing. “I’m withdrawn from both. I’m not accepting any acting or directing offers. I’ve had enough of that,” Nimoy has said. “This is what I’m doing.”

As with Mr. Tourtelot above (perhaps), here is a guy that seem to understand art and being an artist. Very much my kind of person. I’m also happy to say I like his photography a lot. It’s very dramatic, expressive and generally engaging. Nimoy qualifies all the way. Grade A.

11 – Henry Winkler – Prolific Actor/Producer/Director, mainly TV. There is an amazing amount of celebrities I do not really know anything about. Although I recognize his face and remember seeing him in a few shows, I really know nothing about him. That goes for many on this celebrity list. I guess I’d make a lousy paparazzi. Unfortunately, the side article contains almost no information about his photography or anything else except showing some of his photos. Here is the lonely quote:

“I love reflections, as you can tell. I’m drawn to them. I always try to capture the symmetry of reflection”

Well, that’s fine if not exactly original. I like reflections too but I rarely shoot them – the field is a bit overcrowded. He is a combined nature/travel photographer. His images are quite nice although by no means original. Grade C+.

12 William Shatner – Veteran Actor, “A True Renaissance Man” and, of course, another Star Trekker. Interviewed in the side article by Photographer Joe DiMaggio. Now that might have been a real double take. However it turns out there really is a Photographer Joe DiMaggio who is NOT a dead, famous Center Fielder. Now, about the Renaissance Man part, Leonardi da Vinci was a Renaissance Man. So was Michelangelo, Donatello, Machiavelli, Gorgia Popes and, to some extent, Rafael. The Medici family was part of the period. A quote from Wikipedia:

“Historians have begun to consider the word “Renaissance” as an unnecessarily loaded word that implies an unambiguously positive “rebirth” from the supposedly more primitive Middle Ages. Many historians now prefer to use the term “early modern” for this period, a neutral term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the modern world, but does not have any positive or negative connotations.”

On the other hand, here are some more current “definitions” of Renaissance Man from

“A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.”….”a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests” and “a scholar during the Renaissance who (because knowledge was limited) could know almost everything about many topics”

Interesting issue. It seems modern views have little to do with historical reality. Anyway, I digress. Mr. Shatner may have broad intellectual interests. He might be accomplished in both the arts and the sciences. Unfortunately, his photography does not reflect such talents. I dislike the use of pompous descriptions of inferior talents. This is not unique to Mr. Shatner. It is extraordinarily common to many of the celebrities in this post. Self promotion beats modesty and honesty any day, it seems. Grade: D.

13 – Jamie Elman – an Actor with what seems to be a real interest in photography. Strictly an amateur and essentially a point and shot photographer, he nevertheless has some interesting things to say:

“I’ve learned quite a bit from watching Cinematographers work with light, angles and composition. The beauty of my shooting is that I can see things that are beautifully lit. I can watch them create compositions and I can talk to them about what they are looking for. And it has helped me with my digital camera because I am much more aware of what makes good pictures.”

I might have liked his stuff if the shots were not all of himself. What is it with these people? Aren’t THEY supposed to take the pictures they imply are theirs? Perhaps he uses some sort of remote control technique but even so, self promotion is the only factor here. The grade is automatic. Grade: F.

Jeff Bridges Photography14 – Nathan Purdee – Actor. There is only a self promoting article on the site. Not a single photograph. However, being your diligent blogger serving my alert readers, I did not stop there. It turns out Mr. Purdee really is a photographer and, actually, a pro portrait/people shooter. The name link will take you to his art. He really is pretty good but I penalize him for the self promoting part. Grade: B.

15 – Jeff Bridges – A Great Veteran Actor shooting “Go behind-the-scenes of a Hollywood movie set”. I actually have seen his photo work before. Which is lucky because the site contains none. Nor does it contain any meaningful information. Again I have to practice my investigative skills. It’s not hard to find references to his photo work – after all it is all about the glamour of Hollywood, right? Well, not really – his work is definitely several steps above that. He is a good photographer. Certainly he is one of the multi-talented crowd – small as that crowd seems to be. The name link takes you to his “Baker Boys” collection. Here is another useful link to Jeff Bridges photography. By the way, high marks for his innovative web designs. Grade: A-.

16 – Bill Eidson – Mystery Writer “Inspired by Photography”. I like mysteries. I read them all the time. But this one goes too far. The site contains no hints he actually shoots photos. Maybe he does. The slide show shows the covers of his books. I doubt those are his photos. I found an article of his describing the work of a real photographer. I found no conclusive evidence of any photographic work done by him. Case closed. Grade: none.

17 – Kenny Rogers – Country Singer of great fame. Here are a few quotes that we sorely need because the slide show contains only two photos:

“Rogers’ photographs focus on two very different types of images: landscapes and portraits. In shooting the vistas of America he has crisscrossed many times in his years on the road, Rogers says he looks for form, design, texture and organization, such as the brick and mortar of the urban landscape and the endless variations of light and shadow in the country.”

“The quality of Rogers’ photography distinguishes him as a visual artist notwithstanding his fame as a performer. The proof is in the images—the talent and vision evident in Rogers’ photographs make them stand on their own as fine artworks.”

I guess I have to check this out. The slide show told me very little. So did my research. He has two books out. Buying them seems to be the only way to find out what his work is about. Amazon is rather mum on the subject. I give up. Grade: none.

18 – Rudolph Giuliani Former New York City Mayor In Pursuit Of That Elusive City Image. Come on, he might be one of the heroes of 9/11 but a photographer? I think not based on the single photo in the slide show. Here, however is an excerpt from a Larry King interview that might be informative in our quest for talent:

KING: Another aspect of the life and times of maverick Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani the photographer. Here’s a picture of the former Yankee Cecil Fielder batting against the Orioles, that’s Cal Ripken there at third. When did you get into photography?
GIULIANI: Oh, years ago, 25 or 30 years.
KING: As a kid?
GIULIANI: Sure, I used to do weddings.
KING: You’re kidding.
GIULIANI: Yeah, for fun.
KING: For fun, Bar Mitzvahs or just weddings?
GIULIANI: I may still do one. Maybe I’ll do one for charity, and do a wedding.
KING: Why don’t you publish some of these?
GIULIANI: I did an exhibit at the Likka (ph) Gallery, and we sold about forty of fifty thousand dollars worth for charity.
KING: Look at this one.

GIULIANI: That’s one of my favorites.
KING: Where did you shoot this one?
GIULIANI: I shot that from a boat, and that was used by Amtrak as an ad for about a year and a half on the Metroliner.
KING: That’s a great shot of the city. It’s in your eye, huh — that’s where the photographer…
GIULIANI: And the lighting was the thing that we were very fortunate.
KING: And this one.
GIULIANI: That was a…
KING: Tell us this one?
GIULIANI: That was a subway derailment in the Bronx, that I went up to late at night.
KING: As mayor?
GIULIANI: As mayor. I had my camera with me.
KING: Do you carry your camera as mayor?
KING: And you took that…
GIULIANI: A picture of one of our firefighters. It is the force of the water that is keeping the subway car up there, so that they can eventually stabilize it.

Two American Icons having a sharply intellectual conversation. Rudy, I sure can’t discourage shooting pictures for fun and charity. But politics is probably your real game. Grade: none.

19 – Tyra Banks – Model and Actress “On Photo Assignment – As The photographer”. This is the last celebrity. What a marathon. I have to admit I’m a bit burned out on the subject. I suspect anyone actually reading this might be a bit fed up too. But let’s give Tyra a fair shake. After all, she is“a groundbreaking international fashion icon whose image campaign can be seen around the world” and, no less, “equally well known for her concern for today’s youth and such important issues as education and self-esteem.”. The slide show is all about charity work. Good charity work, but not interesting photography. Grade: D.

So – unbelievable as it must seem, that concludes our reviews. Time to summarize.

Summary: “Can Celebrities Shoot?”

Here are my grades of our 19 Celebrity Shooters:

  1. Really Pretty Good ones (A-B) – 5
  2. Somewhat Competent ones (C) – 6
  3. Please Forget It ASAP ones (D-F) – 5
  4. Insufficient evidence, un-rated – 3

Of course, this is not a scientific study but a subjective opinion. Based on the commonly quoted “Normal Distribution” the distribution is too flat – too many good ones and too many bad ones. The magic middle ground is too shallow. I do believe that is the story, though. Some of these celebrities are really very talented people and it shows in their photography, being a secondary talent. Then there is a gang into anything providing free publicity, self promotion or an ego trip. Any surprises?

So the answer? Yes, there are some really talented people out there. They are capable of being successful in many artistic fields, including photography. But the rest of the celebrities? No – their stuff is no better than that of your average Joe and Mary in AnyWhere, USA. Some of it is probably worse than average in an obnoxious way.

Now for the final step. I’ll select a few pictures from the “A” gang and a similar amount from the “F” people. Ill show these pictures spread out in the post in a random fashion. I hope you can tell which picture goes with the “A” people and which with the “F” gang. If not, perhaps my critical eye needs some serious overhaul!

Here is my unashamed celebrity list of “Pretty Good Ones”: Brendan Fraser, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Bridges. I add Stanley Kubrick and Gordon Parks from earlier reviews. What’s your list?

Next post

Next time, I think I’ll get back to the quite popular “On Reality” series. Stay tuned!

Thanks for your attention, all you alert readers,


Gordon ParksRarely is one person as talented as Gordon Parks. From directing films such as “The Learning Tree” and “Shaft” to authoring books and music to a prolific and varied photography career, he consistently excelled.

Gordon Banks passed away in March of 2006 at age 93. Here are the awards he received: Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, 1941; Notable Book Award, American Library Association for A Choice of Weapons, 1966; Emmy Award for documentary, Diary of a Harlem Family, 1968; Spingarn Award, 1972; Christopher Award for Flavio, 1978; National Medal of the Arts, 1988; Library of Congress National Film Registry Classics film honor for The Learning Tree, 1989; honorary Doctor of Letters, University of the District of Columbia, 1996; induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, 2002; Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002.

He was born in Kansas in an environment “electrified by racial tension“. His photo career started in 1937 while working as a train attendant, Prior to that he had held a variety of jobs, including being a musician. Oddly enough, his early photos were of fashion – something that would follow him for a long time. Even more oddly for a black man at this time, he was successful.

He expanded into documentary photography and landed a job with the famous Farm Security Administration in 1942. Still faced with strong racial prejudice, his anger is clearly shown in his pictures. FSA folded in 1943 and for Parks, it was back to fashion. At that time, black fashion photographers were not exactly a common sight. In fact, he was the first black photographer hired by both Life and Vogue.

For that matter, he was also the first black man to work for FSA. Later on, he became the first black director in a major Hollywood studio. This remarkable series of “firsts” was based on superior talent with quite a dose of anger.

His magazine career continued for years. One editor remarked that “At first he made his name with fashion, but when he covered racial strife for us, there was no question that he was a black photographer with enormous connections and access to the black community and its leaders.”. Malcolm X said “Success among whites never made Parks lose touch with black reality.

Park’s film career started in 1962 with a movie about Park’s experience with saving the life of a young Brazilian. The boy’s name and that of the film was Flavio. A number of films followed. Simultaneously, he wrote several books, some biographical, some of poetry. He was extremely prolific in the 60s through 80s. He received many honors during this time. In 1995, he donated much of his artistic work to the Library of Congress.

I used many sources to gathter the above material. The principal source can be seen here.

So what about his photography? In my view, his work falls in three main categories: documentary often reflecting racial tension and black poverty, fashion photography and, later in his career, abstract work. Personally, I prefer his documentary work. Not a surprise to those that know me, I feel these documentary pictures reflect a reality seldom seen and very much worth being known and preserved.

So where are all these pictures? I am trying a different approach this time. I’m linking to my external portfolio site. It contains Parks’ photography, as collected by me. I designed and produced the show. This makes it easier for me to manage. It allows showing more photos than within this blog post. HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PARKS PHOTOS.

Let’s discuss some reader questions. Several real good issues have been raised by alert readers. Familiar with Dave Barry and his alert readers?. Thankfully I seem to have some too.

Maybe this blog is turning a bit more philosophical than I intended. Hey, all I do is fool around with cameras and various tools to make imagery I find interesting. Nothing earth shattering. But two readers raised points I can’t resist since they are both excellent. Besides, it’s a break from the “On Reality” stuff. Almost. So I’ll discuss those two points here rather than in direct responses to the two readers. Please don’t get it wrong. This is not an ego trip about me personally. I believe each question has a great fundamental value. Besides, having alert readers is nothing to sneeze at. I sure hope for more. It beats having me figure out all the subjects. Democracy.

The first item is an answer to my questions in the On Reality 1 post: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? Does it matter if it exists or not? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No and (3) Probably not.” Reader Ryan offered the following comment: “Descartes addressed and answered your reality question… “I think, therefore I am.” Interesting, let’s examine that very famous statement and see if and how it applies.

The second question is by reader lodewika: “Hi, could you tell me why you call this art photography? I’m not saying its not, just interested in how you think.” I assume that refers to my work. Art or not? Good question. Oddly, I think my answer will relate a bit to the first Descartes question.

While I’m in this deep philosophical mood, I think I’ll touch on the metaphysical existentialist nonsense I’m accused of as well. Let’s get it over with. That is question 3.

Question 1 – I think, therefore I am.

As all of you alert reader know, Descartes was a ground breaking scientist and philosopher living from 1596 to 1650. Originally French, he lived most of his life in other countries – including my native (long ago) Sweden where he tutored Queen Christina, contracted pneumonia and promptly died. Later, his death was blamed on arsenic poisoning. Here is one quote:

René Descartes (March 31, 1596February 11, 1650), also known as Cartesius, was a noted French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the “Founder of Modern Philosophy” and the “Father of Modern Mathematics,” he ranks as one of the most important and influential thinkers of modern times. For good or bad, much of subsequent western philosophy is a reaction to his writings, which have been closely studied from his time down to the present day. Descartes was one of the key thinkers of the Scientific Revolution in the Western World. He is also honoured by having the Cartesian coordinate system used in plane geometry and algebra named after him.” Source: here.

DescartesNot exactly a guy to ignore. For all his accomplishments, the statement “cogito ergo sum” is his most famous one liner. Most commonly translated into “I think, therefore I am”. So what does it mean? That has been debated for centuries. Here i8s my simple minded view:

The foundation of Descartes whole existence was one of great skepticism. In fact, he was strongly suspecting nothing existed and struggled with explaining whether or not he himself actually existed. Eventually he concluded, much to his relief, I’m sure, that he did in fact exist because he could think. Hence the statement. But that statement referred to him personally. Note the “I” rather than a “we”. He existed but what about the rest of the universe? Here’s another quote from the same source as above:

“Therefore, Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been proven unreliable. So Descartes concludes that the only undoubtable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted.”

“To further demonstrate the limitations of the senses, Descartes proceeds with what is known as the Wax Argument. He considers a piece of wax: his senses inform him that it has certain characteristics, such as shape, texture, size, color, smell, and so forth. When he brings the wax towards a flame, these characteristics change completely. However, it seems that it is still the same thing: it is still a piece of wax, even though the data of the senses inform him that all of its characteristics are different. Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the wax, he cannot use the senses: he must use his mind. Descartes concludes: “Thus what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind.” In this manner, Descartes proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable and instead admitting only deduction as a method.”

Let’s see: “…use of the senses; however, these have previously been proven unreliable…” and “…discarding perception as unreliable…“. Let’s return to my original questions: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? Does it matter if it exists or not? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No and (3) Probably not.” I guess, based on Descartes, the only think I would change is skip the third question and its answer.

My original questions should read: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No.”

Ever hear the joke about him (Bob Hope)? Here goes:

Descartes walks into a bar and orders a drink. He quickly downs the refreshing beverage. The bartender notices his empty glass and asks “Another?” Descartes replies, “I think not.” And poof — he disappears!

And the Monty Phyton version: “René Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink, therefore I am”

Now, what do you think? It’s your turn.

Question 2 – Who is an artist?

Serious question. Not an easy one to answer. In a way, it’s like asking an alcoholic if he is an alcoholic. He will only answer yes if he himself believes he is an alcoholic. I’ve been taking pictures for many years. I never viewed myself as an artist producing art. I just had a hobby, pursuing a completely different career. Then things changed. I couldn’t take that other career any longer. I quit. I thought I might go for the photography thing. I went to school and learned the trade. Then, out of the blue, a second set of changes occurred, some very traumatic. My life changed dramatically.

To my astonishment (and that of others) my photography improved dramatically. I first had no idea why. All I knew was I viewed life and everything around me in a totally new way. Still, I was no artist. Didn’t know what one was. Eventually, though, some photographer friends saw something was going on. They helped me clarify and canalize my direction. They also forced some honesty into me. They guided me. They gave me hell. Then I finally got the point. In my gut, I knew what an artist is. I knew what it takes to produce art. I was an artist. It’s like asking an artist if he is an artist. He will only answer yes if he himself believes he is an artist. And the same for females. In my case, it was a serious change in life style.

So that’s my story. Let’s see what others think. It is easy to find many different opinions. But few seem to go beyond those interviews with basket ball players after a game. In fact I could only find one good article, shown here fully:

“The Artist’s Life (1994)

RembrantRembrandt dies in near bankruptcy at age 63, Rubens in wealth and esteem at the same age. Van Gogh, utterly without hope that his art will ever be understood, shoots himself in the stomach at age 37. Picasso dies an extremely wealthy nonagenarian. Such are some artists’ fates.

Despite the common humanity linking all people, artists are a different breed. They spend a lifetime, as surrogates of mankind’s quest for meaning, truth and beauty, translating into art their feelings and observations of the world that non-artists note only in passing.

While art’s importance to civilization is well recognized, you can’t eat art, sleep on it, keep the rain off with it, or drive it to Toledo. This “impracticality” — the essentially poetic, spiritual basis of art, and humanity’s lack of artistic understanding — sets artists apart from the rest of the world.

In extreme cases, such separateness can result in isolation, conflict and death. In a more pleasant scenario (not without its own pitfalls), the artist may be elevated to culture hero if fortunate and his work supports the positive or negative beliefs of the leaders of society.

A profound, poetic society, spiritually developed and humanistic, may recognize a Michelangelo, a Bernini. If the leaders are materialistic and nihilistic, then artists with those characteristics will gain fame and riches. It is also true that great artists can arise spontaneously, independent of social climate.

In most cases, artists trudge through life in a middle-of-the-road existence, exercising financial brinkmanship. Or they cave in to the fashions of the day, turning out products to meet art market demand.

A well-known New York art dealer once said, “If Rembrandt walked into my gallery today, I couldn’t (translation: ‘wouldn’t’) give him a show.”

The “reasoning” behind this absurd statement was that the dealer already had too many artists (the universal gallery excuse for not taking on serious artists. To which we might reply, “Yes, you have too many artists. Too many lousy artists. Make room for some good ones.”).

The dealer’s other reason was that Rembrandt was too “hot”, expressing intense feelings in his work, while the dealer only exhibited — and could only accept psychologically — the “cold” art of pop, minimalism and photo-realism.

The genuine artist’s challenge is two-fold. First, is the immense, life-long effort to develop and evolve a significant vision that expresses both his feelings and those of his era in the context of timeless human experience. Then, once the work has been created, begins the task of getting it out in the world, trying to make gallery people and collectors understand what has been achieved.

van Gofgh There is no doubt that the genuine artist — not the run-of-the-mill commercial hack — is ahead of his time, is the point-man for his society. Most of humanity is at least a generation behind the greatest artists. The irony and horror, of course, is that, with amazing regularity, these bringers of truth are condemned or ignored by their contemporaries out of fear or ignorance. Fear of the insights and inherent changes the artist is bearer of, and ignorance of their timeless implications.

Great artists’ clarity of vision shreds the fads and fashions that are the substitute for thinking in any era. Once safely dead and hallowed by history and myth, their artistic and spiritual truths can be cautiously approached, digested and integrated.

But significant, living artists are a threat to the aesthetic, psychological and financial status quo. Who wants a Van Gogh or Cezanne in their rough workmen’s clothes barging into a posh auction house to question what is going on with multi-million dollar prices for paintings they could only sell in their lifetimes for a pittance, if they could sell them at all?

One sometimes hears the vile nonsense, clearly an ignorant rationalization, that it is better for artists to suffer because it forces them to work, to produce better work. As if the artist is a freak or subhuman species that doesn’t feel the way “real” human beings do.

Artists who happen to be poor, like Van Gogh, produce IN SPITE of the hellish strain of not knowing where the next franc or dollar is coming from, not because of it. Think of a syphilitic, homesick, 55-year-old Gauguin dying in the tropical Marquesas, the last painting on his easel, a snow-covered, thatch-roofed Breton cottage later turned upside down at a sale of studio contents and sold as a waterfall by a smart-aleck auctioneer.

Was Gauguin better off as an artist and human being because of his suffering? Not likely. Would any comfortable middle to upper-middle to upper class individual or family want to trade places with him? Not likely.

“Where do we get such men?,” wonders actor Frederic March, as the admiral in the movie “Bridges at Toko-Ri”, about the fliers on his aircraft carrier as they roar off in their jets, having left civilian life behind to fight in the Korean War.

Such a question can as justifiably be asked of the men and women throughout history who devote their lives, as long as they can hold out, to the search for, and expression of, the timeless truths by which humanity must live if we are to remain sane and humane.

In a world concerned with financial issues, power, prestige, keeping up with appearances and the status quo conventions of life, what kind of people are these artists who are willing to go off in a completely different direction, that few non-artists will ever understand, in order to express the poetry in their souls that echoes the poetry they see in the common things of daily life and the infinite spaces between the stars?

These magnificent artists do not, cannot — could not — live by bread alone. They seek a clue, a link, a oneness with the greatness of life, of nature and of man through forms and images in paint and stone as true as the world itself. What a compelling, rewarding and dangerous task this is.

Copyright by Don Gray” Source: here

Forgive me, Don, if I violated your copyright. Terrific article.

Question 3 – What about metaphysical existentialism?

Wow – not sure I know a thing about this. But let’s try. Apparently it is the opposite of being Materialistic. Hmm. So let’s consult some quotes as starters.


Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the nature of the world. It is the study of being or reality.[1] It addresses questions such as: What is the nature of reality? Is there a God? What is man’s place in the universe?”

“A more nuanced view is that metaphysical statements are not meaningless statements, but rather that they are generally not fallible, testable or provable statements (see Karl Popper). That is to say, there is no valid set of empirical observations nor a valid set of logical arguments, which could definitively prove metaphysical statements to be true or false. Hence, a metaphysical statement usually implies a belief about the world or about the universe, which may seem reasonable but is ultimately not empirically verifiable. That belief could be changed in a non-arbitrary way, based on experience or argument, yet there exists no evidence or argument so compelling that it could rationally force a change in that belief, in the sense of definitely proving it false.”

Materialism or naturalism:


“Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural from nature. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong, but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.”

“Distinctions are sometimes made between two approaches, the first being methodological naturalism or scientific naturalism, and the second ontological naturalism or metaphysical naturalism. The first approach underlies the application of the scientific method in science, which makes the methodological assumption that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes, without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and hence does not accept supernatural explanations for such events. The second approach refers to the metaphysical belief that the natural world (including the universe) is all that exists, and therefore nothing supernatural exists.”


Existentialism is defined by the slogan Existence precedes Essence. This means: 1. We have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us. 2. We are radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences. 3. We create our own human nature through these free choices. 4. We also create our values through these choices. The Existentialist View (We create our own nature.): We are thrown into existence first without a predetermined nature and only later do we construct our nature or essence through our actions.”

Does this give me a headache? Yes, it does. But still, let’s see if we can make any sense out of this. Again, remember the original questions that triggered this – they are the same as in the Descartes piece, now shortened to: “So, what is reality? Does it even exist? My quick answers – (1) No one knows, (2) No.” I suppose my short answer is – yes, some of the above probably apply to some elements in these posts. I think this philosophical stuff is off the point though. I use “materialistic” views to prove something “metaphysical”. So what?


I have no trouble at all with the two first questions. Valid points and hopefully satisfactory answers. I am not comfortable with question 3 and can’t really be coherent about the subject. Sorry. Perhaps some one else can clarify, in particular, its relevance to the current discussion. Maybe the graph above will help. Maybe. I’m just a photographer.

Let’s return to Earth next time. Thank you.


%d bloggers like this: