Great Moments In Film History: The Bat Mitzvah Singer, Starsky & Hutch

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The singer is Dan Finnerty, and the scene is from the otherwise lame movie re-make of the tv series Starsky & Hutch starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller.

Finnerty is also the wedding singer in this classic scene from the film Old School – watch Will Ferrell’s reaction!

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There are things that only Hollywood can pull off!.

Fighting Ghosts And Selling The Good War Or Why Are The Toy Soldiers On The Front Lines!

Alex Webb Magnum Photos (

Alex Webb Magnum Photos: The Invasion of Haiti 1994

The silence is deafening. As American troops are dropped in on Afghanistan to fight their fantasy war, there is no sound from our defenders of truth and checkers of power i.e. the media, about the operation, its objectives, our continued presence in the country, our blood thirsty allies, our ‘pretend’ Afghani democracy, our support of drug lords and genocidiares, our consistent killing of innocents and our blind faith in our own righteousness and unquestioned right to trample on another people and bend them to ‘our ways.

The glory of war is being sold on the front pages of our newspapers, none of which have the courage to ask what they know is in fact a fake war, aimed at a poor and defenseless people, fueled by the ‘intelligence’ and advice of a group of venal, corrupt, blood thirsty and power hungry clique of Afghani warlords, drug barons and oil huckster!

Here is The Washington Post’s idea of war. How purposeful!

Here is The Sacramento Bee looking at this war. How glorious!

Here is The Denver Post blinding themselves. Oh, Our Lord Calls!

Did someone in a marketing department at the pentagon think to arrange all this to coincide with hysteria and myopia that typically captures the nation on every 4th of July? I have to think so. Could they have found a better moment to sell ‘the good soldier’, and the righteous nation, by launching what is increasingly looking like yet another ‘ghost’ operation meant more for ‘domestic’ consumption and sales rather than any serious attempt to go after any real enemy. That something called ‘The Taliban’ are a manufactured foe is something I have written about in an earlier piece called To The Last Man: Fighting The Wrong War in Afghanistan. At most a band of village elders and fanatics with AK-47s scrambling about the remotest and barren regions of the globe have been re-cast as an existential threat to the world’s most powerful military and imperial power, and we all have fallen for it like children for the tooth fairy. Our think tanks, media ‘intellectuals’ and pundits, newspaper columnists and our politicians have become the finest marketing arms of the brand called ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘The Taliban’, a brand that is perpetually maintained in front of our eyes and sold complete with music, video, and live performances such as this latest operation in Afghanistan.

I am reminded of the ‘great’ American military fantasy in the little country of Haiti – and Alex Webb was there to cut past the lies that these ‘toy soldier’ photojournalists love to sell once their work is done. He was abused for his ‘irresponsible’ pictures. I on the other hand remember hearing a rare honest voice.

Soon these ‘war’ pictures will be sent to competition around the globe, and winners will give interviews about how they wanted to ‘shed light on the truth’ and other such gibberish that is used to obscure the fact they mostly want to glorify themselves. This band of clowns who confuse bravado with bravery  will then be awarded trinkets at annual photo competitions by behind-the-desk warriors in offices at major magazine headquarters in metropolises around the globe. No questions will be asked about the veracity of the work, the independence of the sources, the commitment of the individual.

Chris Hedges said it best in a piece called On War:

The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with stories of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war. The vanquished know the essence of war—death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.

Professor Marc Herold has been working to reveal the media’s role in selling us war. In a piece called War As An Edsel: The Marketing & Consumption Of Modern American Wars he points out that

By the first Gulf War, reporters were confined to pools and the Pentagon distributed video-game like footage to TV channels extolling the precision of U.S. weaponry. In September/October 2001, the Bush Administration hired the public relations firm, Rendon Group1, and also Ms. Charlotte Beers, former “queen of Madison Avenue” and chairperson of both advertising giants J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather (she had successfully promoted Head & Shoulders shampoo and Uncle Ben’s Rice), to “explain” the new Bush wars to Muslims abroad (and the American consumer), creating the new post for her of the State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy with a half billion dollar budget.2 According to Colin Powell, Beers was fluent with branding and she was:

“from the advertising business. I wanted one of the world’s greatest advertising experts, because what are we doing? We’re selling. We’re selling a product. That product we are selling is democracy.”

Democracy sold abroad, war sold at home. But while the battle for minds abroad led by Beers and Rendon fared badly in Muslim lands, the battle on the home front to persuade the American public led by MIMIC succeeded eminently. The Bush Administration worked hard to encourage and benefit from a compliant mainstream domestic corporate media – led by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Time Warner’s CNN, the Clear Channel radio network, radio talk shows, and major dailies like the New York Times, the Los Angles Times, and the Washington Post and journals like Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard – which served as giant megaphones of State Department and Pentagon positions on the Bush wars… Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations in the country, has scrapped even any pretense of objectivity with its sponsorship of pro-war rallies in major cities throughout the U.S. The mainstream media bosses recognized – led by CNN’s coverage of Iraq in 1991 – that media flag-waving, fabricated personal story heroics, action-movie like storytelling, techno reporting could boost TV ratings and profits.

And so here we go again – the blatant entanglement of our media barons with the purveyors of power are known and obvious and the war in Afghanistan is being ‘produced’ for us much as the previous wars. The tired cliches are being published by machine-tool journalists who cannot even bother to confront the obfuscating language they have become so used to using. Rory Stewart recently wrote about the use of language to curtail thought and achieve results in a piece called The Irresistible Illusion :

When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’.,,It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists…It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate.

Our ‘brave’ photojournalists continue to cloister their minds and thump their chests as they rush into ‘combat’ protected of course by entire battalions of some of the best trained military men and women in the world. No need to think how they got there, or why they are there on the front lines.

The toy soldier lives.

The Afghani dies.

I still wonder how we got here and why the slide to this mediocrity has proven so easy!

Digital Image Management…Again

Some of you have been asking questions about which tools and what versions and such, so I thought it best to write another discussion about software and specifically about image manipulation tools.

First, there is no need to invest a lot of money in tools like Photoshop CS 3 or CS 4 if you have not already done so. Photoshop is expensive. This is a narrative photography workshop and our focus is on our stories, and the way in which we construct them and present them. This is not a photography tools and image enhancement workshop so we need to worry about whether we have the ‘best’ or the ‘latest’. We just need the workable. Details »

Our Unbreakable Bond With…Er…Some Israelis

In response to an earlier post I received some comments that claimed, in an ironic mimicry of an idiotic argument often used by the Israeli government, that ‘there was no one to talk to’ in Israel, I am putting up this post to help us find ‘people to talk to’ in Israel.

So here are some suggestions for organizations we would do well to join, support, participate with, talk to and stand alongside.

I am little tired of the simplistic and dismissive ideas about Israel that seem to pervade conversations many young people from backgrounds Muslim. We have allowed our anger at the wrongs committed against the Palestinians to reduce us to ignorance and mindless invective.  I have said it before and I will say it again; we do not know Israel and the decades of ignorance of  its society, politics, history, culture, conflicts, strains and possibilities weakens our goals and our cause for the search for justice for the Palestinians.

Another place to begin would be to read those who know her, and write about her from within. Journalists like Jonathan Cook have been covering Israel’s politics and society for years. His books (Disappearing Palestine, Israel & The Clash of Civilizations and Blood & Religion) and articles reveal the complex political and societal workings of the country and help us understand her policies towards the Palestinians and the various agendas at work. His work helps us understand where to focus our resistance.

Ignorance, stupidity, and sheer thick headedness will not change anything, nor will it weaken the resolve of those we wish to confront and stop. There are individuals in Israel, yes, Jews, who are opposed to her policies and her terrorism against the Palestinians. These Jews, these Israelis, share with us our understanding of human life, morality and justice. So why not join them, stand alongside them, add our voices to theirs just as they will add their voices to ours?

If You Are In Chicago…


…then this may be worth stopping by for a listen:

Projects Related To Women’s Issues

For those of you looking at issues related to women in India, or matters of social justice in general, here are a couple of organizations based in New Delhi that could offer an invaluable place to start are:



You can also read more about women’s organizations, NGOs and such at InfoChange India. They also have a links to many institution and other resources that could be useful.

I would recommend stopping by there when you guys are in New Delhi, though of course I expect that where relevant you would be contacting them now.


Give Me A Homeopathic Lager Baby!

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Homeopathic medicine has been under even more intense scrutiny lately.

The death of Thomas and Manju Sam’s 9 year old daughter made this a major news story. As Phil Plait, of Discovery Magazine’s Bad Astronomy Blog, wrote:

The infant girl, Gloria Thomas, died of complications due to eczema. Eczema. This is an easily-treatable skin condition (the treatments don’t cure eczema but do manage it), but that treatment was withheld from the baby girl by her parents, who rejected the advice of doctors and instead used homeopathic treatments. The baby’s condition got worse, with her skin covered in rashes and open cracks. These cracks let in germs which her tiny body had difficulty fighting off. She became undernourished as she used all her nutrients to fight infections instead of for growth and the other normal body functions of an infant. She was constantly sick and in pain, but her parents stuck with homeopathy. When the baby girl developed an eye infection, her parents finally took her to a hospital, but it was far too late: little Gloria Thomas succumbed to septicemia from the infection.

Gloria’s parents were convicted of manslaughter in an Australian court. Gloria suffered horribly in her last weeks. Doctors have testified to that fact. I can’t help but feel for the Sams. They must carry their pain with them, for they loved their daughter and wanted only what was best and right. Personally I feel that they should have been forgiven by the court, because the loss they have suffered, a loss they will carry for life, is punishment enough.

There are many who defend such practices – those claiming ‘holistic’ thinking, or ‘spiritual’ beliefs, or espousing convictions in ‘chakras‘ and the ‘life forces’ around man.

So be it.

But they would do well to remember that belief is not fact and that conviction is not truth. Homeopathic doctors, chiropractors, and other ‘higher spiritualists’ are exploiting gullible individuals who may otherwise mean well in their search for greater truths. Yet the same people, many from well-to-do middle-class, educated backgrounds, will scoff with scorn at ritual exorcisms of demons, voodoo fire rituals, and other ‘backward’ or ‘tribal’ customs. They fail to see the similarities.

Modern medicine has its own issues, not the least of which today is the dangerous and probably fatal nexus of corporate interests, profiteering and the excessive influence pharmaceutical firms have on our doctors and hospitals. But the facts are that modern medicine works, and that it has to remain the principal resort of the sick and seriously ill.

Drink real beer. Take real medicine.

UPDATE: My friend Nicole Slavin pointed me to a couple of sites that continue their struggle to bring sense and sensibility to the self-indulgent and deluded. Check out The Skeptics Guide To The Universe and Sense About Science. The Discovery Magazine blog mentioned above is called Bad Astronomy Blog

Broken Promise: Israel Known & Unknown


HAMID SAMONI Father of Zakaria Hamid Samoni, 8 years of age, who was killed by a rocket fired from an Israeli helicopter

The Summer 2009 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review magazine dedicated to matters Middle East has been published just as Amnesty International releases its report on Israel’s 22 day assault that began on December 27th 2008 on the territory of Gaza.

The report (download a copy at this link) provides a broad human rights and war crimes background to the work that writer Elliott Woods and I recently completed in Gaza thanks to the generous support of the Virginia Quarterly Review and The Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting. Details »

What’s On My Computer Or Thoughts On Digital Image Management & Manipulation

I do not subscribe to the idea of more being better. I have a very limited interested in acquiring new software packages, or hardware devices. To that end I try to keep my digital image manipulation and management tools to a very basic set. Furthermore, I am a photojournalist and do not typically produce the high volume of images that sports, fashion and product photographers produce each day. Keeping this in mind, here is what I loaded on my white core 2 duo macbook. Details »

Getting Past The Obvious: Photojournalism & Lesser Explored Frontiers

Dayanita Singh is an Indian photographer. She used to be an internationally famous photojournalist until the day she realized that the India editors kept asking her to shoot was not what she herself was experiencing. There was a gap between the cliches being asked of her and the complexities, human and social, that she knew lay unexamined behind so many of the stories she was being asked to do. Whether the stories were about poverty, prostitution, child labor or any number of the conventional cliches we seem to love to produce from India, Dayanita Singh was unable to turn off her mind. She was amongst the first to produce a series of images of India’s emerging middle class. She had seen this phenomenon at a time when others would not take it seriously.

Dayanita Singh’s work is beautiful, brilliant and difficult. And one project that I have always loved is a story she did on a Muslim eunuch and her daughter title ”Myself Mona Ahmed’, a beautiful, human portrayal of a subject that has been drowned in cliches and populism – we love to gawk at these creatures and stories about ‘transvestites’, ‘eunuchs’, ‘lady boys’ etc. are on the rosters of many photojournalists. And yet Dayanita’s work is brilliantly different because it is so modest and so honest.

You can read an interview with Dayanita Singh about this story and how she produced it.

You can also find pictures from the work on the NB Pictures website. Just go to the main menu and select ‘*nb photographers’ and choose dayanita’s name.

I encourage you to see and understand this work. It will help you see one very important hallmark of an aftermath photographer; the humility and courage to respect the subject agency of action.

Too often the subject is reduced to a mere victim, the better to allow ourselves or our audience to ‘insert’ itself into the story as ‘saviours’ or ‘interventionists’. This has been the traditional approach for a lot of ‘NGO’ driven work, or even ‘news’ journalism that has been arguing for ‘intervention’. Where there is such a need this is essential. But quite often photojournalists and journalists will create this ‘need’ and erase and/or deny the actual lives and actions of the people they are working with.

‘Myself Mona Ahmed’ reveals a story of a strong, independent individual confronting her society, its prejudices, proud to be a mother, dreaming large dreams and never waiting for anyone.  Its an ordinary story about an ordinary person who happens to have a persona and character that is to many of us rather extraordinary.

Such respect for the possibilities, abilities, convictions, determinations, courage and agency of the others is what enables a photographer to find those more complex, multi-faceted stories that typically reflect an aftermath sensibility.