Wednesday, July 16, 2008

... But Which 1000 Words?

An Op-Ed at the NYT ruminates about photos and falsification of them for political purposes.

I used to be the director of an archive that contained a photo archive, and we gave thought to matters of authentication, verification, and uses of photographs. I always claimed that while indeed one picture can be worth one thousand words, it's never clear which thousand words, since pictures, contrary to common wisdom, as a general rule tell us very little about anything, unless we know their context.

This is a serious issue when dealing with people seeking to discredit Israel. Take, for example, this recent item at Lawrence of Cyberia.
The caption given by faux-Lawrence is "An Israeli settler boy prevents a Palestinian woman from passing in the street as Israeli troops stand and watch."

Well, no, not really.

Remember, this is a snapshot, which means a specific instant, frozen. Had the picture been made 10, or 5, or even one single second earlier, or later, the scene would have been different. So while we don't have the full series, only this single instant, let's look at it carefully and see if we can imagine.

Both the woman and the boy are in motion. They are approaching one another. A second earlier they were further apart, and perhaps three seconds earlier they may not even have been on colliding trajectories. By this instant the Arab woman is clearly already aware of the boy, as her eyes, focussed on him, indicate; however, the positioning of her legs indicates she's still in full stride, and if the boy intends to block her, she doesn't seem aware of it. In any case, she hasn't stopped yet.

What about a second later, and three? Perhaps she simply continued walking, and the boy moved aside, or he didn't but she brushed him aside, or perhaps he did manage to stop her even though this isn't yet visible, and at that point one of the soldiers intervened and told him to desist, or arrested the women, or opened fire at the cameraman... all sorts of things could have happened, and the one described in the caption is no more plausible than any of the others. What is somewhat implausible is that the soldiers merely looked on. In this particular snapshot, the entire incident - if it's an incident at all - is about 1-2 seconds old, and the soldiers have not yet taken it in nor done anything. But that says exactly nothing about what they did once the incident did register - if it developed into an incident at all.

Here's another part of the story that faux-Lawrence doesn't tell us, and most likely doesn't know, and certainly doesn't care. Those very soldiers got up early that morning, and patrolled all day long until late in the evening, dealing throughout the day with many incidents, real ones, not like this hypothetical one. Hebron in 2004 was an extraordinarily tense place, with armed men on both sides, and people getting killed on both sides. After long, tense and exhausting days, the soldiers got back to base, but rather than showering and going to sleep because the following day would require their full attention again, they trooped into a big room and talked with their captain. Every evening, for about an hour around midnight, they'd go over everything that had happened during the day; they'd recount what they had faced, how they had responded, and they'd evaluate their actions. Had they been too harsh? Not firm enough? Had they endangered themselves, or perhaps inflicted unnecessary damage? One evening, for example, they decided, following an analysis of the specific events of that day, that while being stoned was not dangerous enough to justify their shooting, when someone had tried to throw a metal bed frame onto them from a roof in a narrow alley, that was life threatening, and it was justified that they used live fire to make him stop.

How do I know all this, you ask? Because Meir, my son, was there at the time. No, he's not in this picture, and actually he didn't arrive in Hebron until somewhat later that year, but I remember discussing it with him at the time. The actions of that captain, cutting his soldier's sleep each night to train them in the reality of waging a moral war while not losing it, made a deep impression on me. On Meir too, so far as I could tell.

Now take those facts - for facts they are, not interpretations - and superimpose them on the photo, and see if you think faux-Lawrence knows what he's talking about, or if he cares.


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

See here for the testimony of Breaking the Silence soldiers. Their stories are quite different from Meir's. Far from "waging a moral war while not losing it", Avichai Sharon tells a story of disrupting the Palestinians' lives to the point of making them impossible.

He tells stories of soldiers taking over houses and remaining there for a week.

He tells stories of Palestinians seeing their walls suddenly being torn down and 20 Israeli soldiers breaking into their home from the neighboring house in the middle of the night.

At one point he tells the story of a checkpoint where 6 Israeli soldiers had been killed. The next day, the moral-war-waging captains gave explicit orders to exact revenge on Palestinian policemen, including traffic officers. By the end of the day, 15 policemen who had had nothing to do with the incident had been killed in cold blood to avenge the dead soldiers.

I've got good reasons to believe Meir, but I've got just as good reasons to believe Avichai. The IDF may be a moral army part of the time, but another part of the time it is not.

And well, if a soldier of an army gives me a piece of candy, but another one kills my father, I'll judge that army for the latter not the former. Who could blame me -- or a Palestinian?

It's a half-an-hour video, but worth watching.

Anonymous said...


Nope. Lying to "customers" is nothing new.

And, here, I'd like to mention Bush's 2nd election, in 2004. Because people don't remember the drama. But Bush was told early in the day, that the "exit polls" gave John Kerry a landslide.

Part of the reason these lying habits aren't put to rest, is that there's been a decision by Bush; and also by Olmert. TO IGNORE THE MEDIA AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!

So, in 2004, lots of Americans sat riveted, watching the results coming in. And, listening to the pundits (or talking heads. Or puffed hairdo's) going at this thing. While Kerry decided to go to sleep. And, the victory call to Bush's White House wasn't made.

No "oops." Just lies about numbers. While, "IF" the election had been close, was part of the media set up "to get Bush."

While now this crap is all forgotten. Why is that?

With Olmert, how many times are the Israeli police going to go after him with fabricated "items?" You know their case with Talansky is about to hit the "bucket," or else why are they suddenly moving the goal posts? And, why are the Israeli police allowed to?

Same agenda as the journalists. Things are manufactured backstage. For the day when the situation gets so dicey ... that issues move close. And, the "pundits" want to create an edge.

While for most folks, a real hero is Moshe Plesser. A guy just riding his bike. Who sees a front-loader bulldozer driving over cars and people. (Since he's on his bike he doesn't even have a gun. So he has to ask a passerby to lend him one.)

And, all people on the street have are their cells phones. With this new technology.

And, of course, the INTERNET. Where it's quicker than ever to get to the real news.

THese faux-photography events ... you think don't add up?

I think you'd be mistaken.

Because if lies didn't add up there would be no children's story called Pinocchio.

As a matter of fact, lies add up. And, people, when they are given the chance, change their habits.

TV, by the way, is a modern contrivance. Even WW1 was fought without the benefit of such a rapid transfer of information. Doesn't mean information didn't come rolling down the pike.

And, yes. Advances have been made.

Still, you're looking at an arab woman who dare not walk about showing her arms or legs. She's covered from head to foot. So, what do you make of societies where there's no ability to adapt? Do I have to hit you on the head with Darwin?

What's really wrong with your photo is that is shows the brain damage to a woman, where her clothes are not appropriate even to the weather.

And, this makes arabs proud?

At least there's NO CAPTION you could put under the picture that would have the little boy saying" "Hey, ma, is that you?"

As if the arabs, themselves, don't know they are better off being on the side of the line where the Jews live. And, not, for instance, anywhere near the Mideast despots.

Oh, not shown on your picture (of course), are all the Pakistanis that flooded into Saudi Arabia to "run things."

You think there's hope for a small crew of rich people who have to hire out everything that needs to get done to run a city? Really.

In my book the evidence does not support things remaining the same.

Even though the woman in her burka is dressed in the garb someone would wear 2000 years ago. Call me very unimpressed.

Anonymous said...


Gosh. Before people forget; but back in the heydays of the Soviet's, where their newspaper was called "PRAVDA" ... (which is the russian word for 'truth') everyone knew they wouldn't find truth in any of the articles.

Still, the russians bought and read their papers! And, while they were brought up TO TRUST NO ONE! People developed an art. Because? Well, because everyone seemed to want to know what was going on. Even though in the soviet system "the lights were off."


So, people read "between the lines." And, they looked at the photographs ... to see whose face got erased. Because it meant that a former polit-bureau "big wig" ... was gone. Sometimes? Just from view. But also mostly gone, as in killed off.

Could russians talk among each other? How did they do it? The russians are expressive people. And, they were being denied access to the truth. Still, if someone's face got erased they could talk about this. How do I know? BECAUSE THEY DID. It became a joke.

Pravda contained 'jokes.'

As to the NY Times, let me share this with you. At one time only the richest men could afford newspapers. And, they bought them for the same reasons that peacocks display their feathers. To boast.

But there was also a "secret" payoff.

Let me tell ya, back in the old days, it was rude to even ask a co-worker how much they were getting paid! People got to play this game, where perfectly valid information got hidden.

The same way the Catholic Church hides perfectly valid information about sex. It all comes down to brain-washing.

And, if you can brain-wash a lot of people, you can peddle your merchandise.

The New York Times was once so important, every single American candidate for the presidency bowed before their editorial board, looking to be "blessed." In the same way foolish people believe the pope's blessing makes a difference. (If not here? Then in some other world.)

While it's no longer true. IF the New York Times chooses to endorse you for their candidate? There's no guarantee that it causes much more than laughter; among people who hear this. But who have picked to vote for someone else.

But what I really want to point out is how rich men, like Hearst, excerised their powers of the press. You know why? It was like printing money!

Sure. Before eBay. When you needed a paper to announce you had a birth in the family. Or a death. Or you had an estate sale. Or you were selling crap out of your garage. Or you wanted to sell your used car. You went to the newspapers who charged a "pretty penny" ... lots of them, as a matter of fact. In return for a few lines.

Okay. It was a business!

Today? You have eBay.

You have wedding announcements done over the Internet; with "save the date" cards, also coming at you without postage.

So, yes. Things change!

Heck, they even changed in russia; where too many people, still, are under the thumbs of their masters; never quite learning a thing about freedom. Though now? They don't even need Pravda for toilet paper. Because they have the Net.

Even pictures from Irak. Where there's plenty of dust and empty desert; and NO SEWAGE ... you can go along and see "dishes" where there's barely electricity ... and probably more generators ... noisey ones, too. Making it possible to grab information "out of the air."

What we call the "world wide web."

And, yes. Newspapers are no longer printing money. A bastion of concrete, though, where those inside designated themselves as the "pickers." As the ones who were gonna tell ya what to believe ... While the ground from under their feet turns to mush.

Faux-photography is nothing new.

What's new is that people with computers, who reach for the software; can "diddley-doo" too ... And, the pictures get to be quite famous. But not as originally intended.

And, ya know what else?

The kid in front of the "2000 year old woman" looks like he's wearing a yarmulkah, but he doesn't have payis. And, he doesn't look like he's wearing t'zitsis. The soldiers don't look like they're wearing religious headgear, either. And, yes. They look relaxed.

Tells me there's nothing scarey about to take place. Everything in the scene seems very relaxed.

I don't think this photograph even matches what the NY Times was stressing. Which was that Stalin never let the light of day shine on anything he could manipulate. Losers, all.

Anonymous said...


Go back to this picture for a minute!

Is the boy standing on a base?

You know. Like in a game of baseball. Where you touch the base with your foot. Because the arab woman's right foot is coming down on the base. As if she's IGNORING where she's walking.

Is she walking in the middle of a play ground?

If not, what's a padded base doing in the middle of the road, huh?