Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Golden Rule

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Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This is called the Golden Rule of ethics and has been stated by many people in many places at many times, and so no one religion or philosophy can lay claim to it. This maxim deserves the top spot on any philosophical one-liner list because it so neatly sums up a system of ethics by which many people live their lives. The statement is a challenge as well as an instruction – we must try to empathize with others to understand how we ourselves would wish to be treated if in the other person’s place. There may be exceptions to the rule and it may not be sufficient to a complete moral doctrine, but as a simple rule for daily life it is hard to think of something which would so improve everyone’s lives if put universally into effect.

William of Ockham

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Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.

William of Ockham was a noted English logician of the 14th century. Ockham’s razor is often quoted simply as ‘the simplest explanation is usually the right one.’ This is a gross simplification of a powerful logical tool. A better stating of it would be something like ‘All things being equal, the simplest explanation is more often correct.’ We live in a complex world where the answer to any question is often very complex. All things being equal, with no more evidence for one solution than another, we should not posit the existence of an agent we do not need to explain a phenomenon. When thinking about a subject, we should use the simplest reasoning possible unless the evidence compels us to include an extra agency.

There has been a recent innovation in the world of philosophy which claims to put Ockham’s razor to rest. Scientists are notoriously sniffy of philosophy, and so Mike Alder has created an improvement of Ockham’s razor – Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword. Simply put, this new philosophical tool states ‘That which cannot be settled by experiment is not worth debating.’ The Flaming Laser Sword certainly simplifies things; one thinks Ockham may have approved of it.


Thinkingman Rodin
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I think therefore I am.

Je pense donc je suis. Cogito ergo sum. These are the words which Descartes used to slay total nihilism. Nihilism is the philosophical denial of existence, either of anything at all or more specific portions of existence. Everyone, at some point in their philosophical musings, wonders whether anything at all exists. Descartes was clever enough to see that pondering, doubting, existence was sufficient to prove that at least one thing exists; the thinker. This has given philosophy something to build on as we can now be certain that one thing exists. There have been criticisms of Descartes argument as a tautology (I think therefore I am) but the basic principle stands as a buttress against the void of nihilism.

The writer Milan Kundera has joked “‘I think, therefore I am’ is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.”



The unexamined life is not worth living.

For me this statement of Socrates’, as told by Plato, is sufficient to explain the necessity of studying philosophy. Everyone is pitched into the world blindly and makes do as best they can with the things they are given. For many, this muddling through is hard enough, and examining their motives and the rightness of their actions is just an added, and superfluous, difficulty. However, if we do not examine our lives and use the wisdom we gain from it to plan the future, we are no better than animals following instinct to survive. To take control of your life you must engage your mind. This is not to say that everyone must become a new Socrates, or study academic philosophy, but to paraphrase Voltaire ‘we must all cultivate our own wisdom.’



A categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to any other purpose.

Kant is one of the giants of Western philosophy. Someone once said that philosophers who came before Kant had the enormous benefit of never having to study Kant. It is true that Kant’s philosophy can be heavy going to read and understand, but his theory of the categorical imperative is one deserving study. A categorical imperative would be something like ‘It is never right to lie.’ The test of the categorical imperative is whether it should be universally used. So, if lying became universal then trust would be abolished, therefore lying is wrong in all cases. Whether you agree with categorical imperatives or not, and situational ethics is the flavor of the modern age, we must all consider why things may or may not be good.



Man is the measure of all things.

This is the most famous saying of Protagoras, though it is in fact, only the first portion of his statement. The full line runs ‘Man is the measure of all things; of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not.’ Protagoras’ relativism is one of the most extreme ever argued. This means that truth is relative and for each individual truth is different. This can be true with things like temperature – you might find the evening chilly, but for me it is warm. However, we can all agree on the absolute temperature in degrees. Protagoras would disagree and would say that all of our knowledge is sense based and therefore unique to each individual. The problem with relativism is that it makes philosophical discussion impossible; what you think you say and what I hear might be completely different, if we are unable to agree on objective truth.


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Death need not concern us because when we exist death does not, and when death exists we do not.

Epicurus and Epicureanism, has suffered for many years from a misapprehension about what his philosophy teaches. Epicureanism is a hedonistic philosophy in that it teaches that pleasure is to be sought, but only to the extent that pleasure is the freedom from pain and fear. Epicurus also taught on the gods and death. Epicurus is famous today for his questions regarding the problem of evil existing if there are gods and for this statement about death. Because death, being dead rather than dying, involves no pain, for Epicurus the state of death is a good thing (or at least not to be feared). Epicurus is well beloved of atheists and humanists today because of his rational outlook. In the Roman period, tombs of Epicureans would have this carved on their tombs- I was not. I was. I am not. I do not care.



You cannot step in the same river twice.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, also known as the Weeping Philosopher and Heraclitus the Obscure, has left us only a few philosophical sentences. Due to this lack of original writing, Heraclitus’ philosophy remains hard to characterize. His belief seems to have been that the universe is in a constant state of flux, as this famous quote indicates. By the time that you attempt to step into the river a second time, the waters of the river will have moved on and so, the river will not be the same one you stepped into the first time. The sentence also has a second meaning; you cannot step into the same river again because you are no longer the same as the person who took the first step. The question of how identity is preserved over time is one which still animates philosophers today.

Prescription Drugs


This is the most sinister of all the addiction-caterers, in that you’re not even safe from your own doctor. Most every doctor will find a way to peddle a pharmaceutical drug to a person with some kind of condition, real or imaginary; it makes their job easier, and feeds the business (i.e. the healthcare industry) that cuts them a check to be a drug-dealer in disguise. Most prescription drugs, after all, are just synthetic alternatives to what unrefined, impure substances flow through the streets without requiring an RX slip. (Oxycontin is, content-wise, no different from heroine, and consequently is just as addictive and abused as the poppy-based original.) And with new disorders, diseases and conditions fabricated on a daily basis, there will always be a demand to meet the raid-proof supply.


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Unarguably a direct contributor to a smorgasbord of death options, the government has done nothing to do away with this consumable poison; while there may be myriad agencies dedicated to the public safety of any other ingestible product, there is nothing deterring a cylinder of carcinogens from entering countless lungs each day, each hour. The only dissembling action the government has taken is to drive up the tax on the the stuff to levels that should prevent affordability for most consumers. Of course, any addict will find a way to acquire the goods, even scrape together every coin from beneath the couch cushions. In actuality smokers will just be perpetually bitter about the continually rising prices, doing little about it besides lighting up a butt. A perfect circle of death and taxes.



Legal steadily since the twenties, when the government had the crazy idea to ban this braincell-shedding national pastime and deny itself unruly profits, booze is as potentially dangerous as it is ubiquitous. At any public setting (even Starbucks is getting in on the racket), alcohol is usually available for purchase, and without much restraint so long as the register keeps chiming (and as long as a designated vehicular man-saver is selected). While it seems unfair that its proven hazards outweigh those of marijuana, and still maintains the legal status the plant does not, we won’t soon have a profitable poison at quite the summit which liquor has found itself. Budweiser will be forever both the king of beers and the king of the drug hill.


Adult Content

It’s lurid. It’s tasteless. And it’s a goldmine. Just ask Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt or any infinite-aire that shovels gold from the sex industry. Nothing sells like sex, which is why it is so often introduced, if subliminally, to any cheap-shooting marketing campaign. Directly though, sex in a bottle always finds a customer-base. Nothing breeds desire like nature. Porn is available at the click of a mouse, and on a special shelf (in opaque packaging) at most magazine venders. That’s not to mention seedy stores with conspicuous names like “Adult Mart” or “Pleasure Island”, which make like X-rated Wal-Marts. No Christian activist stands a chance at taking down this invincible Goliath.


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Be it at a casino in a tolerant state, or an Indian reservation or behind the counter of any convenience store sales counter in scratch form, risking all your earnings for a poor chance at modest luck is a great way to grease up a business’ fat gut. Many seeking a magical and immediate escape from an under-educated life of manual labor and alcohol poisoning flock to pick up their daily lotto ticket or place their “lucky” numbers, as if a million to one isn’t so far-fetched. And no business should be trusted that purposefully eschews visible windows and clocks in order to hide the passage of time. Lo and behold, any state with loose casino laws automatically resembles the inside of Donald Trump’s gentleman’s drawer.

Fast Food

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Greasy, fattening food is cheap and ubiquitous. Literally, it can be acquired 24/7 and at every intersection, and purchased by the bucket for less than whats in your typical consumer’s belly button. Obesity is easy; in fact, it’s hard to avoid when healthy food costs more than the average consumer can afford with his weekly paycheck. Fast food is made cheap (often with artificial substitutes), hence it can be sold cheap and is a sad sap’s last option. When it tastes so much better than it benefits, it is, again, a huge draw. McDonald’s brags right on its golden arches how many billion burgers it’s sold, but it is not by any pure means: for one, McDonald’s loads their food with chemicals that simulate happiness, their hamburger buns with sugar, which is another petty alternative to just making good food alone. Only recently have the chicken nuggets started to be made with the frighteningly white meat of actual chicken, a step up from sickly colored ostrich meat. So, as many struggle, and fail, to convert to a healthier diet, they “put a smile on” only because the milkshakes are loaded with too many chemicals to do otherwise.

Celebrity Gossip

Because people care (i.e. obsess) about the lives of the beautiful and famous; tabloids, TMZ and trashcan journalism exists. For some, enough to make a handsome profit, it’s not enough to watch a movie and leave the stars onscreen. No, they need to see these people hunted down and in intimate, compromising settings that would be grounds for an assault charge in any other circumstance – an invasion of privacy that nobody deserves. Sure, reality stars present a kind of voyeurism in their professions that makes privacy invasion a given, but for any artist who creates their work in isolated, public arenas and seek not to take their work home with them, there becomes a fine line between celebrity reporter and peeping tom.


How can a game consisting of orcs, wizards and other medieval cliches consume so many souls and hours of sunlight? Unfathomable as it sounds, millions maintain a subscription to a network-based video game, and treat it as a second life, one in which they clock in more hours than in the actual world. Eat, sleep, energy drink, game: that is the complete life of many who’ve yet to leave their parents’ basement, or pursue a real life of work that doesn’t involve trading furs or blacksmithing. And about the addictive nature of games like World of Warcraft, just see the video on Youtube of the kid that has a veritable stigmata over his mom taking away his WOW account. Scary stuff.


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Visual stimulation can be just as addictive as any other kind. Cut off a shut-in’s cable subscription and watch how quickly a sweet, slightly-sedated old lady can become a common junkie, suffering from violent withdrawal symptoms and uncontrollable behavior. Television is an endless stream of unilateral entertainment, that simulates a fulfilling life one may be missing out on due to being terminally wheelchair-confined, or else just cut off from a greater society. Just pay the monthly bill, and the loneliness can be neatly stuffed into a little old coin purse.


Shopping Bags
Compulsive shopping is a disorder, and one that can keep the economy churning, if the afflicted member is a responsible credit card owner. More often than not, however, a frequent credit card swiper will live in bottomless debt, with nothing but a household of canoes and flatscreen T.V.’s to show for it. Of course, the government would encourage spending at inadvisable times if it means economic stimulation (and, of course, sales tax revenue), but the compulsive shopper needs more counseling than trips to the mall to right this wrong.

Oscar Wilde

Tomb Of Oscar Wilde
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Wilde’s is probably the most famous tomb in Père Lachaise. Wilde died in France after leaving England to avoid the shame of his conviction for ‘gross indecency.’ His legendary wit is said to have extended to his death bed, where he is supposed to have quipped – ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.’ (Though this is probably apocryphal.) Wilde’s tomb, with an angel displaying its genitalia, was defaced soon after its erection. Today the monument stands covered in lipstick where women kiss the stone, proving the grave’s popularity. Engraved on the tomb is a verse from the Ballad of Reading Gaol by Wilde:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Abelard and Heloise

The story of the love between Abelard and Heloise was one of the best known romances of the middle ages. Abelard was one of the great French philosophers and logicians of his day. Being one of the great teachers of the time, he was hired to teach Heloise, a rich young noble woman. Heloise and Abelard started an affair which led to an illegitimate child and a secret marriage. When Heloise’s uncle found out about the affair, he had Heloise placed in a nunnery and Abelard was castrated. The letters the two sent to each other over the course of the rest of their lives are – justly – famous. The bones of the two lovers were buried together under a grand tomb in 1817. A tradition of modern lovers leaving letters at the tomb of these two great, though doomed, lovers has arisen.

Victor Noir

Victor Noir is more famous for his death and his grave than for his life. Noir was born Yvan Salmon, but adopted a pen name when he moved to Paris to take up journalism. When a cousin of the Emperor challenged the owner of the newspaper for which Noir worked to a duel, Noir was sent, as one of the seconds, to arrange the details of the duel. When the Prince referred to Noir and a companion as ‘menials’, a slap was exchanged, with either Noir striking the Prince or being struck by him, and the Prince then shot Noir dead. To mark Noir’s grave, a bronze statue of the man lying supine as if just shot, his hat lying beside him, was erected. This statue has since become something of a fertility symbol. Due to the naturalistic style of the sculpture there is a rather prominent fold in Noir’s trousers which make him appear to be aroused. It is said that by rubbing this area and leaving a flower in Noir’s hat, a woman is guaranteed a husband within the year. While the rest of the statue is covered with verdigris, Noir’s crotch gleams, proving the popularity of this particular myth.

Théodore Géricault

Géricault lived for only thirty-two years, but he left behind a body of famous paintings which influenced the Romantic Movement. His ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is one of the most visited paintings in the Louvre. I included Géricault in a previous list for his somewhat chilling painting of severed heads. His tomb in Père Lachaise is a masterpiece all of its own. The monument is topped by a reclining bronze of Géricault with his paint brush and palette. The statue shows Géricault as vital and alive, and not the thin specter that the TB which killed him had turned him into. On the side of the tomb there is a bronze version of The Raft of the Medusa, so that everyone passing may see his genius.


Moliere Pere Lachaise
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière, was one of the greatest comic playwrights of all time. Like Felix Faure, many people who have not seen a Molière play know the story of his death. Molière suffered for many years from TB. Despite his illness, Molière insisted on performing in his play Le Malade Imaginaire (Also known as The Hypochondriac). In this play a man suffers terribly from illnesses he does not have. Molière, on the other hand, was suffering terribly from a real illness. While playing the part of the hypochondriac, he succumbed to a coughing fit, and died later at home. Since Molière was an actor, he was not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground, and only the intervention of the king allowed him burial amongst the unbaptized infants. His remains were transferred in 1817 to this tomb in Père Lachaise.

Georges Rodenbach

Tombeau Georges Rodenbach
Georges Rodenbach, Belgian writer and poet of the 19th century, is perhaps most famous today for his novel Bruges-la-Morte. This work was later turned into the opera Die Tote Stadt. When I visited Père Lachaise I had never heard of Rodenbach, but his tomb inspired me to find out about this man. His tomb shows a bronze figure breaking out of the grave. If death cannot stop him, I thought, perhaps he deserves some attention. I confess it is still his tomb I think of when I read the name Rodenbach.

Félix Faure

Félix Faure was president of France from 1895 until his death in 1899. His presidency is famous for the Franco-Russian alliance and the Dreyfus affair. It is his death, however, that has spread Faure’s name outside of France. Faure died after suffering an apoplectic episode whilst in bed with his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil, with rumors surfacing that he died while receiving oral sex from her. While the actual event is, of course, shrouded in gloom, it has become an infamous example of political scandal. His tomb shows him draped in cloth (the flag?), though some have seen it as him reclining in his death bed. George Clemenceau gave Faure the epitaph ‘Il voulait être Céwar, il ne fut sue Pompée.’ You can translate that as either ‘He wanted to be Caesar, he ended being Pompey’ or ‘He wanted to be Caesar, he ended being pumped.’

Eric de Boer

In January 2009, the eye-patch-wearing guitar player for the rock band Kansas, Rich Williams, was reported to have died. Williams’ obituary ran in a number of newspapers in the New England area and briefly appeared at the online obituary reference site – Legacy. But the real Rich Williams was still alive and rocking. The person who had died, Eric de Boer of Kingston, New Hampshire, had been impersonating Rich Williams (apparently convincingly so) for several years. Not only did de Boer claim he was Williams, he claimed he played for the band Kansas, and even that he wrote their hit song “Carry on My Wayward Son” (which was written by real Kansas member Kerry Livgren). De Boer also claimed that he joined Kansas after he returned from Vietnam where he was held as a POW. The fact that de Boer was impersonating him was known by Williams for several years. But Williams did not pursue it out of respect for de Boer’s service in Vietnam, and because he had forgotten about it. In fact, it was later determined that de Boer probably never served in Vietnam.

Whitney Cerak

On April 26, 2006, a van load of students from Taylor University collided with a tractor trailer. Five of the students were killed and four others seriously injured including one who was left in a coma. Whitney Cerak was one of the five who were killed and over one thousand people attended her funeral. Meanwhile, one of the four survivors, Laura VanRyn, heavily bandaged and in a coma, was clinging to life in a hospital. Over the coming days, VanRyn would start to improve to the point where she was talking. Her boyfriend seemed to notice something odd about the way she was talking, as did her roommate. Her father became alarmed when she referred to him using a pet name he did not recognize. When she was finally able to write down her name, the name she wrote was not Laura VanRyn. It was Whitney Cerak. Only then did the parents of these two young people realize that the identities of the two girls had been accidentally mixed up. Both shared similar facial features, hair color and texture, and were of similar physical size and build. The body of Laura VanRyn had been buried in a grave with the tombstone of Whitney Cerak. Whitney Cerak fully recovered and graduated from college in 2009.

Lincoln Hall


The Everest climbing season of 2006 was one of the deadliest on record. When it was over, eleven climbers were dead. The most controversial of all was that of David Sharp. Sharp arrived at Everest in 2006, and by many accounts he had the bare minimum of support and equipment necessary to make the climb. He was not attached to any large organized climbing party as are most Everest climbers. He had no climbing partners, he had no Sherpas, he didn’t even have a camera. His climbing gear was old, but adequate. He was determined to make it to the top of Everest this time even, as he told another climber, if he had to “lose more fingers and toes to do it&#8221.;

It’s believed that Sharp reached the summit on the afternoon of May 14th, but he was too exhausted from the effort to make it down the mountain. Too weak to go further, still near the summit, he would crawl into a small cave under a rock ledge. A Sherpa stopped to see if he was alive, and he was. The Sherpa asked his name and he said: “My names is David Sharp. I am with Asia Trekking and I just want to sleep.” Though still alive, as many as forty climbers walked right past Sharp as they went for the summit, letting him sleep. By May 16th, he was dead. This outraged the climbing community and the world, leading none other than Sir Edmund Hillary to say: “The whole attitude toward climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying,” and “A human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.”

Ten days after Price lost his life on Everest, an Australian climber by the name of Lincoln Hall was fighting for his. Hall was an experienced climber and climbing as part of a group of climbers, one of whom, German climber Thomas Weber, was already dead. Now it appeared the climbing team was about to lose Lincoln Hall as well. Though Hall had made the summit, on the way down he became weak and disoriented and suffered high altitude cerebral edema. For hours Sherpas attempted to help Hall down the mountain and to revive him. Eventually Hall began to hallucinate and the Sherpas were ordered to descend and leave Hall, or die themselves. Reluctantly, the Sherpas did as they were told, and left Hall alone in the “death zone” of Mount Everest, believing him to be dead. Mr. Hall’s death was announced by radio and then over the Internet from the Everest base camp. Eventually Hall’s wife was informed, as was the world, Lincoln Hall was dead. Another climber killed on Mount Everest.

The next day, at above 28,000 feet, climber Dan Mazur and others were astonished when a man appeared before them as they ascended the mountain. Sitting in the snow wearing no gloves, no hat, with no oxygen, his suit unzipped and his arms out and only two feet from the edge of a shear 8,000 foot precipice, the man said: “I imagine you are surprised to see me here.” They were surprised. Surprised to see a dead man. It was Lincoln Hall and he was alive. Hall had spent an entire night alone and exposed above 28,000 feet in the death zone, something no man was supposed to have been able to survive, especially a man who had been left for dead and declared as such. It took eleven Sherpas to bring him down but Hall survived.

Luca Barbareschi

Luca Barbareschi

While it is not known if there was ever an actual obituary written for Luca Barbareschi, his story and that of the film Cannibal Holocaust is so weird I decided to include it in this list, because for a time, many actually believed Luca Barbareschi was dead.

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a great time for horror films. An American Werewolf in London, The Thing, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and so many more great horror films came out during this time period. But in 1980, one film came out that was so horrific, officials investigated to determine if the graphic gore in the film was a little too graphic. In fact, they wanted to know – was it real?

Well before The Blair Witch Project, Italian director Ruggero Deodato made Cannibal Holocaust. Cannibal Holocaust was supposed to be actual “recovered documentary footage.” In the film, supposed documentary film makers enter the Amazon jungle to film indigenous tribes, and go missing. Two months later, another crew find the “lost footage” which shows, among other things, people being impaled on stakes and lots of other super gory film action.

Ten days after it was released, director Deodato was arrested by police and charged with obscenity, and the film was banned in Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom and other countries. Even more startling, due to the rumors that the actors had actually been killed in the making of the film, Deodato was held on charges of murder. In 1981, a French magazine published an article questioning whether Cannibal Holocaust was a snuff film, or if the actors themselves had actually been murdered during the making of the film. While this may have been exactly what Deodato wanted in the way of press coverage for his film, he didn’t think people would actually believe he killed his actors. But they did. Deodato did not help matters because in order to give the public the impression that the main actors had been killed, he had the actors sign contracts ensuring they would not appear in TV, commercials, or films, for one year after the film’s release, in order to promote the idea that the film was truly the recovered footage of missing documentarians.

Luca Barbareschi was one of four actors whom the Italian police believed had been murdered while making the film. Deodato was eventually able to reach Barbareschi and the other actors, and voided the contracts so they would appear. He had all of them come onto an Italian television show to convince the authorities that they were, in fact, alive.

However, the authorities were not yet finished with Deodato. Although Deodato was exonerated for murder, the courts cited him for real animal cruelty law violations (multiple animals had been harmed and killed during the filming of Cannibal Holocaust). Deodato, the producers, screenwriter, and the studio representative each received a four-month suspended sentence after they were convicted of obscenity and violence. Deodato would fight in the courts for three additional years to get his film unbanned.

Shoichi Yokoi

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Though his story has been included in other lists, I wanted to include Yokoi’s tale of survival because I remember, as a teenager, reading about this Japanese soldier coming out of the jungle, still believing World War II was being fought. It was shocking at the time to believe anyone would continue to hide and continue to fight a war, for 28 years after the war had ended. But it was true.

During World War II, it was considered to be dishonorable for a Japanese soldier to surrender and be taken prisoner. So when the United States liberated the island of Guam, in 1944, ten Japanese soldiers refused to surrender and instead fled into the jungle to live and fight another day. They thought the news of the Japanese surrender was propaganda, and refused to believe it. The end of WWII came and went in 1945, and the ten remained in hiding. Eventually, seven of the ten went back to civilization, but three remained in the jungle and, eventually, two of them would die from starvation. In 1972, 28 years after he and his nine comrades went into hiding, the lone survivor emerged from the jungle. But it was not of his own free will. Two local fishermen surprised the last Japanese soldier on the island, captured him, and brought him out.
Shoichi Yokoi had finally stopped fighting for the Japanese Imperial Army. He had long ago been given up for dead, and his obituary listed him as killed in action. When he returned he was treated as a national hero in Japan. However, he felt he had not served the Emperor and army adequately, saying “It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive” – which instantly became a popular saying in Japan. Amazingly, Yokoi was the third from the last Japanese soldier to emerge from hiding. Two more soldiers, Hiroo Onoda and Teruo Nakamura, continued the fight and did not emerge until later.

Destruction of the Library of Alexandria

If knowledge is power, then the destruction of the Library of Alexandria left many minds utterly powerless as countless texts and documents were reduced to indiscernible ash. Destroyed in a Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, a mass body of collective knowledge has been lost, and consequently we may have even been set back in a major way for having to retrace steps. After all, the Library was responsible for being the world’s memory; a blackout of such proportions is bound to leave us a little hungover.

Alligator with Deer in its Mouth

In 2004, an image surfaced on the Internet which claimed to show an alligator on Cross Lake (located near Shreveport, Louisiana) with an adult deer its mouth. The image shocked viewers as the lake is a popular spot for fishing and recreational boating. Other websites claimed the photo was taken on Lake Martin in Alabama or in South Carolina. In August of 2004, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service announced in a press release that the picture was taken in South Georgia, near the South Carolina border by an officer who was preparing to ignite a prescribed fire. The worker was surveying the area in a helicopter. “The sight of a 12-14 foot (3.6-4.3 m) alligator is something that South Georgia folks see occasionally, but few have seen one take an adult deer out to lunch.”

A Friendly Whale


In 2009, cameraman Marco Queral captured some incredible photographs while diving with a 50 ft (15.25 m) female humpback whale in the South Pacific (near Hawaii). Queral has spent 20 years of his life photographing whales. He says they are “extremely intelligent, just like humans, they have their own mind and come with strong personalities.” The most famous image from the collection shows Marco Queral reaching out to make contact with the giant whale. It was taken by one of Queral’s diving partners and went viral in 2009.

The image has been spread around the Internet with a story that details an encounter between a whale and a group of fisherman near the Farallon Islands, which is 18 miles off the coast of San Francisco. In the story, a whale became stuck in a collection of crab pots, so the fishermen jumped into the water and cut the animal free. After it was safe, the whale returned to the men to thank them with a nose bump. The man who cut the rope out of the whale’s mouth said that the creature’s eyes were following him the whole time and he will never be the same. The news story is accurate, but it has been falsely attributed to the Marco Queral photograph.

A Steep Climb

In September of 2010, a collection of photographs surfaced on the Internet which claimed to show a family of bighorn sheep walking on the steep face of Buffalo Bill Dam, which is a concrete arch-gravity dam on the Shoshone River in the U.S. state of Wyoming. Many websites called the pictures fake because they were not taken at Buffalo Bill Dam. Instead, the photos show a group of Alpine ibex walking on the face of Cingino Dam, which is a gravity masonry dam located in Piedmont, Italy. After the pictures went viral in 2010, it was determined that the ibex were attempting to get salt from the stones.

Snake Grabs a Wallaby

In 2005, the Australian news outlet ABC Far North Queensland reported on a picture that shows a large olive python pulling a wallaby from the water. In 2007, the image went viral under the description that the snake was eating a cow, which is false. The olive python is Australia’s second largest snake species and they have been known to consume large animals. The snake in the photo is enormous and if you look closely it extends all the way off the right side of the picture. It is difficult to see the entire snake because it is so well camouflaged in the rock face. The picture was taken in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Bitterroot National Forest Fire

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In 2000, the United States suffered a horrible fire season. By the month of August, over 4 million acres of land had been burned. On August 6, 2000, several fires converged in Bitterroot National Forest near the town of Sula in western Montana. As the blaze spread, fire behavior analyst John McColgan captured a remarkable photograph of the scene. The image shows a collection of deer watching the blaze from a river. In 2000, the photograph went viral and continues to symbolize the loss felt from the fires.

Kurt Wenner

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Kurt Wenner is an artist with an international following. He is best known for his invention of 3D pavement art. At a young age, Wenner worked for NASA as an advanced scientific illustrator. He created conceptual paintings of future space projects and extraterrestrial landscapes. In the 1980′s Wenner first introduced 3D pavement art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He invented a new geometry in order to visualize his work. Over the years, Wenner has become internationally recognized and travels the world to work for high profile clients. The expansion of the Internet has helped Wenner’s popularity and many of his portraits have gone viral.

Plane Hits Truck

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On February 4, 1976, a large earthquake struck 160 km (99.5 miles) northeast of Guatemala City, Guatemala. The area suffered extreme damage and most adobe type houses near Guatemala City were completely destroyed. The earthquake hit during the early morning (3:01 am), which contributed to the high death toll of 23,000 people. In June of 1976, National Geographic magazine published an issue dedicated to the earthquake. One picture in the magazine (captured by Robert W. Madden) shows a plane crash. The caption reads: “Buffeted by crosswinds, a rescue plane crashes into a truck, while trying to land on a mountain highway near Sanarate. Miraculously no one suffered serious injury.” Sanarate is the largest city in the El Progreso department of Guatemala.

Giant Grizzly Bear

In 2001, a collection of photographs began to circulate on the Internet that showed the body of a massive grizzly bear. Along with the pictures, many articles included a detailed story about the bear’s size and appetite for people. Some Internet sites claimed that human remains were found inside the bear after it was killed, but this is not true. In fact, the slain bear was shot in October 2001 by U.S. airman Ted Winnen, who was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska.
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Winnen encountered the enormous bear when he was deer hunting on Hinchinbrook Island, in Prince William Sound. It was reported that the bear came towards Winnen, so Ted shot it. It is unclear if the bear was startled by the men or if it charged them. Winnen measured the animal at 10.5 feet (3.2 m) from nose to tail. The weight was estimated to be between 1000-1200 pounds. The bear is an extraordinary large specimen for the Prince William Sound area (twice the normal size), but it is not a world record. Ted Winnen bagged the bear with a .338-caliber Winchester Magnum.

Living on the Edge

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In December of 2006, photographs were taken of a car accident that involved a close encounter with a 200-foot (61 meter) cliff. During the event, a man was driving his 1991 GMC pickup on Highway 59 near Hurricane City, Utah. While on the road, the man’s car slipped, he overcorrected, and plowed through a cement barrier. The vehicle left the highway, moved over a drainage culvert, did a complete 180, and landed 12 inches (0.3 m) from a 200-foot (61 meter) cliff. The truck ended up in the opposite direction it was traveling. In 2007, a collection of three photographs showing the scene went viral. In the picture, you can see in the upper right hand corner where the truck left the highway, moved over the drainage culvert, did a 180, and stopped next to the massive cliff.

Monster Pig

The history of the Internet is full of viral images that show giant animals. In May of 2007, a large domestic farm-raised pig was shot and killed by an eleven-year-old boy named Jamison Stone. The location of the shooting is claimed to be a 150-acre (60 ha) enclosure within the commercial hunting preserve called Lost Creek Plantation, outside Anniston, Alabama. According to the hunters, the pig weighed 1,051 pounds (477 kg) and was 9 feet 4 inches (2.84 m) in length from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. Stone said he killed the animal with a Smith & Wesson Model 500 that had a mounted holographic scope and ported barrel.
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He fired eight 350-grain Hornady cartridges into the pig and chased it for three hours before it collapsed from blood loss. Several days after the story broke, suspicion mounted over the authenticity of the photographic evidence. Retired New York University physicist, Dr. Richard Brandt, used perspective geometry to demonstrate that the boy in the photo was standing several meters behind the pig. However, the Associated Press (AP) continues to keep the monster pig image in their archives with no mention of deception. Some other cases of viral pictures showing giant animals include Hogzilla, the camel spiders in Iraq, the giant catfish, Herman the giant rabbit, the huge eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and the coconut crab.

Deer up a Pole

In 2004, a collection of strange pictures surfaced on the Internet of a deer that was discovered atop a 25 foot (7.6 m) tall communications pole. The photos were taken in Headingley, which is a rural municipality in Manitoba, Canada, located directly west of Winnipeg. Several people in the area witnessed the bizarre scene. The local media picked up the story and speculated that the deer was tossed up onto the pole after being struck by a passing train. Others insisted the event was the work of a prankster. Oddly enough, a similar mystery had been previously reported when a deer was found hanging in Delaware County, New York.
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Moose up a Pole

In 2004, a similar occurrence took place when a moose was hoisted 50 feet (15.2 m) into the air by construction power lines. The event took place on Pogo Mine road, near the Teck Polo gold mine, 80 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. Officers speculated that the moose got its antlers caught in a half-inch cable, and then was hoisted 50 feet (15.2 m) into the air when the cables were tightened with a hydraulic winch. Sadly, the 1,200 pound moose was still alive when it was lowered to the ground and then euthanized.

Anjana the Chimp

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Anjana is a chimpanzee that lives at TIGERS: The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in South Carolina, U.S. Since she was young, Anjana has taken it upon herself to help zoo keeper China York raise young animals that have become separated from their families. In 2008, her story was reported by media outlets around the world when pictures of Anjana with a baby white tiger went viral. TIGERS founder Dr. Bhagavan Antle has said of the chimp: “Anjana has joined China in caring for baby animals. She has acted as a surrogate mother to leopards, lions, orangutans and white tigers. She gives them a bottle and lies with them. She is a great assistant.”

Spider-Man Lizard

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The Mwanza Flat-headed Agama (Agama mwanzae) is a lizard in the family Agamidae. It is found in Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. In 2009, a photograph of the lizard went viral after people recognized the similarity to Spider-Man. The male’s head, neck and shoulders are bright red or violet, while the body is dark blue. Since the picture became popular, the species has turned into a fashionable pet.

Military Use of Children

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Around the world, children are singled out for recruitment by both armed forces and armed opposition groups, and exploited as combatants. Approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world, and hundreds of thousands more are members of armed forces who could be sent into combat at any time. Although most child soldiers are between 15 and 18 years old, significant recruitment starts at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.

Trafficking and Slavery

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Trafficking is the fastest growing means by which people are forced into slavery. It affects every continent and most countries. Currently, children are trafficked from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen to be used as camel jockeys in the UAE. Furthermore, Anti-Slavery International also has evidence that children are also being trafficked to be used as camel jockeys in other Gulf states including Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and also internally in Sudan. The use of children as jockeys in camel racing is itself extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury and even death. Some children are also abused by the traffickers and employers, for example by depriving them of food and beating them. The children’s separation from their families and their transportation to a country where the people, culture and usually the language are completely unknown leaves them dependent on their employers and de facto forced laborers.

According to UNICEF, over 200,000 children work as slaves in West and Central Africa. Boys are usually sold to work on cotton and cocoa plantations while girls are used as domestic servants and prostitutes. In some cases, children are kidnapped outright and sold into slavery while in others, families sell their children, mostly girls, for as little as $14.

Internet Child Pornography

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The internet is a virtual playground for child predators. It is a place that operates largely outside of the law. While trading in pedophile pornography is illegal, lack of adequate funding means law enforcement officials are able to investigate just two percent of their leads. Also, according to Interpol statistics, only one-half of one percent are ever prosecuted.

On a show that aired September 2, 2008, Oprah Winfrey showed a map that clearly conveyed how fast one pornographic image of a child being molested can spread. From a computer in Washington, DC, the image spread within 24 hours, all across the United States. The demand for new images and videos is so high that authorities report they are tracking increasingly brutal pornography with younger and younger victims.

Child Prostitution

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In Thailand, NGOs have estimated that up to a third of prostitutes are children under 18. A study by the International Labor Organization on child prostitution in Vietnam reported that incidence of children in prostitution is steadily increasing and children under 18 make up between 5 percent and 20 percent of prostitution depending on the geographical area. In the Philippines, UNICEF estimated that there are 60,000 child prostitutes and many of the 200 brothels in the notorious Angeles City offer children for sex. In India as many as 200,000 Nepali girls, many under the age of 14, have been sold into red-light districts. Nepalese girls, especially virgins, are favored in India because of their fair skin and young looks. Every year about 10,000 Nepalese girls, most between the age of nine and 16, are sold to brothels in India. In El Salvador, one-third of the sexually exploited children between 14 and 17 years of age are boys. The median age for entering into prostitution among all children interviewed was 13 years.

Child Labor


An estimated 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working around the world, according to the International Labor Organization. Of these, 120 million children are working full time to help support their impoverished families.

There are millions of children whose labor can be considered forced, not only because they are too young to choose to work, but also because they are, in fact, actively coerced into working. These include child bonded laborers — children whose labor is pledged by parents as payment or collateral on a debt — as well as children who are kidnapped or otherwise lured away from their families and imprisoned in sweatshops or brothels. In addition, millions of children around the world work unseen in domestic service — given or sold at a very early age to another family.

Forced child laborers work in conditions that have no resemblance to a free employment relationship. They receive little or no pay and have no control over their daily lives. They are often forced to work beyond their physical capacity and under conditions that seriously threaten their health, safety and development. In many cases their most basic rights, such as freedom of movement and expression, are suppressed. They are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Even in cases where they are not physically confined to their workplace, their situation may be so emotionally traumatizing and isolating that once drawn into forced labor they are unable to conceive of a way to escape.

Child Neglect

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Neglect is an act of omission, or the absence of action. While the consequences of child neglect can be devastating, it leaves no visible marks. Moreover, it usually involves infants and very young children who cannot speak for themselves. James M. Gaudin Jr., in “Child Neglect: Short-Term and Long-Term Outcomes”, reported that, compared with non-maltreated and abused children, neglected children have the worst delays in language comprehension and expression. Psychologically neglected children also score lowest in IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests.

Emotional neglect, in its most serious form, can result in the “non-organic failure to thrive syndrome,” a condition in which a child fails to develop physically or even to survive. According to Gaudin, studies have found that, even with aggressive intervention, the neglected child continues to deteriorate. The cooperation of the neglectful parents, which is crucial to the intervention, usually declines as the child’s condition worsens. This shows that it is sometimes not that easy to change the parental attributes that have contributed to the neglect in the first place.

Parental neglectful behaviors include not keeping the child clean, not providing enough clothes for keeping warm, not making sure the child attended school, not caring if the child got into trouble in school, not helping with homework, not helping the child do his best, not providing comfort when the child was upset, and not helping when the child had problems. The prevalence of childhood neglect ranged from 3.2% in New Hampshire, United States, to 10% in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 19.4% in Singapore, and 36.4% in Pusan, Korea.

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