28 July 2014

"The Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence"

Israeli novelist David Grossman offered this essay at The New York Times today. It is nice to see signs of sanity among Israelis showing themselves here in the US.

And, at Haaret'z,  reports of anti-war protests of anti-war protests in Tel Aviv and of resistance among IDF veterans.

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Re-Imagining Palestine: Ariella Azoulay

Some time ago Ariella Azoulay published this post at Verso in which she recommends a collaborative re-imagining of Palestine. As she makes clear, the word collaborative as I just used it is deeply problematic in context. But Azoulay has produced this film based on images rescued from official archives that aims to prompt just such collaboration. It seems like a good time to revisit her enterprise.

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Parfit and Photography

Here is a passage from this portrayal of the immensely influential - and personally quite peculiar - British philosopher Derek Parfit - it appeared in The New Yorker a few years back.

"Sometime after he gave up the idea of being a poet, Parfit developed a new aesthetic obsession: photography. He drifted into it—a rich uncle gave him an expensive camera—but later it occurred to him that his interest in committing to paper images of things he had seen might stem from his inability to hold those images in his mind. He also believed that most of the world looked better in reproduction than it did in life. There were only about ten things in the world he wanted to photograph, however, and they were all buildings: the best buildings in Venice—Palladio’s two churches, the Doge’s Palace, the buildings along the Grand Canal—and the best buildings in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building.
I find it puzzling how much I, and some other people, love architecture. Most of the buildings that I love have pillars, either classical or Gothic. There is a nice dismissive word that applies to all other buildings: “astylar.” I also love the avenues in the French countryside, perhaps because the trees are like rows of pillars. (There were eight million trees in French avenues in 1900, and now there are only about three hundred thousand.) There are some astylar buildings that I love, such as some skyscrapers. The best buildings in Venice and St. Petersburg, though very beautiful, are not sublime. What is sublime, I remember hearing Kenneth Clark say, are only the interiors of some late Gothic cathedrals, and some American skyscrapers.
Although he admired some skyscrapers, he believed that architecture had generally declined since 1840, and the world had grown uglier. On the other hand, anesthetics were discovered around the same time, so the world’s suffering had been greatly reduced. Was the trade-off worth it? He was not sure.

He believed that he had little native talent for photography, but that by working hard at it he would be able to produce, in his lifetime, a few good pictures. Between 1975 and 1998, he spent about five weeks each year in Venice and St. Petersburg.
I may be somewhat unusual in the fact that I never get tired or sated with what I love most, so that I don’t need or want variety.
He disliked overhead lights, in which category he included the midday sun, but he loved the horizontal rays at the two ends of the day. He waited for hours, reading a book, for the right sort of light and the right sort of weather.

When he came home, he developed his photographs and sorted them. Of a thousand pictures, he might keep three. When he decided that a picture was worth saving, he took it to a professional processor in London and had the processor hand-paint out all aspects of the image that he found distasteful, which meant all evidence of the twentieth century—cars, telegraph wires, signposts—and usually all people. Then he had the colors repeatedly adjusted, although this was enormously expensive, until they were exactly what he wanted—which was a matter of fidelity not to the scene as it was but to an idea in his head."

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23 July 2014

Annals of Narcissism


August arrived here July 12th. Today is July 23rd. This evening his mother announced that she had reason to think he brought with him an infestation of head lice. The question is why it took mommy dearest nearly two full weeks to disclose her suspicion. She is not at home - having set off for a Yoga retreat at a fancy new age joint here in NY state. And she has spoken to August numerous times since he arrived. So, that suggests that she suspected the infestation pretty much all along and just didn't bother to mention the problem. 

Of course, this delay meant the vermin had lots of time to reproduce. That means August's infestation was really bad. The top picture is a small sampling of what I combed out of his hair. The bottom one is a close up of one little vermin.

And the lice had lots of time to spread too. For instance, August and I shared a bed (pillows) for a week in Ann Arbor and a hair brush then and since. He has been hugging his nine month old sister repeatedly each day. He has been in camp with other kids pretty much every day. And so on ...

August spent much of the night in tears. In part, he is upset because he feels guilty for infesting our household (especially his sister). In part he is in pain because I've been pulling a lice comb through his long thick hair. (That is an experience we will repeat daily for a week or so.) Susan has been gathering up pretty much anything August has rested his head upon so that we can wash it all.

All the spiritual practice in the world does not mitigate the level of self-absorption (perhaps actual maliciousness?) that mommy dearest has displayed here. Many readers will know the person of whom I speak. The rest should count themselves lucky.

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22 July 2014

Chris Killip

"MA: Your work often has a political undercurrent - if not an explicit acknowledgment of the political situation.

CK: Well, it would, wouldn't it? I mean, I was living in the industrial community of Newcastle, starting in the mid-1970s. I remember the editor of the Saturday magazine of the Sunday Telegraph asking me to photograph the men from the miners' strike. I didn't want to do the story for them because it is such a right-wing newspaper. He asked me which side was I on? I was quite shocked by the question. It had never occurred to me that I could be on anything other than the side I was on!

MA: But including political elements in your work is not about picking sides; it's about openly saying that your work, your worldview, is conditioned by historical forces.

CK: It was natural. I had no wish to deny it. I was also influenced by John Berger's TV program Ways of Seeing. I was so excited by that. I was just trying to understand then that no matter what you did, you inevitably had a political position. How declared it was was up to you, but it was going to be inherent in the work, and it was something you should think about as a maker. I never worried about my position in the art world. I thought time and history would ultimately judge me, that my job was to get on with it, to make the work and to make it wholeheartedly from what had informed me."*
 In The NYRB this week is this brief notice about a new short film - Skinningrove (2013) - made by Michael Almereyda about his friend photographer Chris Killip and his work. You can find the movie in its entirety (approximately 15 minutes) here. I have posted on Killip here several times before. The exchange above, from a 2012 interview Almereyda did with Killip will offer some insight into why I so much like his work.
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* From: "The Past and Other Countries: Chris Killip in Conversation with Michael Almereyda,' Aperture  (Fall 2012, Issue 208) [Link].

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21 July 2014

Forget Heidegger (2)

I have, in the past, repeatedly expressed my views here on the dubious claim Heidegger has on our attention. No one disputes your "right" to read the anti-Semitic, Nazi sympathizer. Knock yourself out! But this recent justification for doing so is tortured in the extreme. In the first place, I don't care that the author is a Jew. That identity confers no special status in this matter or any other. Arguments count. And the arguments in this piece are, well, unpersuasive. For instance, I am not advocating censorship. Read Heidegger if you like. Just don't expect me to care if you do. Moreover, while I agree that the charge of anti-Semitism  "is leveled too lightly, thoughtlessly, and therefore without a minimum of respect for the actual victims of ethnic or religious oppression," in this context that sounds like a veiled attempt to discount or sanitize Heidegger's actual, well-established anti-Semitism. Calling Heidegger out for his loathsome views about Jews is not "a tool for silencing dissent;" it is simply quoting from his own writings. Finally, what are we to make of this?
"Of course, none of the recent revelations about Heidegger should be suppressed or dismissed. But neither should they turn into mantras and formulas, meant to discredit one of the most original philosophical frameworks of the past century. At issue are not only concepts (such as "being in the world" or methodologies (such as “hermeneutical ontology”) but the ever fresh way of thinking that holds in store countless possibilities that are not sanctioned by the prevalent techno-scientific rationality, which governs much of philosophy within the walls of the academia."
Having already sought to minimize any concern for Heidegger's anti-Semitism, the best the author can do is intone about his "ever fresh way of thinking?" If you say so, I suppose. But to me this sounds an awful lot like a demand that we sequester the man's Nazism from his philosophy. Indeed, that is pretty much the thrust of the entire essay. But the entire basis for ongoing criticisms of Heidegger precisely is that in his case it is not possible to do that in any plausible way. And if we have to read as extensively as the author's example seems to require (well beyond, by the way, "those minimally versed in his thought") in order to grasp the oh-so-subtle way that Heidegger the philosopher actually was  not anti-Semitic, well doesn't that just suggest how his politics inflects his philosophy?

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20 July 2014

Inequality Within & Inequality Between

Economist Tyler Cowen argues here at The New York Times that we ought not worry our silly heads about increasing political-economic inequality within developed countries because, he claims, inequality between developed countries and developing countries has diminished considerably of late. Then, here, over at his terrific blog Understanding Society philosopher Daniel Little pretty thoroughly skewers Cowen.

Not pretty. But well-deserved.
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P.S.: Dan also posted a link to this (now decade+ old) article by Robert Wade at The Economist.  Punch Line? "Many analysts apparently take it for granted that global inequality is falling. Others think it sufficient to focus on poverty, and ignore inequality as such. Both these views need to be challenged. New evidence suggests that global inequality is worsening rapidly." Unless things have really turned around in the past 10 years, the basic empirical premise of Cowen's essay appears to be false.

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16 July 2014

Annals of Human Perversity (2) - There is No Such Thing as an Unintended Civilian Casuality

So, I wonder if this is what the Israelis sitting in their lawn chairs munching popcorn watching the bombardment of Gaza were hoping to see? And I wonder if the editors at The Times will draw the connection between the story accompanying this photo and this one which prompted the post to which I just linked.

I heard on the radio recently that Manhattan has a population density of roughly 65,000 per square mile while the comparable figure for Gaza is upwards of 400,000 per square mile. And of course, residents of Gaza essentially are locked in. You might call civilians there sitting ducks. But then you might seem as callous as the Israelis in their lawn chairs.

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My boy August is 8 years old. This photo makes me nauseous.


 A Border Patrol agent reads the birth certificate of Alejandro, 8 -- the only thing he brought with him as he and others crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen recently. Alejandro is one of more than 52,000 minors traveling without parents who've been caught crossing the border illegally since October (Dallas Morning News).

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Not a PR Problem! - HWS Doubles Down

What do you do when a young woman is sexually assaulted on your campus and you proceed to bungle the subsequent investigation process? Well, apparently, you act defensively, engage in copious amounts of ass-covering, and continue to justify your every action. Here is the latest missive from Mark Gearan, President of my alma mater ('77) Hobart & William Smith Colleges. I know Mark to be a smart and decent man, which makes this all the more stunning to me. He refers to a letter written by the Chair of the Board of Trustees to The New York Times. You can find it here

I suppose the fact that virtually everyone who reads about the case finds the precipitating assault as well as the Colleges' response totally outrageous should not be seen as an indication that something truly is amiss on campus? 

Both President Gearan and Ms. Zupin seem to miss the real problem. The problem here is NOT the article in The Times. The problem is a sexual assault and a deeply flawed institutional response to it. And the response should not involve invoking "best practices" (typically little more than a ploy to limit legal exposure) but an effort to change the culture on campus. 
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PS: Here is the Change.org petition signed by 3000+ people criticizing the Colleges' handling of this matter.

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Annals of Human Perversity - Bombardment as a Spectator Sport


The day before yesterday The New York Times ran this story about Israelis gathering in lawn chairs and eating popcorn as they watched the bombardment of Palestinians. It turns out that this was a reasonably common occurrence.  And it is not new. (As I recall this is the same spectatorship captured in the cover photo of Ariella Azoulay The Civil Contract of Photography [MIT Press/Zone Books, 2012].) While this practice speaks volumes about the political degradation of many Isrealis, I doubt that it speaks much about Israelis in particular. They are not, in other words, uniquely callous.

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14 July 2014

Passings ~ Nadine Gordimer (1923~2014)

 ''I happen to be white, but I'm not a liberal, my dear. I'm a leftist.'' ~ Nadine Gordimer

South African writer - and Nobel laureate - Nadine Gordimer has died. You can find an obituary and this remembrance at The New York Times.

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Passings ~ Charlie Haden (1937-2014)

Sadness. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden has died. I missed the news when it was actually news. As I have noted here before, I found Haden, who mixed politics and music seamlessly, remarkable. You can find obituaries here at The New York Times, here at The Guardian, and here at npr.
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P.S. (26 July 2014): Here is a post consisting of recollections and tributes by Haden's fellow musicians.

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13 July 2014

Shame on Hobart & William Smith Colleges

I am a Hobart College alum (Class of '77) and am totally outraged by this report at The New York Times on of sexual assault and subsequent investigative disaster at the Colleges. Even before seeing it I'd received this damage-control missive from the President of the Colleges stating (in part): "In response to inquiries, HWS officials met with the Times reporter for two lengthy interviews and answered numerous questions via e-mail and phone, all in an effort to fully explain our approach and philosophy regarding sexual assault cases. Regrettably, these responses were either ignored or downplayed in the article." Note that this statement says nothing about the precipitating assault or the actual performance of either the College investigators or Geneva PD. This is shameful.

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11 July 2014

Reflections on Summer Travels

Just finished Ann Arbor-94-96-401-403-QEW-405-190-290-90-ROC (going one way or the other) for the 6th time this summer, heading back Sunday. Pretty boring drive, allowing ample time to ponder a couple of empirical generalizations.

First, Americans are really, really crappy drivers. Invariably, if there is someone sitting in the passing lane at three miles an hour above the speed limit in Canada, it is a car with US plates of some sort. Of course this creates backups and provokes passing on the right, thereby endangering everyone. Difficult to tell whether this is purposeful crappiness or just obliviousness. No behavioral difference. In the US, on both the MI and NY legs, each driver apparently thinks they have a natural right to stay in the passing lane. Infuriating driving. Canadians exhibit the opposite pattern, doing their best to get out of the way of faster traffic. 

Second, US Customs officers are generally pompous asses. No gender variation. They seem sincerely astonished when, having kept you waiting for between forty and ninety minutes as you try to cross the border into your own freakn' country, you are not just brimming with good cheer as they interrogate you. And they seem absolutely startled when, in response to their inevitable query - 'Is there something wrong sir?' - you point out that having had to sit forever waiting for them to do their purposeless searching and interrogating has added an hour or more to an already long tedious trip. On the other hand, it is best not to engage them in debate about how they are protecting your liberty and security by stemming the hoard of invasive Molson-swilling, plaid-wearing, hockey-loving Canadians. By contrast Canadians customs officers are only intermittently arrogant and annoying. The lines entering Canada, where I am not a citizen, are rarely very long.

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08 July 2014

Annals of Censorship -2014 Edition

According to this report at The Guardian, Leena McCall's Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing is but the latest work to draw the attention of censorious Brits.

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07 July 2014

Local Event ~ Recalling the Riots of 1964

July 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Rochester Race Riots. Joseph Avenue, where the Lincoln Branch Library is now located, was at the center of events that would profoundly affect the city in the course of just three turbulent days. On July 15th, 17th, 29th, and 31st MCC Professor Verdis Robinson will lead a walking tour of Joseph Avenue and discuss the riots and historically significant surrounding the library. Refreshments provided. Call 428-8210 for more information.
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P.S.: You might also - not alternatively, but also - watch Carvin Eison's July '64.

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Resuscitating Communism?

My own view is that progressive politics need not be held captive either to the renewal of communism or to the assumption that critics of capitalism must be communist.* Indeed, I think that the prospect of communism is a non-starter if, in fact, it requires relinquishing reliance on markets as central political economic institutions or writing off the vicious, violent acts taken in the name of communism over the course of the twentieth century. (Among the the massive flaws of the resuscitation effort, it seems to me, is a more or less total refusal to talk about actual or possible institutional arrangements.) Nevertheless, there are those eager to resuscitate communism - Benjamin Kunkel, Jodi Dean, Simon Hardy, and Alberto Toscano, for instance, who are publishing their advocacy at The European.
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* In general terms, I think this assessment (also drawn from the symposium at The European) is on point: 

"But if we are no longer to define ourselves negatively, by our opposition to Capital, what will be the name of our positive project? I don’t believe that the old signifier communism can be revived for this purpose. It is now irretrievably tainted by terrible associations, forever tied to the nightmares of the 20th century. At the moment, our desire is nameless – but it is real. Our desire is for the future – for an escape from the impasses of the flatlands of Capital’s endless repetitions – and it comes from the future – from the very future in which new perceptions, desires, cognitions are once again possible. As yet, we can grasp this future only in glimmers. But it is for us to construct this future, even as – at another level – it is already constructing us: a new kind of collective agent, a new possibility of speaking in the first person plural. At some point in this process, the name for our new desire will appear and we will recognize it." ~  Mark Fisher

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04 July 2014

Adieu July 4th 2014

"Unfinished Flag of the United States" (1987) © Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
"and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right"*
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* From: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "I am Waiting" (find the entire poem here).

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It Bears Repeating

I have posted in previous years links to the Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, by Frederick Douglass, July 5th, 1852. This is a good enough occasion to publish this link to the entire speech.

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24 June 2014

The Webbs Visit Rochester

I have to say that I find this project by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Rochester banal beyond belief. The repeated 'reflected in glass' images (is there a technical term for that sophomoric approach?) is just stupefying. Is it supposed to convey depth? Why is it that photographers seem to be wholly unable to approach the city in a direct, sensible way? Here they are at The New York Times and here they are at TIME. This makes me long for the Pellegrin fiasco!
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P.S.: (6/25/2014) And here they are at The Guardian. Slow news day?

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Travels

Road trip across Ontario yesterday from Rochester (sunny blue skies) to Ann Arbor (overcast & drizzle). The drive was uneventful, even at the borders. Americana sound track: Los Lobos; Sam Baker; Emmy Lou Harris; Steve Earle; Uncle Tupelo. Now for another iteration of the ICPSR workshop.

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18 June 2014

More Reasons - If Any Were Needed - Dick & Liz Cheney Are a Joke

Dick Cheney (war criminal) and his daughter Liz (who has accomplished precisely nothing in her 'career' beyond accepting nepotism) are criticizing Obama? Are you kidding? The reason why Iraq is in its current state reflects the duplicity and criminality of Cheney and his cronies in BushCo. So, Obama (of whom I am no fan) is bad news because he has not cleaned up Cheney, et. al.'s mess to their liking! What a bunch of bullshit. By publishing this sort of tripe the WSJ Editorial Page perfects its mimicry of Pravda.

Unfortunately, the Cheney's reportedly  have launched a 'grass roots' outfit to counter Obama's policy. They not only seem oblivious to their own abject unsuitability as sources of foreign policy advice. They also seem to not get the definition of grass roots - describing any organization launched by a former US Vice President and his privileged offspring as 'grass roots' is a laughable category mistake. And, might I add that the link to the WaPo Editorial Page (basically a free advert for the Cheneys) suggests that they are not far from the WSJ as peddlers of propaganda.
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P.S.: And, it turns out the Cheneys are not alone among architects of the BushCo fiasco who seem oblivious to the disaster they created.

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13 June 2014

The Salt of the Earth

 Juliano Salgado, Sebastião Salgado & Wim Wenders (2014)

I recall, as I first began (mostly here) to think semi-seriously about photography and its uses, watching Spectre of Hope the short film consisting mostly of a conversation between John Berger and Sebastião Salgado. As I noted at the time, it really crystallized one of the primary insights I have developed on Salgado's work specifically and the politics of documentary more generally. In any case, there is a new film -  The Salt of the Earth, a collaboration between Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado (the photographer's son) - documenting the elder Salgado's work. You can find two stories on the undertaking here and here at The Guardian.

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10 June 2014

World Cup Politics

"Soccer, metaphor for war, at times turns into real war. Then “sudden death” is no longer just a name for a dramatic way of deciding a tied match. These days, soccer fanaticism has come to occupy the place formerly reserved for religious fervor, patriotic ardor, and political passion. As often occurs with religion, patriotism, and politics, soccer can bring tensions to a boil, and many horrors are committed in its name." ~ Eduardo Galeano
The World Cup is coming up very soon - soon enough that Susan and Esme (the English contingent of the family) sent me an England Jersey for Fathers Day. It is important to keep the nationalist spectacle in perspective. The tournament is not working out well for all Brazilians. Surprised? I came across this report at The Guardian on street art in the host country protesting the games. And, perhaps the best writing on "soccer" is by Eduardo Galeano who has dissected the political-economy of football in pretty exquisite ways. You can find a sample here but really ought to track down his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Nation Books). That is where I lifted the opening passage above.
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P.S.: My fellow political scientists have written a series of posts at The Monkey Cage (WaPo) on the politics of the world cup; it is fair to say that some of these are howlers, while others are more interesting. But here they are nevertheless: 1, 2, 3. 4. 5, 6

P.S.2 (Added 6/12/2014): My friend Navine Murshid alerted me to this OpEd by Dave Zirin at The New York Times which is germane to this post. FIFA is as corrupt and authoritarian as the NCAA and the International Olympics Committee.

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09 June 2014

The Bullet Point Guide to Photography Theory

Need a cheat sheet on theories of photography? Look here ...

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08 June 2014

Seeing the Occupation and Hearing It

"A Palestinian farmer looks toward the horizon of a beautiful landscape in the Jordan Valley. His farm and house were demolished twice by the Israeli authorities, as was the rest of his village. He decided to stay, to fight against the continuing attempts to uproot him. He fights using his very existence as a tool. This is the story of Burhan Basharat from Khirbet Makhoul in the Jordan Valley. This is also the story of many others."
I lifted this image and caption from this collection here at +972, an online web magazine focusing on  the reality of Israeli-Palestinian interactions in the occupied territories. And then, this morning, I discovered this report at The Guardian on Breaking Silence - an initiative undertaken by former IDF members to describe those interactions in words. A powerful convergence.

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Ethical Reasons to Oppose Political-Economic Inequality

Only just occasionally the TED-Industrial Complex produces an interesting presentation. Here is one by philosopher Tim Scanlon on various ethical arguments for reducing inequality.

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02 June 2014

Annie Appel The Occupy Portraits

 More or less coincidentally, I came across a link to this set of remarkable portraits of Occupy activists across several cities. The images are by Annie Appel who, while making the portraits, asked each subject how long they'd been in the movement and what they hoped for from the Occupy movement. Their answers, simple and direct, provide 'captions' for the images. Appel has initiated this Kickstarter campaign to try to get her images published in book form. Regardless of whether you approach her portraits primarily along political dimension, from the perspective of unadorned images, or both, Appel's work is really very good. Her campaign deserves your support. Give it up!

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25 May 2014

Passings - Bunny Yeager (1929~2014)

Photographer Bunny Yeager has died. Notices are here at The Guardian and here at The New York Times.

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Mary Halvorson - Star Spangled Banner (2014)

"I was thinking what state the world is in, being an American - there is such a mix of positives and negatives ..." - Mary Halvorson
"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
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"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
"I was thinking about the state the world was in, being an American-- there's such a mix of positives and negatives,"


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-artistic-interpretations-star-spangled-banner-call-out-inner-patriot-180951536/#OxJ7b147uYqHApgM.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
You can find the file containing her rendition of the anthem here - worth listening too on Memorial Day.

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24 May 2014

David Levi Strauss Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow

A new book by David Levi Strauss, arguably our best photography critic, is always a noteworthy event. This one is no exception. It contains 25 mostly brief essays discussing a wide range of photographers, critics and events. More to follow. I just wanted to note that the book is due out soon (if it is not out already) . . .

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23 May 2014

LEICA Centenary

At the BBC you can find this homage to the Leica cameras after 100 years.

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20 May 2014

The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940

Unemployed (1930). Alexander Stavenitz.

You have just over a month to catch this exhibition at The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.

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17 May 2014

Digest

The inimitable Rebecca Solnit here at The Guardian ~ "Call Climate Change What it is - Violence."

Photographer Nina Berman here in Columbia Magazine on the infrastructure and point of contemporary photojournalism.

An interview with Thomas Piketty here at the Institute for Public Policy Research (UK) and, also at The Guardian, this "manifesto" issued by he and a baker's dozen other French intellectuals defending a basic proposition: "It is time to recognise that Europe's existing institutions are dysfunctional and need to be rebuilt. The central issue is simple: democracy and the public authorities must be enabled to regain control of and effectively regulate 21st century globalised financial capitalism."

Finally, this essay by pianist Vijay Iyer at the Asian American Writers Workshop exploring 'Our Complicity With Excess.'

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Age-Progressed Images - No Thanks


This is a picture of my boy Jeffrey doing one of the things he loved most, playing lacrosse. Jeff died eight years ago. He was 14. And I often wonder what he'd be like - I hope he'd have turned out as truly wonderful as his older brother Doug has done - or what he'd be up to.  He would have been due to graduate college this spring. He'd be turning 21 next month. His friends are growing up, graduating, finding jobs and love out in the world. Some have or will be playing in the NCAA national lacrosse tournament. I wish them best of luck.

I have said here often that I miss Jeff every single day. I have many, many photos of Jeff and I cherish his memory. I have my memories. And I have my life. I do not want the former to tyrannize the latter. So, I must say that what appears to be an emerging practice discussed here at The Guardian pretty much horrifies me. I have no wish to see a forensic-like reconstruction from his childhood photos. None. The companies peddling this service are exploiting deep and abiding grief for profit. That makes me want to spit.

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Seeing Grantley Bovell & Cecily McMillan

I highly recommend these two posts at BagNewsNotes [1] [2]. They dissect the visual evidence surrounding the prosecution of OWS activist Cecily McMillan for allegedly assaulting NYC police officer Grantley Bovell in 2012. McMillan recently was convicted on the charges and faces up to seven years in prison. You can read responses to the verdict here at The Guardian and here at The Nation.

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16 May 2014

On Lee Friedlander ~ Whatever Happened to Milt Hinton?

Count Basie Band (1956) © Lee Friedlander

I lifted this image of Lee Friedlander's off the MoMA web page because it reminded me of a review, from 1986, that historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote for the NYRB. The review discussed Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie (Albert Murray) and The World of Count Basie (Stanley Dance) and was entitled "Playing for Ourselves." The title was excised from a remark Basie's long time drummer Jo Jones made in an interview in the Dance volume.  Looking back on the travails black jazz musicians encountered in depression era Kansas City Jones says "We were really behind the iron curtain. There was no chance for us. So there was nothing to do but play for ourselves."

This week at the NYRB is a review occasioned in part by this exhibition at the Yale Art Gallery some of which is devoted to Lee Freidlander's images of jazz musicians in New Orleans. (The other images in the exhibition are by Milt Hinton - an accomplished bass player and photographer who, being African-American, goes unmentioned in the review.) The review also is occasioned in part by the appearance of this accompanying collection of Friedlander's photographs:


The new collection is an updated and expanded version of this 1992 work:


What happened to Milt Hinton in all this remains a mystery. It is the same sort of effacement of African American musicians that, as I've noted here before, occurs (among other places) each spring at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. More on that another time.

Nothing I've said thus far should detract from Friedlander's work. Here, followed by just one of the portraits it mentions, is a comment from the recent NYRB review:
"Friedlander’s most indelible images are his portraits of musicians. Friedlander arrived in New Orleans at a high point in the jazz revivalist movement, when fans of jazz as it was originally played in New Orleans in the first two decades of the twentieth century (before the perceived corruptions of swing and bebop) descended on the city with tape recorders and notepads and cameras, hoping to catch some of the old magic and document it for posterity.  [. . .]

Friedlander’s portraits do not feel celebratory, however. He found authenticity all right,  . . .  in the toll taken on his subjects by decades of privation and indifference. In his portraits the musicians—most of whom didn’t have the chops to follow Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong north to Chicago forty years earlier—stare wistfully into the distance, or at the wall, as if indulging in some bittersweet private nostalgia. Many sit beside old family photographs, including pictures of themselves as young men. Some are photographed with their instrument, which they hold impotently, or rest in their laps. Their apartments are spare and poorly lit. There is dignity in these portraits, to be certain, and pride, but there is also despair."
 Tom Albert (1958) © Lee Friedlander

It is refreshing to focus in on Friedlander's accomplishment as a portraitist just because it upsets somewhat conventional views of his work. But there are other images as well, and these bring me back to the Hobsbawm review I mentioned at the start.

George Lewis and Jim Robinson, Paddock Lounge (1958) © Lee Friedlander

"This sense of melancholy also shadows Friedlander’s photographs of performances. When George Lewis’s band plays a Bourbon Street tourist trap called the Paddock Lounge, the ceiling is so low that he almost has to duck, and nobody else in the frame—a patron, two bartenders—seems aware that they are in the presence of jazz royalty, an impression that is amplified by the insulting presence of the lawn jockey posing directly in front of Lewis. There are no audience members, for that matter, visible in most of the performance pictures, giving the impression that the musicians are playing for themselves."

Just so. And the portraits of elderly musicians capture part - surely, only part - of what trails behind their pursuit of so demanding and ultimately so isolating a profession.

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14 May 2014

Passings ~ Lynne Cohon (1944-2014)

Photographer Lynne Cohen has died. An brief announcement is here at Canadian Art.

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13 May 2014

Passings ~ Camille Lepage (1988-2014)

A young French photojournalist, Camille Lepage has been killed while working in the Central African Republic;  as this report at The Guardian suggests, the details of her death remain murky. I do not know Le[age's work, but her death underscores how dangerous it is to work in zones of civil conflict.

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06 May 2014

Isaac Cordal

Electoral Campaign (2011) © Isaac Cordal

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01 May 2014

May Day


Update: I recommend this typically thoughtful post by Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber on the need to recuperate May Day in practice and in spirit.

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28 April 2014

On Piketty ~ A Compendium of Reviews


Consider this post an exercise for myself. I just want to keep track of some of the initial, astonishing response to Thomas Piketty's book. I noted a long review by Robert Paul Wolff here some time ago. But the responses have been coming fast and I want a central place to store links. I will add more links as necessary.

In any case, you can find reviews by Tyler Cowen at Foreign Affairs (May/June 2014), James Galbraith at Dissent (Spring 2014), Paul Krugman at NYRB (8 May 2014), Timothy Shenk at The Nation (5 May 2014), and Robert Solow at The New Republic (22 April 2014), as well as a troika of short commentaries by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Heather Boushey, and Branko Milanovic at The American Prospect (10 March 2014). And, of course, there was an extended pre-publication discussion by Thomas Edsall at The New York Times (28 January 2014).

Update (6 May): Here is another review by Doug Henwood at Book Forum, yet another one by Robert Skidelsky here at Prospect, still another here at The American Prospect by Robert Kuttner, a fourth here at The Boston Review by Mike Komczal, and a commentary here by Brad Delong on the right-wing response to Piketty.

Update (14 May):  Another handful of commentaries: Deborah Boucoyannis; Thomas Edsall (again); Thomas Frank; John Judis; Dani Rodrik; Kenneth Rogoff; Robert Schiller;  and Lawrence Summers.

Update (16 May): More commentary - from the right, grumbling from Martin Feldstein here at the WSJ; from the left, some grumbling by Alex Callinicos here at Socialist Worker.

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... and While We Are Discussing Rochester, Let's Talk Some About Environmental Injustice

I suppose we locals ought to be happy that we don't make the list of US cities with the worst air quality (see the other chart in this article from Mother Jones from which I lifted the graphic above). But we are top five nationally in laying what dirty air we have on racial minorities. Nice!

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27 April 2014

Catherine Leutenegger Kodak City


Last year a gaggle of Magnum photographers parachuted into Rochester.  This gave we locals a taste of what it is like being an 'urban decay story.' And it created a considerable stir when one of the photographers, Paolo Pellegrin, won a big photo award for a series of images that, politely, reflected an integrity-challenged process on the part of nearly everyone concerned. I won't rehearse the matter again as I posted about it here [1] [2] and then - thanks to Bob Hariman - participated in a terrific workshop at Northwestern on the various issues the episode raised [3].

A virtual friend (Thanks Stan!) recently brought to my attention this new work* by Swiss photographer Catherine Leutenegger that promises to be a more illuminating, though hardly more uplifting, view of Rochester and its travails. Once I am able to track down a copy I will provide a more informed response.
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*Catherine Leutenegger. Kodak City. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.

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22 April 2014

Performance Art Punctured

"Performance art is a joke. Taken terribly seriously by the art world, it is a litmus test of pretension and intellectual dishonesty. If you are wowed by it, you are either susceptible to pseudo-intellectual guff, or lying.

Is that overstating the case? Probably. There have been some powerful works of performance art – but most of them took place a long time ago ... Today, most art that claims to part of this modern tradition of performance is an embarrassing revelation of the art world's distance from real aesthetic values or real human life. ..."
So says Jonathan Jones here at The Guardian. And I must say it is difficult to disagree. As "Exhibit A" I refer back to the recent antics of Marina Abramović about which I have opined here repeatedly. The art world has largely swooned over her pretentious nonsense. I find she and her work insufferable.

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14 April 2014

Fuck the Poor



I came across this remarkable advert on my FB feed. I think the disconnect is that we treat poverty as a matter of charity rather than as a political problem requiring a political remedy. No offense to the (no doubt) well-intentioned folks at The Pilion Trust Charity, but they are framing the problem in a self-defeating way.

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13 April 2014

No, Photographers Do Not Have a First Amendment Right to Discriminate

From the ACLU, this report on the recent SCOTUS decision to not hear a case in which a photographer claimed a first amendment right to discriminate against customers seeking to hire her to chronicle same sex wedding ceremonies:
"When you make the decision to hold yourself out as a business that serves the general public, you have to be willing to actually serve the general public, which includes a diverse group of people whose values and beliefs may be different than the values and beliefs of the business owner. Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer's marriage. Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules in the public marketplace."
I suppose that in a time of truly ridiculous judicial decisions, this is a faint sign of sanity!

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Guggenheim, Workers, Protest

Here is a report on a protest yesterday at Guggenheim NYC about the labor standards in the construction of the new Abu Dhabi branch of the museum. Background on the matter are here and here in a recent argument at The New York Times. I must say, if the strongest defense the museum director can muster is that the living and working condition for construction laborers on the project "are the best in the region," the Guggenheim occupies extremely dubious ground.

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12 April 2014

The Company You Keep

I have to say that this story at ESPN is pretty stunning. Here we have Samantha Power, advocate of human rights, US Ambassador to the United Nations socializing with Henry Kissinger (they were taking in a Yankees game together!) recently. I suppose whether one finds a war criminal repugnant or not depends on whether he is our war criminal?

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11 April 2014

Jeffrey Milano-Johnson (14 June 1992 ~ 11 April 2007)


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10 April 2014

Losing Faith in the Possibility of Democracy

Here at the NYRB is a disconsolate howl by poet Charles Simic on the state of and prospects for American Democracy. Simic is one of my favorite poets. At times I agree with him. But not, by a long shot, do I always do so.

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08 April 2014

Reprint: "What To Do With Invidious Distinctions?"






 October 2007

What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?
By Jim Johnson

Critical discussion of contemporary photography is shaped by a largely unchallenged distinction between “documentary” and “art”. We expect photographers practicing the former to concentrate on the realism, veracity, and accuracy of the images they produce, while those engaged in the latter are freed from such preoccupations, and so given license to experiment stylistically and substantively. We define the poles of this distinction relative to one another. Thus, while introducing a recent issue of PRIVATE (No. 33. Summer 06), critic and curator Roberta Valtorta announces that “the strongest and truest photojournalism today is that which outlives itself without straining to be ‘beautiful’. It stays truthful to its ‘primitiveness,’ its leanness, and far from aesthetics.” Her comment perversely echos photographer Luc Delahaye who, having spent considerable energy over the course of several years justifying his distinctly not ‘primitive’ or ‘lean’ depictions of war-torn Afghanistan, felt compelled to “officially” declare himself an artist.

That this documentary/art distinction has stultifying consequences seems obvious when I list some contemporary photographers whose work, for disparate reasons, I find compelling –Andre Cypriano, Josef Koudelka, Randa Shaath, Sebastião Salgado, Martha Rosler, James Nachtwey, Lalla Essaydi, Alfredo Jaar, Edward Burtynsky, Antonin Kratochvil, Susan Meiselas, Raphaël Dallaporta, The Atlas Group, and Miguel Rio Branco. The documentary/art dichotomy obscures the work of these and many other photographers insofar as each tramples back and forth across the bounds of truth and beauty, content and form, and so on we purportedly use the distinction to police.

In her early essay “On Style” (Against Interpretation & Other Essays (1966), New York, Picador 2001, p. 15-16), Susan Sontag identifies our predicament: “It is not so easy, after all, to get unstuck from a distinction that practically holds together the fabric of critical discourse, and serves to perpetuate certain intellectual aims and vested interests which themselves remain unchallenged and would be difficult to surrender without a fully articulated working replacement at hand.” Sontag was concerned with the distinction between style and content that is different from, if related to, the one that concerns me. Her diagnosis of our broad predicament seems right. Yet her insistence that we must replace the problematic distinction with some more or less fully worked out alternative is misguided.

Near the start of Art as Experience John Dewey observes: “Wherever continuity is possible, the burden of proof rests upon those who assert opposition and dualism” (New York, Perigree 1980, p. 27). The problem is not that we make and use conceptual distinctions. That is unavoidable in any ongoing critical or creative undertaking. The problem, as Hilary Putnam, among the most insightful heirs to Dewey’s pragmatism notes, is that with repeated use conceptual distinctions too often become “inflated” into dichotomies that come to muddle our critical and creative practices. In contemporary discussions the documentary/ art distinction has assumed precisely this invidious status.

Faced with this dualism, we should heed Dewey’s advice and shift the burden of justification onto those who deploy it. This strategy is attractive since, as Sontag intimates, distinctions become inflated into dichotomies in ways and for purposes that hardly are innocent. Our art/documentary distinction, for instance, assumed exaggerated proportions through the usually self-serving efforts of identifiable photographers, curators, collectors, and critics. One thinks here of how Stieglitz differentiated “art” from “document” in order to facilitate acceptance of his preferred brand of photography by institutions of the art world. One thinks too of how, subsequently, Walker Evans and his critical allies devised hegemonic criteria for ‘legitimate’ documentary in hopes of countering the success of Margaret Bourke-White whom they cast as his competitor. Additional relevant episodes, animated by other more or less unsavory aims and interests will come to mind.

While genealogical accounts warrant the burden-shifting strategy Dewey proposes, they offer nothing remotely like the full-fledged “replacement” that Sontag thinks necessary. So what? Once historians reveal a dichotomy as an artifact of the thoroughly political and economic concerns of those who promulgate it, why aren’t we justified in simply turning our backs on it and those who purvey it? We should aim not to replace the dichotomy but to deflate it so as to open space for critical reflection.

Steve Edwards’ Photography: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006) is exemplary in this respect. He concedes that the documentary/art distinction is “central” to assessments of contemporary photography. His argument unfolds around the dichotomy in ways that undermine it, repeatedly demonstrating how it confounds efforts to grasp photography and the various uses to which it has been put. Edwards thus pursues a deflationary strategy I find congenial. In so doing, he invites us to worry much less about whether some image respects the boundaries set by an invidious conceptual distinction and considerably more about two constellations of questions. First, who produced the image, how, and for what purposes? Second, what exigencies shape how others subsequently experience and use it? This is an invitation we should accept.

[This essay appeared in the inaugural issue of Art Signal (Barcelona), unfortunately deunct. Here is a link http://art-signal.org/en/que-hacemos-con-las-distinciones-odiosas/.]

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Documentary? Photojournalism? Art? ... Oh My! What's a Critic to Do?

"Documentary" is an aesthetic. So, trying to differentiate in a clear and general way between documentary, photojournalism, and "art" photography is an impossible task. Hence it is a fruitless undertaking. I wrote an essay several years ago called "What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?" making this point. Here is a recent essay by Pernilla Holmes that does the same thing. There is little to disagree with in it. But the author also makes scant headway. Our aim, I think, ought to be to stop stating and restating the basic point that the boundaries between "genres" is porous and shifting and instead take that well-established observation as a premise in developing new ways of talking about photography. My view is that we ought to stop worrying about photographs as objects (hence asking what they are or how they work) and focus instead on the pragmatics of photography - how we use it and why. But there is no surprise there either!

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04 April 2014

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center


Founded in 2006, the Bophana Center is dedicated to collecting and preserving resources that capture the experience of Cambodia during the period when the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy all such materials. I learned of the Center from this report, focusing on the work of its founder filmmaker Rithy Panh, that aired on npr last weekend.

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Another View of Labor's Decline ...


Doug Henwood posted this revealing graphic recently; it traces the pacific state of American unions over the past half century or so.

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03 April 2014

Wolff Reads Piketty

A five part (yes,  a [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] part) review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century by philosopher Robert Paul Wolff.

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Reuters, Syria, Photojournalism and ... Standards?

This message from the inimitable Michael Shaw arrived in my In Box this morning. It is, unsurprisingly, pretty much right on point:
Friends and colleagues,

Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by The New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:

Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged? -- with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.

The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy -- details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.

In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.

Michael
BagNewsNotes[bagnewsnotes.com]

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02 April 2014

The Oppression of Filthy Rich Guys - Part 2

Here is yet another missive at The Wall Street Journal from a rich guy who is really unhappy that many people don't like him or welcome his attempts to use his wealth to impose his political views on others. At least the last whiner - Tom Perkins - seems to have actually created something at some time in the past. As I understand things, Charles Koch inherited most of his money [1]. And he seems to think that being born rich gives him some special status that others ought to admire or some special insight into how polities ought to operate to which others ought to defer. Sorry. And, by the way, I've never read Schopenhauer!

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30 March 2014

Forget Heidegger

"The anti-Semitic passages total only about two and a half of the notebooks’ roughly 1,200 pages. Still, some scholars say, they put the lie to any claim that Heidegger’s Nazism can be kept separate from his philosophy, or confined only to the brief period in the early 1930s when he was the rector of the newly Nazified University of Freiburg."
Yes, and I only occasionally make racist comments too! No big deal.

So, apparently the issue is whether Martin Heidegger was a committed Nazi and anti-semite, or simply an opportunistic one. You have got to be kidding! Why are we even having this conversation? In either case - and I am unsure which is worse, to be honest - he was a bigot and an authoritarian. And he integrated his bigotry and authoritarianism into his day job [source here, and here too]. This was not simply a hobby for Martin. How much reason does anyone need to acknowledge that worrying about the man and his work is a waste of time?

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28 March 2014

Angels

I don't go in for the new age sorts of thing, but this is Sam Baker, an astonishing singer, offering a tune about angels ... and a story about why. Not new age.



Thanks Colin.

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27 March 2014

Passings ~ Juan Gelman ( 1930-2014)

Poet Juan Gelman has died. The Los Angeles Review of Books has published this remembrance. As I noted here some years ago, I learned of Gelman, his life, and his work (as I learn so much) from reading John Berger.
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P.S.: While I somehow missed them When Gelman died in January obituaries are here at The New York Times and here at The Guardian.

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17 March 2014

Globalization and Its Losers

Joseph Stiglitz here in The New York Times on the lopsided distributional impact of globalization and of the trade agreements imposed in the  attempt to manage it to the advantage of the rich.

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14 March 2014

Authoritarianism on Ice

Always Franco (2012) © Eugenio Merino.

And, no, I do not mean the US Figure Skating Association. Instead we have pieces by Eugenio Merino like the one above. There is a report on the artist, his work, and their political/legal vicissitudes here at The Guardian.

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Passings ~ Tony Benn (1925-2014)

"If one meets a powerful person . . . one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."
British Socialist Tony Benn has died. There is a report here at The New York Times, an obituary here at The Guardian, and a digest of pungent remarks - from which I lifted the one above - by him here at The New Statesman.

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Sports & Politics

Of course, this is at the intersection of two of my interests the Celtics and radical politics.


Star tour: Bill Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird toured the Eugene V. Debs Museum while in Terre Haute for the Bird statue dedication in November. (Submitted photo/Gary Daily).

December 8, 2013
Bill Walton, Larry Bird visit Eugene V. Debs Museum

Gary Daily
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards. The question goes something like this: “If you could sit down and have dinner/pizza/a beer with two famous people, who would be your choices?”

Now think about this exercise in historical imagination with changes along these lines: “If you had the opportunity to escort two renowned athletes on a tour of Terre Haute’s world-class Eugene V. Debs Museum, which two athletes would you choose?”

Maybe you would opt for two guys with personal integrity and grit (like Debs). Maybe your draft choices would lean toward team players (like Debs), guys who could lead (like Debs) but guys who knew sacrifice for the whole is a quality every leader possesses (like Debs).

Maybe you would choose guys like Bill Walton and Larry Bird.

Good choices. Walton and Bird are famous athletes, though they are very different in their public personalities. Walton is irrepressible, and Bird is more guarded and retiring (Debs could be both). Both are solid individuals who know the difference between surface and substance. (As Debs proved to all during his long political career).

It was my personal pleasure to guide Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird through the Debs Museum. (We were accompanied by the able director of this local jewel of a museum, Karen Brown.) This visit took place on the Sunday morning immediately following the Saturday dedication of the Larry Bird statue at Hulman Center. Thanks go out to Tribune-Star reporter David Hughes. He had written a story on Bird’s years with the Celtics, mentioning Walton’s knowledge and interest in Debs. Walton was contacted and offered a tour of the Debs Museum. The Big Red Head jumped at the offer.

When I arrived to pick up Walton for the tour, I was slightly floored to hear him ask if it was all right if Larry Bird and his wife Dinah (a graduate of Schulte High School and Indiana State University) could come along. Needless to say, this was one of the easiest “coaching” decisions I’ve made in my life.

What was this museum visit like for these celebrity sports heroes who, at least in our minds, live and work in such different worlds?

I can’t speak for Walton and Bird, of course. I can only report that they both showed deep interest and fascination in Debs’ home and his personal and political life. The museum holds many period artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings of great events in Debs’ life, and tributes and copies of letters to Debs from across the nation and around the world. These ISU and UCLA grads examined it all, with curiosity and concentration.

Bird seemed particularly interested in the fact that Eugene V. Debs was a native Hoosier, born and bred in Terre Haute, and that as a young man had worked for Hulman & Co. Walton spent some time looking over the list of distinguished recipients of the Debs Award, an honor bestowed on a person whose life work has been in concert with the ideals of Eugene V. Debs. He noted the names of people given this award each year over the past 51 years (what a great tradition this is!) by the Debs Foundation. Walton specifically pointed out the names of Pete Seeger, Correta Scott King and Howard Zinn.

The first Debs Award recipient was in 1965 and went to John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. I think Larry asked Bill, “Wasn’t Havlicek’s father a coal miner?” The two stars pondered this as they recalled the famous Celtic small forward from an earlier era. I think this thoughtful question says a lot.

Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.

Here’s another question asked (I believe by Larry Bird) while on the tour. Debs, as every Hautean should know, ran for president five times. Even at the turn of the 20th century candidates were expected to meet, speak with and press the flesh of voters and supporters. This meant extensive travel.

“How [I’m paraphrasing from memory] did Debs get around back then? How many miles did he travel on political and union organizing campaigns?”

Think about this question and think about the endless travel, the long waits in many cavernous air and train terminals, the myriad cookie-cutter hotel rooms Walton, Bird, and, yes, Debs, endured.

Monuments, museums, statues, history speaks to us. Bill Walton and Larry Bird found much in the Debs Home Museum that spoke to them. When was the last time you visited this wonderful museum and listened to what it has to say?

Gary Daily retired from Indiana State University as Associate Professor of History, Women’s Studies and African American Studies in 2000. He has been a member of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation since coming to Terre Haute in 1970. Though not much of a sports fan today, he attended every ISU home game during the Larry Bird era. Bill Walton is easily his favorite vegetarian, anti-Vietnam War college All-American.

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