31 March 2007

Act Up at Twenty

Here is the text of an editorial - including a mild bit of self-criticism -from The Nation (9 April 07 issue):

"Twenty years ago, a furious speech by the playwright and activist Larry Kramer at New York City's lesbian and gay community center birthed a new activist organization, ACT UP--the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Within a month, weekly planning meetings were attracting 200 people, a motley mix of gay men, lesbians, recovering addicts with AIDS and the newly diagnosed, a great many of them just in their 20s. Though barely noticed in the pages of this publication, ACT UP would revolutionize AIDS research and treatment, as well as inject new life into the gay movement and infuse the tactic of direct action with its own style of theatrical militancy.

At the time, six years and at least 30,000 American deaths into the epidemic, Ronald Reagan had yet to give a public address on AIDS. Not a single drug was available to treat HIV. Prevention efforts had been left to volunteers and struggling nonprofits. The right's solution was epitomized by William F. Buckley's modest proposal that gay men with HIV have their buttocks tattooed.

For its first action, in March 1987, ACT UP sent some 250 activists to descend on Wall Street. Armed with cardboard tombstones and anti-Reagan posters, they chanted, "Release those drugs," lighting a fire under the Food and Drug Administration and drugmakers to speed up research and approval. Two years later pharma giant Burroughs Wellcome was finally marketing an HIV treatment but had priced it (AZT) at an impossible $8,000 a year. So ACT UP returned to Wall Street, but this time activists didn't just picket. As former bond trader Peter Staley recalls, 'We [had] sealed ourselves into one of their corporate offices using high-powered drills. They didn't back down, so we upped the ante by shutting down the New York Stock Exchange, sneaking past security and using foghorns to drown out the opening bell. The company finally lowered the price three days later.'

During the years that followed, ACT UP stormed the National Institutes of Health, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control to protest their shortcomings. On the local level, Catholic dioceses and boards of education were targeted for blocking HIV information in public schools; city governments for failing to provide care and housing; jails and prisons for setting up segregation units. Some ACT UPers set up guerrilla needle-exchange programs; others staked out the entrances to junior highs to distribute condoms directly to students. Just as essentially, ACT UP members became self-taught experts in such arcane fields as virology and patent law and in so doing rewrote the patient-doctor relationship and helped put the idea of universal healthcare--now favored by a majority of Americans--on the political map.

Along the way, ACT UP borrowed strategies from other radical movements: antinuke protesters for techniques on civil disobedience, antiapartheid campaigners for bringing political funerals to the streets. Many of its tactics--videotaping demonstrations as protection against police brutality, coordinated but autonomous affinity group actions--have become standard fare in the global justice movement, as has ACT UP's deeply democratic tradition.

ACT UP is now a shadow of its former self, but its alums have gone on to found Health Gap, a driving force for global treatment access; the Treatment Action Group, which continues to push the AIDS research agenda; and Housing Works, which has won housing for thousands of New York City's HIV-­positive homeless. And true to form, the organization will mark its twentieth anniversary with a march on Wall Street March 29 to demand single-payer healthcare for all.

Today, anyone who gains access to an experimental drug before it's approved, or takes a life-saving medicine that was fast-tracked through the FDA--indeed, anyone engaged in the struggle for healthcare--is indebted to ACT UP's audacity and vision."

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Economic Mal-Distribution in the United States

A friend brought my attention to this press account of the persistence of immense and increasing economic inequality in the U.S.; the co-author of the research papers on which the report draws is Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley. You can find him here.

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Chocolate Jesus

This post is prompted by one over at Conscientious noting the incipient controversy over a sculpture by Cosimo Cavallaro called "My Sweet Lord." You can read the story at the BBC page. The statue of Jesus hanging as though on the cross (sans loincloth) is life-sized and made out of 200 lbs. of chocolate. Catholics seem to be upset by this. So, it turns out - unsurprisingly - that Muslims are not the only religious group to get upset by what they take to be "offensive" representations of their holy men. In any case, the story reminded me of this terrific song:

Chocolate Jesus
Tom Waits

Dont go to church on sunday.
Dont get on my knees to pray.
Dont memorize the books of the bible.
I got my own special way.

But I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more.
I fall on my knees every sunday
At Zerelda Lee's candy store.

Well its got to be a Chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside.
Got to be a Chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied.

Well I dont want no anna zabba.
Dont want no almond joy.
There aint nothing better
Suitable for this boy.
Well its the only thing
That can pick me up
Better than a cup of gold.
See only a Chocolate Jesus
Can satisfy my soul.

(solo)
When the weather gets rough
And its whiskey in the shade
Its best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane.
He flows like the big muddy
But thats ok
Pour him over ice cream
For a nice parfait.

Well its got to be a Chocolate Jesus.
Good enough for me.
Got to be a Chocolate Jesus.
Good enough for me.

Well its got to be a Chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside.
Got to be a Chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied.
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P.S.: (Updated at 8:45 pm 3/31/07) As The New York Times reports, outrage among Catholics seems to have been the precipitating factor in cancelling this exhibition. Note that, according to the gallery director, the oh so Christian outrage included death threats.

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A Clarification

© Steve Pyke

This is a follow up on my last post. I want to make it clear that Steve Pyke does not "specialize" in portraits of the despicable. To suggest otherwise would be surely be false (and so no more than Sontag was warranted in complaining that Salgado "specializes in world misery" or that Arbus "specialized in slow motion private smashups"). My point is that among his portraits are some of individuals - like Henry Kissinger - who I take to be despicable. The "contact sheet" above, for example, incorporates 36 portraits from Pyke's "philosophers" series (of which there are two installments). Hardly a despicable person in the bunch!

But the issue is really an interesting one from an ethical and political perspective. We often are asked to question whether photographers are justified in creating pictures of suffering. Are they justified in creating images of those responsible for great suffering?
__________

PS: My anonymous, obtuse commentator has been back singing Kissinger's praises and, once again, swearing and carrying on like a moron. As promised I've simply deleted his comments.

It is important to note that my views of Kissinger are not simply the biases of a liberal apologist for Islamist politics (I am not sure why my friend thinks that I fit that profile, but so be it). Yo
u might consider that Christopher Hitchens, himself a supporter of the BushCo fiasco in Iraq and hardly a lover of Islam, has written a stinging indictment of Kissinger. Hitchens persuasively argues that Henry is a war criminal and should be treated as such. Sometimes it is difficult to hold more than one thought in mind at any given moment, but it often is useful to try to do so.

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30 March 2007

Portraits of the Despicable

Dr. Henry Kissinger, New York City, March 14, 2007, © Steve Pyke

... rationalizing the bombing of Cambodia,; orchestrating U.S. support for the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende; giving a nod and wink to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor ...

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29 March 2007

Local Event - Guerilla Girls

The Susan B. Anthony Institute here at UofR is co-sponsoring a presentation/performance by one member of the notorious Guerrilla Girls. The Guerrilla Girls are a group of women involved in all aspects of the art industry who address and expose sexism, racism, and other forms of social injustice through activist artwork. Tickets cost $5 for community members, $3 for students. The event is TONIGHT and will begin at 7pm in Hubbell Auditorium.

And, should you think this group is passé, you might have a look at this story from The Guardian this week, reporting that a very, very, very small percentage of the collection in the Tate Museums in Britain is work created by women artists. Ironically, as I noted last summer, the Tate hosted a visit by the Girls.

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28 March 2007

Obituary: Don McPhee (1945-2007)

From The Guardian this obituary (and retrospective gallery) for Don McPhee who was staff photographer there for over three decades. Here too is a slideshow of an exhibition of McPhee's work that was shown in Manchester a few years back.

© Don McPhee

This image depicts a close confrontation between a stirking miner (note the NUM button on the side of his hat!) and the police during the 1984 strike in Sheffield and surrounding towns.

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Nachtwey Exhibitions

There are two different exhibitions* of James Nachtwey's** work currently showing in NYC. Here is an insightful review/essay by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times. What I take to be the crucial passage runs as follows:

"Beauty is a vexed matter in scenes of suffering, cruelty and death. The difference between exploitation and public service comes down to whether the subject of the image aids the ego of the photographer more than the other way around. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Along with bravery and perseverance, Mr. Nachtwey’s pictorial virtue makes him a model war photographer. He doesn’t mix up his priorities. His goal is to bear witness, because somebody must, and his pictures, devised to infuriate and move people to action, are finally about us, and our concern or lack of it, at least as much they are about him and his obvious talents."

Kimmelman, with whom I regularly disagree, rightly points out that Nachtwey's images are designed to outrage us, to haunt us, to provoke us. And the question arises as to how they might be best used to that effect, how they might be located so as to be unavoidable, standing remonstrances to we who are complicit but do not actually suffer directly from the wars and epidemics and mass displacement that Nachtwey captures.
__________

* [1] “The Sacrifice” runs through April 24 at 401 Projects, 401 West Street, at Charles Street, West Village, (212) 633-6202.

[2] “World Free of TB” runs through April 27 in the visitors’ lobby of the United Nations, First Avenue at 46th Street, Manhattan, (212) 963-0089. (Closed on April 6.)

** By the way, Nachtwey won the 2007 TED (Technology, Entertainment Design) Award.

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26 March 2007

The U.S., Authoritarian Regimes, & The Rule of Law

This evening a friend sent me links to pictures from The New York Times last week [1] [2]; as the caption notes, they depict Pakistani lawyers protesting the interference by the exective branch in the operation of the legal system.


Pakistani lawyers protested in Quetta last week, after
General Musharraf ousted the country’s chief justice
Both Images © Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

So, there in an authoritarian regime (albeit one that allegedly is a steadfast ally in our "war on terror"), lawyers take to the streets to protest overreaching by the President. Here, where the executive branch also seemingly is up to its elbows in various attempts to subvert or manipulate the administration of justice for political ends, we've heard (to the best of my knowledge) not so much as a peep from the legal community. I guess Alberto Gonzales should be glad he lives in the U.S.A.!

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25 March 2007

Fundraising at BAGnewsNOTES

Michael Shaw keeps a very incisive blog called BAGnewsNOTES focusing on the analysis of news images, photojournalism, and so forth. He is trying to raise some $$$ to fund a new project called Our Own Media which aims to underwrite efforts to bring photojournalism direct to the internet. Here is how Michael describes the plan:

"The purpose of "Our Own Media" fund is to help support and subsidize the socially committed, traditionally underpaid and inherently visionary photojournalist. The goal of the effort -- in addition to bringing more political content to the site -- is to establish a precedent for the grassroots, independent support of social/political photojournalism and to strengthen the progressive blogosphere as a platform and forum for this vital imagery."

If you can spare some cash this seems like a quite important undertaking. you can find a first installment here - a short project by Spanish photographer Héctor Mediavilla.

24 March 2007

Denis Darzacq - La Chute (The Fall)

From The Guardian today: "The French riots of 2005 inspired the photographer Denis Darzacq to head for the housing estates on the outskirts of the capital. He wanted to capture an entire generation in freefall and with no one to catch them." You can find an accompanying story on Darzacq here and more of his photographs here. Darzacq's work is being exhibited at Galerie Vu, 2 rue Jules Cousin 75004, Paris, until May 5.


Both images © Denis Darzacq/Galerie Vu

I have to say that I think this is very provocative work. How do we understand the ways any society sustains and receives different sorts of groups - in this case youth from relatively disadvantaged immigrant backgrounds? These pictures seem to me to raise pointed questions concerning the meaning of solidarity in the rich North Atlantic democracies.

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22 March 2007

Los Desaparecidos

Over at Open Democracy you can find a review of this exhibition (curated by folks at the North Dakota Museum of Art - which, judging from their web page, seems like a truly remarkable, progressive place - and now showing at El Museo del Barrio in NYC) of work by Latin American artists who address the legacy of massive "disappearances" perpetrated by dictatorial regimes across the continent. Representatives of these regimes - whether officials of the the police and armed forces or their less formal, but no less deadly proxies - engaged in extra-judicial kidnappings, followed by torture, often in clandestine detention centers, and in many cases, murder.

Among the artists whose work is included in the exhibition are: Marcelo Brodsky (Argentina), Luis Camnitzer (Uruguay), Arturo Dulcos (Chile), Juan Manuel Echavarría (Colombia), Antonio Frasconi (Uruguay), Nicolas Guagnini (Argentina), Sara Maneiro (Venezuela), Cildo Meireles (Brazil), Oscar Muñoz (Colombia), Ivan Navarro (Chile), Luis Gonzáles Palma (Guatemala), Ana Tiscornia (Uruguay), Fernando Traverso (Argentina). The review at OD includes a slide show of some of the works that you can find here.
__________
PS: (Corrected post 3/23/07 - Thanks Rob!) I have had trouble linking to Open Democracy pages the past couple of days but will remedy that asap.

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21 March 2007

And ...The Envelope Please!?!

Well, I'll be dipped! This just in from The Photographers' Gallery:

"Walid Raad /The Atlas Group (b. 1967, Lebanon), has been awarded the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for 2007. The Prize value is £30,000 and is awarded to one of the four shortlisted international photographers for their significant contribution to the medium of photography in Europe between 1 October 2005 – 30 September 2006. The Prize is presented by The Photographers’ Gallery and the exhibition continues until 9 April 2007.

Walid Raad /The Atlas Group was awarded the Prize for the recent exhibition The Atlas Group Project at Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, Germany (22 September 2006 – 7 January 2007).

Undertaken between 1989 and 2004, The Atlas Group is a project to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon. In this project the authenticity of photographic and video documents in the ‘archive’ are queried leaving the viewer uncertain as to how history - in particular one marked by the trauma of civil war - can be told and visually represented. Appearing to be based on one person’s memories, it also draw on cultural fantasies constructed from the material of the collective memory.

Walid Raad / The Atlas Group was chosen by the Jury, chaired by Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers' Gallery - Krysztof Candrowicz (Poland), Director, Lodz Art Center; Shirana Shahbazi, (Iran) artist & winner of The Photographers’ Gallery’s 2002 Photography Prize; Urs Stahel, (Switzerland) Director, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Anne-Marie Beckmann, (Frankfurt), Curator, Art Collection Deutsche Börse."

I never thought the Atlas Group would win the prize; I am surprised but pleased, though, since this was my choice. You can find my earlier posts on this award here [0] [1] [2].

Unsurprisingly, I suppose, The Atlas Group was not the popular favorite among visitors to the Gallery. As the PG web page reveals, this is the ordering given by gallery goers:

"Philippe Chancel was voted as the Gallery visitors' favourite artist for this year's Deutsche Börse Prize. The visitors' poll was conducted in the Gallery from 9 Feb – 21 March 2007.

First: Philippe Chancel
Second: Anders Petersen
Third: Walid Raad
Fourth: Fiona Tan"

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Joel Peter Witkin Imagines Bush's "Ship of Fools"

I came across this post by David Schonauer over at State of the Art and find it, like much of what the group there writes, pretty perplexing. It seems that they are terribly concerned that any photographic work might offend someone. The post was prompted by this image made by Joel Peter Witkin.

"The Raft of George W. Bush" © Joel Peter Witkin, 2007

Schonauer seems worried about the propriety of Witkin's view of the Bush administration. Here (in part) is what he writes:

"Witkin’s image is one-sided and ruthless in its sarcasm. ... It’s also informed by art history, so perhaps it’s not as much of a departure for Witkin as one might think.

The Witkin image has been shown at the Galerie Baudoin Lebon in Paris, a city not known for its fondness toward the U.S. president. Parisians do love art history, though, and Wikin’s image is based on one of the touchstones of French art: the 1819 painting “Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault. The painting itself was a political condemnation following the infamous shipwreck of the French frigate La Meduse, in which more than a hundred people died on a makeshift raft after being abandoned by lifeboats. To make his painting as real as possible, Gericault made sketches of bodies in a morgue. Is it any wonder Witkin was moved by the painting?

In Witkin’s version, the raft becomes, as the artist says, “a contemporary ‘Ship of Fools.’” Bush, portrayed by a look-alike model, is shown sitting “lost in his own ideas, shown as small electric lights.” At his feet lay his secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice. Above Bush is his mother, Barbara, “basking in the light, the myth of Republicanism.” At her feet is former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “crushed by the defeat of Iraq.” Former secretary of state Colin Powell taps Bush on the shoulder to make him aware of their rescue. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife express joyful rapture in their deliverance.

Is it fair for an artist to take on such subjects in such a way?"

I simply do not understand what the problem might be. Are we supposed to be concerned that Witkin seemingly disrespects Bush, his family and his political cronies? Are we supposed to
believe that "real" or "true" artists don't have political views (or, that they at least carefully segregate any such views they might embrace the from their "art")? Are we worried that the Witkins of the world might somehow have greater resources for political-aesthetic representation than do political elites (and here I hardly restrict my focus solely to the current administration)?

In a (now 20 year old essay) David Levi Strauss writes of Witkin: "A dedicated student of those twin instructors, excess and extremity, he is drawn to and draws his literal subjects from the lost and the despised." It seems to me that this latest work is wholly in keeping with that characterization.

[You can find Witkin's own brief comments on this work here. If you click on the image you'll link to a page containing more of Witkin's photography.]

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20 March 2007

Deutsche Börse photography prize 2007

The prize is due to be announced tomorrow. I offered my thoughts on the probable outcome in a post when the shortlist was announced last fall. (This practice of announcing shortlists for awards to be given many months later is the literary/art world equivalent to likely Presidential candidates repeatedly announcing when they plan to announce whether ot not they plan to transmogrify into an actual candidate. It is all about calling attention to the prize rather than the work. It is pretty annoying.) Last year's DB Prize winner was Robert Adams who turned his winnings over to Human Rights Watch. Today The Guardian has a slide show containing a couple of photographs made by each of the nominees, should you want to have a look.

In any case, I am pulling for the Atlas Group but suspect that we will see Anders Petersen win the Prize.

From the series We decided to let them say, "we are convinced," twice. © The Atlas Group 2002.

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19 March 2007

Beauty

I just flew back and forth across country and, on the flights, had a chance to do some reading. That is a rarity these days. On the outbound flight I read about two-thirds of the new collection of Sontag's essays and interviews about which I posted just before leaving. I skipped her essays on specific authors beauses I'd never actually read any of them (at least not recently or carefully enough to make a difference). Of the other essays and speeches and interviews there is much with which to disagree. Here are two examples:

[1] "Beauty is part of the history of idealizing, which is itself part of the history of consolation."

I agree with the first clause but not for the reasons Sontag might give. Calling someting beautiful is, in my estimation, less a description than an ascription or affirmation. It is a way of asserting an ideal and attaching it to some object or individual or experience or so on. As such, it operates subjunctively in the sense that we are saying that "this" is like "that" in a relevant (in this case aesthetic) sense and so should be treated in the same way. (So, for instance, to call something beautiful is to suggest that, like other beautiful things, we should, within limits of our powers and resources, strive to protect or conserve it.) Seen this way, idealization also invites conflict and contestation from others who might not want to accept the similarity relation I suggest, often because of the implication that if that relation is accepted, some burden exists on us to treat the object, individual, experience (etc.) in question as we do the object, individual, experience with which we've compared it. (How is that for a run-on sentence?)

I disagree strongly with the second clause in Sontag's assertion. The process of idealizing as I've just sketched it occupies the realm of possibility. In that sense it trades upon imagination and hope in what I take to be fairly clear ways. Imagination is the capacity to entertain and develop possibilities that are difficlt to discern in our actual circumstances or surroundings. Hope is something we invest in possibilities. Neither operates as a mode of consolation. Indeed, it is fair to say that imagination and hope both inspire. They both invite us to envision the mundane, often brutal and oppressive, world otherwise. I think Sontag's inference reflects a singularly fatalistic mindset that also is reflected in her dismissive views on the efficacy of politics in the face of historical events. (As Sontag quips in Regarding the Pain of Others - "To be sure, nobody who really thinks about history can take politics altogether seriously.")

[2] "Or they might describe something as interesting to avoid the banality of calling it beautiful. Photography was the art where"the interesting" first triumphed, and early on: the new photographic way of seeing proposed everything as a potential subject for the camera. The beautiful could not have yielded such a range of subjects; and it soon came to seem uncool to boot as a judgement."

Here Sontag is commenting on the displacement of "beauty" as a standard of judgement in the arts. Her views are provocative and they intersect in different ways with the positions articulated in recent years by, say, Arthur Danto or Elaine Scarry. But Sontag has a grudge against the "interesting" and she connects the rise of this competing criterion of assessment directly to the emergence of photography. Sontag might not concede that "interesting" is a basis for discrimination - anything, after all, might be interesting. But insofar as assessments of beauty are inherently discriminating (not eveerything, after all is) it is hard for me to see what her compklaint actually is. The category of "interesting" allows us to talk about things that are not beautiful (or parasticially, ugly). And it we concentrate on photography as a technology rather than, with Sontag, on photographs as objects we will can understand photography as a way of enhancing or amplifying our ability to see or imagine. (This is the argment in philosopher Patrick Maynard's wonderfully smart The Engine of Visualization on which I've posted here before.) And that will surely make many things we'd not otherwise perceive or notice or consider interesting. What is the problem?

Beyond that, it is important to notice the ambiguity in Sontag's very last clause. Is the connection between photography and beauty's coolness deficit a causal one? Sontag has an infuriating habit of making such highly ambiguous, and (once sorted out) usually indefensible assertions. Might it not be that the demise of beauty as a criterion of judgement (which in many ways that I cannot address here, I myself lament) and the emergence of photography as a technology occurred simultaneously but more or less indepenently of one another? Not if, like Sontag, one wants to defend "reality" from things that (like photographs) she insists are copies of it.

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18 March 2007

PRIVATE #36

I have been away for the past several days visiting my beautiful son August - hence the lack of activity on the blog. I returned home tonight, got stuck in my long, winding driveway (in snow deposited by a late March storm) and slogged into the house. I managed to eliminate some pesky, rude comments and then discovered that the new issue of PRIVATE (No. 36, Spring 2007) is available. So this is just a short announcement for those who might be interested.

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14 March 2007

At The Same Time

I find Susan Sontag's writings on photography incredibly wrong-headed. But they obviously set the terms of critical discussion in many ways. I find her writings on art and aesthetics almost equally exasperating in part because, as she says in the 1996 afterword to Against Interpretation & Other Essays she too often writes as "a barely closeted moralist." But on such topics too she is forthright and provocative in many ways. I have often found her political broadsides inspiring, even if their force presumed a level of celebrity that she herself would want to disown. Having said all that, I today bought her most recent, posthumous collection At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In the book Sontag takes up a miscellany of subjects - literature, politics and photography. I suspect I'll use my long plane flight tomorrow as an occasion to be provoked and exasperated.

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Serra Pelada

I know that Alfredo Jaar and Sebastiao Salgado both exhibited photographs of the massive Brazilian gold mine at Serra Pelada. Here are a couple of images made by Miguel Rio Branco (about whom, I've posted before) of the same mine. It is interesting how different photographers tackle the same subject/location.

Both imagess © Miguel Rio Branco / Magnum Photos - 1985

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13 March 2007

“I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.”

© Doug Mills/The New York Times

... and I blame them on Harriet Miers who, of course, is not here to defend herself. I surely don't take reposnisbility for them myself - hence the remarkable use of passive voice in my comment. Thank you very much. ~ Alberto.

P.S.: See [1] [2] [3] earlier posts on why this man ought to lose his job; his resolute non-accountability is getting really tiresome. The administration ought to be embarrassed, and perhaps they are; but with Dick Cheney still in office, they may think Alberto hardly is their biggest liability!

Record Labels

In The New York Times today there is a very brief announcement that Starbucks, which has made something of a business of purveying music performed by musicians on various record labels, plans to start its own label.

"New Label for Starbucks

Starbucks, which has been trying to market cultural cachet with the same might it does coffee, is finally starting its own record label. The coffee chain’s past efforts to refashion itself as musical tastemaker have included distributing albums from major-label stars like Norah Jones and, more recently, the first album from a previously little-known independent-label band, Low Stars. But now, under a deal with the existing label Concord Records, Starbucks will sign its own artists, with a first release anticipated before the end of the year. The label, Hear Music, is expected to pursue both new and established performers. The two partners scored big once before: Starbucks and Concord released Ray Charles’s final new CD, “Genius Loves Company,” which has sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide. JEFF LEEDS"

This seems to me to be a mistake - they should really stick to making coffee; that said, I wonder who would sign with such a label. (After all, Ray is dead.) What identity do they anticipate establishing? I'm sure they have a plan, but it does not seem obvious to me. I think that whatever quirkiness they had going for then until now will become homogenized. This leads me to wonder about record labels more generally. I am listening to a CD at the moment by violinist Jenny Scheinman on Cryptogramophone. That may seem an extreme case, but most of the musicians I listen to record for off-beat, usually specialized labels. Paul Motian on ECM and Winter & Winter; Lucinda Williams on Lost Highway; Los Lobos on Hollywood; Tom Waits on Anti; Buddy & Julie Miller on New West; Wilco on Nonesuch; and so forth. And then, of course there are the intrepid types like Dave Holland or Dave Douglas who have launched their own labels - Dare2 Records and Greenleaf Music respectively.

So, the first question is, why would Starbucks think it needs to start a new label? The musicians I've listed are just a small sampling of the sorts of folks the coffee-makers could peddle to caffeine fiends. Which of these folks (or others resembling them) will sign with the generic "Hear"? The second question is why would someone like Waits, who has had "major label" contracts in the past, sign with someone like Anti? Finally, why would Douglas and Holland take the plunge and start their own labels? Neither, I suspect, had any trouble persuading their former labels to let them do pretty much as they pleased musically. I think this whole topic is fascinating, in part because there is an imperfect analogy to Photography Agencies. I know little about the political economy of either labels or agencies, but I always have assumed that there is a real trade-off between creative control and commercial viability.

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12 March 2007

New Blog - photo beirut

I want to call your attention a new blog called photo beirut that Michelle Woodward recently has launched. Although, we've never actually met, Michelle and I have corresponded about a number of matters since I started keeping this blog. She is a photographer herself (see smaple at right) and also is photo editor at MERIP Middle East Report; I posted last fall on a very smart essay - "Not All Black & White" - she wrote reviewing several recent books on Palestine. As I understand things, Michelle relocated to Beirut from the States fairly recently. You can find her web page (with additional examples of her work) here. This is an auspicious event, I think. If her past work is any indication, hers will be a terrific blog. Check it out.

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11 March 2007

Uses of Photography - "Exile of the Imaginary"

Well, here is a question. I came acrosss an advert for a current exhibition called "Exile of the Imaginary: Politics Aesthetics, Love" among the adverts in the most recent issue of ArtForum
(March 2007). I knew I'd seen the image in the poster someplace before. Sure enough it is a detail from a photograph taken at the lynching of John Holmes at St. James Park in San Jose, CA in 1933. I had seen related images (plates 80-84) in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America about which I've posted before. In that post and another I raised the issue of "meaning" and "use" in photography.

This poster raises, I think, some unsettling issues about the uses of photography. One of the artists included in the exhibition is Ken Gonzales-Day who last fall had an exhibition entitled "Lynching in the American West, 1850-1935" at CUE Art Foundation in NYC. (The exhibition was curated by Bruce Yonemoto and was accompanied by an essay composed by Juli Carson. Yonemoto is among the artists included in the "Exile" exhbition which is curated by Carson. Small world.) In any case, Gonzales-Day has undertaken to "erase" lynching as in this image:

According to the Artist: "More than simply retracing the forgotten lines of history, the Erased Lynching series directs our gaze to invisibility itself. Gleaned from the archive, regional museums, and eBay; these photographic images of Western lynchings were altered. The bodies of the condemned and the ropes are removed but the lynch mob, if present, remains fully visible, jeering, laughing, or pulling at the air in a deadly pantomime. As such, this series strives to make the invisible -visible." In this altered image the body of John Holmes no long swings from the tree above the assembled crowd (even though in the publicity still for the exhibition one can still make out the rope wrapped around the tree trunk).

Now, this strikes me as an astoundingly creative enterprise. I do not mean to criticize Gonzales-Day; in fact, I want to track down more of his work.* My worry, rather, is about the poster and the other publicity for the "Exile" show. As you can see, the poster reproduces a detail from the left side of this image (which, as the following image shows, Gonzales-Day reproduces as a large - 120 X 280 inch - mural). I am extremely uneasy about using this brightly colored slice of a retouched photograph of a lynching as a publicity poster that in no way acknowledges the original provenance of the image. ArtForum reproduces the larger black and white image I've lifted here in the same fuscia color as the bottom part of a full page advert that is itself embedded in a 100+ page expanse of other advertisements. (See page 227.) I cannot quite put my finger on it, but something seems amiss here.

As I wrote in my earlier posts, I think James Allen has done an immense service by pushing us to confront the evidence of systematic racial violence in the U.S.. Likewise, Gonzales-Day, by highlighting both the quite large number of lynchings in the Western states and the fact that Latinos constituted a disproportionate number of the victims of those acts of violence, has undertaken a much needed task. But images do not speak for themselves. And the publicity advertisements for the "Exile" show seem to me to suffer precisely because they re-embed a horrific event in speechless silence.
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*Gonzales-Day has published a book Lynching in the American West, 1850-1935 with Duke University Press (2006) in which he recounts his inquiry into the subject.

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Guitar Heroines

So, in The New York Times today there is this story about women in indie-rock who are staking a claim to guitar virtuousity. I am not familiar with any of these musicians but hope to track some of them down (the smart young woman who is TA-ing for my undergraduate class this spring is a certified indie-snob and will surely be able to point me in the proper direction!). The person who immediately sprang to my mind while reading the story is Bonnie Raitt whom I've been listening to since my high school days. She can play a Stratocaster like nobody's business. Here is part of the intro to a recent interview with Raitt in Guitar Player magazine: "In a field dominated by men, men, and more men, Bonnie Raitt has managed to kick hellacious ass all over the brotherhood of guitar since her eponymous debut album unveiled her soulful slide playing and singing back in 1971."

The peculiar thing is that none of the women mentioned in The Times story (to say nothing of the reporter who penned it) mention Bonnie, or any other "elder" guitar heroines. The point? If there are folks who've come before you it is important to recognize them; otherwise you just re-invent the wheel and invite those who come after you to do the same.
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PS: As an afterthought, I want to mention that here too I find an interesting confluence like one I mentioned recently, namely that Raitt is working with producers who also work with other musicians who I quite like. On her recent albums she has relied on Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom who not only constitute half of the Latin Playboys but who also have variously co-produced, provded technical/creative input, and played on a bunch of Los Lobos records over the years.

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10 March 2007

Jacques in ARTFORUM

Because I have elsewhere characterized Artforum as the Cosmo or Vogue of the "Art World," it is a bit chastening when, periodically, they get carried away with seriousness. For instance, they've gone and devoted very nearly all the relatively few pages not given over to advertising in the latest (March 2007) issue to a set of essays and interviews under the title "Regime Change: Jacques Rancière & Contemporary Art." In addition to an essay by Rancière ("The Emancipated Spectator") and a longish interview with him (conducted by Fulvia Carnevale & John Kelsey), there are essays by Kristin Ross, Paul Chan, Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Bettina Funck all of which explore not just the general relation of art & politics, but the influence that Rancière's writings have had on specific artists.
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PS: You may think I am being unkind to the AF crowd. Perhaps. The Jacques-apalooza begins on page 252. By my count 234 of the preceeding pages are given over to adverts. You decide.

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09 March 2007

... Or Just Plain Incompetent?

It has not been a good couple of weeks for the Bush Administration with respect to its much vaunted commitment to the rule of law. First, we have the mass firing of US Attorneys for political reasons and Attorney General Gonzales's attempt to write that off as a "personnel matter." Now we learn from the Justice Department's Inspector General that the FBI has been abusing its powers under the "Patriot Act" to improperly gather information on American citizens. I'm shocked! In case you've missed it, you can find news reports in The New York Times here and The Guardian here. Under the Petriot Act, the FBI can issue "security letters" to request information on American Citizens essentially without Judicial oversight. According to the news reports the Agency has issued as many as 20,000 such letters, often in cases with no clear national security relevance and sometimes claiming exigencies that did not, in fact, exist. According to the investigation the FBI also misreported the number of such letters it had issued to Congressional oversight committees. The Justice IG Report suggests that these excesses are likely due to procedural lapses, poor traininng, ineffective management, and so forth rather than political motivations. Let's assume that is plausible. In that case, we can add incompetence onto Alberto Gonzales's job performance rating?

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Willfully Ignorant

Here is an Op-Ed by the US Attorney General from USA Today today written in response to an editorial by the paper calling the recent mass firing of US Attorneys by the Bush Administration what it obviously is - politically motivated.

"Opposing view: They lost my confidence
Attorneys’ dismissals were related to performance, not to politics.

By Alberto R. Gonzales

As any employer or manager knows, the handling of personnel matters — especially the termination of employees — is one of the most challenging tasks in any business. Personnel matters in the federal government are no exception.

To be clear, it was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management — what have been referred to broadly as "performance-related" reasons — that seven U.S. attorneys were asked to resign last December.

The Justice Department, out of respect for these individuals, would have preferred not to talk publicly about those reasons, but disclosures in the press and requests for information from Congress altered those best-laid plans. Although our reasons for their dismissal were appropriate, our failure to provide those reasons to these individual U.S. attorneys at the time they were asked to resign has only served to fuel wild and inaccurate speculation about our motives. That is very unfortunate because faith and confidence in our justice system are more important than any one individual.

We have never asked a U.S. attorney to resign in an effort to retaliate against him or her or to inappropriately interfere with a public corruption case (or any other type of case, for that matter). Indeed, during the last six years, the department has established an extremely strong record of rooting out public corruption, including prosecuting a number of very high-profile cases.

Like me, U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and we all serve at the pleasure of the president. If U.S. attorneys are not executing their responsibilities in a manner that furthers the management and policy goals of departmental leadership, it is appropriate that they be replaced. After all, the responsibility of the Department of Justice, and of the Congress, is to serve the people of the United States. While I am grateful for the public service of these seven U.S. attorneys, they simply lost my confidence. I hope that this episode ultimately will be recognized for what it is: an overblown personnel matter.

Alberto R. Gonzales is attorney general of the United States."

I have added stress to the last sentence. Should Gonzales remain so willfully tone deaf on this matter, the identifying description following the essay should be re-written in the past tense. What Gonzales calls "reasons related to policy, priorities and management" can be translated quite simply as politics.

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08 March 2007

Hyper-Dead

You can find obituaries of Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) here and here. In The Guardian obit we learn that:

"Baudrillard, whose simulacrum departed at the age of 77, attracted widespread notoriety for predicting that the first Gulf war, of 1991, would not take place. During the war, he said it was not really taking place. After its conclusion, he announced, imperturbably, that it had not taken place. This prompted some to characterise him as yet another continental philosopher who revelled in a disreputable contempt for truth and reality.

Yet Baudrillard was pointing out that the war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile's-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation."

I agree with Susan Sontag about very little, but I think her disparaging remarks on this sort of view toward the end of Regarding the Pain of Others (108-13) are pretty much right on point. Here is a brief passage:

“To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment ... It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. ... There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.”

I suspect that most of us find it impossible to imagine being the man captured in this image. So, try instead, to imagine that you actually witness the scene depicted in this image from our "first" Iraq war, that you arrive soon after this Iraqi soldier was incinerated, that you can still feel the heat and smell his cooking flesh. Or imagine that you were riding in the vehicle next to him but managed to escape.

© Ken Jarecke, Contact Press Images, 1991

If you cannot imagine that, imagine being the photographer who made this image. You can find a story on him here. Or imagine that you are the family of this soldier and have no idea what became of him or of the horrible and excruciating way he died. Or imagine that you are any one of the millions of people in the Middle East who have seen or have yet to see this picture but will, and who do not have the privilege of patronizng reality since the same (at least a very similar) fate could easily be theirs on nearly any "normal" day. Hopefully you get the point.

After such exercises, even if you undertake them only half-heartedly, try to figure out why anyone paid any attention to Baudrillard.

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07 March 2007

Picnic Table

© Lisa M. Robinson, "Wish, 2005"

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Milton Rogovin

"Milton Rogovin celebrates the non-celebrated,
the ones who make the world go round."
~ Studs Terkel


I noted yesterday that the International Center for Photography will give the 2007 Cornell Capa Award to Milton Rogovin this spring. Rogovin, now in his late 90s, has lived and worked in and from Buffalo, New York. for much of his life. He is part of a surprising tradition of progressive political spokesmen and women (heros?) in Western New York (think Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Walter Raushenbusch).

"Anne & Milton Rogovin" © Harvey Wang, 2001

Rogovin was an optometrist by trade until the early 1950s when he was targeted politically in the wake of a visit to the House Un-American Affairs Committee. A short time later he took up photography and is perhaps best known for his proclivity for photographing the same "forgotten" individuals repeatedly over long periods of time. Alec Soth has written a typically insightful post about Rogovin here. From my perspective it is interesting to consider Rogovin's work in terms of the uses of photography. What do we make of someone preoccupied with making portraits of individuals who are obscure and often unwelcome in our wider society? How do we think about the dissemination of such images? I saw an exhibition of Rogovin's work at Rochester Contemporary a few years ago and I have to say that the gallery setting seemed inappropriate. But what are the alternatives? I am not certain. There is not much more to say other than this award is richly deserved.

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06 March 2007

Mind the Gap

This is a portrait of the fabulous Miles Davis; it first appeared in an advertising campaign and then in Individuals: Portraits from the Gap Collection which was selected as one of American Photo's Best Books in 2006. Yes, the Gap. Yes, award winning. All that may seem a bit perplexing. But things only get more perplexing still. Today, State of the Art, the blog housed at the American Photo reports - complete with the obligatory garnish of irony - that the International Center for Photography has bestowed yet another prize on the Gap, namely its 2007 Infiinty Award for Applied/Fashion/Advertising Photography. Fair enough, I suppose, given that there are a ton of folks who use their talent on fashion and advertising. I am unsure where the State of Art folk get off being critical of ICP, but that is another matter. Here are the winners in various categories:

Lifetime Achievement Award: William Klein
Cornell Capa Award: Milton Rogovin
ICP Trustees Award: Karl Lagerfeld
Young Photographer: Ryan McGinley
Writing: David Levi Strauss
Publication: Somme-Nous? by Tendance Floue
Art: Tracey Moffat
Photojournalism: Christopher Morris
Applied Photography: The Gap

What I wonder is how the ICP folk can with a straight face invite the advertising/fashion crowd to the same affair where they plan to honor Milton Rogovin who was notoriously black listed for his political views, David Levi Strauss who spends much of his considerable critical capacities importuning against the propagandistic uses of photography, and photojournalist Christoher Morris, whose entire enterprise depends on a commitment to the sort of accuracy, truth and honesty that the fashion/advertising crowd do their utmost to subvert.
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PS: (Added shorly later) I didn't mention the award to Lagerfeld because it seems so obvious that the ICP Trustees are simply kissing up to a celebrity with deep pockets. But, on reconsideration, perhaps that doesn't 'go without saying.'

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"Fuckin A"

Maybe it is just me, but it seems that a publication aspiring to cover popular culture - and perhaps even more so, popular music - would need to have a policy that allowed young "potty mouths" to speak their minds.

Today I was reading a copy of The New York Times that a student left in my office (thanks Caroline!). It contains a review of a recent show by an indie band called the Thermals. The band seems mildly interesting in a punkish sort of way. You can find them here. What I think is worth noticing is that the reporter from The Times (Kelefa Sanneh) for some reason was not allowed to actually print the name of the band's second album. Here is what the paper printed:

"The Thermals evolved out of a gentle indie-rock band from Portland, Ore., called Hutch and Kathy. Kathy Foster, a bassist, and Hutch Harris, a singer and guitarist, recruited a drummer and recorded a loud demo tape that became the Thermals’ debut album, “More Parts per Million.” After an exuberant 2004 follow-up with an exuberantly unprintable title, they lost their drummer but kept going ..." (emphasis added).

Is The Times kidding? Is the paper too prudish to print the words "Fuckin A"? Who are the editors worried about offending? How many people my age read this review? And, of those, how many would be shocked by such language? This is pathetic self-censorship.
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PS: I now notice that the Amazon link for the album carries the warning [EXPLICIT LYRICS] - you better watch out!

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05 March 2007

Thinking About Genocide

This evening I came across a provocative essay in The London Review of Books that challenges common interpretations of the conflict in Darfur as a case "genocide" requiring "humanitarian" intervention. (I have posted a number of times on how the situation in Dafur is represented; you can find the posts by clicking the 'Darfur' label below. It will be obvious that I have accepted the view that the violence there amounts to genocide.) The author of the essay Mahmood Mamdani condemns the violence but insists that labeling the conflict "genocide" is unwarranted and observes that, by racializing the conflict, those who decry the violence in such terms engage (even if unintentionally) in the "depoliticisation, naturalisation and, ultimately, demonisation of the notion ‘Arab’, as against ‘African’." This allows those campaigning for intervention in the conflict to adopt a moralistic stance. Mamdani concludes as follows: "Strengthening those on both sides who stand for a political settlement to the civil war is the only realistic approach. Solidarity, not intervention, is what will bring peace to Darfur." Here is a passage from the beginning of his essay:

"The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency

Mahmood Mamdani


The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the difference? Who does the naming? Who is being named? What difference does it make?

The most powerful mobilisation in New York City is in relation to Darfur, not Iraq. One would expect the reverse, for no other reason than that most New Yorkers are American citizens and so should feel directly responsible for the violence in occupied Iraq. But Iraq is a messy place in the American imagination, a place with messy politics. Americans worry about what their government should do in Iraq. Should it withdraw? What would happen if it did? In contrast, there is nothing messy about Darfur. It is a place without history and without politics; simply a site where perpetrators clearly identifiable as ‘Arabs’ confront victims clearly identifiable as ‘Africans’. . . .

What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place with a history and politics – a messy politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality? Morally, there is no doubt about the horrific nature of the violence against civilians in Darfur. The ambiguity lies in the politics of the violence, whose sources include both a state-connected counter-insurgency and an organised insurgency, very much like the violence in Iraq."

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04 March 2007

Carrie Mae Weems (at UofR)

A novel and welcome turn of events occurred at my University this year. The administration (headed by a new president and an even newer dean) funded a "Humanities Project" that has turned out well enough that they renewed funding. The University is heavily orieinted toward science and engineering and the humanities have been largely neglected in the time I have been on campus (nearly a decade and a half). I will spare you the complex and contested history and simply say that I hope that this new project marks the start of an intellectual rejuvenation on campus.

For the past several weeks the College's Hartnett Gallery has been showing work by Carrie Mae Weems in an exhibition called "All About Eve." The exhibition runs through this coming Friday, March 9th.

Weems won the 2005 Distinguished Photographer Award from Women in Photography International. This piece is called "A Negroid Type / You Became a Scientific Profile / An Anthropological Debate / & A Photographic Subject" (1995-1996).

© Carrie Mae Weems

As the images she uses in this piece make clear, Weems is keenly attuned to the exigencies, both historical and contemporary, that define the intersection of race and gender in the United States. And as the title makes clear, she also is attuned to the ways that photography specifically, and representation more generally, contributes to those exigencies. You can find more of her work here.

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Enthusiasms (7) - John Hammond

"... and I wondered how the same moon outside
over this Chinatown fair
could look down on Illinois
and find you there
and you know I love you Baby"
- Tom Waits, Shore Leave
Tonight the moon, just past full, is very bright and is casting shadows from the trees onto the snow ouside. I've been reading and getting a bit organized and listening to John Hammond. The man is pretty amazing. He's been recording for more than four decades and keeps turning out terrific albums.

Hammond's voice was made for the blues and the musicians he plays with are completely sympatico. (In that respect listening to Hammond's albums is like listening to the Robert Cray Band.) One interesting thing is that his albums are consistently produced (or co-produced) by folks who I also really quite like - a nice confluence. His latest release "Push Comes to Shove" (Back Porch) is produced by G Love. His 2003 CD "Ready for Love" (Back Porch) was produced by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos fame (liner notes by Tom Waits). And the very nearly sublime 2001 release "Wicked Grin" (Pointblank) which consists wholly of Tom Waits covers - including "Shore Leave" - was produced by the man himself (liner notes by T-Bone Burnett). In each instance the producer sits in on one or more of the tunes. Hammond is a "Jr."; his father was an extremely influential producer and promoter who rightly is credited with assaulting the color lines in the American music industry.

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03 March 2007

Issues for Republicans - The Rule of Law and "Faggots"

"This kind of purge is legal but unprecedented." That is how Slate depicts the recent purge by the Bush Administration of (at least) eight perfectly competent US Attorneys recently. (There are only 93 US Attorneys in total, so we are talking close to ten percent of the staff here.) Well, this is part of the risk raised by the incompleteness of any set of rules. Since large expanses of our legal and political systems are covered by informal arrangements, it is perfectly legal for political operatives to exploit loopholes and breach "mere" convention. You will recall the Tom Delay-engineered redistricting scheme in Texas a few years back. It was conventional not to redistrict more than once a decade, but perfectly legal to do so. Once again we see that the Republicans seem more than willing to challenge and change the rules when it is to their advantage. When will the Democrats stop being "shocked! shocked!" and play hardball? They ought to be seeking Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's job. He is meant to be upholding the administration of justice, not subverting it in the name of partisan and/or political advantage, right?

Republicans at the Justice Department seem to be tone deaf on the issue. Here is a passage from a story in The New York Times today: "Justice Department officials, who would speak about the department’s decision making only anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly, now acknowledge that the dismissals were mishandled. They failed to anticipate how much attention the highly unusual group firing would draw, and the agency’s contradictory accounts about whether the dismissals were performance-related helped spur suspicions." So, the problem is not that Gonzales has fired people for no particular reason, but that he did so in a clumsy way and that someone noticed. Perhaps the Attorneys ought to have been fired serially over the course of several months? Same effect, less notoriety.

"Ann Coulter" © Tom Tomorrow

Speaking of Republicans, it turns out that they are in something of a pickle. Ann Coulter, who I think is a fool, has made a set of "jokes" in a speech to a right wing convention that, depending on one's views, are either anti-John Edwards or anti-gay. According to The Times several of the Republican Presidential candidates - McCain, Romney, Giuliani - are falling over themselves in an effort to distance themselves from Coulter's remarks. The various campaign spokesmen characterized Coulter's comments as "inappropriate" or "offensive" but it is unclear precisely what they might mean. I see at least two possibilities:

(1) The word "faggot" is disrespectful toward homosexuals whom we ought to accord equal dignity and respect (to paraphrase a spokesman for Romney). Well then, let's see whether the candidates are just engaging in cheap talk here. How about gay marriage fellas? How about gay clergy? Where do McCain, Giuliani and Romney on such matters? I am certain that voters in the Republican "base" are eager to find out.

(2) Name calling should not be allowed in politics. Calling John Edwards a "faggot" is disrespectful toward him. No way John is gay! The tacit premise here, of course, is that there is something wrong with being "a faggot." In that sense Romney, Giuliani and McCain really are agreeing with Coulter.

I welcome clarification.

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Political Not Ethical (Global Warming Again)

Aproppos my post yesterday on poor Al Gore, read this story in The Guardian today. Conservatives consider themselves clever. They portray Gore and other activists as hypocrits because, for instance, they jet around to advocate for environmental policies. The hook, of course, is that aircraft emissions are a huge source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The difficulty for those same conservatives is that they just as surely will be defenders of nearly unfettered trade and wide-open markets. As The Guardian reports, commercial shipping is a significantly greater (and rapidly increasing) source of emissions than is aircraft travel. And shipping is not covered by relevant international agreements. So, the point is not simply to return a kick in the pants to the conservatives (tempting as that may be!). Instead it is to reiterate my point - global warming is a political problem not an ethical one.

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02 March 2007

Al Gore's "Moral" Problem ...

I don't watch TV much at all. I understand that on winning an Oscar for his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" the other evening Al Gore described global warming in this way: "It's not a political issue, it's a moral issue." There are a couple of things about this claim. First, Gore is wrong. Second, he might as well have hung a sign on his back saying "Kick Me!" Let's work in reverse.

Having invited global warming skeptics and conservatives generally to kick him, they quickly and happily obliged. (If you Google 'Al Gore electricity hypocrisy,' by the way, most of the links are to one or another right wing rag.) As reported here in The Guardian, some policy research outfit in Tennessee went ahead and obtained the energy usage records for the Gore residence in Nashville. They discoved that the Gore abode's electricity/gas consumption is astronomical. Here is a nice (but not entirely persuasive) reply to the hypocrisy charge - also at The Guardian. But the underlying point remains - if we define global warming (or other large scale issues) as "moral" not "political," we open the door to snide replies by opportunists eager to shift the topic from a problem in the world to a problem with progressives and their motives. And arguing about carbon offsets and such arcane matters simply makes one appear to be even more of a weasel.

The real difficulty is that global warming is not a "moral" problem in the first place. It is precisely a political problem that requires enforcable political agreements and credible insititutional arrangements (for energy production, research, monitoring of compliance, and so forth). And even if all the moral "green" folk in the world want to do something about global warming, they need to coordinate their efforts which is a political task. Lots of uncoordinated individual efforts will have epislon effect on the environment. Those individuals may well feel good about themselves. (Assuming that they can get to work, for instance, without driving.) I don't care. This is about environmental consequences not therapy. Al's moralism is no more persuasive for being left-leaning than Tipper's (anti-rock lyric) moralism was offensive for being right leaning.

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01 March 2007

"Where in the World ... ? Britain's Least Likely Landscapes" (How is that for alliteration?)

This is a link to a gallery in The Guardian that offers some surprising lanscape photographs like this:

Not my usual kind of photography, but the gallery puts various parts of the British countryside - like this Yorkshire landscape - in an interesting light. Photograph: © Joe Cornish.