31 January 2009

Octuplets

I've been in Dublin for the past five days (accounting for the silence here). I head home tomorrow morning. I had heard about the octuplet birth before the trip, but didn't pay much attention. This evening my friend Susan brought this follow-up story in The Guardian to my attention. I will start by saying that my own beautiful son August was born thanks to IVF. I will also say that I am familiar with the obsessions that so often accompany fertility problems. It is fair to say that those obsessions and the pathologies they generated went a good deal of the way toward destroying my relationship with August's mother. The obsessions and pathologies were not all hers. Not by a long shot. But they were lethal.

So when I read in this story that the mother of the octuplets, who were themselves conceived via IVF, had six other children - also all conceived via IVF - terribly disturbing. Not only is the woman apparently certifiable, but the doctor who performed the fertility treatments should lose her or his license. Oh - and I think that the state should remove all the children from the home. It is not possible that living in a home with 13 siblings and a single parent (who deliberately chose to create that circumstance) is in the best interest of any of those kids.

27 January 2009

Bill Kristol Dumped ... Sort of

Bill Kristol is an embarrassment; the good news is he's just lost his job as a columnist at The New York Times. The bad news is that he won't be out with the other job seekers in the American economic wasteland. The experience might've done him some good. Nonetheless, he's been offered a gig somewhat down the media food chain at The Washington Post. I simply don't understand why mediocrity is no barrier to high profile media jobs.

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Amy Alkon is a Dim Bulb (3rd Installment in an Irregular Series)

It has been a while since I'd stopped over at the "Advice Goddess" blog. Not much has changed ~ lots of huffing and puffing, the same casual attitude toward truth and accuracy, and a whole lot of "look at me! aren't I wonderful!"

Well I was unsurprised to find that the inimitable Ms. Alkon has jumped on the bash Robert Reich bandwagon. Here is her post from last week (23 January) in a nice cute mauve:

"The Best Person For The Job

(...As long as that person isn't white or a man.) Shockingly, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is coming out against hiring white male construction workers. He writes on his blog a blog item charmingly titled "The Stimulus: How to Create Jobs Without Them All Going to Skilled Professionals and White Male Construction Workers." An excerpt:

And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most -- women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed -- will be shut out.

While I'm against government stimulus packages, and for government getting out of the way of business to kick-start our economy, if our tax dollars are going for a stimulus package and I don't have a choice in the matter, I'd really like to see the hiring done based on who's the best person for the job.

And, I don't know about you, but *I* sure don't hire the person who needs the job the most, and I sure don't want to patronize businesses that do."

Thanks to the nice literate folk at Media Matters, here is what Reich actually wrote:
"[I]f there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most -- women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed -- will be shut out."
This is pretty much Economics 101 which, apparently, Ms. Alkon either slept through or never took. What Reich was addressing was the danger of distributing funds from any economic stimulus plan in ways that simply line the pockets of workers with certain sorts of skills. He argued for a distribution of funds across sectors in a way that they might help (via job training, etc) the broadest number of people. This is clear in what he subsequently said in testimony before the House Democratic Caucus Steering and Policy Committee Forum:
"I have nothing against white male construction workers. I'm just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well. And therefore, in my remarks I have suggested to you, and I'm certainly happy to talk about it more, ways in which the money can be -- criteria can be set so that the money does go to others: the long-term unemployed, minorities, women, people who are not necessarily construction workers or high-skilled professionals."
Reich said that nearly two weeks before Amy produced her screed - which is precsiely what her post amounts to even gussied up in that cute mauve. Gee, Amy, I guess if you did a bit of research and stopped relying on the right-wing echo chamber, you might not have gotten things exactly wrong. But being accurate or truthful or correct wasn't much of a concern all along, right? For such an intrepid individualist it certainly is ironic how you take talking points and spew them like all the other unthinking reactionaries.

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26 January 2009

Diane Rehm as Propagandist ~ Torture Keeps Us Safe!

Why is it that Diane Rehm insists of giving a soap box to virtually any right wing nut who manages to create a fracas by making ignorant, outrageous claims?

Today the DRS hosted BushCo operative Marc Thiessen who has taken it upon himself (who knows who is pulling the actual strings on the campaign) to justify the effectiveness of torture as a means of obtaining "intelligence" in the "war on terror." Here is an Op-Ed that Thiessen wrote for The Washington Post last week. (What are the editorial folks at The Post thinking?) His views have been taken up more or less thoughtlessly by other media outlets like The New York Times and MSNBC. Thiessen's claim is simple - torture policies extracted intelligence that helped us preempt a whole set of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The problem, of course, is that Thiessen is a bullshitter and a liar - a lethal combination that allows him to both subvert the truth to support his "argument"and ignore it totally when it suits him. His claims are based on a set of alleged "facts" wrapped in tendentious interpretations of those dubious "facts." What he is peddling is pure fantasy. For the grounds of my charges look here for an analysis that links to various U.S. government studies that controvert Thiessen's claims. (The producers at the DRS ought to have had a look before inviting this guy on the show!) That Thiessen simply is trying to vindicate the Bush administration - in other words that he is conducting a political campaign pure and simple - is transparent from this Op-Ed at The Wall Street Journal.

Once again, the DRS had a three person panel - one journalist whose professional norms disable him in a confrontation with a hack like Thiessen, the second a representative of a non-partisan human rights outfit. That allowed Thiessen to be aggressive, insulting, and duplicitously partisan in ways that the other guests simply would not. This pattern is typical of the DRS. I've called it to their attention repeatedly. That the producers persist in arranging such skewed shows makes them complicit.

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24 January 2009

The Annals of Fair Use ~ The Politics of Michael v Michael (Yon and Moore)

Major Mark Bieger holding Fatah after a car bomb
attack, Mosul, 2005
.
Photograph © Michael Yon.

Over at State of the Art I stumbled across this report on photojournalist Michael Yon's threat to sue Michael Moore for copyright infringement. At issue is Moore's use of the photograph I've lifted above. David Schonauer concludes the SotA post this way:
"I didn't see how Moore used the image. But I'm wondering what legal basis Yon has for his proposed suit. Fair use covers a lot of ground these days."
This seems like reasonable perplexity to me. I am not a big fan of Moore. He has, I think, become something of a caricature of himself, but hardly more so than the Glen Becks and Ann Coulters and Amy Alkons and Rush Limbaughs who inhabit the archipelago of right-wing fantasy islands. But still, despite the huffing and puffing from Yon and his lawyer, I don't see anything resembling a plausible legal case here. Indeed, I suspect Yon would already have filed the case if he actually thought there is one. It has, after all, been six months since he went public with his complaints. So, I thought it would be worth taking a look to see what might be going on.

I figured that a good place to start would be with Moore. His web site is not very user friendly (no archives, search via google which turns up way to much stuff) and despite poking around for a reasonable amount of time I've not been able to locate the offending image. I searched under Mosul, Michael Yon, and Bieger all to no avail.

The next step, obviously, is to see what Yon has to say. You can link to his initial blog post about the photo here. You can link to his posts about the threatened suit here and here and here. In the second of these posts, Yon reproduces the entire page from Moore's site to show where his photo appeared. The page is from the late spring of 2008.

Here is an enlarged slice of that page. Yon's photo appears at the right side of the header, the text of which reads: "John McCain and Hilary Clinton voted YES to start George's War! 'You don't want someone in the Oval Office who would make a colossal mistake like that.' - Michael Moore"

Here are the relevant bit's from Yon's commentary:
"Now here’s Michael Moore, the latest infringer, using my work for his own crude political purposes. I recall some years ago watching one of his movies in Paris, and thinking how sad it was that an American would make propaganda so flagrant that it seemed pornographic. It was sad but at the same time uplifting, because Mr. Moore was able to exercise his right to free speech, rights that should never be infringed upon.

Mr. Moore is influential, rich, and could likely intimidate most photographers. But I ask my readers to please leave him be. Attacking him likely will be counterproductive. I know how to fight, and though I would fight for Mr. Moore’s right to free expression, I will fight against him if he steals my work and uses it in an inflammatory fashion.

It’s got nothing to do with the fact that Michael Moore is anti-war (he’s not just against the Iraq War, but he was also against the war in Afghanistan). I respect Moore’s opposition to the Iraq War; I might even agree with him on some particulars. But I object to the tone of many of his arguments, especially the manner in which he uses my work to further his causes. As I said above, sometimes it seems pornographic. That’s a strong word, so I’ll explain.

Justice Potter Stewart once defined pornography by saying, “I know it when I see it.” Pornography and propaganda are closely related, as they are both cynical attempts at manipulation, rooted in a lack of respect for humanity. War Porn is one of the more disturbing developments in the new media, as people on both sides of the Iraq War get their kicks watching video images of death and destruction – as long as it’s their opponents who get killed. Whether it’s an Al Qaeda cell-phone video of an IED attack or the grisly footage of a Coalition air strike, War Porn is degrading and incendiary. Of course, some footage is newsworthy and informative and the public deserves to see it. There is also great value to soldiers in watching footage for training purposes and to better understand battlefields and weapons. But at some point, especially when the material is used to make political points, images of combat can cross the line into pornography. People die in war, but we must never forget that each casualty is a human being, even people as deserving of death as Al Qaeda. Denying our opponents’ humanity, we lose a little of our own.

When someone’s grandmother disseminates the photo of Major Beiger cradling a dying girl in his arms, I allow the usage because I feel she is trying to share the human tragedy. When Michael Moore puts that same photo on his web site, alongside images of George Bush, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, the clear implication is that Farah’s death is their fault. That is a misrepresentation of the facts on the ground, as well as the story of the photo. Farah was killed by a suicide car bomb in Mosul on May 2, 2005. Major Bieger and other soldiers literally risked their own lives to save many children and adults that day, but Farah didn’t make it. Michael Moore apparently does not understand the moral distinction between a man who would murder innocent people, and a man who would sacrifice himself to save them. The photo, as I took it, is the truth, but Moore uses it to convey falsehoods. His mind is that of a political propagandist who sees Farah’s death not as a human tragedy, but a tool."
Let's set aside Yon's treacle about kindly grandmothers and common humanity. This passage strikes me as, by turns, disingenuous and hypocritical. Disingenuous? Sure, because I don't think Yon gives a hoot for Moore's free speech rights. Neither do I think Yon respects Moore's views. How can you respect someone while leveling ad hominem attacks against him, characterizing him as a crude propagandist and purveyor of pornography? I'll leave it to Yon explain how that works.

So here are some basic questions about Moore's banner. Would little Fatah have died so prematurely had the U.S. not invaded Iraq? Would she have died in the gruesome way she did? I'd say unlikely and more so. In ascribing responsibility for her death it matters a great deal how narrowly or broadly we frame our inquiry. Clinton and McCain did vote to authorize the war. Did U.S. troops kill the child? No. Did McCain and Clinton? No. But there is a causal chain that leads from the Senate authorizing the invasion to the presence of American troops in Iraq to the emergence of insurgency and civil war in Mosul. Does any of that excuse the individuals who deployed the car bomb that killed Fatah? No. But sometimes it is important to see connections. That's called the 'big picture.' Once one sees that, matters of responsibility - direct and indirect - and consequences - intended and otherwise - are there on the table so we can argue about them. Such arguments are especially important in the course of a political campaign which is when Moore displayed this banner. There hardly is a time when free speech matters more.

Yon is being hypocritical? Let's see. He accuses Moore of purveying "War Porn." Again, some context is probably helpful. At this juncture, the ever vigilant New York Post has weighed in several times on the matter of Moore's alleged transgressions. The Post reports, which you can find here and here, are helpful. I will set aside the fact that these reports themselves prejudge the case entirely. They read more like press releases from Yon than journalistic accounts. Nevertheless, from the Post we learn that:
"Yon has been very careful about how his images are distributed and goes out of his way to make sure they aren't used for demagogic diatribes."
And:
"Yon, a former Green Beret, has been embedded in America's war zones since 2005, most notably with the "Deuce Four" - the Army's storied 24th Infantry Regiment in Mosul, where the photo was taken.

His dispatches - free of any mediating institution - have earned widespread acclaim for their cutting insight."

So, being embedded with a military unit and complying with their rules for making and distributing images means Yon is "free of any mediating institution"? Charitably, this is a howler. There have indeed been un-embedded reporters and photographers working in Iraq [1] [2]. Yon was not among them. Perhaps the Post has printed fawning stories on those individuals and their work. I don't recall. But it is stunning to hear that embedded reporters operate without mediation. In Iraq, Afghanistan and here in the U.S., the military operates, among other things, a media enterprise and a highly censorious one at that. Ask Zoriah Miller or Chris Hondros [1] [2]. I have written here repeatedly about the ambiguities of embedded photography in its various guises. The issues involved hardly are black and white. But for Yon and his surrogates at the Post to claim he is offering us unmediated "Truth," while portraying the demagogic Moore as peddling pornography and propaganda is a very, very big stretch.

Yon accuses Moore of using Farah's death as "a tool" in a nefarious political offensive. Yet he himself is using the same image on the cover of a book entitled Moment of Truth in Iraq published by Richard Vigilante Books. The publisher, as far as I can tell, generally releases right-wing screeds and receives the bulk of its press from outlets like The National Review. I've not read Yon's book. I don't intend to. But he surely has taken many, many many photographs that he might've used on the cover. Does plastering his photograph of Mark Bieger and Farah across the cover count as using her death as "a tool?" Is he exploiting that image for commercial purposes? For political ones? Or does the "truth" he proclaims from his embedded vantage point absolve Yon of such suspicion? Taking a step further, the true cynic might wonder if Yon is complaining about Moore's use of the Bieger/Fatah image simply in hopes that it will boost sales of his own book. (His complaints more or less coincided with the release of the book last spring.) That is not for me to judge, but it is interesting to speculate whether Justice Stewart might entertain the possibility?

One interesting thing about this whole flap is that now it is not only difficult (impossible?) to locate Yon's image on Moore's web site but, other than the image above that I lifted from one of Yon's "dispatches," as far as I can tell neither the Post nor any of the many shocked and outraged bloggers who've commented on the matter have bothered to actually reproduce the offending display. So, even if we were to put aside the possibility (a high probability) that Moore's use of Yon's photograph will easily be covered by the fair use doctrine, we might pose some questions. Where, exactly is the infringement? More importantly what might Yon claim damages for? After all, he is the one who is drawing attention to an alleged "misuse" of his work that even interested parties cannot locate.

Yon's legal case, if it ever actually materializes, is a certain loser. That is because it is politically inspired and transparently so. As Yon himself states, what has got his knickers in a knot is that he dislikes "the tone of many of his [Moore's] arguments, especially the manner in which he uses my work to further his causes." Too bad Michael, the other Michael can say what he wants in whatever tone and for whatever purpose he likes. Oh yeah, and the reverse too.

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23 January 2009

Political Economic Experimentation (again)

"Men have got used to an experimental method in physical and technical matters. They are still afraid of it in human concerns. The fear is the more efficacious because like all deep-lying fears it is covered up and disguised by all kinds of rationalizations. One of the commonest forms is a truly religious idealization of, and reverence for, established institutions . . ." ~ John Dewey (1927).
I have posted on the theme of political economic experimentation several times before [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. Today The Guardian carried this Op-Ed by economist Dani Rodrik in which he endorses political economic "experimentation á la FDR."* After surveying trends in the U.S., Europe and China, he concludes:
"Policymakers need to shed received wisdom and forget useless dichotomies such as "markets versus government" or "nation-state versus globalisation". They need to come to grips with the reality that national regulations and international markets are inextricably linked with – and in need of – each other. The more pragmatically and creatively they act, the more quickly the world economy will recover."
Just so. The risk, of course, is that the policy-makers will be overly bound by religious conviction instead.
__________
* This is a version of a syndicated essay that has appeared in numerous papers around the world.

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22 January 2009

Best Shots (57) ~ Tierney Gearon

(83) Tierney Gearon ~ Double Exposure ... (22 January 2009)

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Neologisms, Improvisation, and the Inauguration

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. re-administering the oath
of office to Barack Obama on Wednesday in the White House.
Photograpph ~ Pete Souza/The White House.

I have to admit that I find this story incredibly irritating. Did any one seriously doubt that Obama is President? Did anyone seriously doubt that he'd taken the oath of office? Does he have nothing better to do? Just who was raising worries about whether the inadvertent reversal of words in the initial ceremony cast doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome? When will we stop taking wingnuts seriously?

On the other hand, this raises an interesting set of issues about the ways ritual and language work, not just in politics, but generally. Things happen, inadvertently as in this instance, or by design, and we - participants in a ritual or conversation - depart from 'normal' practice. In language we call such departures neologisms. They are expressions that are not quite right but which relevant parties are able to understand well enough. And we talk about how they can be exploited - much poetry and a lot of politics involves intentional exploitation. But lots of everyday usage allows speakers to exploit neologisms to say something innovative or new, to make themselves clear or to simply go on - even though what was said was not 'normal' everyone understands well enough what the others mean. On the Mall Tuesday, and in all the rooms around the country where people watched the inauguration on TV, everyone - despite the inadvertent improvisation - knew well enough (by which I mean exactly) what Roberts and Obama meant.

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The Press Gets Some Backbone, Finally

President Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday (21 January 09).
Photograph ~ Pete Souza/The White House.

It is safe to say that major news outlets fell down on the job during the eight years of BushCo. Arguably, they allowed the administration to restrict access to and distribution of information and visuals to an unprecedented extent. They failed, in other words, on matters of global import - like war and torture and terrorism. Now, with the advent of the Obama administration, they clearly have mended their ways. They've decided to draw a line in the sand, take a stand, and all that. The issue? Whether they have access to ceremonial 'first day in office' photo-ops or whether they will simply distribute images from the White House photographer. 'Hell no!' say Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. They are saying 'Here I stand, I will go no further!' and have refused to distribute the official images. It's a matter of principle, after all. Finally. The story is here in The International Herald Tribune.

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21 January 2009

Annotating Obama's Inaugural Address

I have a tendency to be overly critical. So I thought it might be fun to offer some comments on Obama's inaugural address. I've not read any of the published analyses yet, so who knows whether I'm simply restating what others have already said. The point will be to try identify the 'good bits'; you can find the transcript here at The New York Times. So here are some of the things that stood out for me:

(1) "My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors."
Obama addresses us not as "my fellow Americans"' but as "fellow citizens"; there is a subtle difference there - the former, and, of late, customary form of address, invokes a nation and all that nationalism entails, the latter a set of shared ideals and obligations.

I wish he'd invoked the importance of democratic practices and activism in the process of how power was "bestowed" on him. It doesn't just happen.
(2) "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."
I think his condemnation of "greed and irresponsibility" is right on point, and identifying "collective failure" is too. The former is prosecutable, the latter not. But it seems to me that it is entirely fair to point out that even those who were not taking out unsustainable mortgages and so on, were more than happy to have their 401(k) accounts inflate on the crest of the financial boom. And there were lots and lots of people willing to look away from the mal-distribution of wealth and income that paralleled the rise in their investments too.

[Added later that day: It should also be clear that the problem with the economy is not with individual motivations and responsibility. Individuals act within institutions and practices that establish incentives and provide information and distribute risks and benefits and costs. So, the remedy for our economic mess is not re-education - the problem calls for (thoroughgoing) institutional reforms.]
(3) "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met."
OK., here is a criticism - how about ending with "we will meet them." The passivity leaped out at me.
(4) "For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn."
OK, another .... I expected the grand narrative of American achievement. It comes with the genre. But notice how, in his historical narrative of sacrifices Americans have made, Obama rehabilitates Viet Nam. For those who fought and died there this is welcome. But it is not in the least clear that they - any more than our troops now in Iraq - fought and died "for us."
(5) "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."

I like the pragmatist move Obama makes here - and it reappears elsewhere - of deflating accepted dichotomies and focusing on consequences. What I worry about is whether the input into discussions about what "works" will be open and diverse or whether it will be dominated by those wedded to standard center-right positions.
(6) "Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."
Again, he deflates accepted dichotomies - this time bromides about 'the free market.' But while I applaud his concern for prosperity and opportunity as well as his point that this is not a matter of charity, I wish for once he might invoke justice and fairness rather than the "common good." The latter provides way too much opportunity for the rich and powerful and their mouthpieces to try to identify their welfare with the general welfare.

Obama's resolute unwillingness to talk about justice and fairness and equality clearly differentiates him from Martin Luther King, Jr.[*] and other American progressives.
(7) "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations."
Here we get justice! But if we've not noticed that it "begins at home," who abroad will believe us? And here I mean not just respect for human rights and international treaties, but concern for economic justice her and abroad. That said, it seems to me that the focus on multi-lateralism and diplomacy is overdue.
(8) "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
There are atheists and agnostics in America?!?! I nearly drove off the road listening to this on the way home last night. Sure, Obama invoked god repeatedly in the speech - it comes with the genre. But acknowledging we "nonbelievers"? Even if we bring up the rear in his list ...

And the fact that he spoke in reasonable tones to Muslims around the world. What a relief.

More generally, Obama apparently recognizes and embraces social and religious diversity; and he invokes the lesson of what happens when fanatics seek to suppress or exploit differences. None of that makes dealing with the conflicts diversity inevitably will generate easy. But he is throwing the net widely in hopes of identifying ways to coordinate rather than fight.
(9) "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."

Another missed chance to talk about justice and fairness or to at least turn our attention away from the idea that economic hardship can be remedied via charity.
(10) "These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

He offers a litany of virtues - sacrifice, selflessness and liberty. He ends on citizenship. Fair enough. But citizens are defined not just by mutual obligation and duty, but by a sense of justness and fairness as motivating and sustaining those duties. And citizens in a democracy have a duty, first and foremost, to call officials to account. That, by the way, is a central theme in American pragmatism too. So, having tried to be less critical, I end on that critical note.

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Local Event ~ Edward Burtynsky at RIT Tonight

Edward Burtynsky
The Landscape of Oil
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 ~ 8:00 p.m.
Webb Auditorium
(James E. Booth Memorial Building - 7A)

From the Press Release: "The central place that oil, including its positive and negative aspects, holds in our society is the subject of “The Landscape of Oil,” a presentation and photographic exhibition by Edward Burtynsky to be held Jan. 21 at Rochester Institute of Technology. Burtynsky has spent the last decade traveling the world to chronicle the “attraction and repulsion” of this central commodity, from drilling operations in Bakersfield, Calif., to oilfields in Azerbaijan. The talk and exhibition, sponsored by the Caroline Werner Gannett Project, are based on a book that will be released in 2009 and gallery show that is being prepared by the Corcoran Gallery of Washington. The RIT event, which will be followed by a book signing, is free and open to the public."

I've just learned about this talk thanks to my friend Evelyn Brister, a very smart philosopher who teaches over at RIT. If you've hung around here much, you my recall my various, quite ambivalent discussions of Burtynsky and his work: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]. Needless to say, the reason I've spent so much time on those posts is that Burtynsky's work is very provocative. I highly recommend the talk if you can make it.

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Murdered Journalists - "If You Write You Will Be Killed"

We in the U.S. have been preoccupied with the inauguration and, before that, with the Israeli invasion of Gaza (Carefully choreographed to end in time for the Inauguration). In the meantime, thugs have been killing independent journalists with impunity. As one would expect, the relevant authorities have initiated the customary investigations.

In Moscow, Lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova were shot dead on January 19th. The 25 year old Baburova had been reporting for Novaya Gazeta only since October, working to bring to light the criminal activities of Russian fascists. Her assassination was reported here at openDemocracy. This is the latest in a series of such killings.

In Sri Lanka, Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of The Sunday Leader was shot dead on January 8th. As editor, Wickramatunga had navigated an independent course, criticizing both the Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan regime. There is a report on his murder here in The Washington Post and close to a handful of reports in The Guardian [1] [2] [3] [4]. Wickramatunga anticipated his assassination (he had received multiple threats) and wrote this remarkable editorial prior to his death; The Sunday Leader published it after he was murdered.

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Nan Triveni Achnas, The Photograph

This is a film unlikely to be coming soon to a theatre near you. You can find a review of the film, which opens today in Manhattan, in The New York Times here.

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20 January 2009

And Preparing to Push Obama

"And to the people who brought me to the presidency: remember that it was your power that gave me mine and that it is now your task not to surrender that power, either by believing that I will do the work of forming a more perfect union and a more just society for you, or by believing that your goal has been accomplished. I will be your president, but you must be my civil society, pushing me onward to the radical changes we need to make. Hope in me, but do not trust me; make me." ~ Rebecca Solnit
That is Rebecca Solnit's contribution to this feature in The Guardian today. I had just finished reading an Op-Ed by a crazy right-wing Canadian Lorne Gunter. I don't know anything about him other than that he was deriding Obama as an "ultraliberal." That strikes me as delusional. And then I came across this question in The Guardian: "What paragraph would you like to sneak into Obama's inauguration speech today?" It is impossible to imagine the determined centrist Obama coming close to uttering in public any of the things the contributors to this little conclave would've liked to slip into his speech today. I especially liked Solnit's paragraph because it stresses the crucial need for active democratic politics.
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PS: The is a similar symposium here at openDemocracy.

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19 January 2009

Bidding W Farewell

I came across this graphic accompanying a story in The Salt Lake Tribune yesterday. That would be Salt Lake City, Utah - perhaps as red a state as you might find. It seemed to pretty reasonably represent the distribution of views I encounter here in Western New York. Then, though, I was reading The New York Times and noticed that yesterday their resident wing nut Bill Kristol boldly announced:
"Bush’s most impressive achievement . . . was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership. The results have benefited both Iraq and the United States. And the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat."
How far to the right of American public opinion has Kristol slid? He is solidly among the 7% of residents of Utah in thinking that we've "won" the war in Iraq. Pretty impressive. (What does that mean, by the way?)

Let's set aside the question of whether there are any other things we might attribute to BushCo that would commonly be recognized as an "achievement." The improved situation in Iraq, which is hardly a model of a well-functioning society, is related to Bush's strategies in only the most tangential way. That is not news. And I am sure that Kristol and the other folks who share his view will invoke what they anticipate will be the long historical perspective on Bush's disaster as a conversation stopper. Instead of issuing howlers like he has done, Kristol might opt to join the rest of us, directing our attention elsewhere (for now) as the worst president ever slinks off.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ Not Only Freedom, But Justice, Equality and Solidarity Too!


Striking Sanitation Workers, Memphis Tennessee, 1968.
Photograph © Ernest C. Withers.


Americans regularly get the politically sanitized "I Have a Dream" portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the advocate for civil rights, racial equality, and so forth. The problem is not that such ideals are unimportant or uninspiring. The problem is that this vision is sanitized, distracting us from the fact that King also spoke out vigorously, using race as a prism through which to articulate demands for economic justice and for peace. I have said this here repeatedly (e.g., [1] [2] [3]). I'm reminding you again. Here is Martin Luther King speaking in Memphis several weeks before he was shot dead there:
"As I came in tonight, I turned around and said to Ralph Abernathy, "They really have a great movement here in Memphis." You've been demonstrating something here that needs to be demonstrated all over the country. You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down.

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you're commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

You are doing another thing. You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. I need not remind you that this is the plight of our people all over America. The vast majority of Negroes in our country are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. My friends, we are living as a people in a literal depression. Now you know when there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community they call it a depression. But we find ourselves living in a literal depression all over this country as a people.

Now the problem isn't only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

You are here tonight to demand that Memphis do something about the conditions that our brothers face, as they work day in and day out for the well-being of the total community. You are here to demand that Memphis will see the poor."

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Asked and Answered: Unger & the Military

I came across this short essay late last week and have not had time to comment on it until today:

But what is it for?

Jan 15th 2009 | SÃO PAULO
From The Economist print edition

A philosopher redesigns an army

WHEN Roberto Mangabeira Unger swapped life as a philosopher and Harvard law professor for a place in Brazil’s government, he was given a small ministry from which to think about the future. From this perch, Mr Unger has already produced a proposal for regularising land tenure in the Amazon. He also has a grand scheme for redesigning the world economy (with help from his former pupil, Barack Obama). His most recent plan is a blueprint for Brazil’s armed forces—an unusual task for a man whose previous life involved writing long, gnomic books about “the radicalisation of indeterminacy”.

There are some traces of the philosopher in his “National Defence Strategy”. Conscription, which Mr Unger is keen to continue (but which many youngsters avoid), is described as a “republicanising space”. But in some respects his report reiterates the military top brass’s traditional preoccupations, including the urge to master new technologies such as nuclear energy (to power submarines, not make bombs) and create a domestic arms industry, and a mild paranoia about Amazonia.

Brazil’s army occupies an ambiguous place in national life. Its officers, fired with a faith in progress imported from France, replaced the monarchy with a republic in the 19th century. The army has often seen itself as a force for nation-building, laying down roads and putting up hospitals. But it has also seized power at times, such as in the 21 years to 1985, during which time one member of the current cabinet was tortured for her political views.

When Brazil became a democracy again it managed to keep the army out of politics but did not define a clear new role for it. Brazil’s territory has not been seriously threatened since the 1860s, when together with Argentina and Uruguay it crushed little Paraguay. The armed forces now talk a lot about flexibility, though this is not so much a voguish notion as a reflection of the difficulty of imagining threats to a country that is almost instinctively pacifist. Mr Unger uses the word flexibility 31 times in his 70-page review.

In the past few years, however, the government has started to think about projecting power abroad. Since 2004, Brazil has commanded the United Nations’ intervention in Haiti. After a slow start during which the mission was plagued by unclear objectives, it is now held up as a great success amid the awful failures in Congo and Somalia, according to Richard Gowan of the Centre on International Co-operation at New York University, who has observed Brazilian marines in action.

A second use for the army, featured prominently in Mr Unger’s plans, is in the policing of the Amazon region. “The Amazon is a bit like the Mediterranean was at the beginning of the 19th century,” says Alfredo Valladão of Sciences Po, a French university, “full of smugglers and pirates, and without much effective state presence.” The former military government had a fixation with the idea that a long, jungly border made the country vulnerable and that foreigners coveted Brazil’s forests. Boosting troop numbers to deter illegal logging and ranching would thus be a return to two old modes of military thinking: defending the forests from invaders and extending the reach of the state.

So, while an outside observer (whom they themselves tracked down and interviewed) believes that statelessness in Amazonia is (at least potentially) a problem, the folks at The Economist dismiss concerns about deforestation and smuggling and so forth simply as simply products of Brazilian "paranoia." And, of course, an example of successful peacekeeping is nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps the military in the U.S., Canada and Britain (to name a few) could take some lessons from Brazilians? One need not have any illusions about the intrinsic virtue of the military in Brazil (or elsewhere for that matter) to see that the trajectory, at least, seems to be positive. And, for my money, Unger seems like a reasonable person to have drafting plans to help keep the military on that trajectory.

In large part, it seems that the sarcastic tone the editors at The Economist adopt in this piece reflects the fact that they are ideologically averse to any policy anywhere that might be construed as "extending the reach of the state." Of course, the notion that environmental protection and economic development in the Amazon - which is a matter of global significance - require well functioning markets, which in turn require effective political institutions seems obvious. Even The Economist folk know that. But they surely- also for ideological reasons - distrust Unger regarding the sorts of institutional arrangements that might best do the job. You can imagine the grumbling at editorial meetings: "What is all that stuff about 'institutional experimentation 'anyway? We have good market fundamentalist blueprints to tell us what to do!" Perhaps The Economist folk ought to read and engage with Unger's Free Trade Reimagined or other works in a serious way. That, of course, would require more than sniping. And, insofar as it is not simply a reflex of ideological shortsightedness, it might diminish the perplexity they express in this piece.

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18 January 2009

Springsteen's Politics of "the past"

Barack Obama introduces daughter Sasha to Springsteen. Photo: AP

As I have said here before, I am deeply skeptical of celebrity politics. In part, that is because I find that celebrity is inextricably wrapped up with narcissism. This interview from The Guardian today, I think, proves my point by establishing an exception.

Fame and talent - the former integral to celebrity, the latter too rarely associated with it - often crowd out basic decency. Bruce Springsteen seems like a very decent fellow. Last November Springsteen said this in public:
"I spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality. For many... the distance between that dream and their reality has never been greater or more painful. I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and work. I believe he understands in his heart the cost of that distance in blood and suffering in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president he would work to bring that dream back to life."
Now there is a new record, with a song - one that the interviewer calls a "fable" - and Springsteen is clear about the lesson it carries:
"The past is never the past. It is always present. And you better reckon with it in your life and in your daily experience, or it will get you. It will get you really bad. It will come and it will devour you, it will remove you from the present. It will steal your future and this happens every day.

We've lived through a nightmare like that in the past eight years here. We had a historically blind administration who didn't take consideration of the past; thousands and thousands of people died, lives were ruined and terrible, terrible things occurred because, there was no sense of history, no sense that the past is living and real.

So the song is about this happening to this character. He moves ahead. He tries to make the right moves. He awakes from a vision of his death, and realises: life is finite. Time is with me always. And I'm frightened. And he rides west where he settles down. But the past comes back in the form of this bounty hunter, whose mind is also quickened and burdened by the need to get his man. And these possessed creatures meet along the shores of this river where the bounty hunter of course is killed, and his last words are: 'We can't undo the things we've done.'

In other words, your past is your past. You carry it with you always. These are your sins. You carry them with you always. You better learn how to live with them, learn the story that they're telling you. Because they're whispering your future in your ear, and if you don't listen, it will be contaminated by the toxicity of your past."

The interview goes on to talk about Obama, the theme of hope and facing the future in politics. Although I doubt he will do so, I hope the president-elect will read the interview, or listen to the song and absorb the lesson.

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Power & Art: ~ Inaugural Essays

You might find this little mini-symposium "Power & Art ~ Inaugural Essays" from The Los Angeles Times interesting. The contributors are Rubén Martínez, Jane Smiley, Rebecca Solnit, Susan Straight, Ben Ehrenreich, and Ted Widmer.

17 January 2009

Obama's Politics of "the past"

Here is our president-elect-as-talking-head last weekend:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor ideally Patrick Fitzgerald to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping."

OBAMA: We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no 9/11 commission with Independence subpoena power?

OBAMA: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?

OBAMA: What I -- I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is he is the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past.*

The Obama Administration talking points are clear here. Glance at "the past," concentrate instead on how to "move forward," and be concerned with "getting things right in the future." And most of the moderates and conservatives in the press trumpet those goals, painting those who are pressing Obama to do something to hold BushCo accountable for their actions as obsessed with the past, intent on criminalizing policy differences, and so forth. So, let's look at what those unreasonable souls actually say:
Paul Krugman: "If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again."

Elizabeth Holtzman
: "We cannot simply shrug off the constitutional and criminal misbehavior of the administration, treat it as an aberration and hope it won't happen again. . . . To fully restore the rule of law and prevent any repetition of Bush's misconduct, the abuses of his administration must be directly confronted."

Bruce Fein & Ralph Nader (!?!?): "If left unrebuked, the Bush-Cheney usurpations of power will become part of the constitutional firmament and risk creating a safe harbor for future presidential abuses."
Each and every one of these writers are preoccupied not with the past, but with - gasp! - the future. They are concerned with the consequences for the future operations of the U.S. government if we fail to at least inquire into various BushCo policies, ask whether they were legal and constitutional, and determine who was responsible for authorizing them. All of these writers - from right to center to left to crackpot - quite reasonably believe that there is probable cause for a special inquiry or some sort of investigatory commission to look into the way BushCo conducted themselves. I agree. What then might happen is anyone's guess. but the decision to conduct such an inquiry or not is a matter of consequences and those bear on the future.
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* I've lifted this passage from the transcript published here at The Huffington Post.

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16 January 2009

Glen Greenwald

Over the past week or so, Glen Greenwald at Salon.com has written a couple of really terrific posts [1] [2] on the incredibly one-sided nature of discussions both in the U.S. press and among our elected representatives regarding the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Greenwald does several things very well and very succinctly: he identifies culprits among the press (e.g., Thomas Friedman at The New York Times) and politicos (e.g., the Bush Administration and both Houses of Congress); he identifies exceptions to the bad behavior (e.g., Bill Moyers); and he brings to bear press reports that shed light on what otherwise seem insane actions, making them look merely despicable (e.g., a report from Ha'aretz last fall detailing plans on the part of the IDF to terrorize Gazans). This is simply terrific work.

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Who Is Listening? (3)

Making Peace
by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
'The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.'

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can't be imagined before it is made,
can't be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.


A feeling towards it
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light - facets
of the forming crystal.
And so, this poet reminds us that peace trades on justice. Peace cannot lead but must follow justice into the world. She hopes to persuade us that speaking and acting justly is pre-figurative, that peace might take up residence in the interstices - the "long pauses ..." - that speaking and acting in such a way could establish (as we talked less and perhaps listened a bit more). And she reminds us that ways of speaking and acting justly, of precisely the sort that might open space for peace, must themselves crystallize into more enduring practices and institutions. Finally, she reminds us that none of this will happen overnight, but only incrementally, "stanza by stanza." Since that is the case, time is wasting.

All that may appear naive. I don't really think so. Why? Because speaking and acting justly hardly means that we sidestep conflict, it simply means that we renounce violence. The discovery that one could insert a wedge between resistance and violence, rightly I think, has been called
"the most important political discovery of the twentieth century." And those who agree in that assessment are realists. They are realists about conflict, about the difficulties of treating conflict as a political rather than a military problem, and about the obstacles to institutionalizing non-violent, political decision-making arrangements (read democracy).
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* From: Denise Levertov. Making Peace. Edited, with an Introduction by Peggy Rosenthal. New Directions, 2006. page 58.

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15 January 2009

Who Is Listening? (2)

Colombe au rameau d’olivier, visage, main
et feuille de chêne, 1950 © Pablo Picasso

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Best Shots (56) ~ Michael Nyman

(82) Michael Nyman ~ Saturday Afternoon, Mantua, Italy
(15 January 2009).

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14 January 2009

Who is Listening?

Nie Wieder Krieg / Never Again War, 1924 ~ Käthe Kollwitz.

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Citizens not Consumers - Tell our Elected Officials to Cease With the Anti-Palestinian Activities

In an earlier post I argued against the call for a boycott against Israel on two grounds: (1) I doubt it would be effective, and (2) I think it treats those who rightly condemn the current Israeli aggression (as well as their policies toward the Palestinians more broadly) not as citizens but as consumers. On the last point - at least from an American perspective - I think, there are two telling news reports that support my basic position. The first establishes how right-wing Congressional Democrats are on this issue. The second documents how our most senior elected officials in New York State participated in a virulently anti-Palestinian political rally in NYC earlier this week. We don't need to boycott the Israelis, we need to pressure our own government and our own elected officials to take an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli matters - in Gaza immediately and as a more general matter. That requires that we act as citizens not consumers.

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13 January 2009

The Civil Contract of Photography

Yesterday I was at the University library and came across what promises to be a fascinating a new book - Ariella Azoulay's The Civil Contract of Photography (MIT Press/Zone Books, 2008). It is a substantial work (500 pages!) so I have not yet made my way very far into it, let alone through it. From what I can determine, Azoulay is using photography as a tool for refashioning notions of citizenship and solidarity. Azoulay, an Israeli, is doing so on treacherous terrain, focusing primarily on relations between Israelis and Palestinians. In that sense she approaches photography less as a matter to think about than as a technology that we use to think with. This is a theme on which I've posted here before (in what turns out to be a remarkably related context). I will no doubt be back to do so again once I've had the chance to read Azoulay's book.


From the Introduction:
"I began working on this book at the beginning of the second intifada. In hindsight, I can say that observing the unbearable sights presented in photographs from the Occupied Territories, encountering them in the national context within which they were presented and enduring the difficulty of facing them day after day, formed the main motives for writing this book. The Civil Contract of Photography is an attempt to anchor spectatorship in civic duty toward the photographed persons who haven't stopped being "there," toward the dispossessed citizens who, in turn, enable the rethinking of the concept and practice of citizenship."

I employ the term 'contract' in order to shed terms such as 'empathy,' 'shame,' 'pity,' or 'compassion' as organizers of this gaze. In the political sphere that is reconstructed through the civil contract, photographed persons are participant citizens, just the same as I am. Within this space, the point of departure for our mutual relations cannot be empathy or mercy. It must be a covenant for the rehabilitation of citizenship in the political sphere within which we are all ruled, that is, the state of Israel. When the photographed persons address me, claiming their citizenship in photography, they cease to appear as stateless or as enemies, the manners in which the sovereign regime strives to construct them. They call on me to recognize and restore their citizenship through my viewing. At issue in this book is more than my insistence on using the term 'citizenship' in analyzing the act of photography or in understanding the ways in which some populations are more exposed to catastrophe than others. At issue is an effort to disclose the inextricable relationship between the populations facing pending catastrophe and the citizens with whom they are governed, doing so by means of an examination of the civic space of the gaze, speech and action that is shared by these governed populations."

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11 January 2009

Ironies of Boycotts

“All wars are useless … and sometimes in films we tend to
glorify them by making all those great characters and
they show you it's all about bravery and brotherhood of
man. And I don't believe in that.”
~ Ari Folman

Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman has just released Waltz With Bashir, an animated film that takes up the matter of Israeli military culpability in the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Folman was serving in the IDF at the time and while the Israelis themselves did not take part in the massacre, they provided 'technical support' for those who did. I came across this short and not terribly well done interview with Folman from last week's New York Times Magazine which reminded me of this much more interesting interview I heard with him on npr a couple of weeks ago.

I have posted here about the ambiguities of John Berger's condemnation of the Israeli attack of Gaza and his call for boycott. Here are my questions: Does marshaling our purchasing power amplify our voices? Or does it depoliticize and moralize them? In the past week or so Naomi Klein too has published in several prominent venues - e.g., [1] [2] - a call to boycott Israel. Klein advances a fairly straightforward argument on what, I think, is an incredibly complex issue. Should we be avoiding Folman's film (for instance)? Or are our efforts more usefully directed at our own government which mindless supports Israeli actions - including abstaining last week on the U.N Security Council resolution calling for an immediate halt to the ongoing invasion of Gaza? Perhaps we might make contact with the many Israelis who dissent from their government's war and whose voices are, as I've said here and here, remain largely inaudible in coverage of the invasion? The latter strategies would shift us and our actions from the category of consumer to that of citizen.

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10 January 2009

A Well Founded Fear

I just discovered the web page for this new film, which documents the fates of asylum seekers whose applications were denied by authorities in Australia. The film takes as its premise the pertinent question - What becomes of such individuals when they are deported to their home countries? (Thanks to APiA)
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Update: And now I am told by a former student Emily Hickey - who's gone off to make good in the world - that the folks at PBS here in the states produced a documentary of the same name a few years back. This film deals with asylum hearings in here in the U.S. ~ you can find the web page here.

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Conyers Proposes Truth Commission

What I'd really like to see is BushCo facing war crimes tribunals. That is very, very, very unlikely to happen - at least here in the United States. However, a "National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties" of the sort John Conyers has proposed - one not stacked with D.C. insiders - would be a useful institution too. Read the report here at TPM. This will require that the Democrats get some gumption. They need to recognize that the crimes Bush, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Powell and their various enablers and minions have had and will continue to have grave negative consequences for the country. Just 'turning the page' on our criminals is not an option. (Thanks Joerg!)

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