31 May 2012
28 May 2012
Anti-Democratic Politics in Europe
"Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates — from leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, and indirectly from credit-rating agencies, whose judgments have been notoriously unsound." ~ Amartya SenI missed the Op-Ed from which this statement is lifted when it appeared last week. There is lots of hand-wringing about the way protests have mounted across several European countries over the past year. But there has been less attention, unfortunately, to the anti-democratic policy making that has driven people out into the streets.
27 May 2012
(Anti)War Photography or Arms Industry Adverts? The Strange Case of Ron Haviv and Lockheed Martin
* Update: I have updated this after having poked a bit further on Haviv's page. I will take the opportunity to point out the remarkable commonality between Haviv's BAE adverts and what I previously have criticized as an emerging set of conventions among embedded photojournalists covering war here and here and here and here. Look at all those nice pics of military personnel as 'just kids' hanging out.
Update #2: And you can find Haviv's not especially persuasive response here. Basically he adopts a partitioning strategy in which the agency (VII) was in the dark, the clients are admirable (USO) and the decision to sell the images rests elsewhere. No responsibility in sight.
Update #3: Here is the similarly diffuse/non-committal statement on this episode by VII; even accounting for the group nature of the enterprise (hence the need to communicate with the various members) this took a long time.
James Q Wilson Revisited
Finding Good Music in Out of the Way Places
26 May 2012
Salvaging Israeli Democracy?
Even apart from the disastrous political consequences of current Israeli policy, it is critical to recognize that what goes on in the territories is not a matter of episodic abuse of basic human rights, something that could be corrected by relatively minor, ad hoc actions of protest and redress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The occupation is systemic in every sense of the word. The various agencies involved—government bureaucrats and their ministries and budgets, the army, the blue-uniformed civilian police, the border police, the civil administration (that is, the official Occupation Authority), the courts (in particular, the military courts in the territories, but also Israeli civil courts inside the Green Line), the host of media commentators who toe the government line and perpetuate its regnant mythologies, and so on—are all inextricably woven into a system whose logic is apparent to anyone with firsthand experience of it. That logic is one of protecting the settlement project and taking the land. The security aspect of the occupation is, in my view, close to trivial; were it a primary goal, the situation on the ground would look very different.Shulman - rightly in my estimation - suggests that what is happening in Israel/Palestine is in large measure a conflict of narratives. He critically dissects the narrative Israelis weave to rationalize their stance toward the Palestinians. But for those of us - non-Israelis - who oppose that stance he also throws down the gauntlet: "Those who recoil at the term “apartheid” are invited to offer a better one." I am among those Shulman has in mind. I think such analogies - to fascism generally - are unhelpful. In large measure they are counterproductive because they encourage activists to resurrect tactics - like boycotts - that I think are de-politicizing and ineffective and that, ultimately, subvert democratic engagement. I have made that case here multiple times before. Shulman too poses the question about how best to confront doomed Israeli policies. On that matter I have no particular insight. But I agree with him that the stakes are clear and disastrously high.
So again, it is worth stating the self-evident truths: at the core of this conflict there are two peoples with symmetrical claims to the land. Neither of the two has any monopoly on being “right,” and each has committed atrocities against the other. One of these two sides is, however, much stronger than the other. Until the national aspirations of the weaker, Palestinian side are addressed and some sort of workable compromise between the two parties is achieved—until the occupation as we know it today comes to an end—there will be no peace. It is impossible to keep millions of human beings disenfranchised for long and to systematically rob them of their dignity and their land.
To prolong the occupation is to ensure the emergence of a single polity west of the Jordan; every passing day makes a South African trajectory more likely, including the eventual, necessary progression to a system of one person, one vote. Thus the likelihood must be faced that unless the Occupation ends, there will also, in the not so distant future, be no Jewish state.
Picturing the Prison-Industrial Complex
24 May 2012
Thinking with Photography about Politics and Power.
21 May 2012
Women's Place - According to TIME
"Child-rearing fashions come and go, but they’re always about regulating the behavior of women—middle-class educated women. If these discussions were really about children, we would be debating the policies that affect them—what to do about our shocking level of child poverty, for example. It’s not on the radar except insofar as single mothers, with their selfish, licentious, man-spurning ways, can be blamed for it. Yet child poverty surely affects children’s well-being more directly, and more injuriously, than a pregnant woman indulging in the occasional glass of wine, or the momentous question of whether to use cloth diapers or disposable ones. And only tangentially are child-raising fads about fathers; men are more “involved” now than fifty years ago, but you won’t catch them beating themselves or one another up over not making organic baby food from scratch. Indeed, Time’s attachment-parenting package includes a humorous “Detached Dad’s Manifesto,” which suggests that Dad’s role is to provide “a little dose of fatherly distance” from attachment parenting’s heavy demands. That tells you everything you need to know about these guilt-inducing scripts."Pollitt seems to me - as is usual - to be just about right on this episode. But I also want to point out that the folks at TIME seem to have a real talent at exploiting women for sensational and politically dubious purposes. I commented repeatedly here on an earlier installment - the propagandistic use the TIME-folk made of Jodi Bieber's image of a mutilated Afghan girl. This is the liberal media at work?
20 May 2012
Self-righteousness as Psychological Symptom
As described the study seems a bit lame. I'd say - without having read the study itself - that people who become organic snobs would become some sort of snob anyway and that eating organic is simply their excuse. Does eating organic cause people to be jerks? Probably not. More likely it allows them to exhibit jerky propensities that they'd exhibit in some manner anyway. And I'd bet the food snobbery is correlated with rigid, judgmental behaviors on other dimensions too! (You know, 'I drive a Prius. And I don't just do yoga, I do this very, very strict sort that everyday lame-asses cannot possibly appreciate!' and so forth.) These are people who would've been Dana Carvey's 'church lady' in some other milieu but happen to have ended up at the food coop instead. I see it pretty much every time I go to Advantage Food Coop or out to visit August. His home town is full of this sort of moralistic acting out.
19 May 2012
The Wonders of Ideological Delusion
And before all my libertarian friends and students start rushing about asking why I think businessmen like Warren Buffett (say) are worth listening to on matters of tax policy, let's just say it is because Buffett, unlike this bozo, apparently believes in the virtue of consistency. Pretty simple.
17 May 2012
Depicting Military Service
16 May 2012
Lies, Damned Lies, and ... Then Some Statistics
Labels: Political Theory
LA County's Finest
15 May 2012
Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent
Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving prizes to courageous people and the three winners clearly are impressive. That said, I wonder if the foundations might've stuck out their necks just the slightest bit and bestowed the award on people who do not already occupy a prominent place in the western media. They might, in other words not just rewarded courage but exhibited it too.
Moreover, while I agree that dissent often requires tremendous creativity - more so than most of what passes for "entrepreneurship" - how about those engaging in pedestrian resistance to oppressive regimes? Read Disturbing the Peace. In it Havel describes the Plastic People of the Universe - the group of musical misfits and hangers on whose persecution offered the reason for Charter 77. These were not glamorous "dissidents" or "artists" who received big commissions or traveled to this or that Biennale around the world. They were a bunch of "kids" who were being harassed and badgered by the Czechoslovak police because they wanted to play rock and roll. That was dangerous business. But they were not in the headlines. In other words, in addition to being a bit courageous the award committee and its funders might also work some at being creative themselves.
The Prize committee might look for incipient dissent, the political opposition that might not be recognized as especially creative as it stands but that is no less crucial for that.
13 May 2012
Land of the Free?
12 May 2012
Why Keep a Blog On Photography? The Place of Criticism
Over the course of the nearly half dozen years I've kept this blog, I have, on a pretty regular basis, met with a dismissive attitude from photographers whom I've met or with whom I've corresponded. When they discover that I just "talk" about photography and that I do not myself make images, they simply cannot see the point. Some, finding that I am not a photographer myself, or even that I am not a photographer of this or that specialized sort (usually their sort), dispute my standing altogether. On what basis - by what 'right' - they ask, do I think I am allowed to have and express views, especially critical views, about them and their work.
I have to say that I find such such reactions tiresome and defensive. But I've never felt I had a real clear idea of what an appropriate response to such dismissiveness might look like. I recently came across this characteristically incisive piece by David Levi Strauss that offers an appropriate retort:
". . . Without criticism, the only measure of value in art is money, and that measure has proven to be both fickle and stultifying. As a subject of inquiry, it’s a bore. I know why investment bankers and hedge fund managers prefer it, but why have artists put up with it for so long?
[. . .]
Among other things, criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things. If criticism is devalued, artists and curators have no other choice in the current crisis of relative values but to heed the market’s siren song.
[. . .]
Why does art need criticism? Because it needs something outside of itself as a place of reflection, discernment, and connection with the larger world. Art for art’s sake is fine, if you can get it. But then the connection to the real becomes tenuous, and the connection to the social disappears. If you want to engage, if you want discourse, you need criticism."Substitute photography and photographer for art and artists in this passage and it seems to me to be just right. I myself tend to think that the distinction between art and documentary photography is bogus, so you might not even need to do that. But when, as also often is the case, I hear photographers - for example, Salgado or Nachtwey (to take just two impresarios) - suggest that they hope their work will enter into and influence political debate and social dialogue, I think that Levi Strauss's comments are, well, pretty devastating to my dismissive interlocutors.
Ironically, I came across the Levi Strauss essay at just about the same time that I noticed the news reports that the photograph by Jeff Wall I've lifted above, broke records at Christie's auction house. I've written about this image here before. But then again, I wrote about Wall because Susan Sontag singled out just this image at the end of her Regarding the Pain of Others, not because I suspected it would soon fetch a record price on the market.
Passings ~ Willie Middlebrook (1957~2012)
Passings ~ Horst Fass (1933~2012)
10 May 2012
Climate Change, Leadership and Obama's Center-Right Politics
"The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. . . . Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action."Well said. But if the US is any indication, science and politics mix like, well the two liquids featured in this essay - oil and water. Just how do the results of scientific inquiry make it outside the academy and into the corridors of power? As the essay also makes clear: "leadership is essential." And Obama is leading here in roughly the same way he has done on gay marriage - from way behind the curve.
09 May 2012
Gay Rights, States Rights and the President's Persistent Lack of Leadership
06 May 2012
Democracy at the Margins
In any case, two recent news articles have caught my attention. The first, here at The Guardian really is a manifesto of sorts for a resurgent civil society in the EU. The signatories apparently think that volunteering on a mass scale will presage democratic renewal. The second, here at The New York Times is a brief report on the electoral surge of the "Pirate Party" in German electoral politics. This insurgency seems only slightly less naive. Here are some top-of-the-head reactions.
Working in reverse, I would simply point out that - setting aside the apparently right-wing inflections of the Pirates' politics - political discontent is not a sufficient basis for "direct democracy." There is a naivety at work here in the notion that there are technological solutions (internet voting) to problems of political institutions. The Pirates seem to think that if only everyone simply acted on their ethical commitments and voted directly things would be remarkably different for the better. Count me unpersuaded. First, among the things we understand about voting is that different methods of counting votes (even from the same initial distribution of inputs) often generate quite different electoral outcomes. Institutions matter. Second, the very fact that the Pirates are contesting seats in regional legislative assemblies - in itself an admirable course of action - is a reminder that argument and debate are essential characteristics (both historically and conceptually) of representative institutions. And, to the best of my knowledge, the internet does not afford a terribly useful platform for productive exchange of political views. We may not reside in Cass Sunstein's dystopian virtual world, but where exactly do we find productive political exchange, instances where people actually listen and change their minds?
As for the luminaries (many of whom I admire) who are trying to persuade us that rejuvenating civil society will enhance democratic politics, I am not at all persuaded. This seems a variation on the argument that democracy presupposes robust "social capital" for which I have never seem a terribly coherent or compelling argument. There are a number of problems with the proposal being floated here too. How are the multitudes of volunteers to be coordinated? Can they actually accomplish more than providing compassionate care on a on-to-one basis? Nothing wrong with that, but it will not remedy any large scale problem. How will the putative moral uplift that such a campaign will generate actually get translated into politics? Isn't this proposal simply a capitulation to the neo-liberal view that government cannot provide remedies to aggregate problems? Can reliance on charity/philanthropy and volunteerism do anything more than further undermine the notion that persons deserve political-economic security as a matter of citizenship? Won't the sort of campaign being peddled here simply further subvert confidence in the efficacy of democratic politics? If the problem is that the 'politics of fear' is subverting the notion of a common Europe, what is required is a political campaign that might directly reply to the apprehensions and anxieties of those who are frightened or insecure. That would be a democratic reply, and a direct one to boot.
03 May 2012
Photographers and their Rights (Another in a Recurring Series)
PS: I have posted on this topic here multiple times in the past.
02 May 2012
Best Shot (204) ~ Mitch Dobrowner
01 May 2012