29 March 2013
27 March 2013
LEGO's Gender Issues
26 March 2013
25 March 2013
The Priority of Democracy ~ Reviews (3)
19 March 2013
Cause for Opitimism
17 March 2013
What Do Prizes Do for Photography? Encourage clichés and carelessness.
What I find more troubling is the topic of clichés, the tired conventions that the prize competitions simply encourage:
“Also: this is World Press Photo. A place which year after year provides a rather predictable vision of the world which, in a sort of self-castigating or suicidal mode, fits perfectly in a dwindling and whining editorial market. . . . Perpetuating an ailing system. It’s not that the photographs aren’t any good. It is that pre-formatted vision of the world I have difficulties with." ~ John VinkLast year I leveled precisely this criticism of the World Press Photo overall winner    and I have raised similar complaints in the past as well .
And, of course, I also think that the fracas over Paolo Pellegrin's visit to Rochester this year     raises important questions about the relationship between images and text, and between photographers and locations that the various prize-giving outfits - to say nothing of the photographers, editors, and so on - ought to attend to.
* Thanks to Loret Steinberg for calling this to my attention.
16 March 2013
Local (sort of) Event ~ Susan Meiselas at Syracuse University
Ríos Montt Trial to Begin
Last month I noticed this OpEd at The New York Times, noting the prospects that former Guatemalan dictator (read U.S. surrogate, alum of the School of the Americas, etc.) General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Over the course of three decades an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed by various military regimes; a vastly disproportionate number of the victims were indigenous peoples. The crimes have been documented by multiple inquiries . Now The Times reports the trial is set to commence this week. What is that saying about the 'arch of the moral universe?' The ex-dictator actually seems to be caught in the vagaries of practical political bargaining between the current Guatemalan government and the Obama administration. But that is close enough. It is lesson enough that the powerful cannot arrange for protection in perpetuity.Maya villagers gathered in a courtroom in Guatemala City in January (2012) for the evidentiary hearing in Mr. Ríos Montt’s case. Photograph © Victor J. Blue for The New York Times.
“Reading Wisława Szymborska's words gave me many ideas and insights. Meeting her and interacting with her poetry also gave impetus to this music, which I would like to dedicate, respectfully, to her memory.”Wisława Szymborska; I've also posted about trumpeter Tomasz Stańko. The album is due out from ECM this week. Stańko is a wonderfully understated musician who tends to gather really talented young collaborators.
This is Why the Govenment is so Intent on Prosecuting Bradley Manning
"For over a year The Guardian has been trying to contact Steele, 68, to ask him about his role during the Iraq war as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's personal envoy to Iraq's Special Police Commandos: a fearsome paramilitary force that ran a secret network of detention centres across the country – where those suspected of rebelling against the US-led invasion were tortured for information.here). And it comes out just in time to accompany these stories from The Guardian further implicating Don Rumsfeld and other BushCo higher-ups in crimes against humanity    . Apparently, Rumsfeld sent "Colonel James Steele, a retired special forces" officer to Iraq to coordinate Shia' paramilitaries to fight Sunni resistance to the U.S. invasion. The paramilitaries served as death squads, and operated torture centers, all under the supervision of and with funding provided by Steele reported to Rumsfeld. We know who Rumsfeld reported to. It is alleged that Steele's collaborator Colonel James Coffman (ret) reported on their activities directly to David Petreaus. No "bad apples" excuse here. As the passage I've lifted above makes clear The Guardian reports are grounded in the documents disseminated by Bradley Manning. No wonder the Obama administration is so intent on prosecuting him.
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion the allegations of American links to the units that eventually accelerated Iraq's descent into civil war cast the US occupation in a new and even more controversial light. The investigation was sparked over a year ago by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets."
14 March 2013
Jumping Off the Garage
My two boys Doug and August are terrific. They are much alike - feet on the ground, thoughtful, a bit cautious. Their brother Jeff was not. This morning I heard this song on the radio and it reminded me of Jeffrey so much: "he did not know he could not fly and so he did." Jeffrey definitely trusted his cape. I am missing him a lot today.
13 March 2013
The Pope and the Dictator
I've posted about this work here and here numerous times. With the election of the new pope - Francis I or the Cardinal formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio - today, we confront another deeply troubling aspect of official Catholicism - it's complicity with that authoritarian politics across the continent, but specifically in Argentina.
This undated picture popped up on my FB news feed. It is - according to the Portuguese source, Indignados Lisboa, "Foto do novo Papa Francisco I ao lado do ditador argentino Videla." Jorge Rafael Videla was head of the Military Junta that terrorized Argentina from 1976 though 1981. I mentioned him here most recently last summer when he and some of his minions were convicted for some of their more horrendous offenses (like stealing babies from people whom they had tortured, then murdered and selling them).
In this picture Videla is accompanied by, you guessed it, Jorge Mario Bergoglio!* The image is symbolic of the interactions between the Church hierarchy and the murderous junta during Argentina's 'dirty war.' There is no real news in this - here is a report from this afternoon and here, for instance, is a report from several years ago, both in The Guardian. What is shameful is that the church hierarchy apparently deems it all irrelevant.
* It reminds me of the embarrassing photo of Don Rumsfeld, who under George W Bush supervised the invasion of Iraq, shaking hands two decades earlier with Saddam Hussein. At the time Rumsfeld had been in a functionary for Ronald Reagan (that great supporter of Latin American dictators) who was supplying Hussein with arms.
The American Aristocracy
12 March 2013
Best Shots (241) ~ Rä di Martino
11 March 2013
Beth Wilson on Maggie Sherwood
09 March 2013
Literati Bookstore - Ann Arbor
Photographers & Law Enforcement (2)
08 March 2013
Passings ~ Stéphane Frédéric Hessel (1917-2013)
Photographers & Law Enforcement
U.S. weighs in favor of right to record police
By Tal Kopan
3/8/13 9:59 AM EST
The Justice Department is urging a court to affirm individuals’ rights to record police under the First Amendment, filing a statement of interest in support of a journalist suing over his arrest while photographing Maryland officers.
In the statement filed this week in a federal court in Maryland, the Justice Department argues that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and 14th Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process. The DOJ urges the court to uphold these rights and to reject a motion to dismiss from Montgomery Co. in Garcia v. Montgomery Co., a case that has implications for an increasing crop of litigation on the subject in the era of ubiquitous smartphones.
“The United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. … Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges,” wrote the DOJ Civil Rights Division.
In June 2011, Mannie Garcia, a White House and Senate-credentialed photojournalist, took pictures of two police officers from the Montgomery County Police Department as they were arresting two men, concerned that they might be using excessive force. According to the complaint, he began taking pictures from 30 feet away, then moved back to 100 feet after police shined a spotlight at him. The only interaction Garcia had with the officers was declaring he was a member of the press and he was only in possession of a camera.
The complaint states that police placed dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close and took his camera. While they had his camera, he saw police take out the battery and video card, the latter of which he said was never returned. The complaint also denies that Garcia in any way resisted arrest.
In December 2011, Garcia was acquitted of disorderly conduct during a bench trial, and he subsequently filed a lawsuit against the officers and department. The Justice Department, echoing its position in another recent case, Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept, et al., filed in January 2012, urges the court to affirm individuals’ right to record police. “Both the location of Mr. Garcia’s photography, a public street, and the content of his photography, speech alleging government misconduct, lie at the center of the First Amendment,” the DOJ representatives wrote.
Additionally, while Garcia is a White House–credentialed journalist and alleges in his lawsuit that the county violated its policy toward the press during his arrest, Justice argues his status as a journalist has no bearing on his First Amendment rights. Both as a member of the press and as a member of the public, they argue, Garcia has a fundamental right to do what he did. Justice’s filing touches on a trend of cases nationwide. As personal recording equipment becomes more common in the era of smartphones and tablets, police-recording cases have cropped up around the country.
In Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union recently won a challenge to a state law banning recording individuals without both parties’ consent, with a federal judge issuing a permanent ban on enforcing the law in regards to publicly recording officers after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge in the case.
In Washington, D.C., the police department last summer issued an order that its officers not interfere with people recording their public duties, echoing a similar memo issued by the city of Philadelphia, where another lawsuit has been filed challenging the arrest of a man who recorded police with his cellphone.
Federal appellate courts have upheld a First Amendment right to record police in cases including Glik v. Cunniffe in 2011, Smith v. Cummings in 2000 and Fordyce v. City of Seattle in 1995, all of which Justice cites in its statement in the Garcia case.
07 March 2013
The Banality of Technocratic Thinking
So, yesterday Rand Paul (R - Tenn) was nearly put up for canonization for having the temerity to confront the Obama administration on the potential use of drone attacks on US citizens on US soil. Paul's theatrics placed him in the limelight and rightly called the administration to account. Here are a couple of mostly unheralded performances that also deserve high praise. In each clip Elizabeth Warren (D - Mass) is questioning panels of "regulators" called to give testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. The first is from February 14th, the second is from today. In each instance her interlocutors find it extremely difficult - nearly impossible, in fact - to grasp the force of her questions. But note, that is not because she is inarticulate or unclear.The operative word is obtuse.
Look here for some indication of what rides on Warren's lines of questioning. And visit our friends at Occupy the SEC here for documentation of their efforts to address the issues.
06 March 2013
Deciphering Hugo Chávez?
"Over the last fourteen years, Chávez has submitted himself and his agenda to fourteen national votes, winning thirteen of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be “best in the world” out of the 92 elections that he has monitored. (It turns out it isn’t that difficult to have transparent elections: voters in Venezuela cast their ballot on an touch pad, which spits out a receipt they can check and then deposit in a box. At the end of the day, random polling stations are picked for ‘hot audits,’ to make sure the electronic and paper tallies add up). A case is made that this ballot-box proceduralism isn’t democratic, that Chávez dispenses patronage and dominates the media giving him an unfair advantage. But after the last presidential ballot—which Chávez won with the same percentage he did his first election yet with a greatly expanded electorate—even his opponents have admitted, despairingly, that a majority of Venezuelans liked, if not adored, the man. [. . .]"Hugo Chávez Frias . . . was probably more demonized than any democratically elected president in world history. But he was repeatedly re-elected by wide margins, and will be mourned not only by Venezuelans but by many Latin Americans who appreciate what he did for the region" (CEPR).
Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Chavismo’s social-welfare programs will endure now that Chávez is gone and shelve the leftwing hope that out of rank-and-file activism a new, sustainable way of organizing society will emerge. The participatory democracy that took place in barrios, in workplaces and in the countryside over the last fourteen years was a value in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to a better world.
There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars . . . on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere." (The Nation).
"Without doubt, chavismo will outlive its founder. Many ordinary Venezuelans will look back on his rule with fondness. But his heirs will have to grapple with some intractable problems."This is an important difference between the classical and radical populist eras. Juan Perón and his cohorts co-opted a rising Left. Chávez has seemingly resurrected one and has at times struggled to keep up with the forces he helped unleash. The Bolivarian Circles represent with exquisite precision the ethos of the Revolution: These community councils were organized in an attempt to bury the state deep into civil society, to bypass potentially hostile local elected officials and to dole out patronage directly from the center. But they are, as Nikolas Kosloff puts it, at once “anti-democratic, creating a kind of vertical dependency around the cult figure of Chávez” and simultaneously creating a real terrain of democratic deliberation" (In These Times).
Venezuela comes towards the bottom of just about every league table for good governance or economic competitiveness. For 14 years Venezuelans have been told that their problems were caused by somebody else—the United States or “the oligarchy”. Getting ahead has depended on political loyalty rather than merit. The mass enrolment of millions in “universities” that mainly impart propaganda have raised expectations that are almost bound to be dashed. [. . .]
A majority of Venezuelans may eventually come to see that Mr Chávez squandered an extraordinary opportunity for his country, to use an unprecedented oil boom to equip it with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy. But this lesson will come the hard way, and there is no guarantee that it will be learned" (The Economist).
"He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn't hold regular cabinet meetings; he'd bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter."What is left, instead, after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a hero and a patron, someone who “cared” for them in a way that no political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had. For them, now, there will be a despair and an anxiety that there really will be no one else like him to come along, not with as big a heart and as radical a spirit, for the foreseeable future. And they are probably right. But it’s also Chávism that has not yet delivered. Chávez’s anointed successor, Maduro, will undoubtedly try to carry on the revolution, but the country’s untended economic and social ills are mounting, and it seems likely that, in the not so distant future, any Venezuelan despair about their leader’s loss will extend to the unfinished revolution he left behind" (The New Yorker).
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez's meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered" (The Guardian).
Update: Here are a couple of other provocative commentaries on Chávez. The first - "The Achievements of Hugo Chávez" - is from Counterpunch and documents the medical/health dimensions of contemporary Venezuela; the second, by a smart young political theorist Diego von Vacano, who is concerned with how we ought to conceptualize Chávez's politics.
05 March 2013
This past week The New York Times Magazine included this photo essay (above) from northern Norway by Simon Norfolk and this one (below) from Brazil by Massimo Vitali. Each photographer is pretty remarkable - in the sense of having a distinctive eye on the world - and the contrast in substantive preoccupations is pretty interesting.
Speed Dating with Roberto Unger
I think the guy has many smart things to say. He also has one of the most peculiar presentational styles I've encountered. But in this format he makes his point and gets out. I guess I wonder what it would be like to be an undergrad who wandered in to his course unawares.
04 March 2013
Hey! Yeah You! Wanna Buy a Bridge? ~ Marina Abramović Has One to Sell You
This clip has popped up on You Tube and has made its way onto my FB news feed a couple of times lately. As I have said here several times before, I find Abramović unbearably self-indulgent and manipulative. I think this performance in particular was an invitation to total passivity on the part of those who 'sat' with her. Here is the caption that accompanies the various postings I've seen:
"Marina Abramović and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again. In 2010, Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’, a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing it and this is what happened."Right. If you truly think that this magical appearance of Ulay the former lover was unscripted, I have a bridge to sell you. After all, this is a couple who transformed their break-up into a performance piece. And Abramović was, after all, filming the putatively spontaneous encounters for posterity.
03 March 2013
Best Shot (240) ~ Ken Grant
02 March 2013
Bangladesh ~ Photography, Politics
Since early last month Dhaka, Bangladesh has been beset by massive, peaceful, public protests. You can find coverage of the events and the sordid political history that has generated the ongoing protests at The Guardian     and, succinctly, in this Op-Ed by Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam from yesterday's New York Times.* I have posted on Alam and his work here several times in the past.
I lifted the image above from this series, also published at The Times* and did so for two reasons. The first is to suggest how Alam manages to depict a singularly troubling feature of the protests by indirection. The Shahbagh crowds are calling for the execution of individuals found guilty by a war crimes tribunal in Dhaka. That is problematic for advocates of justice and human rights who denounce the persistent use of official violence in Bangladesh. But, secondly, Alam's image also underscores the precipitating role photography has played in the protests. And in so doing, we can grasp, why the crowds calling for justice also clamor for death.
Here is the offending photograph, followed by some explanation taken from the first of The Guardian reports I link to above:
"It all began with a victory sign. When Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary-general of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami party, emerged from the supreme court on the afternoon of Tuesday 4 February, he turned to the press waiting outside, smiled, and made a victory sign. An odd reaction for a man just sentenced to life in prison.So, the apparent perversity of insisting on death as a token of justice perhaps is understandable. The issue - as Alam also make plain in his essay - is one of deserved punishment and lack of official credibility. It also raises issues of prudence, since supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami have begun to demonstrate their own displeasure at the proceedings and verdicts. The daunting political problem then, seems to be to create a way to sustain the hope that the Shahbagh protesters hold out, without reverting to violence and execution.**
Mollah smiled because for him, a man convicted of beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence – charges that have earned him the nickname the Butcher of Mirpur – the life sentence came as a surprise. Earlier this month, a fellow accused, Abul Kalam Azad, who is reputed to have fled to Pakistan, was sentenced to death in absentia.
When Mollah emerged from the courthouse, a group of online activists and bloggers assembled to protest against the verdict, demanding that Mollah, like Azad, be given the death sentence. They set up camp in Shahbag, an intersection at the heart of Dhaka, near the university campus, and staged a small sit-in. They collected a few donations and ordered khichuri (a mixture of rice and lentils) to keep them going through the night. Word spread on Facebook and Twitter. The next day, a few news channels began covering their protest. By the end of the week, they had managed to put together the biggest mass demonstration the country has seen in 20 years.
[. . .]
In addition to the perceived inadequacy of the sentence is an abiding anxiety about the way it will be carried out. It is ingrained in the public imagination that justice always takes second place to political expediency. Mollah knows that if his party or its allies were to come to power again, he would almost certainly be freed. That is why the protesters at Shahbag are calling for his death: it is the only way they can be sure the episode will come to an end."
* You can find the text of the Op-Ed integrated with the images here at Alam's blog.
** Update: In this regard you might also read this more extended analysis of events in Bangladesh by Nadine Murshid at The Economic & Political Weekly,