31 May 2008

First Jeff Milano-Johnson Memorial Tournament

Today was the first of what hopefully will be an annual event - a lacrosse tournament in memory of my son Jeff. For a first run, everything went extremely smoothly - 12 teams (six boys, six girls), lots of games, no rain (despite blustery winds). I can take little credit for the event which was coordinated by Jeff's mom and a number of friends including most especially Dan Troup. The tournament paid for itself and raised money for a memorial fund we've set up to honor Jeff. The fund will give scholarships, support a local athletics/academics program for disadvantaged kids from Rochester and eventually, give money to the local organ donor network and to brain research (Jeff died of a ruptured aneurysm).

I am very ambivalent about this undertaking. It really is a wonderful memorial, lots and lots of kids playing a sport Jeff loved. But I find it hard to watch the other kids playing, knowing that I'll never see Jeff out there with them. So, I smiled some and wept a bit too ~ making the day kind of like many other days since Jeff died.


Geoff Dyer and the Legacy of Walker Evans

"The simple truth is that the best exponents of the art of
contemporary photography continue to produce work
that fits broadly within the tradition of what Evans
termed 'documentary style'." ~ Geoff Dyer
I agree with this statement, made by Dyer in this essay from The Guardian. What I think Dyer underplays, however, is the persistent campaign Evans and his allies waged, over the course of a number of years, to insure that his own work was categorized otherwise. Evans sought the appellation "art" for himself and, in order to attain it, sought to made sure their were others (e.g., Margaret Bourke-White) from whom critics could and should withhold it. (For the details of this story see: John Stomberg. 2007. "A Genealogy of Orthodox Documentary." In Beautiful Suffering: Photography & the Traffic in Pain. Edited by Mark Reinhardt, et. al., University of Chicago Press.) In other words, like Stieglitz before him, Evans tried his damnedest to impose just the sort of invidious distinction upon photography that Dyer himself finds so troubling.

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Billy Bragg, The Nation, Property Rights, and Cynicism

"I don't mind being labeled a political songwriter, . . . What upsets
me is being dismissed as a political songwriter." ~ Billy Bragg*

Well, The Nation has instituted a really terrific new bi-weekly feature "Back Talk" and handed it over to Christine Smallwood, their Associate Literary Editor. (Smallwood co-edits The Crier in her spare time - or is that when she works at The Nation? Whichever is the case, this new enterprise is a very good idea and she's pulling it off with aplomb.) I posted recently on the first of these columns that I'd noticed: a little interview with Tod Papageorge.** Well, now Smallwood has done yet another little interview, this time with Billy Bragg - you can find their exchange here. One of the interesting bits is the way Bragg identifies "cynicism" as the common feature of capitalism, conservatism and racism.

Bragg has a new album Mr. Love & Justice out on Anti; I've not listened to the whole thing through (a sign of my age, no doubt, that I would even contemplate listening to the entire record instead o f downloading select numbers from iTunes), but the snippets I have heard sound good. And he recently penned this Op-Ed for The New York Times on the predicament of musicians and artists whose work is underwriting social networking sites but who receive no remuneration for their work. Smallwood and Bragg pursue themes from the Op-Ed in their discussion.

As a good Marxist, of course, Bragg should know that what we have here is a clear instance of a broader irresistible pattern in which of the advancing means of production (technology ~ read, the internet) are coming into conflict with existing relations of production (property rights of various sorts). And moral suasion of the sort in which he engages in his essay will have no significant impact on how that conflict plays out. Right?
* The source of the quote is here.
** It turns out that the Papageorge conversation was the 3rd installment of Backtalk. Smallwood had already had similar conversations with Nicholson Baker on writing 'amateur history' and with John Turturo on playing Hamm in Beckett's Endgame.

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30 May 2008

BushCo Coming Unraveled

Scott McClellan, serial purveyor of dis-information for BushCo, has a new book out. He has created quite a splash, suggesting that, just perhaps, it is possible that in their enthusiasm to safeguard the country (hah!), Bush and his minions might've (unintentionally, of course) dissembled just a smidgen about the massive folly known as our war in Iraq.

Of course, McClellan, in his post as Press Secretary at the White House, was a professional liar and bullshitter. He was integral to the propaganda campaign the administration waged. So it is unclear why anyone should believe anything he has written. Maybe he thinks that coming clean ex post will save him from historical ignominy. Who knows?

In any case, I heard a segment on npr yesterday afternoon. In McClellan was quoted disparaging Richard Clarke (he of the counter-terrorism office under Clinton and Bush) for having written a book in 2004 highly (and as it turns out accurately) critical of Bush and his staff in the lead up to the 9/11 attacks. Here is what McClellan said of Clarke in March 2004:
"Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let's look at the politics of it. [. . .]"
I have to say that I laughed out loud. Well, Scott? Have you woken up only just recently? The advert for the new book claims that McClellan wrote it "with no agenda other than to record his experiences and insights for the benefit of history." Right. Maybe Scott hopes to follow in the footsteps of George Stephanopoulos who, having served up spin for Clinton, stepped quickly into a mainstream broadcast post. And of course, now Scott seems to have apologized to Clarke. But why should we take him at his word on that either?

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China: Earthquake & Silence

I've not posted anything on the Chinese earthquake. Mostly, I don't see quite what I might say that is not completely banal. But I've come across two posts that call our attention to particular images in, I think, pointed and thought provoking ways. The first is from Jörg Colberg; the second is from David Schonauer.

Best Shots (27) ~ David Goldblatt

(53) David Goldblatt ~ In an abandoned mineshaft, Pomfret Asbestos
Mine, North West Province. December 25 2002. (29 May 2008)

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29 May 2008

Piling Bad Work Upon Bad

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote this post on the vapid work of Elinor Carucci. Well, this evening I was reading this article and this one (linked from a post at Conscientious) both of which are critical, and rightly so, of this recent cover article (and especially the accompanying photos) from The New York Times Magazine. Note the photo credit. Enough said.

Emily Gold ~ Photograph Elinor Carucci: Copyright 2008
The New York Times Company.


Not My President

President Bush and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Theodore
of Plano, Texas, bump chests after Shiveley received
his diploma at the
AFA graduation ceremony on May 28,
2008. (AP | Charles Dharapak)

President Bush and United States Air Force Academy graduate
Michael Riddick, from Aiken, S.C., flex their biceps during a
graduation ceremony, Wednesday, May 28, 2008.
(AP | Charles Dharapak)

These pictures are from a story in The Denver Post and they make me nauseous. I wonder whether either Riddick or Shiveley themselves wonder what W did during his military service? I wonder if they wonder what idiotic missions they will be compelled to undertake in the vain effort to salvage BushCo's disastrous foreign wars? I doubt it. But the adolescent posing and acting out are especially pathetic. And, frankly, the bottom picture makes me think of nothing so much as the images of Sabrina Harmon, et. al. grinning and posing over prisoners at Abu Ghriab. That is Bush's legacy to the nation. Every time I see a member of the American military wearing a goofy smile in a sort of 'thumbs up' pose I'll be looking for the humiliated, abused - yes tortured - prisoners. Riddick and Shiveley and the other graduates may be well intentioned, dedicated young men and women. But this president is a disgrace. And all the stupid poses in the world won't diminish the extent to which the adjective applies to him. How many days left?
Thanks to Jörg Colberg for calling my attention to these.


28 May 2008

Philip Blekinsop

I found this short video on the work of Australian photojournalist Philip Blekinsop [1] [2] over at Dokumentary Fotografr. Thanks Charlie!


27 May 2008


I've just discovered a new magazine dispatches founded by Simba Gill, Gary Knight and Mort Rosenblum. You can find their "mission statement" here. And you can find two essays on photography in the current issue too. The first is Tim Hetherington's Acceptance Speech at the 2008 World Press Photo Awards. Hetherington reflects astutely on the impact his prize-winning image has had on him and on others. The second is "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" by Steve Mayes of VII Photo Agency. His premise is:
"The “crisis” in photojournalism is not an absence of newsworthy events, nor even the absence of an eager audience, it is the absence of imagination in bridging the two, and we are limited by the constant backward hankering for the way things used to be. Who is the new Robert Capa or Eugene Smith? But the question is misguided, and just as so many innovations have been misunderstood because they were defined in terms of what went before, so we are missing the opportunity to make a meaningful step forward in photojournalism because we are hanging onto the old references."
You can read the rest and see where he ends up.


Michael Daivd Murphy

Photographer & writer Michael David Murphy is based in Atlanta. He has done a series of quite thought provoking projects on the banal landscape of racial 'incidents' across the southern United States.

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I came across a peculiar and interesting web page this morning. If is called fehe.org, the four letters before the dot being an acronym for the putative organizer of the page, one "Felicia Herrschaft." The page is irregularly bi-lingual, with some entires in German, others in English and some in both. In any case, the keepers trample back and forth across the traditional boundaries of art and social theory. Here is the "concept":
Fehe.org presents the intersection between research and contemporary art positions

Creative Processes and artistic practices, interviews with artists and researchers show, on fehe.org, how new cultural and experimental forms of expression come into being. Why does a deliberation takes a public form? However, what are the intersectional, discursive, participatory and reflexive forms of how a public space is shaped? How are new public spheres now developing in post war societies like Afghanistan and Kosovo?

You can listen to the last radioshows in the sections radioprojects, philosophy and social science and Axiom or join my log with images from Afghanistan, Kosovo, Venice, Kassel, Muenster.

Responsible for fehe.org is Felicia Herrschaft (Goethe-Uni Frankfurt /M., phd-student at the faculty of social science, IPC, FGS.) Thematic fields: Critical Theory, Biograhical Analysis, Sociology of Art

Newsletter: If you are interested in new works, podcasts or interviews, please feel free to send an email for any request: info(at)fehe.org
We'll see. But for now it seems as though the site is worth some exploration.


26 May 2008

Matrook Al-Faleh

This afternoon I received an email containing the following plea on behalf of a fellow Political Scientist Matrook Al-Faleh (shown at right in a 2004 photo) who is on the faculty at King Saud University. Al-Faleh has been detained after speaking out regarding conditions of Saudi prisons, especially the conditions of political prisoners. He is reportedly is on a hunger strike.

"This is a human call from the King Saud University, Political Science Department to all Political Science departments and all civil society organizations in the United States.

Professor of political science at King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, and human rights activist Matrook Al-Faleh was kidnapped on May 19, 2008. Dr. Matrook Al-Faleh is a member of the Arab Committee for Human Rights and an active advocate of civil society and constitutional reform in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Faleh left his home to his office when his family lost contact with him. Al-Faleh's family and the Arab Committee for Human Rights tried to locate him by calling his cell phone to no avail. When his family went to his office, he was not there although his car was at the University parking lot. It has then become clear to his family that Dr. Al-Faleh was kidnapped by the Saudi Secret Police.

Before his imprisonment, Dr. Matrook Al-Faleh had issued a statement on torture and prison conditions and other human right abuses practices in Buraidah regional prison. This statement came after his recent visit his jailed colleague and activist, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamed.

It is worthy mentioning that in May, 5, 2005 a Saudi court sentenced Dr. Al-Faleh six years in prison along with Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamed, Abdul Rahman Al-laem and Al- Al Dumini. They were pardoned by the king after spending two years of their jail time. Although released, these advocate were banned from traveling abroad and their passports were revoked by the ministry of Interior, headed by the king's brother, prince Naief bin Abdulaziz. Since their imprisonment three days ago, not one Saudi broadcast station mentioned the news.

Dr. Matrook Al-Faleh has published several works in civil society and constitutional reform in Saudi Arabia. He is an active member at the Board of Directors of the Arab Committee for Human Rights, the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Arab Unity Studies and a strong defender of political abuse victims in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. The Arab Committee for Human Rights is taking the lead in defending Dr. Al-Faleh, as is the case with more than 120 non-governmental organizations in the world.

The Arab Committee for Human Rights is calling upon the Saudi authorities to release Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamed, Dr. Matrook Al Falih, Dr. Issa Hamed, and other political conscious prisoners being held in Saudi jails without trials. We hope from all political science departments and civil society organization to exert all their pressure upon the Saudi government to release these prisoners.

For more information, please call the Political Science Department at King Saud University at phones

The director of department 00966 4674208

The Secretary of department 00966 4674209 or 00966 4674201

The Fax of department 00966 4674207

Wednesday , May 21, 2008"
You can find a similar plea from Human Rights Watch here. Notice that the HRW Press release makes clear that this is part of a pattern of repression within Saudi Arabia. You can find reports on al-Faleh's predicament at The Washington Post, AFP and AP.

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One of the first color images from the Phoenix Mars lander shows
the surface of Mars after the spacecraft landed successfully
in the first-ever touchdown near Mars’ north pole.
Image: NASA, JPL, Caltech, University of Arizona/Reuters.

Barefoot in the Park?

When I read this story I thought maybe I'd mixed up The Times and The Onion.

25 May 2008

Birthday & the Start of Summer

This is a holiday weekend here in the U.S. - Memorial Day, on which we remember the military men (mostly) and women who've given their lives in the line of duty. It is really the start of summer and a holiday of parades and picnics. So I've pretty much taken the day off. Earlier I took the kayak my friend Susan gave me for my birthday (last week) out on the ponds in a cool local park.

My other birthday present (in addition to a wonderful dinner with my oldest son Douglas), was a copy of George Lewis's A Power Stronger than Itself which is even better than I anticipated. I will come back to the book before long. In any case, this is a picture of me this today, in the kayak holding up the life vest I got so I can take my littlest son August out on the lake when he comes to visit later this summer. That will be better than I anticipate too!


24 May 2008

Anthony Davis

I recall from my days in graduate school hearing pianist Anthony Davis play with various of the jazz groups and ensembles I was listening to at the time. I vaguely recall that he was also a composer. There is a story in The New York Times today about this production of an opera - "Amistad" inspired by an uprising on that slave ship - that Davis has written. It is being performed at the Spoletto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. The story in The Times remarks on the irony of mounting a this production in that particular city.

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Henson Flap

Untitled (1992-93) ~ Photograph © Bill Henson

I suppose it is not really surprising that Australian authorities are censoring an exhibition of Bill Henson's photographs. You can find some of the details here. I am not naive enough to imagine 12 and 13 year old kids are asexual. But they are kids. And I really don't find Henson's work depicting pre-teens in various states of more or less provocative undress terribly interesting. I have said as much here before. I like his ships way more. But given that we have 15 year old girls posed like this - in various states of more or less provocative undress - on the cover of mass circulation magazine covers, it is hard to get all that worked up about a gallery exhibition. Here is the statement from the gallery about the censored photographs. And, let's be quite clear, what is going on here surely is censorship.

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23 May 2008

Cornell Capa (1918-2008)

Cornell Capa, photojournalist and founder of the International Center of Photography in NYC has died. He was 90. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here.



OCTOBER 123 (Winter 2008) - In what ways have artists, academics, and cultural institutions responded to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq?
I'd seen this issue of the journal OCTOBER earlier in the spring but had forgotten to mention it here. As one might expect, too much of the writing here is couched in academic jargon. But the reflections I skimmed, translated with varying degrees of effort into normal prose style, are sometimes interesting. If you are concerned with the intersection of art & politics, this rather large set of essays provides a useful window into the academic art world 'response' to BushCo and its (our) mis-adventures. The contributions are replies to this questionnaire circulated by the editors roughly a year ago.


Best Shots (26) ~ Ed Ruscha

(52) Ed Ruscha ~ "just a dried-up old can of polish" (1961)
~ (22 May 08)

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22 May 2008

Enthusiasms (17) ~ Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton is an extraordinary musician (primarily reeds) and composer who teaches at Wesleyan University and has a long-standing association with the AACM. I will say that my efforts to appreciate Braxton's own compositions have been an abject failure. But I have lately been listening to a set of his CDs of "standards" that are simply wonderful. I have two largish collections issued by Leo Records a couple of years back. These are live recordings of Braxton's quartet - Kevin O'Neil (g), Kevin Norton (d), & Andy Eulau (b).

The same quartet - sometimes augmented by Paul Smoker (tr) and
Steve Lehman (ts) - also has recorded two really terrific CDs of (mostly) Andrew Hill compositions. These discs were released on the CIMP label.

It seems to me that these recordings elicit three pretty obvious observations. The first has to do with tiny, obscure labels - and the remarkable individuals who run them. That is the culture of jazz. One need not have access to the major labels (say, Columbia) and well-heeled donors at, say, Jazz at Lincoln Center, to make, record, and distribute great music. Resources help, to be sure. But there are lots of people out there working without anything resembling a big-time budget. Second, the compositions that Braxton covers in these recordings puts the lie to pompous pronouncements regarding what counts as "the" jazz tradition. Such attempts at legislation are truly laughable. In addition to the inimitable Andrew Hill, we get interpretations of compositions by Coltrane and Monk and Evans and Desmond and Brubeck and so on, as well as an ample sampling from the "great American songbook." Third, it is fair to say - if anyone needed a basis for doing so -that attempts to exclude Braxton from the jazz tradition are simply fatuous. These recordings show Braxton instead as a master of that tradition. What they show about those who've appointed themselves to the task of policing the boundaries of "the tradition" is another matter altogether.

Braxton has played over the years with - among others - Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul, Dave Douglas, Mal Waldron, and Sam Rivers. But I first heard him on "Birth & Rebirth" (1978) released on Black Saint; it is a set of duets with the great Max Roach. Braxton does not need the say-so of anyone. But if he did, this is way more than good enough.

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21 May 2008

Rediscovering Jacob Riis

In the world of post-modern theory, Jacob Riis is judged harshly. He is accused of all sorts of things - of voyeurism, of objectifying and exploiting the poor, of treating denizens of ghettos and tenements as a problem to be solved. I do not know too much about Riis, but it has seemed to me that this malign view is overly harsh. I recently picked up this new book by Bonnie Yochelson and Daniel Czitrom in hopes it might provide me with enough background to make a more informed judgment. I'll let you know.

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20 May 2008

Tod Papageorge - "not a political photographer"?

The latest issue of The Nation arrived in the mail this morning. It includes this brief interview with Tod Papageorge about whom I know very little beyond the fact that he's been teaching at Yale for three decades or so. He has a new book out - American Sports, 1970 or How We Spent the War in Vietnam and its published by Aperture. Here are a couple of passages from The Nation interview. The first is about the predicament photographers face generally.
"Well, photographers and poets, their glory and their shame--that's a quote from Auden, the glory and the shame--is that a poet has to depend upon words, these words. "Cup"--it's so mundane and common--but Robert Frost would say, "fill a cup up/Up to the brim, and even above the brim." The word becomes transformed, ideally. So the curse of the poet is, he has to use all of this pain quotidien to make magic. And it's the same with the photographer. He's stuck with the things of the world to transform. What you must understand is that the effort involved here in making these pictures or any that I've made is to make visual poetry. In other words, to use the material of the world as the stuff of transformation into meaning. So whether those facts or those pieces of material bear any kind of conclusive or direct line of connection to the truth is totally irrelevant to me. This has nothing to do with the truth! This is a book of poetry. Whether you respond to it that way is something I can't be concerned with. But that's the ambition."
That seems fair enough . No need to convince me, really, that photography traffics in poetics, not truth ~ transforming the mundane into something significant. But then we get to the matter of "To what end? For what purpose?" And here we encounter what, in light of the subtitle of the book, seems a thoroughly peculiar comment about the sort of work Papageorge himself does, and the influences on his work:
"This work, and work of this ilk, came out of a group of photographers who were working in the '60s and the '70s in New York who were all, I think, radicalized by the publication of Robert Frank's The Americans. So I guess consistent with all of this work is a kind of negative view of America, a critique of America, done, again, in the interest of nothing but aesthetic or artistic success. In other words, there's no money to be made doing this."
But, insofar as the photographs in the book constitute a "critique of America" - and I think they work both acutely and astutely in that regard - it seems disingenuous to suggest that the criteria of success in this work were exclusively "aesthetic." Sure, the criteria were not commercial. (Papageorge goes on in the interview to comment on the way galleries have influenced photography in that regard.) But the "artistic success" of the work was deeply, necessarily informed by a serious political sensibility too. Otherwise, these images might well have appeared in The Sporting News. The difficulty Papageorge quite successfully confronted was how to convey "a negative view of America" in a subtle, oblique way? There are no scenes of battlefields, or protests or politicians. Yet, the aesthetic and political remain intimately intertwined here. What we see is America at play, oblivious - or seemingly so - to the death and devastation we are sowing abroad. The claim these images make upon us emerges primarily against a largely unstated context. And that claim recurs today. Why release this book now? The answer is the same as when we ask "Why make these photographs in the first place?" Politics.

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19 May 2008

Political Experience

Main Entry: ex.pe.ri.ence

Pronunciation: \ik-spir-e--n(t)s\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin experientia act of trying, from experient-, experiens, present participle of experiri to try, from ex- + -periri (akin to periculum attempt) — more at fear
Date: 14th century

1 a: direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge b: the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

2 a: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity b: the length of such participation experience
in the job>

3 a: the conscious events that make up an individual life b: the events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or humankind generally

4: something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through

5: the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality.

Last night I watched part of this segment on Bill Moyers Journal. The hook was plausible; two politicos, married to one another, each supporting a different candidate. In this instance -mercifully - it was not Mary Matalin and James Carville but Christopher Edley and Maria Echaveste. He supports Obama, she Clinton. I found the segment infuriating and eventually had to close my eyes and go to sleep. I am sick to death of hearing Clinton and her supporters go on and on about her putative "experience" and how that gives her an edge over Obama. It is even more tiresome that no on asks what in the world they are talking about. Here is a bit from the transcript:

MARIA ECHAVESTE: There ought to be a way in which you can challenge lack of experience, which I think is hugely important, one of the reasons that I chose Hillary Clinton, not just because I've known her for many years, but because I've seen how tough the job is, having worked as President Clinton's deputy chief of staff.

It's like what the next President is facing is gonna require such a set of skills and experience and strength of character that I just felt Senator Obama, who I do admire and I do think that he can be a great leader. I just felt, "How do you challenge that lack of experience without it being seen through this racial ... lens"

Now, I do not think that everyone who opposes Obama is racist. Clearly, however, some are and that is how the Moyers segment was motivated (a set of remarks by voters in West Virginia.) Nor, on the other hand, do I think Obama represents the second coming, one in whom hope and unity and progress will magically converge. I have made it clear here why I've supported him. Not much enthusiasm on my part. I have never liked Hilary Clinton; not because, as right-wingers would have it, she is some sort of ultra-liberal harpy but because she, like her husband, is a DLC republican wannabe. It may well be, as Echaveste complains, that the media have not treated Clinton "fairly." But remember that there were half a dozen other candidates in the Democratic primaries who never got the time of day from the media early on because Clinton was the presumed nominee. So what is fair?

What I simply do not get is why Clinton supporters can't just say - 'I am voting for her because she is a woman.' Echaveste makes something like that point: "But we shouldn't deny and sort of ignore that we also have the first female candidate who has really shown that a woman could run for President and do so and be very viable. Remember, this race is very close." I agree. This is an historical opportunity.

But what is all this bullshit about her "experience?" What precisely has Hilary Clinton actually done that affords her any edge in experience over Obama? Maybe she has seen things - as in witnessed or observed - but has she participated in them? What has she done? What am I missing? Why is no one calling Clinton and her various mouthpieces on this?

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18 May 2008

If You Suspect It ...

I discovered this poster on here at the site of the London Metropolitan Police. Evidently, taking pictures can be dangerous to your freedom. Just don't look suspicious or odd while taking pictures. Of course, the Brits love their CCTV surveillance too. So, there are lots of camera politics going on.

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Best Shots?

Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite (1974)
~ Photograph © Judy Dater


"Which of my photographs is my favorite? The
I'm going to take tomorrow."
~ Imogen Cunningham

I have now linked to 50 plus installments of the "Best Shots" essays/interviews that Leo Benedictus has done at The Guardian. This evening I came across this remark from Imogen Cunningham. You may already know it. It seems to me to puncture the conceit of the Best Shots series pretty thoroughly. There is an element of seeking and surprise in many of the most memorable photographs. (Just as there often is a large portion of contrivance in many too.) Here, though, I don't just imagine Cunningham discovering a lithe model waiting naked behind the next tree. Her remark reminds me too of the restlessness of some photographers, for whom the question "What is your favorite photograph?"would be be nearly senseless. For instance, I remember reading somewhere that Josef Koudelka has virtually stopped developing any of his film as he travels taking photographs. If my memory serves, he couldn't really answer the question.


Mao, Che ... Barack?

Regular readers will know that I am interested in the ways art and graphics and politics intersect. I've posted here and here and here and here, for instance, on political graphics. Such graphics raise all sorts of interesting issues about, say, how communication and information and symbolism and propaganda converge and diverge. Here is an interesting story from The Washington Post on Shepard Fairey who designed the prominent Obama campaign posters.

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17 May 2008

Cross-Sterilization? One Can Only Hope ...

Often, when two or more talented or smart people work together on a project, we anticipate that the results might be especially creative or insightful. Call that the hope for cross-fertilization. But what happens when two vacuous people get together for a project. Dare we anticipate cross-sterilization? Well you be the judge. Here is a report from Huffington Post on a new layout in the May '08 issue of Vogue Italia (where else?). The photographer is the ever pretentious Steve Meisel [1] [2] and the subject is the ever self-promoting Eva Mendez [3]. I suppose we should be thankful that this time, at least, neither is presenting themselves as doing anything particularly profound.

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Pragmatist Progress in Brazil?

I have posted several times on Roberto Unger who moved from Harvard Law School to take up a Ministerial position in the cabinet of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. From my perspective this represents an important attempt on Unger's part to put pragmatist philosophical commitments into political practice. (In the U.S. the greatest influence of pragmatism outside the academy tends, I think, to be among prominent judges such a Richard Posner and Stephen Breyer.) The stakes here are immense. According to this report from the BBC, Lula has appointed Unger to coordinate development policy in the Amazon. This is a complex task given the large number of cabinet portfolios (35) that exist in Brazil with the attendant possibility of conflicting claims among Ministers. Already, according to this story in The Economist, the politics involved apparently prompted Minister for the Environment Marina Silva to resign her post. Stay tuned.
P.S.: Updated 19 May 08 ~ You can find a yet another report from Reuters here.

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16 May 2008

Dress Code for Conservatives

This is going to seem gratuitous. But sometimes I cannot help it. Earlier today I included in a post a link to a dyspeptic comment by Roger Kimball on the recently deceased Robert Rauschenberg. I don't know much about Kimball other than that as co-editor of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books, he is a purveyor of big lots of conservative twaddle. He also makes the rounds of the echo-chamber, publishing his essays in various right-wing outlets. On the web page where his dismissal of Rauschenberg appeared, you will find the photograph at right. It immediately brought to mind the photograph of Matt Drudge, a similarly simpering right-winger, that I included in this post a while back. What is it with these guys and the dress code?


Robert Raushenberg (1925-2008)

Robert Rauschenberg (1967). Photograph © Burton Berinsky
/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

"Robert Rauschenberg, the man who once said he wanted to
act in the gap between art and life, has departed this life, [...]
The only trouble with all of this was that there never has been
a gap between art and life. There is art. There is life. For all I know,
Rauschenberg's has been a life well lived. As for his art, it stank
in the 1950s and it doesn't look any better today." ~ Jed Perl

"Bob’s way of talking was a challenge to many — he spoke in
constant puns and metaphors, like a stream-of-consciousness
poet, and one had to suspend traditional forms of speech,
understanding and discourse and go with the flow. It was
liberating, if you could hang in there, and never mundane.
Conversation was like one of his pieces: a crazy mishmash
of images, multiple layers and references, and a spray
of allusions that were simultaneously silly, profound
and beautiful - he was the Neal Cassady of the art world.
His life, and his relation to those around him, was just like
his work; there was no separation and he never went
out of character. The love of the world that was in the work
was also in the man." ~ David Byrne

Well, which is it? So, here two further "appreciations" of Rauschenberg from Roger Kimball and The New York Times. I'll come back to this.

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Who Says There Is No Such Thing as a Decent Politician?

Gavin Newsom ~ Photograph © Jim Wilson/The New York Times

What do I mean by "decent?" Someone who will stand up against prejudice and bigotry in order to defend the dignity and self-respect and interests of minorities. Someone who calls into question practices and institutions that operate, by design or otherwise, to exclude and therefore humiliate large numbers of people. Someone who asks adversaries to offer arguments based in something other than religiously-based intolerance. Story here. The right already has begun to howl hypocritically (e.g., here). So, we will need to see if there are other decent folks around to talk back - politicians and regular citizens too.


15 May 2008

Best Shots (25)



As regular readers will know, Charles Simic is among my favorite poets. I have posted on he and his work numerous times. He has a new book of poems out called That Little Something; the following poem jumped out at me.

Charles Simic*

A birdbath on a darkening lawn.

Death playing tag
with someone's little boy,

Trampling on flower beds.

It is going to be a difficult day.
*Charles Simic. 2008. That Little Something. Harcourt, page 30.

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14 May 2008

JUXTAPOZ Art & Culture Magazine #88 (May 08) ~ THE PHOTOGRAPHY ISSUE

"You've got your Flickr, your MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, digital camera blog, etc, etc, etc. You also have your big-shot photographers. Now, you have a collection of photography from Juxtapoz. That's right, the May issue of Juxtapoz is pleased to be the Photography Issue. And who do we have sharing their photos you may ask? Boogie, Cheryl Dunn, CR Stecyk III, Martha Cooper, Dave Potes, Estevan Oriol, Alex Prager, Jon Dragonette, Corey Arnold, Ricky Adam, Jenny Lens, Peter Beste, Ricky Powell, Robin Schwartz, Ed Templeton, Yone, and Amy Stein. That's Pieter Hugo on our newsstand cover. In all, the Juxtapoz Photography Issue has over 60 contemporary photographers to gaze at. Plus, Juxtapoz.com features a corresponding photo feature for those readers who like photos more than not liking photos. So if you want black & white, color, digital, film, or Polaroids, Juxtapoz has it all in one mag."
I was killing time in one of the local big box book peddler this afternoon waiting for my oldest son Douglas and came across the May issue of JUXTAPOZ which is, as you can see, "the photography issue." I've seen this magazine before and have been pretty much underwhelmed. The ratio of pretension to content quality is way to high. Same goes for this issue. Each of the five dozen plus photographers gets an image. Is that publicity or an insult? Some of the work might be good. Who could tell?

In any case, yesterday was Doug's birthday. He turned nineteen. He has weathered a hard year and is turning into a terrific man. Yesterday, he was out with his mom. Tonight, Doug and I went shopping at the mall and then to Dinosaur Bar-B-Q for dinner. Then he was off with his friends. Happy Birthday Bud!

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13 May 2008


"About ... Verve: endurance, fire, force, gumption, gusto, intensity, moxie, passion, spunk, stamina, strength, toughness, vigor

Photographer and photo editor Geoffrey Hiller has created Verve to feature photos and interviews by the finest young image makers today. Verve is a reminder of the power of the still image. Verve will also point you to new photo agencies, publications and inspiring multimedia projects."

My google alert has turned up several items from Verve Photo over the past few weeks. From what I can tell it is a new undertaking (begun in March '08) by photographer Geoffrey Hiller. It seems like a terrific way to call attention to the work of younger photographers. (Revised 13 May ~ 12:20 EST)


Larry Towell

Tijuana* ~ Photograph © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos

In The Walrus you can find this appreciation of Larry Towell. A while back, in the wake of a remarkable talk/performance Towell gave here in Rochester, I posted several times on he and his work [1] [2] [3] [4]. His work typically is subtly but quite unmistakably political. And he is extremely creative in his efforts to link images and words.
* "In Tijuana, Mexico, a memorial hangs on the US-Mexico wall to honour the more than 3,000 migrants who at the time had died attempting to cross the desert. Children walk along the wall, known locally as “the scar”, on their way home from school." UNFPA, State of World Population Report 2006


12 May 2008

"Essential Jazz" - Missing a Chance

Also at The New Yorker you can find "100 Essential Jazz Albums" - a list drawn up by David Reminick and "meant to provide a broad sampling of jazz classics and wonders across the music’s century-long history." Fair enough, I suppose. But I have to say that I hate this list. Why? Because Remnick didn't actually pick albums. He picked a bunch of sides from collections and reissues and greatest hits ~ "The Complete ... or Best of ... X," "The Genius of Y," "The BBB Sessions ... or Years ... or Whatever" - and so forth. Almost always such "albums" are littered with "alternate takes," previously unissued tracks, and other detritus from the company vaults. The result is a sort of nerdy revivalism.

These are a handful of the actual albums from Remnick's list:
16. Duke Ellington, “Money Jungle” (Blue Note Records, 1962).

43. Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue” (Sony, 1959).

53. Charles Mingus, “Mingus Ah Um” (Columbia, 1959).

74. John Coltrane, “Ascension” (Impulse!, 1965).

96. Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, “Steal Away” (Polygram, 1995).
Way too much of the rest of the list is an indiscriminate compilation of canonical figures from the more or less distant past. Why not try to actually make choices? And then try to justify what you've included and why ~ however briefly? Remnick missed an opportunity. Too bad.

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Norms and Reality

"Pascal Dangin is the premier retoucher of fashion photographs. Art directors and admen call him when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already—whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C—to look, as is the mode, superhuman. (Christy Turlington, for the record, needs the least help.) In the March issue of Vogue Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore."
This is a short passage from the start of a New Yorker profile of Pascal Dangin. He mis-represents for a living, allowing fashion rags to sell the illusions of flawless skin and full lips and perfect boobs and long slender legs. His work (and, no doubt, that of many others in his line of work) apparently is ubiquitous. What he is selling along the way, of course, is a set of norms that govern "common sense" assessments of beauty and fitness and shape. So, when the fashionistas and their acolytes go on about how this or that model or celeb looks simply "fabulous" in this or that shoot, it is important to remind them that what they are seeing bears scant relation to reality. Unless, of course, we come to understand that our own expectations about reality are crafted by Dangin and his ilk. And then we can use Botox and other such crucial inventions to try to approximate their illusions.

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11 May 2008


Bill Moyers ran a segment this week on the California Nurses Association campaign for systematic Health Care reform. At the end of last year they ran this add about Dick Cheney's habit of regularly taking advantage of fully funded government provided health care to good effect. It seems to me that the CNA is doing great work in that regard. However, it is hard to see their attacks on SEIU efforts to organize health care workers as anything other than s short-sighted effort by a craft union to protect its terrain. In the Moyers segment he calls the CNA-SEIU conflict a 'story for another time'. True enough. But it is something that he should take up. How might we envision unions working together instead of at cross-purposes? An answer to that questions would mean spending less time and money and energy on this and this.
Thanks to my friend Susan Orr for all the info on this!

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10 May 2008

Best Shots (24)

(50) Steve McCurry ~ Dust Storm, Rajasthan, 1984 ~ (8 May 2008)


07 May 2008

Richard Serra on the Effects of Witnessing the 9/11 Attacks in NYC

In The New York Times today there is a story on the opening in Paris of a solo exhibition of new and old work by sculptor Richard Serra. This passage caught my eye:

Mr. Serra, who lives in TriBeCa, was there on Sept. 11, 2001, and in its aftermath. He was horrified by his own voyeurism, he said, as he and others watched people in the burning towers throw themselves to their deaths, hand in hand.

“People were silent, other people jumped, and people on the ground moaned in unison, like a Greek chorus,” he said.

It had a great impact on him, he said, talking of the random quickness of life, a new desire to be considerate. “You need to keep your wits about you, and you have to acknowledge everyone around you,” he said. “Before, maybe I didn’t. But we’re all here and here together. It made me a stronger person. But also I think a little more open and generous one.”

If only Serra were the median American - not just in terms of talent and creativity, but in terms too of the ability to respond with openness and generosity in the face of horrifying adversity. Instead we get fear and anxiety and in politics, of course, those who are completely willing to exploit that fear and anxiety.

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06 May 2008

Are Louis Vuitton Callous Assholes? Maybe. But that is Beside the Point

"My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the media's constant cover (sic) of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs apparently is enough to get you on a magazine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs (sic) attention.

When we're presented with the same images in the media over and over again, we might start to believe that they're important" ~ Nadia Plesner
This graphic is being circulated as a comment about who counts ~ about whom we should pay attention to and why. Apparently, the folks at Luis Vuitton are not amused. They are threatening to sue Danish graphic artist Nadia Plesner for this image which she is selling on posters and tee-shirts. Proceeds from sales will go to Divest for Darfur. The LV folk, however, seem to think that the designer bag here resembles their own products. On her web page Plesner offers this account of events:
In October last year I started my Simple Living campaign to raise awareness of the ongoing genocide in Darfur and to raise money for the helping organization "Divest for Darfur".

On February 13, 2008, I received a letter from Louis Vuitton’s main office in Paris, asking me firmly to end the campaign immediately, as they believe one of their products is being portrayed in the art piece. They refer to my website as “Exhibit 1.”

However, I stand up for my artistic freedom to express my view of the world as I see it without restrictions from anybody.

On February 20, 2008, I informed Louis Vuitton’s Intellectual Property Director that I intend to continue my campaign to support the victims of Darfur.

On April 15, 2008, I received a lawsuit from Louis Vuitton. I am now getting legal help from three lawyers.
The obvious point is that Louis Vuitton must be out of their corporate minds. Even if they could claim that Plesner's graphic depicts their product (which she, plausibly to my mind, denies) and if they could show that she somehow violated copyright (in what clearly is a parody), what sort of publicity do they think they are going to generate? Since they seem not to have figured that one out, maybe I can help. Before long there will be lots of people on the web and elsewhere making fun of LV for being idiots (at best) and callous assholes (at considerably less than best). But having now stepped right smack in it, the chic folk at LV need to find a graceful way to walk away without getting shit all over the carpet.

The second, less obvious, but more important point is that Plesner arguably is participating in a standard, and not terribly admirable, practice of presenting images of suffering African babies and children as a vehicle for a moralistic complaint. The extent to which commentators are outraged by Louis Vuitton's response, seems a good indicator not only of the moralism quotient at work here, but of how easily such moralism can be misdirected. In the end, the Louis Vuitton splash is a sideshow.

The problems in Darfur are political. The resolution to those problems - as opposed to palliative measures that might alleviate symptomatic suffering and hardship - requires more than our (meaning denizens of the rich North Atlantic democracies) attention and compassion. Any such resolution will require coordination and monitoring and organization well beyond what might be provided even by already-up-and-running NGOs. It requires a political settlement.

Granted, Plesner is pledging funds to a campaign pressing large American mutual fund outfits to divest themselves of stocks from companies that "fund genocide in Darfur." But even such economic "sanctions" are unlikely to contribute much to a political settlement among the parties in the Sudan. If the divestment strategy were to work, the U.S. funds will withdraw investments from offending companies. Will those companies then have any reason to take constructive steps to support a political settlement. That seems like a long shot to me. Will images of naked African children provide a useful means of coordinating a movement to bring political pressure to bear on relevant parties to enter into a political settlement? No.

[Thanks to Henry Farrell for calling the Plesner/Vuitton dispute to my attention. Now get back to work!]

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Clear Reasons to Vote Democratic (1a) ~ Against Judicial Acticism

In a speech in Winston-Salem, the Arizona senator said he would 'look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint.'

'I will look for people in the cast of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and my friend the late William Rehnquist -- jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference,' McCain told an audience at Wake Forest University." ~ Reuters (6 May 08)

The problem, of course, is that our current conservative justices in fact are extremists who lack much notion of the limits of "judicial restraint." I posted on the extremist thing a couple of days ago. (Remember, McCain's favorites - Alito, Rehnquist & Roberts - are among the five most conservative justices of the past seven decades as judged by their voting records on economic and civil liberties cases.) So today let's focus on the dreaded curse of judicial activism where, it seems, our putative conservatives are serial offenders.

There is plenty of plausible evidence that our conservative extremists are also, despite the rhetoric of the right, activist judges. In other words, research reveals that, the "conservatives" are more likely than their relatively more liberal counterparts to overturn precedent, and to overturn enactments of the U.S. Congress. The 'liberals' are more likely to be activist in the face of state legislation. You can find a summary of such research in this OpEd from The New York Times a few years back (see this comment too). You can find more such evidence of more recent vintage here. Of course conservatives don't like this evidence. They prefer to argue by persuasive definition, assuming that activists must be liberal. You can get a feel for the terms of the debate in this exchange [1] [2].

Clearly, the Court should be in the business of overturning some legislation - whether State or federal - if it deems it unconstitutional. No party to this dispute denies that. (My "clearly" should not be misread what we might call judicial review idolatry; the practice of judicial review in the U.S. is, like most political institutions, simply a by-product of strategic interaction among politicians - Marshal and Jefferson in the early 19th Century.) The studies I cite above suggest that our "conservatives" have a real pronounced propensity to impose their views over the outcome of legislative processes. But the evidence of extremist voting on the part of our current conservatives that I mentioned a few days ago surely makes one raises serious questions about just what is driving their activism - a principled view of the constitution or flat out political preferences. I know where my own extremist vote lands on that one.

McCain has made it clear that, given a chance, he will appoint more justices who are right-wing-extremists and who are activist in that cause. Why would you vote for him? Why would you vote for a third party candidate when that arguably would only improve McCain's chances of winning?

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05 May 2008

Thinking About OBama and Wright

There has been a lot of uproar in recent weeks about Jeremiah Wright, Barak OBama and their relationship. If you are looking for thoughtful, critical discussion of the various matters involved, I recommend this conversation between Glen Loury & Josh Cohen on bloggingheads.tv as well as the opening essay Bill Moyers offered this past week (the transcript is available here on Alternet.)

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Philip Glass on the Olympics

“I think that we should pull out . . . The Chinese are supposed to be taking care of human rights; they haven’t done it. The only reason we don’t pull out is that people are more interested in money than they are in human rights. I think the Olympic Committee should really pull the plug on it. . . . Basically, the Chinese commies have been isolated for 50 years; they have no idea what the rest of the world is like. They think that we’re just another province of China and that they can do what they damn well want to. And they’re a bunch of losers. They make a distinction: As long as you’re not political, you can do whatever you want in China. But politics is about the way we live! They’re drawing the line on the very things that matter to us most.” ~ Phillip Glass (9 April '08)
Composer Philip Glass recently has offered his views on the complex politics central to the upcoming Olympics. As I have noted here several times, the Beijing games are not idiosyncratic in being political [1] [2] [3].

Glass is right and wrong. He is wrong to think that it is vaguely possible to "pull the plug." It simply will never happen. In part that is because of the money. In part it is because of the sheer hypocrisy - the U.S., for example, surely cannot speak with any credibility on the need to censure countries that violate civil and political rights. At a more fundamental level, though, Glass also is right - "politics is about the way we live!" And so the question is how one might mount a political - rather than a moralistic - response to the Chinese on human rights. And, of course, the same is needed here at home too.
P.S.: Word has it that Glass describes himself as "a Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist." On re-reading his remarks I began to wonder. Which of those traditions would embrace his dismissive comment "they're a bunch of losers?"

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04 May 2008

What Liberal Media?

And in The New York Times no less, you can find this report of the anti-war protests by 25,000 union dockworkers on the West Coast on May Day. (See also this story and this one at DemocracyNow!) Local government officials responded by worrying that the evening rush hour traffic might be slowed down by the protests. And, as we all know, disrupting the evening rush is unpatriotic in the extreme.

As if to make up for their report on the protests, today The Times published this series of eight short OpEd pieces on how to make good on W's "mission accomplished" claim from five years ago. The essays are written predominantly by right-wing mouthpieces - you know a former-CIA operative, a current AEI hack, a flunky of Reagan and W, another flunky for W, one self-proclaimed architect of the failed "surge" policy, a former Marine officer, and a former adviser to candidate John "100 years" McCain. To offset all the bullshit that group piles up we get one liberal professor and a retired general who has been critical of BushCo. This is a total waste of column inches.


Kent State ~ 4 May 1970

This photograph offers a reminder of what dishonorable wars can create at home. The dead boy is Jeffrey Miller. Unarmed, he was shot in the face and killed by the Ohio National Guard. We are again fighting a dishonorable war, one rationalized by multiple lies, repeated again and again. The Iraq war has lead our highest government officials to usurp power, to sanction torture, to peddle propaganda and lord knows what else. Young American men and women are dying by the thousands. Iraqi civilians are dying in astronomical numbers. End the war.

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