31 July 2008

Best Shots (36) ~ Tod Papageorge

(62) Tod Papageorge ~ Capturing a Ritual ... , Central Park, 1980.
(31 July 08)

That Papageorge selected this photograph makes me want to meet him. You can find my prior remarks on his work here.

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Chris Hedges

I have been critical of here of Chris Hedges. I still believe that his political analyses (he announces that he plans to vote for Ralph Nader this fall) are deeply flawed. But he is a decent, honorable man who is trying hard to hold our journalistic and political institutions and their occupants to account. This is a long, but astonishing interview with him. Thanks Jörg!

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Cameras as Weapons (2)

When Barack Obama visited Israel recently he rightly denounced the violence with which Israeli's live on a daily basis. There is no excuse for Palestinian workers to use construction machinery as weapons against Israeli civilians.

Like most Americans, though, Obama neglected another dimension of the violence in the region. About a month ago I posted on how human rights and peace activists from B'Tselem distribute cameras to Palestinians so they can document the violence perpetrated against them on a regular basis by Israeli settlers, the police, and the IDF. In The Guardian yesterday you can find this video which is a follow-up on this story; the reports detail how an IDF officer shot (point blank) a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man in the foot. The video was taken by young a Palestinian woman. But there are other videos too, also shot by Palestinians, showing harassment and violence meted out by Israeli settlers.

There is no excuse for this variety of violence either. Barack?
Update: Not only are settler attacks on Palestinians frequent, indeed systematic, they occur with impunity. Here are a report and and editorial from Ha'aretz earlier this month documenting and criticizing the pathetically low rate of prosecutions in these attacks. Of course, many of the settlers are residents of illegal settlements about which the Israeli government has done very little.

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30 July 2008

Plowshares, Swords, and All That

Artillery shells turned into shovels. Istalif, Afghanistan.
Photograph © Rena Effendi.

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Blogposts on African Photography

I want to call your attention to a promised and promising series of posts at Conscientious that will feature photography from Africa. This is a terrific idea. As is typically the case, there are those, like me, who grumble, and those like Jörg who take a much more constructive approach. He is inviting us to take a look. The initial installment already is up - here.


29 July 2008

Africa as Freak Show ~ Pieter Hugo

Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria.
Photograph © Pieter Hugo.

At The Guardian you can find this slideshow and this story on South African photographer Pieter Hugo. I have been wondering about his work for a while now but have been uncertain what I think. So, here you go:

Much of Hugo's work seem to me fairly unexceptional - more or less standard portraits albeit some of albinos or members of various Christian sects. Those that stand out, like the one I've lifted here, seem to me to portray Africa as a freak show - men and boys posing with baboons dressed in human clothes or huge, slouching hyenas on leashes. Is he trying to recreate the exotic? Is he trying to portray menace? Is he establishing a continuum between the local fauna in Africa and its human inhabitants? Beats me.

Sure, we need to see Africa as much more than as series of civil wars, refugee camps, famines, epidemics and droughts. I could not agree more [1] [2]. The alternative, however, is hardly just to present the continent as an open-air circus. Hugo has won a bunch of awards. And in The Guardian piece "Elisabeth Biondi, visuals editor of the New Yorker magazine and one of the most influential taste-makers in modern photography," is liberally quoted singing his praises. Count me among the skeptics though. Biondi exaggerates by way more than half.

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28 July 2008

Who Can Condemn Torture?

There is a story in The Guardian today reporting on alleged torture of detainees by the Palestinian Authority. According to the report, the PA has detained Hamas supporters (or suspected Hamas supporters) and subjected them to what we in the U.S. Let our government get away with calling 'harsh interrogation techniques,' and then releasing them in exchange for cash or weapons proffered by relatives. I have no reason to disbelieve this account. And, presuming it is true, we should vigorously condemn the PA and its agents.

Here is the question though: Who is "we?" Surely not the U.S. government which sanctions as a matter of policy the same sorts of torture techniques reported here. Surely not our putative allies - like Saudi Arabia or Israel - who both have engaged in torture. Surely not critics of Hamas, who in all likelihood will applaud these efforts. Surely not unofficial right-wing apologists for the policies we've implemented at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Bagram and various "black sites" around the world. Surely not any of the governments who connived in the renditions and torture we have perpetrated. And, surely not, those who have sat by silently ...

Get the point?


27 July 2008

Another Year's Worth of Red Dots

Today should be the day when my ClustrMap clears and I have to start accumulating new red dots. I hate to lose a whole year's worth though. So I am saving the old map here.


In Defense of Social Justice

I met Duncan Ivison several years ago at a conference in Montreal. He was just then on his way to a new position at the University of Sydney. He has just published this longish Op-Ed with the punch-line of which I whole-heartedly agree. It is crucially important to contest the hegemony of the conservative-libertarian view that there is no such thing as social justice.


26 July 2008

Enthusiasms (19) ~ Myra Melford

I have spent a considerable amount of time lately listening to a couple of CDs by pianist Myra Melford and several collaborators. I had been vaguely aware that over the years Melford had kept musical company with, among others, various AACM luminaries ~ Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, Reggie Nicholson and Joseph Jarman. Then a while back I saw this notice in The New York Times about her side project with Trio M (Mark Dresser on bass & Mark Wilson on drums) and was intrigued enough to go fetch their CD, (Big Picture on Cryptogramophone). To be clear, as The Times notice makes clear this trio is a side project for all the Ms who profess to being over-committed with other undertakings. In any case, I have been playing the CD more or less constantly since.

I've also been listening to Melford's most recent duet recording (Spark on Palmetto) with yet another M ~ Marty Erhlich (clarinet, mostly). Although this is surely not Ehrlich's fault, the label's web page lists the recording under his name rather than as a duet. Shame on them.

On both records Melford's playing ranges from luminous to jagged; she often threatens to careen completely off on her own but never does, unfailingly carrying us back to her musical interlocutors. Her collaborators are, it goes without saying, all superb. But in both settings, Melford simply dazzles.

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Aesthetics of Catastrophe (update)

Lakeview, New Orleans ~ Copyright © 2006 Aric Mayer

A few posts back I commented on a really terrific recent essay/photoessay by Aric Mayer combining his images of post-Katrina New Orleans with thoughtful reflections on making, disseminating and viewing "disaster photos." The overall project is called the "Aesthetics of Catastrophe" and it appears in the current issue of Public Culture (which is itself a nifty and provocative little journal). When I first posted, the publishers had not made the full text of Aric's contribution accessible online. But now they have. You can find it here. I recommend it to you once again.

Thanks to the editors for making this available and to Aric for making it! I'll take this opportunity to lift another of Aric's images.

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25 July 2008

Václav Havel

"I leave it to those more qualified to decide what can be expected . . . "from above" - that is from what is happening in the sphere of power. I have never fixed my hopes there; I've always been more interested in what was happening "below," in what could be expected from "below," what could be won there, and what defended. All power is power over someone, and it always responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behavior of those it rules over." ~ Václav Havel (1986)
In The New York Times today is this profile of Václav Havel ~ play write, former anti-communist dissident and officially proclaimed "public enemy," former President of Czechoslovakia, former President of the Czech Republic and, once again, play write. (The Financial Times ran this interview with Havel earlier in the month.) A good many of Havel's views are quite foreign to me, as I've mentioned here before. But, as this profile I think makes clear, the world could use more odd-ball leaders like him. It surely could use many fewer of the mercenary types we are burdened with now and seem destined to endure into the future. Perhaps, as Havel suggests, it is a mistake to look too hard for anything like leadership in the halls of power.


24 July 2008

Photographer Embedded With NGO Reproduces 1970s Famine Photos

I do not know photographer Nick Danziger or his work. Today in The Guardian you can find this slide show of his photographs - a set of images of the worsening "humanitarian" crisis in East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Djibouti and Kenya). According to the introductory comments: "Photographer Nick Danziger shot these images for Oxfam." And they are being published to publicize a new fund-raising campaign for Oxfam.

Two things are striking about this project. The first is that these images, more or less, are conventional "famine" images - animal carcasses, desperate individuals traversing parched terrain, women and the elderly with protruding ribs cradling dehydrated, malnourished children, and so forth. This is 2008 and the photographic conventions to which the photo-essay in today's Guardian conforms were well worn in the 1970s. They have been subject to extensive critical discussion, including via this exhibition that, ironically enough, was co-sponsored by The Guardian a couple years back.

Second, there has been a lot of comment and hand-wringing about the way journalists and photographers have been "embedded" with military units in war zones. But, as I have noted here since the outset, embeddedness is in the eye of the beholder. Would Danziger have had access to the subjects of his photographs absent his connection to Oxfam? Are the images published by The Guardian stock scenes because they fit into the stock fund-raising strategies of humanitarian organizations like Oxfam? What might a talented photographer like Danziger have done absent such organizational imperatives? Would Oxfam have funded his project had he produced less conventional images? More generally need the photographic ecology that makes up much of popular culture - and to which the famine images peddled by Oxfam and others are significant contributors - be driven by crisis?

Let me be clear. I am not questioning Nick Danziger's intentions or character or his talent. Nor am I saying that Oxfam and other humanitarian organizations should turn their backs on starving people. (The problem here is political not ethical or humanitarian. But if you do not regularly support Oxfam or Médecins Sans Frontières or some other such outfit you should.) Nor am I calling into question the editorial judgment of those at The Guardian who linked to the Danziger/Oxfam slide show from page one of their e-edition. Nor, finally, am I launching some sort of po-mo complaint about how Danziger's photos injure their subjects over and above the dire existence they already endure (to say nothing about the related, resentful complaint that such images make "us" feel bad).

The question I want to re-pose, for others have posed it too, is whether there is not a better way to proceed. We here in the U.S. hear a lot these days about the "facts on the ground" in various theaters of war and how they ought to determine policy choices. Is there a way for NGOs, photographers and journalists, and mass media publications to address problems of severe poverty and deprivation in more effective ways? Are there alternatives to humanitarian appeals that might mobilize political support for less crisis-driven, more systematic responses to political-economic problems? These questions may seem stale. Nick Danziger's photographs in The Guardian today simply raise them again.

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23 July 2008

Best Shots (35)

(61) Jonathan Anderson & Edwin Low
Sergiy, Tumbler, on Derby Racer, Blackpool, 2006
(24 July 08)

This is yet another of the very succinct interview/essays that Leo Benedictus has compiled at The Guardian. I have said it before, even though the work of many of the photographers with whom he has spoken is not to my taste, the basic idea is terrific. To the best of my knowledge no comparably prominent newspaper in the U.S. devotes this sort of sustained attention to photography. The samples Benedictus offers have prompted me to track down many of the individuals he has featured.

That said, Anderson and Low are truly talented photographers, and (again) while not all of their work is to my taste, I highly recommend their web page.



Not long ago I mentioned another outfit in NYC seeking to advance the interests of women in photography. I recently came across this collective too and thought I would bring them to your attention as well. They describe themselves as "a collective of women in photography dedicated to creating a community of and for female artists & art administrators, in order to span the gender divide that pervades the art world today. Our primary concern is to increase the exposure of our & other female photographers and the work they create. The collective is a fusion of industries: the scholastic, the representative and the museum."


22 July 2008

Oil Curse

We here in the developed world tend to look at what oil-dependence has gotten us - war, environmental mayhem, impending economic crisis - and think maybe our addiction to "foreign oil,", heck to domestically produced oil too, is problematic. Tonight on npr I hear this report on a new book by photographer Ed Kashi entitled The Curse of Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta which chronicles the disasters - a politically corrupt dictatorship, grinding poverty, environmental degradation - that have befallen Nigeria due to oil production there. And while the host of the show I was listening to, Farai Chideya, is truly mediocre interviewer, Kashi and the other person she was talking to Omoyele Sowore (an exiled Nigerian human rights activist) made me want to track down the book.

For those of you living in or traveling through lovely Western New York this summer, you can see some of Kashi's work for this project on exhibit at the George Eastman House, here in Rochester. The exhibit runs through September first.

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21 July 2008

The Mirror of Karadzic

The then Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic speaks at
a press conference on October 20 1995 in Novi Grad.
Photograph © Scott Peterson/Getty Images.

According to The Guardian today, Radovan Karadzic, indicted war criminal and fugitive, has been arrested in Serbia and is awaiting extradition for trial. The picture above accompanied The Guardian story. This is big news and many of the reports I've read present the arrest as evidence of Serbia's desire to join "the west." I actually think the lesson lies elsewhere.

Karadzic, of course, is allegedly responsible for acts of terror and genocide during the Bosnain war of the early 1990s. He was indicted thirteen years ago and has been a fugitive for over a decade. That may seem like a long, long time. But justice should be patient. Remember Pinochet? I am pretty cynical about the truly nasty characters out there in the world. But when I read this report in the paper this evening, all I could think was "I hope the higher-ups at BushCo will sleep slightly less soundly tonight and every night henceforth." W himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzales as well as their various ideologues, underlings and enablers will hopefully worry about even faint talk about war crimes tribunals. Hopefully they will look at Karadzic's picture and, ever so momentarily, think they are looking in the mirror.


20 July 2008

Our Real Criminals

We hear a lot about purported military heroes like General Colin Powell (liar) and David Petraeus (bullshitter) from those wishing to rationalize continuing on our disastrous foreign policy course. The rationalizers are to be found among Bush administration criminals, among their various cheerleaders in the press and the think tanks, hawks like Joe Lieberman in Congress, and, of course, in the McCain campaign. I wonder why we don't hear from other military officers, some driven from the ranks by pressure from the rationalizers. So, why not listen to the latter sometimes? For starters, try the preface to a report Broken laws, Broken Lives prepared and published Physicians for Human Rights; the author of the preface is Retired Major General Anthony Taguba. Here is the text, with what I take to be the important observations highlighted:
This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors

The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted—both on America’s institutions and our nation’s founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

The former detainees in this report, each of whom is fighting a lonely and difficult battle to rebuild his life, require reparations for what they endured, comprehensive psycho-social and medical assistance, and even an official apology from our government.

But most of all, these men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution.

And so do the American people.
You can find the entire report, as well as an executive summary, here; it was published in June (2008) and details the medical evidence PHR gathered relative to 11 former detainees who were tortured while in U.S. captivity in Iraq, Afghanistan and/or Guantanamo Bay.

No American official - civilian or military - ever charged any the subjects with a crime. Those in the "chain of command", especially those higher up, who sanctioned and rationalized this torture should be.

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A Delicious Mistake

I spent yesterday driving from Ann Arbor where I've been teaching for the past month, back to the Rochester area, where I live. It is about a six hour drive with the added bonus of not one, but two, crossings of the U.S.-Canada border. This time the crossings were relatively quick. In any case, I am now waiting for my littlest son August to wake up so I can go collect him from his mom who has brought him to town for a visit.

While biding my time, I've just had a look at The New York Times only to find yet another fawning essay on right wingers. This one focuses on what passes for "conservative thought." What the essay seems to ignore completely is the connection between half-baked conservative "ideas" and the current state of political-economic disarray in which we find ourselves. Crises in the mortgage-banking-financial industrial complex? Perhaps it has something to do with the blind impulse to deregulate and let the market work its "miracles?" And in foreign affairs, just how did we get into such a mess in Iraq? Perhaps it has something to do with conservative ideologues? It is precisely the bone-headed "ideas" of conservatives - actually I'd called them rationalizations for pursuing the interests of the rich and powerful - that have gotten us into our current mess.

The only bright spot in the essay turned out to be a mistake. The author refers at one point to "all of these policy cooks" at places like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. When I first read the sentence I thought she had written "policy kooks" ~ that would have been more appropriate, but this, of course, is The Times. One cannot expect too much.

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18 July 2008

Nelson Mandela (1918- ) at 90

1966: Mandela and Walter Sisulu talking in the courtyard
of Robben Island prison. The picture was taken secretly by
a fellow prisoner and smuggled out. Photograph: Hulton.

I lifted this photograph from a slide show at The Guardian honoring Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday today. I've tabbed this 'our criminals' to stress that we have often labeled those we now honor as "terrorists" and treated them as such. There is no need to canonize Mandela or any other political leader. But it also is crucial not to let historical amnesia obscure our bad behavior. Maybe there are lessons here?

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17 July 2008

Back Talk: Raj Patel

"We're encouraged to see these social problems as individual problems.
about dieting, not political action--about some ethic of control of the
self. It's
much easier for media left and right to be thinking that if we
shop ethically
and make the right choices, we will be free. We can only
be free if we get
involved in the politics so we can make free choices."
~ Raj Patel

Once again, Christine Smallwood has produced a provocative "Back Talk" column at The Nation. You can find it here. This time the subject is Raj Patel, scholar, writer and activist whose new book is entitled Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (Melville House, 2008). I've not read the book. But it apparently starts with a chapter on food riots (Patel mentions these briefly in the Balk Talk interview), is resolutely non-consumerist, and makes clear many of the non-obvious links between the food "choices" available to us and broader political-economic institutions.

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Where is the Good Part?

Here is a press release from Oxfam America which (along with several partners) has funded a study - “The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009,” published by Columbia University Press and the Social Science Research Council. As the report makes clear, while we worry about fist bumps and lapel pins, the domestic political-economic situation in the U.S. is a disgrace. You can find a story in The Guardian here.

The most pathetic thing is that neither "presumptive" nominee has a clue about how to approach the problems this report details. They will not be remedied by charity.

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New Poet Laureate

The New York Times reports today that Kay Ryan will be inducted as Poet Laureate today. I do not know her poems but her work sounds intriguing. Here is good one example from The Times story:
Kay Ryan

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small —
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

* From ~ Kay Ryan The Niagara River (Grove/Atlantic, 2005), page 2.


Best Shots (34)

(60) Jamshid Bayrami ~ Mecca, 2006 (17 July 08).


16 July 2008

The Aesthetics of Catastrophe

Seafood truck near Buras,LA ~ Copyright © 2006 Aric Mayer

Aric Mayer kindly dropped an email to bring my attention to his terrific essay/photo-essay in the latest issue of Public Culture (Spring 2008) in which he offers reflections on his experience photographing post-Katrina Louisiana. Unfortunately, you can only get access to PC via a subscription; and since it is an academic journal, you'd likely need to have access to a College/University library. But you can find many of the photos in the essay at Aric's web site.

The thing I really like about this essay (obviously the photographs are impressive - and I'd like to see them in the original large print versions) is that Aric is willing to stretch out considerably in the text. Many photographers seem phobic when it comes to discussing their work in particular or the uses of photography more generally. So it is refreshing to me to read Aric's thoughtful essay. Here is the bit where, on my reading, he sets the theme:
“A key issue in the interaction between visual culture and the practice of democracy is the ways and the means by which our popular aesthetic forms frame, address, and resolve the expectations of the audience. The dynamics of this interaction, both its promise and its problems, is made vividly explicit in the large-scale events that move the entire country into action of opinion. Hurricane Katrina is one of the most significant events of this kind in recent memory. By examining aesthetic positions available and deployed in depicting that catastrophe, we can see how the aesthetic positions themselves can at times work in opposition to the content of the work.”
Aric then goes on to discuss the uses of photography in circumstances of catastrophe and the their consequences. His remarks on the sublime and its uses [1] [2] are especially provocative. I recommend the entire essay.
PS: It turns out that Aric is impressively multi-talented.

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15 July 2008

The Politics of Animal Rights

South African photojournalist Brent Stirton won a World Press Photo (2008) award for this photograph, which shows Rangers and local residents, carrying a murdered mountain gorilla out of Virunga National Park in the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I will return to this situation below. It seems, as The New York Times reports here, that the Spanish parliament is about "to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives, the great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans." In doing so they are adopting a set of proposals that have been advanced by The Great Ape Project as embodied in this declaration:

We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

The community of equals is the moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable at law. Among these principles or rights are the following:

1. The Right to Life
The lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined circumstances, for example, self-defense.

2. The Protection of Individual Liberty
Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the right to immediate release. The detention of those who have not been convicted of any crime, or of those who are not criminally liable, should be allowed only where it can be shown to be for their own good, or necessary to protect the public from a member of the community who would clearly be a danger to others if at liberty. In such cases, members of the community of equals must have the right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.

3. The Prohibition of Torture
The deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and is wrong.

I have written critically about the antics of animal rights groups such as PETA [1] [2]. I still find most of what I know about them dripping in self-absorption. So I must admit that I find the political approach to protecting animals more persuasive. I do not buy the notion of rights as "fundamental" in part because, like Hannah Arendt, I believe them to be largely useless absent an entity (think 'the State') charged with, willing and able to monitor and enforce them. I do not buy talk of the "community of equals" precisely because the alleged community is insufficient to enforce rights. (And of course, any real community, is as likely to violate individual rights as enforce them.)

So what is needed, if we are to protect great apes (or other animals) is something like the set of political measures that the Spanish Parliament is about to take. This much is clear from recent accounts of how gorillas have been murdered in the Congo, not for food or out of self-defense, but simply as a way of further undermining political control of the region. You can find stories (in large measure prompted by Stirton's work) at npr and National Geographic for instance. In the area of the Congo where the gorillas were murdered there is essentially no effective political structure, just warring groups none of whom have much, if any, regard for the Rangers in Virunga National Park who are striving courageously to protect the wildlife. (According to an AP story I read, 120 Park Rangers have been killed in the DRC over the past decade.) In that context, asserting the "rights" of animals, or of humans for that matter, is a bad joke.

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14 July 2008

Photographing in NYC

The NYC Mayor’s Office on Film, Theater, and Broadcasting created mayhem last summer when it promulgated restrictive rules governing photographers/filmmakers shooting on the streets of the city. Here is an AP story on the new rules that were publicly announced today.

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Bronislaw Geremek (1932-2008)

Historian, Solidarity activist, and post-transition politician Bronislaw Geremek has died in an automobile crash. You can read the press reports here and here.


The Politics of Globalization

"The benefits of the market economy can indeed be momentous, as the champions of the market system argue (on the whole rightly). But then the non-market arrangements for the sharing of education, epidemiology, land reform, micro-credit facilities, appropriate legal protections, women’s rights and other means of empowerment must be seen to be important even as ways of spreading access to the market economy (issues in which may market advocates take astonishingly little interest). Indeed, many advocates of the market economy don’t seem to take the market sufficiently seriously, because if they did, they would pay more attention to spreading the virtues of market-based opportunities to all. In the absence of advancing these enabling conditions for widespread participation in the market economy, the advocacy of the market system end up being mere conservatism, rather than supporting the promotion of market opportunities as widely as possible. The institutional requirements of an equitable use of market efficiency go well beyond the confined limited of simply 'freeing the markets'."
This is one conclusion to an editorial by economist Amartya Sen that I read this morning in The Daily Times (Pakistan). The bottom line is that, if they are to work well, markets presume a considerably higher degree of equality - both procedural and substantive - than most hard core proponents on globalization are interested in promoting. That is why the cry for freeing markets typically sounds so much like "mere conservatism." It is. So, while Sen may find it astonishing (I suspect he overstates this here) that proponents of market reforms pay little attention to the "enabling conditions" needed to make markets work in normatively attractive ways, a little attention to the politics of development and less reliance on moral arguments would be useful.

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13 July 2008

Suspend Belief

There is an Op-Ed by Errol Morris in The New York Times today addressing the recent "controversy" over these pictures of Iranian missiles. See reports on the journalistic dust-up here. Are there really three or are there really four? And what difference does it make? Here is the punchline:
"I have asked myself how this controversy over a photograph became international news. Clearly, there are many reasons. But at the center of them all is this question: Are we on the brink of another war? I remind myself that the war in Iraq started with bellicose posturing and photographs. At the United Nations, Colin Powell displayed several photographs of Iraqi sites showing incontrovertible evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Of course, we now know that this incontrovertible visual evidence was false. We don’t need advanced digital tools to mislead, to misdirect or to confuse. All we need is a willingness to uncritically believe."
The point is to not be credulous, to ask - as several remarks in my sidebar remind us to do - who is using this photograph and for what purpose? The answers may not always be immediately apparent. But it usually is possible to discern the liars and bullshitters if we can suspend belief for just a short while.

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I Shot the Sheriff

Ben Shahn ~ Sheriff's Deputy, Morgantown, West Virginia (1935).

This is a truly terrific photograph. I recommend Geoff Dyer's discussion of it in his The Ongoing Moment. My use of the image here is perhaps inappropriate. It came almost immediately to mind, though, when I read this story from the Bristol Herald Courier about the travails of one Scott Conover who was arrested recently by a Johnson County (Tennessee) Deputy Sheriff when Conover took a picture of the Deputy at a traffic stop. Two things struck me. First, using the same dim logic as his successor in Tennessee, this Morgantown Deputy might've arrested Shahn. Then we'd not have this classic image. And, second, in this recent episode the Johnson County Deputy is displaying the same side as his predecessor in Morgantown revealed to Shahn.

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12 July 2008

Party Identification

I came across this from Mr Fish just now. It will come in handy as I talk about models of party identification in my course here in Ann Arbor later this week. Those models try to account for why, as is typically the case, kids tend to share the same political views as their parents even though they don't, for example, share their parent's taste in music. You may see where I'm going here.

The cartoon reminded me too of driving the roughly 25 miles back and forth from Rochester to my house while my son Jeff was still alive. There was a period when we listened to Steve Earle's Just an American Boy pretty much every day on the commute. This is a "live" recording and, on one of his monologues ("Democracy"), Earle opines: "... the most important thing to remember is that no matter what anybody tells you, it is never, ever unpatriotic or un-American to question any fucking thing in a democracy." The record then swerves off into a truly terrific cover of Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding." The tune is really, really good played loud.

In any case, it turns out that Jeff, who was then 11 or 12, absorbed the monologue more or less word for word. I understand that he once used the last part of Earle's comment above as a retort to his mother when she reprimanded him for talking back as she was trying to get him to do some chore or other. While I would never condone that, I can't think of a better political lesson for Jeff (or any other kid) to have learned even at so tender an age.

If all goes well, my littlest boy August's mother will be bringing him to spend a couple of weeks with me once I return from Ann Arbor. August doesn't get to see me or big his brother Doug too much, which means that he'll have to get by with concentrated doses of party ID.



There is an interesting observation on self-plagiarism among academics here at The Times Higher Education Supplement. (Via John Quiggin at Crooked Timber.) Based on both casual observation and my nearly decade-long experience as a journal editor, the problem is rampant. There are simply too many incentives to publish the same thing or a minor variation on it again and again and again. The resulting c.v. padding is pretty pathetic. Interestingly, and I suppose not to surprisingly, the comment thread at CT repeatedly invokes "sour grapes" and references allegedly "prolific colleagues," as though complaining about this sort of thing were simply coming from the slackers and aimed at the true stars. But it is important to ask what it means to be "prolific." In some instances, one criteria for being prolific seems to be shamelessness.

I posted a comment at the original THES article referencing one flagrant case of a political theorist I know who has published, whole cloth, the same modestly interesting but hardly agenda setting paper in at least four different places. The individual involved is tenured at an elite department, so in no danger of perishing for lack of publishing. That said, there simply is nothing special about the paper except that it is hers. But being special to a paper's author is not a criterion for re-publishing it serially. This is simply an illustration, not the most egregious case with which I am familiar.


Bruce Conner (1933-2008)

This is another in my 'unfortunately, I never heard of the guy' series. This obvious reflects my poor background knowledge of contemporary art. But it seems, from reading Bruce Conner's obituary in The New York Times, as though I am not alone. Conner was a west coast artist and filmmaker whose obit claims of his early work that it "had the aggressive appearance of avant-garde sculpture but at the same time seemed old and musty?" How can you resist that? You can find two other stories from The Times here and here.

The stills at right are from Conner's film "Breakaway" (1966) which you can find on line here. I leave it to you whether to watch these or not. On the one hand it makes clear why The Times could claim "MTV should have paid him royalties." On the other hand, Conners' widow has evidently asked some sites to take down his work because: "Apparently, Bruce Conner did not like people watching his work online." Your choice. If you succumb, you can also find his "America is Waiting" (1982) which Conner made with David Byrne and Brian Eno here.


11 July 2008

Big, Bad, Scary Rush

Rush Limbaugh. Photograph © Nigel Parry for The New York Times.

I've received a couple of emails asking what I thought of this profile The New York Times Magazine ran last week on Rush Limbaugh. I find Limbaugh loathsome. He is a bigoted, hypocritical drug addict. Politically he is a buffoon, a right-wing windbag who is out of touch with even Republican voters (witness his love of Mitt Romney). The fact that The Times wasted column inches on him is an insult to readers.

Over at Alternet* you can find this assessment of the profile and the right wing "reporter" the folks at The Times picked to write it. Here is one of the good bits:

"I understand that Beltway media players routinely play nice with Limbaugh and his fringe brand of conservatism. Spooked by his liberal-bias charges, the mainstream press corps has for years treated Limbaugh with undeserved respect, worked overtime to soften his radical edges, and presented him as simply a partisan pundit. ...

The lengthy Times profile took that trend to a whole new level, because unlike most previous half-hearted attempts to outline, in very general ways, what Limbaugh says and explain why he's controversial, the Times clearly never had any intention of shedding even the dimmest light on the content of Limbaugh's program. Instead, it hired a conservative writer to wistfully dismiss Limbaugh's critics in two or three sentences. And in exchange for playing dumb, the Times was granted unusual access to the talk-show host.

That kind of obvious quid pro quo is the type of thing that's practiced on a daily basis at celebrity magazines, where editors angle for access in exchange for puff pieces. It's not journalism, and it ought to be beneath The Times."
The problem with what passes for journalism in the U.S. is that there is no concept of what might count as honest, critical writing. There certainly seems to be few venues for such work. Either something is a "hit piece" or it is fawning (the latter posture of supplication struck in order to secure 'access'). Well, how about having someone write a vaguely honest piece on Limbaugh and then offer to sit down with him and discuss the thing. If he refuses, too bad; run it with that caveat stated. It is not as though Rush would not have ample chance to whine and complain about how oppressed he is.
* If you think Alternet is too lefty to offer a reasonable assessment, try this one at The Columbia Journalism Review.

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Guess What? It IS Torture! Even the Red Cross Thinks So.

Well, here is a stunning surprise. The New York Times today reports the publication (next week) of a new book by Jane Mayer, a writer at The New Yorker. In the book Mayer reveals the existence of a secret report, prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross, on the interrogation practices the U.S. has been using. The report is unequivocal ~ the interrogations are "categorically" torture, and those officials who have sanctioned them are liable to war crimes prosecution. The ICRC hardly is a radical outfit. Nor is it political, as witnessed by the way it assiduously tried to keep this report confidential. (Its spokesmen still decline to discuss the report with the press.)

Memo to ICRC: see how well private conversations and behind the scenes pressure work when the perpetrators are truly venal ideologues?

As I've noted here before, in its current incarnation (this is not the first) torture policy in the U.S. goes all the way to the top. Maybe now The Times and other outlets - to say nothing of the government - will stop with the euphemisms and double talk. It is, of course, too much to ask of the Democrats that they initiate legal proceedings against BushCo members past and present. who have occupied positions in the chain cruel and inhumane punishment. Maybe now the Democrats will get some spine and stop giving BushCo everything they ask for (Like the FISA amendments!). Unfortunately those things are all unlikely. We are going to have to wait until some foreign government or transnational entity initiates the war crimes tribunals. [Thanks Jörg!]

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10 July 2008

Best Shots (33)

(59) Guy Tillim ~ Gomain, Congo, 1997. (10 July 08)


09 July 2008

Discovering Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash Watching Performers From the Wings as He
Waits His Turn, 1959. Photograph © Marvin Koner/Corbis.


Christian Terrorism Toward Muslims, a Reminder

"A Bosnian Muslim woman weeped as she searched for her
relative among coffins of Srebrenica victims displayed at a
Memorial center in Potocari, Bosnia. The 307 bodies were
excavated from mass graves in eastern Bosnia and identified
as Muslims killed by Bosnian-Serb forces in the Srebrenica
area. Bosnian Serb troops massacred about 8,000 Bosnian
Muslim men after capturing Srebrenica on July 11, 1995,
during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 307
identified victims will be buried Friday in the Memorial
Center next to about 3,200 victims of the massacre already
buried there." Photograph © Amel Emric/Associated Press.

I came across this photograph at The New York Times, "Pictures of the Day, July 9th". It struck me in part because I have a repeated anonymous commentator here who constantly runs his mouth about the alleged threat that Muslims pose to Christians and other non-Muslims. This strikes me as wholly irrational fear - basically racist bigotry. So I figured it would be useful to post this image because it captures the aftermath of one instance of Christian terrorism toward Muslims. It is not, of course, the only instance. But every once in a while I try to induce active thought processes in even my most obtuse readers.


08 July 2008


From the series The Romanian Way (July 2007).
Photograph © Maarten Dors.

This post comes compliments of my friend Henry Farrell who passed along this story from Reason detailing the ongoing vicissitudes of this photograph (a 13 year old Romanian boy smoking a cigarette) on Flickr. It has been removed and then replaced apparently due to corporate uncertainty about whether it violates the site's rules of appropriateness. You can find Dors's Flicker page here. The bizarre episode began, according to Dors, when he received the following email summarily announcing that the image had been removed from his site.

Hi Maarten Dors,

Images of children under the age of 18 who are smoking tobacco
is prohibited across all of Yahoo's properties. I've gone ahead
and deleted the image "The Romanian Way" from your
photostream. We appreciate your understanding.

The Reason piece uses this case to illustrate the complexities and vulnerabilities of posting on Internet sites like Flickr which is owned by Yahoo. It seems pretty outrageous to have corporately based morals police deciding what counts at appropriate or not. (In the Dors case, for instance, he points out that there are other images in the same series showing young kids sniffing glue. The Flickr-folk did not object to those.)

That said, I must admit that I am not a big fan of "community" as a governance mechanism. As Amy Gutmann once quipped 'Communitarians want us all to live in Salem but not believe in witches.' Decentralization and community are attractive only so long as they are not shot through with asymmetries of resources that differentially situated parties can rely on to insure that interactions work out to their own advantage. This seems to me to be true in real world situations (see the essay in Pranab Bardhan. Scarcity, Conflicts & Cooperation. MIT Press, 2004) and there seems to be no reason to think the virtual world is qualitatively different in that respect.

In all likelihood the folks at Reason would take a different view of this matter. But there are (at least) two important features of the Dors case. First, Yahoo/Flickr is a private not a governmental operation. A public entity arguably would be more accountable than a corporate decider like Terrence. Second, we would always want to ask 'what is the alternative'. Given a choice between community standards and corporate morality police, and absent some credibly responsive public governance structure, I don't like any one's chances.

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Which Man is the Terrorist?

Proposed FBI rules would allow racial profiling.
Photo credit: www.aclu.org.

The SeeingBlack.com 411
By the Red-Eye Crew, Compiled with Dispatches from DemocracyNow.org.
Jul 8, 2008, 13:10

New FBI Rules Would Allow Racial and Ethnic Profiling
The Associated Press reports the Justice Department is considering letting the FBI investigate Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on racial or ethnic profiling. Currently, FBI agents need specific reasons, such as evidence or allegations that a law probably has been violated, to investigate US citizens and legal residents. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has decried the plan as “unconstitutional and un-American.” Other critics have compared the proposed guidelines to the FBI’s now-defunct COINTELPRO operation under J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s and 1960s.
Acknowledgment: This post is lifted wholesale from SeeingBlack.com

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07 July 2008

Mao Crazy

"The thunderous popularity of a number of contemporary Chinese artists compels a political analysis. Much of the work is powered by a startling and completely delusionary infatuation with Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. This is more sinister than anything we have seen in the already fairly astonishing annals of radical chic. We are witnessing a globalized political whitewash job, with artists and assorted collectors, dealers, and sycophants pouring a thick layer of avant-garde double-talk over the infernal decade of suffering, destruction, and death that Mao unleashed on his country in 1966. ... But here is the bottom line: the global art world's burgeoning love affair with Mao and the Cultural Revolution makes a very neat fit with the current Chinese regime's efforts to sell itself as the authoritarian power that everybody can learn to love."
~ Jed Perl. "Mao Crazy" The New Republic (9 July 08).

Source ~ Graduate Photography Online (2008)

Photograph © Sam Rowelsky

I received an email today from Stephen Hull web editor at SOURCE: Photographic Review calling my attention to a current feature "Graduate Photography Online" which spotlights work by several hundred young photographers from across the U.K.. This is at least the second year that the the folks at SOURCE have run this feature and they post guidelines for 2009 submissions too. I think this is a very nice undertaking ~ for young photographers trying to make their way out into the world, but also for those of us who want to know what those young folks are up to. I've had a link to SOURCE in the sidebar for while and think it is a terrific publication more generally.


The Iraq War Was About Oil, All Along

Well, it seems one no longer has to feel like a nut. All of the officially proffered reasons for invading Iraq turned out to be lies. We've known that for quite a while. But why, then? Any time someone suggested that maybe the invasion was was driven by a quest for oil the politicians and the respectable press would reply tsk, tsk, tsk ... if they replied at all. How crude (pardon the pun) and unsophisticated we must be to think such a thing! Now it seems as though it is possible to state the plain truth aloud: The Iraq War was About Oil, All Along. The lesson? When the official lies seem especially, stunningly unbelievable, they probably are. And then you should look for a simple alternative explanation.

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Those Wacky Aussies Are At It Again

This from The Age: Just as the fracas over Bill Henson had mercifully faded away [1] [2] [3], Art Monthly Australia brought out its latest issue with a picture of a nude girl on the cover and additional nude images inside. The image, made by Polixeni Papapetrou, and depicting her young daughter Olympia*, has, predictably enough, generated a new uproar. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is once again front and center, professing to have "very deep, strong personal views" on the matter, while announcing "Frankly, I can't stand this stuff."

Australian critic Robert Nelson, who defended Henson against Rudd's diatribes, and who is married to Papapetrou and is Olympia's father, offered the following retort: "It's interesting that if the Prime Minister comments on, say the greenhouse effect, he gets expert advice first . . . I would like to know which art expert advised him on this."

It seems to me that Nelson is right here. The PM's "personal views" hardly suffice as a criteria for what counts as art or what ought to be protected as free expression. Nor, I would add, should the personal views of outraged Aussies writing in to the morality police to whom the magazine has been referred. On the other hand, it seems clear too that Nelson, Papapetrou and Art Monthly editor Maurice O'Riordan have published this cover story simply to re-ignite the fracas. And that does smack of using naked Olympia to make political hay.

In one of her less insightful moments Hannah Arendt condemned the civil rights movement in the U.S. for relying on children as part of a strategy to de-segregate public schools. Does publishing nude art photos of one's daughter in the name of free expression rise to the same level of importance as insuring poor minority kids access to decent schools. (We can set aside the question of whether the intended improvement actually occurred.) Does publishing these photos place Olympia at risk in the same way that the civil rights movement (to take just one example) did with young black kids in the American south? I am not entirely persuaded on either count. But, especially since the good guys seem to have prevailed in the Henson fracas, I feel compelled to ask ' What is to be gained here?'.
* I have to say that as is the case with Henson, I am distinctly underwhelmed by Papapetrou's kiddy pics. But, as with Henson too, I don't see any particular reason to get one's knickers in a knot about the entire thing.

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06 July 2008


From the Series Iraq Raid. Photograph © Zoriah Miller

It has been a while since I posted on the complexities surrounding the practice of "embedding" photographers and other journalists with military units. This is not a black and white matter - especially given how dangerous war zones have become. (They obviously always have been dangerous, but it seems to me that photographers and journalists are increasingly considered legitimate targets of violence and abduction.) Nor is it obvious to me why we draw a sharp distinction between photographers who are embedded with military units and those embedded with, say, NGOs or other government or corporate agencies.

All of that said, here is a report from Alternet detailing the asymmetries unavoidable for any journalist of photographer embedded with the U.S. military. In this case the photographer is Zoriah Miller, one of whose terrific images I've included above. You may also find this essay - "Embedded in Iraq," by Michael Massing- in the NYRB relevant to thinking about this practice more generally.

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Chris Jordan (again)

Constitution, 2008 (8 x 25 feet in five panels): Depicts 83,000
Abu Ghraib
prisoner photographs, equal to the number of people
who have been arrested
and held at US-run detention facilities
with no trial or other due process of law,
America's war on terror. Photograph © Chris Jordan.

I've posted on Chris Jordan here and here before. This new installment of his series "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait" seems appropriate this weekend. You can find the component pictures here.