29 April 2009

Best Shots (69 ) ~ Ryuichi Hirokawa

(96) Ryuichi Hirokawa ~ Protest, Al-Ram Checkpoint, the West Bank (30 April 2009).

I have been posting on this series of (now close to 100) short interviews at The Guardian since I discovered it. During that time it has been coordinated by Leo Benedictus and I have several times called attention to his work on that score. I noticed this evening that the credit this week has changed to Melissa Denes. It is a terrific feature and I hope the paper plans to continue it.

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28 April 2009

Pretty Babies

At Eurozine I came across a provocative essay (first published, it seems, at Index on Censorship) entitled "Pretty Babies" by art historian Anne Higgonet. She has a truly sensible, non-alarmist assessment of the recent rash of "child pornography" and censorship cases that lately have popped up in among art and commercial photographers, as well as elsewhere [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. Higgonet, it seems to me, is pretty much on the money:
"Contrary to what hopeful censors would have us believe, the overwhelming majority of pictures of children, clothed or unclothed, are ambiguous. Sexuality is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Yet despite the subjectivity of virtually all interpretation, child pornography law persists in attacking pictures, rather than in pursuing cases of actual abuse against real children. If you can prove that a photograph was made by forcing a real child to commit a physical sexual act in front of the camera, then by all means hunt down and prosecute the adults involved in those acts. Pictures could be used instrumentally as evidence, instead of becoming the crimes themselves. Prosecute actions. Let the pictures go.

[. . .]

Economists believe in a concept called revealed preference. Don't pay attention to what I say, the concept teaches, pay attention to what I've done. According to the revealed preference of our laws and budgets, we care more about pictures than about people. How can we justify spending precious resources on the gargantuan yet futile surveillance of the Internet when we claim to have none for the simplest social programmes that protect and shelter children from abuse where it is most likely to happen? How can we have the resources for endless expensive law cases about pictures when we supposedly don't have enough to pay for social workers, health care, preschools or after-schools?

As with all so-called sexual crimes against adults, the real issue is the way in which sex can be turned into a form of power. If we fixate, not even on the most convoluted and indirect definition of sexual abuse against children, but on fictional representations of that convoluted and indirect definition of sexual abuse against children, then we will not confront the most horrible ways in which we systematically abuse our power over children. The purpose of child pornography law is to protect children. The effect of child pornography laws ultimately hurts children."
And, if you are inclined to object that this is a liberal apologia for permissiveness, I suggest you first consider the example that animates Higgonet's essay. The absurdity brings home her point.

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Classical Objection: "Get your hands off my country,"

This too from The Guardian; during a performance in Los Angeles Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman announced that he will henceforth boycott the U.S. based on his opposition to the American plan to site a missile defense system in Poland. While the newspaper's L.A. correspondent seemed less than thrilled by Zimerman's "tirade," you can find a second opinion here.


27 April 2009

Environmental Pirates?

The Steve Irwin chases the Yushin Maru.
Photograph: /Discovery Channel.

Not long ago I posted on direct action being mounted by environmentalists in defense of forests in the Pacific Northwest. Today I discovered this slide show and related stories [1] [2]
in The Guardian that depict the conflict between environmentalists and Japanese "research" whalers in the Antarctic. Of course, the Japanese are calling the environmentalists "terrorists."


26 April 2009

Solow on Posner on "the Depression"

In the NYRB this week you can find this review by Robert Solow of Richard Posner's new book A Failure of Capitalism. Here is the punchline, which appears at the outset:

"The plainspokenness I mentioned is what makes this book an event. There is no doubt that Posner has been an independent thinker, never a passive follower of a party line. Neither is there any doubt that his independent thoughts have usually led him to a position well to the right of the political economy spectrum. The Seventh Circuit is based in Chicago, and Posner has taught at the University of Chicago. Much of his thought exhibits an affinity to Chicago school economics: libertarian, monetarist, sensitive to even small matters of economic efficiency, dismissive of large matters of equity, and therefore protective of property rights even at the expense of larger and softer "human" rights.

But not this time, at least not at one central point, the main point of this book. Here is one of several statements he makes:

Some conservatives believe that the depression is the result of unwise government policies. I believe it is a market failure. The government's myopia, passivity, and blunders played a critical role in allowing the recession to balloon into a depression, and so have several fortuitous factors. But without any government regulation of the financial industry, the economy would still, in all likelihood, be in a depression; what we have learned from the depression has shown that we need a more active and intelligent government to keep our model of a capitalist economy from running off the rails. The movement to deregulate the financial industry went too far by exaggerating the resilience—the self-healing powers—of laissez-faire capitalism.
If I had written that, it would not be news. From Richard Posner, it is. The underlying argument—it is not novel but it is sound—goes something like this. [ . . .]"

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Taking Offense: Bob Carlos Clarke

Black Is My True Love's Heart.
Photograph © Bob Carlos Clarke

In The Guardian today is this homage to photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, about whom I, quite contentedly, knew literally nothing. (Another piece has appeared here in The Independent.) Turns out that Clarke committed suicide a couple of years ago, apparently because he was depressed about (1) lack of recognition and (2) aging, and so, having diminished prospects of banging the models who posed for his vaguely misogynistic work. His work seems to run the gamut from what is roughly soft-core porn to the simply trite. So the lack of recognition seems little surprise to me. There really is not much going on as far as I can tell. OK, some of the portraits are good, but they hardly stand out among the work of other portraitists you might name. As for his diminished prospects of getting laid by vacuous air-brushed women, well that is simply evolution. Simply put, while it is too bad he died as he did, Clarke's death was as self-indulgent as his life. In other words, it was plenty self-indulgent.* And his work is not worth much more than a passing look.
* This from The Guardian: "'If you want to qualify as a legend,' he wrote, 'get famous young, die tragically and dramatically, and never underestimate the importance of your iconic photographs.'" As the father of a talented, wonderful son who died prematurely without the self-generated drama, this makes me sick. Clarke's daughter was 14 when he killed himself. The same age as Jeff. My question? Bob, how could you do that to your kid?

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25 April 2009

“It’s a very weird thing being a photographer.”

Self-Portrait, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1967.
Photograph © Danny Lyon

So says Danny Lyon in this interview that ran in yesterday's New York Times. True enough.


And a 5th Way ...

In addition to the points I made in my previous post, torture apologists need to be confronted with the details of when and why BushCo decided to torture people. In that regard, these two segments I heard on npr last night [1] [2] are useful. It turns out, for example, that the "usable intelligence" allegedly obtained by torturing detainees actually emerged from legal interrogation techniques. Once you push back slightly on their broad general claims, it turns out that the 'torture works' argument is unsustainable.


23 April 2009

Four Ways to Talk Back to Torture Apologists

It is important to confront the right wing apologists for torture. You can find a list of the miscreants here.

[1] One way to confront apologists is to directly call their bluff. A start would be to refer to those who are better placed to know. For example:
"There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process." (1)
[2] A second tack is to remind the apologists that there have, from the outset, been individuals in the military and the government who argued against the BushCo embrace of torture. these individuals thought the policy ill-advised for various reasons and disputed claims that it has been productive. (2)

[3] A third reply to the apologists, who whimper and whine that those pressing for accountability are 'criminalizing policy decisions,' is to point out that Cheney and Rumsfeld and their cronies were making political decisions, not engaging in policy-making. The BushCo team had decided they wanted to invade Iraq and used torture in an attempt to rationalize that plan. They hoped to get detainees to 'admit' that there were ties between al Queada and Saddam Hussein. (3) Of course, when the torture failed to generate the proper 'intelligence' Cheney, Rumsfeld, et. al. simply lied.

[4] A fourth way is to refuse their efforts to narrow the debate onto the false claim that torture 'works' because it allegedly produces useful intelligence. This is about rhetoric and framing. Since the apologists want to discuss torture in terms of consequences, let's insist on considering a broad range of consequences. For example, we should insist that debate consider the institutional and practical reputational consequences of out having publicly endorsed torture. But let's talk too about the impact on individual service women and men. For instance there is reason to believe that at least one female Military Intelligence Officer was driven to suicide after having taken part (under orders) in a "harsh interrogation." (4)

Of course, all this presumes that the apologists are at all interested in reasons and evidence. I suspect that they are simply trying to cover butts - whether their own or their comrades.


Memory, Homage, and ... Corruption: Politics and Photography in Public

Election posters in Tripoli, Lebanon. Spending limits are imposed
for the June elections, but only during the last two months.
Photography Credit: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

I was struck by this photograph. It accompanied this story about the buying of an election in The New York Times today. It brought to mind work by french photographer "JR" that I posted about not long ago - here and here. Similar approach, different aims.

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Best Shots (68) ~ Rut Blees Luxemburg

(95) Rut Blees Luxemburg ~ Apartment Block, East London -
circa 1995. (23 April 09).


22 April 2009


South Africans waited in line to cast their votes in
Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Photograph Credit: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.*

Many models of voting behavior suggest that, from an individual perspective, because the potential impact of voting is minuscule and because it is costly in terms of time and effort to go to the polls, voting is irrational. Funny thing.
* The image I've lifted here accompanied this story in The New York Times.

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21 April 2009

2009 Pulitzer Prizes in Photography

. . . have gone to Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald in the "Breaking News" category and to Damon Winter of The New York Times in the "Feature" category. Although I think some of the images in the prize-winning series are fine work, not only do campaigns and disasters win again, but the approach of both men is pretty conventional.


Two Responses to the Torture Apologists

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. ... The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." ~ Admiral Dennis Blair

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
We Don't Torture
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor


19 April 2009

The Summit Challenges Obama's Pragmatism

Obama claims to be a "pragmatist." But if he hopes to avoid letting that stance degenerate into the more common and less appealing "opportunist," he is going to have to recognize some consequences of being a pragmatist.

Obama is now in Trinidad, attending the Summit of the Americas. According to this report from AP, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has given Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. The title will suggest that the book offers a critical account of Latin American history. Galeano is a Uruguayan journalist and author, who has endured prison and exile for his political views. You can find several of Galeano's essays here at The Progressive and an interview with him here at Democracy Now!. And here is a somewhat older but extremely entertaining conversation between Galeano and photographer Sebastião Salgado.

Of course, this gift may seem wholly inappropriate. Obama tends to complain that, as a pragmatist, he aims not to dwell on the past but, instead, to craft workable approaches to the future. But, a pragmatist recognizes that any of our beliefs or commitments might be mistaken, that regardless of how confident we are in those beliefs or commitments we might simply be wrong.* From this perspective the past is crucial a source of knowledge, a resource from which we might learn. Obama's pronouncements tend to imply that the past solely provides fodder for recrimination. Similarly, diversity provides a source of insight and a check on our confidence. Here too, the point is less to assign blame than to identify bases for defining and addressing common problems and concerns. In that sense, a pragmatist would insist that the prospect of learning from the past or from views at variance from our own implies that we needn't agree with everything that, say, Galeano writes to think we might profit from exposure to his view of the history of Latin America.

And, the administration simply cannot make the excuse that because he cannot read Spanish Obama can't read Galeano's book. After all, the book has been translated - look here at Monthly Review Press.
* This view - falliblism - should not be mistaken for skepticism or the view that none of our beliefs or commitments are reliable; pragmatists reject the latter stance, insisting that not just belief but doubt must be justified too. Indeed, in order to question particular beliefs or commitments we must assume that a whole range of other beliefs and commitments are reliable.

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Questions Raised by the Obama Administration's Release of the "Torture Memos" and Subsequent Unwillingness to Confront the Consequneces ...

This past week the Obama Administration released yet more damning documents from the BushCo war on liberty and justice. You can find the so-called 'torture memos' drafted by BushCo's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) here. At the same time Obama's Justice Department announced - quite preposterously for a bunch of "pragmatists" who allegedly are concerned for consequences - that it would not pursue prosecution of CIA agents who had, under cover of the legal opinions presented in these memos, tortured prisoners. Think about it, we trust the CIA to gather intelligence on matters of crucial national security, but we cannot presume that the agents employed by the agency are capable of knowing total self-serving bullshit when they see it! After all, the OLC memos are just that - rationalizations of policies that everyone knows now and knew then presented a pretext for torture which, as everyone also knows, is illegal under American and International Law. So, if the CIA cannot tell bullshit when it is dished out by Government lawyers, how will they be able to discern the difference between truth and falsity when it is dished out by dangerous suspects of secret informants or other spook-like entities?

This week too the Spanish government announced that it would not pursue an investigation or prosecution of those Americans officials who devised and implemented this most recent incarnation of U.S. torture policy. They (perhaps rightly) decided that any such activities should be undertaken here in the States. Except, of course, that the Justice Department has announced that it will not do any such thing. In any case, I simply could not help but wonder, after hearing the decision from the Spanish prosecutors, who had called and leaned on them. I am sure they were lobbied by friends of BushCo. But what about members of the Obama Administration? Did anyone from the Justice or State Department, discreetly of course, make it clear to the Spaniards that it might be imprudent to make good on their intention to investigate American torturers?

Finally, this editorial in The New York Times today rightly recommends that Jay Bybee, author of some of the most egregious of the torture memos, and now a federal Appeals Court Judge, should be impeached. Over at The New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin writes of Bybee: "He was confirmed by the Senate on March 13, 2003—some time before any of the “torture memos” became public. He has never answered questions about them, has never had to defend his conduct, has never endured anywhere near the amount of public scrutiny (and abuse) as Yoo."* I agree that Bybee should be dragged out into the light. I doubt, though, that the Congress has the courage needed to impeach the miscreant. At a minimum, then, I suggest that Bybee be compelled to amend the brief biographical sketch posted on the federal government's web page to read as follows:
Bybee, Jay S.

Born 1953 in Oakland, CA

Federal Judicial Service:
Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Nominated by George W. Bush on January 7, 2003, to a seat vacated by Proctor R. Hug, Jr.; Confirmed by the Senate on March 13, 2003, and received commission on March 21, 2003.

Brigham Young University, B.A., 1977

Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School, J.D., 1980

Professional Career:
Law clerk, Hon. Donald Russell, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 1980-1981
Private practice, Washington, D.C., 1981-1984
Attorney, Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice, 1984-1986
Attorney, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1986-1989
Associate counsel to the president, The White House, 1989-1991
Professor, Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University, 1991-1998
Professor, William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, 1999-2000
Assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, Special Division for Justifying War Crimes, 2001-2002

Race or Ethnicity: White

Gender: Male
That is my last question for now: Can we get someone to take on the editing job?
* Yoo would be John Yoo, who served as Bybee's Deputy at OLC and who was an active composer of justifications for torture.

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18 April 2009

Lange & Frank update ...

Since most readers would have no reason to notice, I'll call your attention to this update of a post I made a couple of weeks ago ...

Visura Magazine

Today I received an email announcing the appearance of issue 2 of Visura Magazine. The editorial statement reads"
"Visura Magazine is a publication that encourages the artists to participate directly in its formation by choosing which series they would like to contribute. The artwork and writing published within these pages are neither censored nor constricted.

Visura celebrates this freedom."
This issue features work by Luis González Palma, Shelby Lee Adams, & Ed Kashi, among others. You can find Visura here.


17 April 2009

2009 Hasselblad Award to Robert Adams

The Hasselblad Foundation announced this week that Robert Adams has won their annual photography award. Adams won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize several years ago and, as I noted at the time, donated the cash from the award to Human Rights watch. On the Hasselblad web page we learn that Adams lives in Astoria, Oregon a nice seaside town which, interestingly enough, was among m stops on a recent trip up the Pacific coast. August really liked the hot dogs at one of the local brew pubs. In any case, here is part of the e-exchange that Adams had with well-wishers at the time of the award:

Jessica: Where do you find your inspiration?

Robert Adams: Anywhere there s light. Photographers are open to gifts. As the poet John Clare wrote, "I found the poems in the fields / And only wrote them down."

Does art have any practical effect? Does it actually change anything?

Robert Adams: It does, but indirectly. By definition art is not propaganda; the goal is not to excite people to action but to help them find a sense of wholeness and thereby a sense of calm. But from that we take courage for a re-engagement with the specifics of life.

Why did you choose photography as a way to express yourself?

Robert Adams: My hope is less to express myself than to acknowledge my place. Photography inherently looks outward, and is suited to that goal.

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Jim Romano

Also in The Times this morning is this video portrait of Jim Romano as press photographer who, for many years, covered Staten Island for The New York Post.


Annals of Fair Use ~ Keeping the Courts Busy

American Apparel Billboard. Photograph © Susan Sermoneta.

Today The New York Times has brief reports on two legal battles that revolve around who gets to use photographs and for what purposes. The first story I've mentioned before, is the pot and kettle tussle between AP and Shepard Fairey. The second story is an update on a legal battle between Woddy Allen and American Apparel over the company's use of Allen's picture on billboards like the one above.

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16 April 2009

How to Address the U.S. Economic Crisis: "break the oligarchy"

"Of course, the U.S. is unique. And just as we have the world’s most advanced economy, military, and technology, we also have its most advanced oligarchy." ~Simon Johnson

When, a decade ago, Richard Rorty railed against the bosses and oligarchies who play an increasingly malign role in American politics, it sounded like old fashioned leftist rhetoric. And it seemed naive too, since real oligarchies existed only in faraway places like, say, Russia. But in this piece from The Atlantic Monthly economist Simon Johnson (himself former Chief Economist at the IMF, so, familiar with oligarchies and their dire effects and, of course, no relation of mine) uses the same language as did Rorty to describe the current political economic predicament in the U.S.; hence his advice, which I quote in the title to the post. Johnson rightly points out that all our recent and current political-economic policies - regardless of whether they've been peddled by the Bush or Obama administrations - leave the oligarchy intact. And he rightly points out that that is big mistake. The problem, of course, is a political one and a serious analysis must ask what would happen if someone seriously proposed dismantling or subverting our oligarchy in even the relatively technocratic ways Johnson suggests. It is hard to imagine a frontal political challenge to our oligarchs that did not generate a furious backlash.

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Best Shots (67) ~Susan Meiselas

(94) Susan Meiselas ~ Dani tribeswoman walking on a road through
the Baliem Valley, Indonesia, 1989 (16 April 09).

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15 April 2009

Martin Parr on Sepia Tones

I have to admit that I had never been too impressed by Martin Parr. I don't know why, but his photography just didn't do much for me. But a few short pieces (mostly) in The Guardian by or about him have changed my mind [1] [2] [3].* Let's say he's grown on me. Today he offers this nice succinct comment on the propaganda behind Madonna's recent celebrity adoption campaign.
* You can find links to Parr's Guardian commentaries here.

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14 April 2009

The Bigger Picture ~ Photography at the Smithsonian

I have spent much of the day computer-less due to a virus attack. I did receive an email announcing the launch of a new blog by the folks at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative. You can link to it here.


13 April 2009

Voting on Modern Art

Kitty Hawk, 1983 ~ Richard Serra

In the sidebar, pretty far down, you will find this remark attributed to Richard Serra: “I don’t think it is the function of art to be pleasing. ... Art is not democratic.” This is a view that, as I explained here, raises a set of interesting, if complicated, questions. I won't explore those issues further here except to say that I find myself sympathetic to Serra even if - perhaps especially because - we now are being asked by The Times (London) to vote for our "favourite modern artist." That sort of enterprise seems silly. I think it makes as little sense to evaluate art by voting as it does to evaluate it in terms of market performance. Sheer aggregation surely is too coarse a criterion. What is called for is reasons, explanations, interpretations not the counting of heads or pennies. By the way, I voted for Serra.


12 April 2009

Photographing the Police

I've posted a couple times recently [1] [2] about the newly implemented law in the U.K. making it a crime to photograph police officers. At the time I mentioned a classic image by Don McPhee as the sort of thing that would be forbidden under the law. Over at Crooked Timber Chris Bertram rightly suggests a more pressing reason - we might rely on photographers not just to capture moments of levity but to offer protection against (or at least evidence of) deadly police brutality. I recommend that you watch the video to which Chris links. Even if Ian Tomllinson had not subsequently died, there is no excuse for the behavior of this officer.


Listing Pinkward?

I generally do not put terribly much faith in opinion polls. But the results here are interesting for two reasons. First, given the general ideological slant of the media and educational system in the U.S. (which, even if you grant that they lean toward "liberal," are generally hostile to socialist ideas) it is pretty astonishing that only a little more than half of Americans are committed capitalists. Second, the propensity to embrace capitalism tends to fall off in younger folks, so perhaps the spectre of Soviet communism will not forever haunt socialists.
"Just 53% Say Capitalism Better
Than Socialism
Thursday, April 09, 2009

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans - by an 11-to-1 margin - favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls.) Rasmussen Reports updates also available on Twitter.

The question posed by Rasmussen Reports did not define either capitalism or socialism

It is interesting to compare the new results to an earlier survey in which 70% of Americans prefer a free-market economy. The fact that a “free-market economy” attracts substantially more support than “capitalism” may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets.

Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

Fifteen percent (15%) of Americans say they prefer a government-managed economy, similar to the 20% support for socialism. Just 14% believe the federal government would do a better job running auto companies, and even fewer believe government would do a better job running financial firms.

Most Americans today hold views that can generally be defined as populist while only seven percent (7%) share the elitist views of the Political Class."
Of course, all this begs the important question of what respondents mean by "socialism" or, for that matter, by "capitalism." There is plenty of disagreement - even on among committed leftists left [1] [2] [3] - about the former, so there is little reason to think that the pinkos Rasmussen has revealed converge in their assessments. That said, while the folks at Newsweek surely exaggerate when they claim that "we're all socialists now," at least some of us, it seems, might be willing to consider the possibility.

All this might give pause to Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) who apparently is fretting that some - seventeen, to be precise - of his colleagues are "socialists." He might want to check and see if any of his own constituents might, gasp!, be listing pinkward!
Update (13 April) ~ I am happy to say that I scooped John Nichols over at The Nation in linking these two stories. Who knew John is so perceptive a fellow!

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11 April 2009


Jeff died two years ago today. He would've been nearly 17 - taking SATs, thinking about colleges (actually probably talking to the coaches who'd have been recruiting him), making pancakes, really itching to get his driver's license, hanging with his friends, poking fun at his brothers, looking forward to summer.

Recently a couple of friends and colleagues have dropped a line to say they're thinking of me - they know who they are and I thank them (again). I suppose there are others who simply don't know what to say. That is OK too, really. But when people ask me how I am I tell them this: some part of pretty much every day is excruciating, but that is better then when each and every day was excruciating all day. I cry and I rage and I talk to Jeff and, pretty often, I laugh at my memories of him. It depends on the day. I love him though. And that doesn't.

This picture was taken a month or so before Jeff died. The uniform was too big for him. But that didn't matter. Life sure was not big enough. I miss Jeff terribly much.

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10 April 2009

John Berger's Mistake

"The attendants always have two or three rooms to survey and so they wander from one room to another. The chair beside the Crucifixion is for the moment empty. After taking out my sketchbook, a pen and a handkerchief, I carefully place my small shoulder bag on the chair.

I start drawing. Correcting error after error. Some trivial. Some not. The crucial question is the scale of the cross on the page. If this is not right, the surrounding space will exert no pressure, and there’ll be no resistance. I’m drawing with ink and wetting my index finger with spit. Bad beginning. I turn the page and restart.

I won’t make the same mistake again. I’ll make others, of course. I draw, correct, draw."
In The New Statesman this week Berger relates this harrowing experience last Easter at the National Gallery in London. Hint: This is what happens when you place a uniform on a small minded person. Such interactions would be wholly comical except that the laws had not been changed in various places to invest all sorts of personnel (think flight attendants on airplanes) with quasi-police powers and to make simple unexceptional actions illegal.

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09 April 2009

Best Shots (66) ~ Gillian Wearing

(93) Gillian Wearing ~ Me as My Brother (9 April 09).


08 April 2009

Local Event ~ VCS Conference at Rochester

I want to call your attention to this conference which is running this Friday and Saturday here at the University of Rochester. It has been organized by the students in the program in Visual and Cultural Studies. In particular two very smart and creative students whom I know - Bo Zheng and Sohl Lee - are playing an active part in the proceedings. You can find details for the event, including a schedule, here.


07 April 2009

Rwanda ~ 100 Days

The Eyes of Gutete Emerita © Alfredo Jaar

Rwanda, 1994 - Survivor of Hutu death camp © James Nachtwey.

Zaire, 1994. Goma, near the border of Rwanda © Gilles Peress

Anastase Ntabareshya, Remera Prison, 1998 © Robert Lyons.

"This week marks the 15th anniversary of the start of the 100 days when a million mainly Tutsi Rwandans were killed in a systematic strategy that turned neighbours into killers." That reminder from The Guardian today in this story about one survivor of that genocide. Here I've lifted some work by just a few of the photographers who have sought to convey the horrors of the crimes. They serve as witnesses, chroniclers.


06 April 2009

There is an Interview with Alfredo Jaar

... here at The Brooklyn Rail. Jaar talks with David Levi Strauss, Phong Bui & Dore Ashton.

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05 April 2009

Anti-Semitism? Politics and Cartoons

Cartoon © Pat Oliphant (25 March 09).

It is anti-Semitic to treat Jews in ways one would not or does not treat those who are not Jews. Is it automatically anti-Semitic to criticize the State of Israel? No. Is it anti-Semitic to assume that, unlike other people - whether as individuals or as a group - Jews can do no wrong, that literally nothing is forbidden in the name of defending Israel's right to exist? Yes. Why not treat individual Jews and the State of Israel just like one treats other individuals and states? That is, why not treat individual Jews and the State of Israel as worthy of praise or condemnation in just the way we might praise or condemn other people and political entities?

The cartoon I've lifted above, in which Pat Oliphant criticizes Israeli policies toward Palestinians generally and Gaza in particular - has prompted charges of anti-Semitism - predictably from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Foxman identifies virtually any criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. He thereby insidiously identifies the state of Israel, Israeli government policy, and all (meaning each and every) Jews. Foxman screams anti-Semitism almost by instinct. Here is how Eric Alterman* characterizes Foxman in the wake of his recent, incredible accusations against Bill Moyers who, like Oliphant, had the temerity to criticize the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
To delve deeply almost anywhere into the arguments over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to invite an overload of irony, but let us focus for one moment on a fracas caused by Abe Foxman, national director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League. Irony No. 1 is that a "league," as such, does not exist. Foxman is it. (When asked, for a New York Times profile, whom in the organization besides himself a reporter might interview, Foxman "couldn't think of anyone.") Irony No. 2? Under Foxman, "antidefamation" is not really the ADL's line; defamation is.
Foxman pretty clearly lacks all credibility. And it is important not to presume that his often groundless tirades offer a basis for sound or fair assessment. As Alterman notes in his defense of Moyers:
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the celebrated author and patriot David Grossman termed the Gaza operation "just one more way-station on a road paved with fire, violence and hatred," and added, "our conduct here in this region has, for a long time, been flawed, immoral and unwise."
Do such remarks make Grossman anti-Semitic? By Foxman's lights they surely must, although as Alterman notes, old Abe apparently hasn't got the chutzpah to attack Grossman. And that is predictable enough.

The reason I raise all this is to call attention to this essay by Anthony Lerman in The Guardian. Lerman, I think, does a good job of sorting out the offensive and the ineffective from the 'anti-Semitic' in discussing Oliphant's cartoon. I think invoking Nazism, is generally not useful in politics. I've said as much here before. I think the analogy Oliphant is drawing here is unhelpful. But I also think the same goes for automatically characterising any criticism of Israel or its policies as anti-Semitic. One may find the implication Oliphant is drawing (or perhaps warning against) discomfiting, even extremely so, but that - windbags like Foxman notwithstanding - hardly makes either he or his cartoon anti-Semitic.
*"The Defamation League," The Nation (28 January 09).

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04 April 2009

New Mexico Highways

The Road West, 1938. Photograph © Dorothea Lange.*

US 285, New Mexico, 1955. Photograph © Robert Frank.

Update (19 April 09) ~ I thought that I was being pretty clever and insightful in comparing these two images. Of course, I managed to forget that Geoff Dyer does just that in his book The Ongoing Moment [1] [2] where he writes: "Lange's picture is about distance, remoteness; Frank's is about covering ground. What was a symbol of the harsh reality of economic necessity is here the begetter of artistic possibilities and imminent encounters. Just what these encounters will be is anybody's guess. There is no telling, as we turn the pages of The Americans, where this road might lead. Lange documented a desperate search for work; here the search is not for work but for works of art, for images. The subject of the photograph has become the photographer's own vision and journey." The focus, in other words, is less on the world and its hardships, more on the self and its more or less indulgent fashioning.

Earlier, discussing Lange's photograph, Dyer explicitly, quite plausibly invokes Steinbeck's Tom Joad. That imagery, to my mind, heightens the contrast with the uncertainty and indeterminacy he reads in Frank's photograph. As Bruce Springsteen sings in the chorus to 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' - "The highway is alive tonight . . ." and then, by turns, ". . . But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes" or ". . . But where it's headed everybody knows." For the migrants, the internally displaced, there is no adventure, no thrill of anticipation. Everybody knows. And such a world invites the cynicism Leonard Cohen voices as often as it does the courage and commitment Springsteen invokes. It seems so, at least, for those more preoccupied with self-fashioning than with political realities and possibilities. So, in a sense, Lange and Frank seem to foreshadow the choice we face today.
* U.S. 54 in southern New Mexico.

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02 April 2009

Dave Brubeck ~ "Ansel Adams: America"

On npr this evening we get this report of this orchestral homage to Adams by Dave Brubeck. I must say that I am skeptical, but who knows?

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01 April 2009

Socialism at The Nation (More)

Here are the most recent contributions to the serial forum "Reimagining Socialism" that The Nation is running:
Kim Moody, "Socialists Need to Be Where the Struggle Is "

Saskia Sassen, "An Economic Platform That Is Ours "

Dan La Botz, "Militant Minorities "

Michael Albert, "Taking Up the Task "

Dave Zirin, "Socialists, Out and Proud "

Joanne Landy "I Love Bill Moyers, But He's Wrong About Socialism"

Hilary Wainwright, "There Is an Alternative"

And here are links to the earlier installments ~ [1] [2] . . .

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Best Shots (65) ~ Roger Ballen

(92) Roger Ballen ~ From: The Boarding House Series (2 April 09).