31 August 2009

Calling Out Right Wing Hypocrites ...

Since I was just speaking of Glen Greenwald in another context, it seems appropriate to note his incisive post on how pervasive blatant rich-white privilege has become among right wingers.
"They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed: "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer quickly noted that they already have been: "Liz Cheney." Liz Cheney is really the perfect face of Washington's political culture, a perfect manifestation of all the rotting diseases that define it and a pure expression of what our country has become and the reasons for its virtual ruin. She should really be on every political TV show all day every day. It's almost as though things can't really be expressed thoroughly without including her. Jenna Bush as a new NBC "reporter" on The Today Show -- at a time when every media outlet is firing and laying off real reporters -- is a very nice addition though.

UPDATE: Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear"
So, actually the relation between this and my earlier post is not so disjointed. Yesterday, just before I read about Jenna's new gig, I had asked my friend Susan what the hell the truly dim Liz Cheney had done - beyond inheriting bad genes - to become a welcome guest on various Sunday morning talking heads shows. The woman is an apologist for the far right and nothing else. It is hard to believe that she could actually come up with any of the talking points she spouts.

The problem with Greenwald's piece is that it will be wholly lost on the folks he mentions. After all, they see nothing wrong with nepotism so long as it works for them. Indeed, not long ago Adam Bellow (former editor at Free Press, now editor at Doubleday and son of Saul Bellow who surely had nothing to do with the lad's entree into the publishing world) produced a manifesto for the whole lot entitled - you guessed it - In Praise of Nepotism! Irony and sarcasm like Greenwald's are lost on the shameless. And as a good ideologue, Bellow seems to rest content with his effort to establish a "natural history" of nepotism. Even if Bellow were successful in defending this claim, which I doubt (I've not read the book; life is too short), there are all sorts of putatively "natural" impulses that we try to put behind us. That, in part, is why we teach kids to have moral responses like shame when they do things that are contemptible.

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Rights Exposure Project

"Welcome to The Rights Exposure Project. The concept is simple – to explore the use of visual media – primarily photography and video – in social activism. During 2009 the project will look to engage with organizations and communities in Asia. However, examples of work and initiatives from around the globe will also feature. This site is for sharing experiences, materials and links to work in this field and welcomes contributions and information that helps to build the resource."
The project is being coordinated by Rob Godden and you can keep track of he and his activities here at his web page.

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The "War on Terror," Tee-Shirts & Popular Culture

Sarawak State, Malaysia: A boy hides behind his mother, holding
a pet monkey, outside Long Nen village. The Penan of Sarawak,
among the world's last nomadic hunter-gatherers, number about
16,000. Photograph © Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

This image appeared in The Guardian yesterday as part of this "24 Hours in Pictures" slide show. Cute kid. Cute pet monkey. And, in the background, some guy wearing a red tee shirt festooned with what to me looks like the visage of Osama Bin Laden as though he were Che Guevara. If that is right, no "war on terror," no matter how resolutely we wage it, can root out popular culture at this level.


30 August 2009

What "offends the hell out of me,!"

This clip of Dick Cheney is outrageous. The man is willfully obtuse and obviously thinks the best defense is a robust offense. He continues to insist - without any warrant beyond his own say so - that torture "worked" in the sense of having generated usable intelligence that was not, or could not have been, elicited otherwise. For a sane response to Cheney and his press minions I recommend this post from the typically straightforward Glen Greenwald. In particular Greenwald is right about how press reports that cite unnamed sources are subsequently being taken up as having established 'facts' that in no way are established. The media as echo-chamber.
PS: (Added a short time later.) So, you think Greenwald and all the sources he cites are simply pinko progressive types who are soft on national security? Here is John McCain, reacting to Cheney's performance art: "I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan . . ." And, furthermore: "I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq... I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according go the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members."

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Can You Say 'Derivative'?

I seem to have missed the portraits when they appeared in The New York Times Magazine. But now The Guardian folks are circulating part of Nadav Kander's collection "Obama's People." There is a slide show here. In the accompanying story we learn that "Kander . . . acknowledges the influence of Richard Avedon's The Family, a ground-breaking series of portraits of the US political elite on the 1976 campaign trail, published in Rolling Stone magazine." Well, how nice. We need someone to tell us that? The fact is that the entire enterprise is simply a rehash of the Avedon series. I don't find anything original or innovative in it at all. I suppose that is appropriate because there is not much going on in the Obama administration that is innovative or original either.

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29 August 2009

The Uses of Photography ~ Daniel Hernández-Salazar

Late last year I posted about the work of Guatemalan photographer Daniel Hernández-Salazar. At the time I noted his 1998 polyptych (above) entitled Esclarecimiento ("Clarification"). I think the images are striking and want to talk a bit about some of the various ways Hernández-Salazar has used them.

Esclarecimiento initially was a triptych No veo, no oigo, me callo ("I Don't See, I Don't Hear, I Remain Silent") to which Hernández-Salazar added a fourth panel Para que Todos lo sepan ("So That All Shall Know"). The "angel" Hernández-Salazar depicts is a young Mayan man whose "wings" consist in the superimposed image of a human scapula disinterred from a mass grave containing victims of the Guatemalan military. The symbolism of the images requires that we understand some background.*

Between 1960 and 1996 Guatemalans endured a protracted, notably vicious civil war. As part of the negotiated end to the fighting, the Catholic Church initiated a project for the recovery of Historical Memory - Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Historica (REMHI). On April 24, 1998 the REMHI project issued a massive written report entitled Guatemala Nunca Mas that estimated that 200,000 civilians, disproportionately from the indigenous Mayan Indian population, had been killed during the civil war. The report concludes that the overwhelming majority of these deaths came at the hands of the Guatemalan military.** The REMHI report consisted in four volumes. The cover of each volume carried one of the four images from Hernández-Salazar’s Esclarecimiento. The final volume, containing the names of over 50,000 victims of the civil war, features So That All Shall Know.

The REMHI had been headed by Bishop Juan José Gerardi. Two days after the project released its report, the Bishop was bludgeoned to death. Ultimately four individuals - three of them military officers - were convicted of the murder. But the immediate aftermath of Bishop Gerardi's murder consisted in mass protests in Guatemala City. At these protests many marchers carried posters, each featuring Hernández-Salazar’s Esclarecimiento, that the REMHI project had printed to publicize its report.

March of Silence, Guatemala City, (28 April 1998).

May Day March, Guatemala City (1998).

So here we have two uses of Hernández-Salazar’s Esclarecimiento. The first, he surely intended, the second he almost surely did not.

To mark the first anniversary of Bishop Gerardi's murder, Hernández-Salazar installed much enlarged versions of Para que Todos lo sepan at some 36 locations around Guatemala City. Some of these locations were simply prominent public spaces, many were directly associated with the military. And many of the "Street Angels" were removed promptly by parties unknown.

The top image depicts a "Street Angel" on Judio Street in
one of Guatemala City's oldest neighborhoods. The bottom
image depicts a "Street Angel" facing the Headquarters of
Military Intelligence, also in Guatemala City (April 1999).

These "Street Angels" were reconstructed from sets of sixty 8 x 10 panels which allowed those installing them to reproduce them on photocopiers and to hang them in such a way that the larger image appeared only incrementally. This was not merely a technological convenience or aesthetic strategy. The effort to appropriate and redefine public space in Guatemala City was, at the time, obviously fraught with risk.

In subsequent years Hernández-Salazar has incorporated large versions of Para que Todos lo sepan into a less localized project called Memoria de un ángel ("Memory of an Angel"). In this series of installations he took Para que Todos lo sepan abroad. The aim was to generalize the need to recognize and recall pain and suffering in diverse circumstances.

Phantom of War. Installation at former U.S. military base,
Fort Malbry - Austin, Texas (2003).

Installation at the Atomic Bomb Dome,
Hiroshima (April 2004).

While I understand the impulse to generalize here, it seems to me that Para que Todos lo sepan loses some of its force and especially its political force as Hernández-Salazar moves it farther and farther from its local context. Given the complicity of the U.S. in the sordid political history of Guatemala - and of Latin America more generally - the installation outside American military installations makes some sense. But moving to memorials for the victims of American use of atomic weapons risks rendering both Hernández-Salazar's image and the memorial site itself banal - each becomes a more or less routinized or ritualistic gesture. Indeed, the installation at Hiroshima immediately brought to mind a 1999 projection that Krzysztof Wodiczko did at the same site.

From: "The Hiroshima Projection" (1999) ~ Public projection
at the A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, Japan © Krzysztof Wodiczko

Hernández-Salazar's "Street Angel" draws its power largely from the streets it inhabits. The profound impact of the image (and its partners), it seems to me, relies upon a distinctively local resonance. That does not deprive them of power; it merely identifies the source of the work's vitality. The farther it is removed from that original context, the more it is compelled to assume the guise or the concern for humanity writ large, the less political it becomes. That is a cost that in this case - and in others - we should resist paying. In saying that I do not mean to diminish the importance of Para que Todos lo sepan. It is, I believe, a truly profound work. To the contrary, I hope to draw a general lesson from it.
* My acquaintance with Hernández-Salazar, his work and the historical context in which he produced it derives from the volume I mentioned in my earlier post.
** These conclusions are generally corroborated by the report of a UN sponsored truth commission - Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH).

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26 August 2009

Enthusiasms (25) ~ Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake

This 2007 recording, by Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake is simply wonderful. Anderson & Drake were both born in Monroe, Louisiana - a quarter century apart. Both have been resident of Chicago for many years. And their contributions and collaborations are far too numerous to mention. Anderson, in particular, is now 80 and was a founding member of the AACM. He also has been a long time club owner; his current venue is the newish incarnation of the Velvet Lounge. This recording was released on Thrill Jockey Records but Anderson and Drake also have recorded multiple times for Okka Disk another mid-western label. Part of the message here is that middle America has sustained a robust infrastructure for creative music over the course of decades. The other, more obvious, part is that Anderson and Drake have a remarkable musical partnership.

So what follows is a sample from the record. The number is long, but well worth a listen. Anderson is on tenor and Drake on drums. They are joined by Harrison Bankhead on cello, guitarist Jeff Parker, and Josh Abrams bass.

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25 August 2009

Boycotts, Israel, Freedom of Speech ~ Neve Gordon

Last week The Los Angeles Times ran this Op-Ed piece by Israeli Political Scientist and activist Neve Gordon. In the essay Gordon endorses the strategy of boycotting Israel as a way of bringing pressure to bear on he government there. I have argued against the boycott strategy here and here and here. My views have not changed. Gordon also invokes the analogy between Israeli treatment of Palestinians and South African Apartheid. While there are clear similarities, I think the "Apartheid State" rhetoric is one more conversation stopper in a circumstance already hedged in by far too many such thought-crippling slogans.

It turns out ~ unsurprisingly ~ that Gordon is taking considerable heat for his essay. Most directly, according to this story in Ha'aretz, both Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Prof. Rivka Carmi, the President of Ben Gurion University where Gordon teaches, have condemned him. (Ironically, the same story suggests that American Jews are threatening to withhold financial contributions to the University.) I disagree with Gordon on matters of strategy but not on ultimate objectives. That said, I think it is important to speak up in Gordon's defense. This is especially true to the extent that Sa'ar and Carmi go beyond disagreeing with Gordon and begin to threaten his job. On this I agree with the reasons Steve Walt offers here. It is important, in other words, for the integrity of Israeli Universities and it is important for the (endangered) diversity of views in Israeli politics. Should you be inclined to speak out on Gordon's behalf, you can find out how here at The Nation.

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24 August 2009


So, I am running an experiment in this post - trying out a way of occasionally uploading music from a "drop" site. I am not sure how it will work, so here is a sample:

"I Can't Get Started" ~ Anthony Braxton, 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003. Disc 3. Leo Records.

The title is meant as a joke, referring to how long it is taking from me to figure this out. If I have some success, it will make it possible to "illustrate" some of the musical enthusiasms I post on periodically.

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Tom Pietrasik

The record sheet of a member of the Narsenahalli credit union.
The women here are some of the first to challenge the status
quo and demand the right to own the title deeds to the land
they cultivate.

Too long ago I received and then misplaced an email from TomPietrasik calling my attention to a newish blog he has begun keeping. Tom is a photographer based (mostly) in New Delhi and his blog posts consist in his reflections on various aspects of life there (e.g. status, literacy, politics) accompanied by his striking photography.

I lifted the image above from this series of Tom's work on the Panos web site. It struck me especially because I've just finished re-reading Amrtya Sen's Development as Freedom, a book I've assigned for my graduate seminar this fall. Sen's argument is that we need to assess development (or its absence) in terms of criteria broader than standard GNP or income. His argument is complex, but basically he sees development as defined by the "capabilities" people have to achieve things (what he terms "doings and beings") they have reason to value. And, in particular, he focuses on the ways that such matters as literacy or property ownership or participation in labor or credit markets are central to women's capabilities. In short, Sen sees gender equality in such terms not as instrumental to achieving development, but as constitutive of development. This picture of Tom's seems to capture that idea. While it may not be the most stunning of Tom's work (I am partial to the opening shot in this slide show) this image displays a pretty remarkable and subtle insight.

The punch line? Tom's blog is definitely worth a visit and so too are the various other of his presences on the web that I've linked to above.


23 August 2009

Linda Gordon Dorothea Lange ~ A Life Beyond Limits

Historian Linda Gordon has this new book on Dorothea Lange coming out early in the fall. I am certain that it will be terrific. A couple of years ago Gordon edited Impounded ~ the collection of heretofore censored photographs Lange took of the internment camps where the U.S. Government warehoused Japanese citizens during World War II. Here is a lecture ~ "Visual Democracy: Dorothea Lange and the Political Culture of the New Deal" ~ that Gordon delivered at UC Berkeley last year. It is a bit long, but gives an idea what Gordon thinks of Lange and her expansive depiction of American citizenship.

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22 August 2009

South Bronx, 1979

Boston Road near Charlotte Street, (1979).
Photograph © David Gonzalez.

Today The New York Times is running this slide show and accompanying story by David Gonzalez recalling his time teaching photography in and photographing around the South Bronx neighborhood where he'd grown up and to which he has now, decades later, returned with his family to live. In the course of the voice over for the slide show, Gonzalez mentions that he'd been working with the terrific organization En Foco. The point is that you see what you look for.


21 August 2009

"Nobody’s Listening" (Jazz)

I have spent the better part of the day with music on the stereo while I began reading for my fall term graduate seminar and dealt with a variety of practical tasks (e.g., hanging the laundry out on the line). The music? Andrew Hill's Time Lines and Anthony Braxton's 20 Standards (Quartet). So here I am, a living, breathing exemplar of what this column from the Wall Street Journal is talking about.

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"I'm A Photographer Not a Terrorist"

In my daily web wandering I came across the web page of a new British outfit called Photographernotaterrorist.org; here is their statement of purpose:
Photography is under attack. Across the country it that seems anyone with a camera is being targeted as a potential terrorist, whether amateur or professional, whether landscape, architectural or street photographer.

Not only is it corrosive of press freedom but creation of the collective visual history of our country is extinguished by anti-terrorist legislation designed to protect the heritage it prevents us recording.

This campaign is for everyone who values visual imagery, not just photographers.

We must work together now to stop this before photography becomes a part of history rather than a way of recording it
I've commented on the increasing restrictions on photographers here before on numerous occasions. Earlier this summer Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made clear that there has been little progress on this front. In an interview with Fox News (who else?) she claimed that Americans have a duty to contact authorities "when they see something unusual, if they see, for example, somebody continually taking photographs of a piece of critical infrastructure that doesn't seem to make any sense.”

Secretary Napolitano seems to be living in a fantasy world where there is some established connection between photography and terrorism. That is not the world we actually inhabit though. Don't you feel safer knowing that the Obama administration is carrying on the paranoid fantasies of their predecessors?

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David Goldblatt in NYC

A boy of 5 or 6 holding his fist aloft in a revolutionary
salute stands before fresh grave mounds where anti-
apartheid activists known as the Cradock Four have
just been buried (1985). Photograph © David Goldblatt.

I have mentioned South African photographer David Goldblatt here a number of times. Yesterday The New York Times carried this appreciative review of an exhibition of his work along with this accompanying slide show.


20 August 2009

Speech Acts & Politics (2) - How to Respond to the Persistence of Right Wing Lunacy

First of all, the lunacy persists, and apparently is growing more common. Men showing up with firearms to public discussions of health care reform. You can read a report here at The Washington Post.

Hey guys! Just what is the point of such idiotic behavior? Do we need proof that you cannot formulate an argument and defend it against those who disagree with you? Sure, you guys have a "right" to carry a gun in compliance with local laws. And we have a right to point and laugh and make fun of you for being morons. Do you plan to shoot something or someone? If not, bringing your gun to a public meeting makes as much sense as bringing your lawn mower. After all you have a right to do that too. Silly little men.

In this now well-traveled clip Barney Frank demonstrates how to deal with the nutters:

The problem, as was made clear in this segment from the Bill Moyers show recently, is that the "story" now is the crazies. To repeat myself, the story should be insuring that everyone - yes everyone - has access to decent health care. And simply being dismissive of the Obama=Hitler, gun toting crowd is unlikely to be effective as a long term strategy. It will simply confirm for them that they are oppressed.

In his insightful little book How to Cure a Fanatic Israeli writer Amos Oz, points out that among the problems with fanatics is that they lack a sense of humor. Hence their inability to chuckle when someone like Barney Frank makes fun of them. But, as Oz also points out, fanatics lack imagination and, in the longer term, cultivating that faculty might be a useful anti-fanatic strategy.
"... there is something in the nature of a fanatic that ... lacks imagination. And this gives me hope, albeit a very limited hope, that injecting some imagination into people may help cause the fanatic to feel uneasy. This is not a quick remedy, this is not a quick cure, but it may help."
Oz warns against getting carried away with our anti-fanaticism, lest we succumb to the malady ourselves. But he is, I think, correct to suggest that the task enhancing our ability to imagine things being different is an important step in the right direction. It is also a task, as I've noted here before, for which photography may prove especially useful.

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Best Shots (84) - Chris Levine

(111) Chris Levine ~ Lightness of Being: A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
with her eyes closed. (19 August 2009).

I have been posting this series from The Guardian for a long time. Begun by Leo Benedictus, it now seem to be run by Andrew Pulver. It is, as I've said before, a really nice series that I hope continues at the paper.

Two things, though. First, this particular entry seems very creepy to me. The Queen looks flash frozen. And second, as I noted here two days ago, The Guardian has introduced a new compensation policy for freelance photographers whom it employs. They have done so unilaterally. Unsurprisingly, the policy seems dreadfully unfair - skewed to the paper's advantage. No need to be polite. While showcasing the rich and famous on the photo world, The Guardian is seeking to exploit those less visible. Speak up.

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18 August 2009

Solidarity and Health Care Reform - Again

"The greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack
the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different."
~ Roberto Mangabeira Unger

People outside the arena raised their hands before dawn on
Tuesday after organizers asked those holding tickets with
numbers up to 100 to identify themselves. The group was
already overwhelmed on the first day after allowing 1,500
people through the door, nearly 500 of whom had still not
been served by day's end and had to return early Wednesday.
Photograph © Ruth Fremson/The New York Times.

A few weeks ago I posted on the spectacle of thousands of poor Appalachian residents queued up for a free medical clinic coordinated by Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Wise, Virginia. Last week RAM coordinated a similar clinic at The Los Angeles Forum. You can read the report in The New York Times.

As The Times reporter succinctly stated: "The enormous response to the free care was a stark corollary to the hundreds of Americans who have filled town-hall-style meetings throughout the country, angrily expressing their fear of the Obama administration’s proposed changes to the nation’s health care system." Just so. If this is what private medicine gets us, that should be lesson enough. The Democrats seem to be blind to this. But as the view from Europe makes clear: "Americans Want 'Freedom to Pay Too Much for Inferior Health Care." (Thanks JC!) That is what the nutters screaming and threatening at 'town meetings' are defending - their god given right to have health care rationed by the market and insurance company bureaucrats.

Roberto Unger is a good pragmatist. He places emphasis on the role of imagination in politics. Obama's Democrats lack imagination and they surely lack the ability or the desire (maybe both) to awaken the imagination of the folks who elected them. In my earlier post on RAM's remarkable efforts, I noted that solidarity is intimately dependent of imagination. It is, I suspect, impossible to evince solidarity among people if they cannot imagine the plight of others.

Photography is a useful technology for doing to things. First, as Patrick Maynard argues, it amplifies our imaginations. Second, it is (as Maynard also claims) an 'engine of visualization' - it helps us see. Part of what is valuable about the images that I've seen from the RAM clinics is that they show large numbers. These are the people without access to health care. And Obama's new talk of 'health insurance reform' instead of health care reform has simply distracted attention from these people.

Last week K.H. Bacon, an advocate for refugees died. In his obituary he is quoted to the effect that before his stint as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration, he "had never seen refugees before, never fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of one million people leaving their homes and needing food, shelter and medical care." What we need, is to see the millions of people who are in dire need of health care. Those people - not gun-toting lunatics - are who we need to see.

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Squaring the Aristotle Circle

There is a story in The New York Times today - you can find it here - about a woman named Suzanne Rheault and a company she has formed to exploit the competitiveness between rich people with too much anxiety and money on their hands. I have to say that the story makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Perhaps if she had slowed down just a smidgen, Ms. Rheault would be well enough educated to grasp the deep irony of calling her company the Aristotle Circle. Having squandered her education she might've just looked at wikipedia (what else is a good ex-investment banker going to do - surely not read the original!). Here is what she'd have discovered:
"Aristotle taught that virtue has to do with the proper function of a thing. An eye is only a good eye in so much as it can see, because the proper function of an eye is sight. Aristotle reasoned that man must have a function uncommon to anything else, and that this function must be an activity of the soul. Aristotle identified the best activity of the soul as eudaimonia: a happiness or joy that pervades the good life. Aristotle taught that to achieve the good life, one must live a balanced life and avoid excess. This balance, he taught, varies among different persons and situations, and exists as a golden mean between two vices - one an excess and one a deficiency” (stress added).
Rheault's entire life seems to have been a long, consistent flaunting of Aristotle's teachings. And the wealthy folks who'll shell out cash for her services - all looking for that edge - are no better.

I myself am not an Aristotelian; my philosophical loyalties lie with pragmatists like Dewey. One commonly repeated observation of his states: "Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself." Mr Rheault falls flat from that perspective too. This is a woman you'd want brokering advice for you?
PS: Two particularly egregious things about Rheault's attitudes are brought out in the generally disparaging comments thread that follow the article in The Times. The first is that she claims to want to "democratize" entry into elite private schools - at $450 per hour. The second is that she pities those who need to "risk" the public school system in NYC. Whatever problems that system has, the readers are rightly quick to defend it. Again, Ms. Rheault's in-capacity for irony fails her miserably.


17 August 2009

Labor Strife at The Guardian

The British Journal of Photography reports here and here that The Guardian has unilaterally announced a change in the fees it will pay to freelance photographers. As the BJP also reports The National Union of Journalists has mounted a campaign to get The Guardian management to rescind the decision. The initial step in the campaign is this online petition, the next is a demonstration at Guardian corporate headquarters in London on September 1st.


13 August 2009

100 Eyes

I came across this new electronic magazine called 100 Eyes, which is edited by Andy Levin. From what I can tell they've put out five "issues" - although since nothing is dated it is difficult to tell. The images are pretty terrific throughout.


Best Shots (83) ~ Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

(110) Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen ~ From Byker project (13 August 2009).


12 August 2009

Speech Acts & Politics ~ Right Wing Lunacy from Sea to Shining Sea

Posters comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler are taped
to a table at a town hall meeting on healthcare in Alhambra,
California. Photograph © Danny Moloshok/Reuters.

William Kostnic wears a 9mm pistol as he stands outside
a town hall meeting on health care held by Barack Obama.
Photograph © Joel Page/AP

In U.S. politics it is typically the case that when one party starts calling another fascist or nazi (Thanks Jonah Goldberg!) you can feel certain that political discourse has reached its nadir. Well, no longer. American conservatives have taken things one step further. In the interest of free and open discussion they've begun bringing guns to political meetings. And this is not an isolated practice. The nutters are inciting violence and threats and the Republicans - elected official who have taken an oath to serve the country - are countenancing that behavior. I am waiting for one single Republican elected official to denounce the practice of bringing guns to political meetings - which after all are meant to foster discussion.

Of course, Kostnic and his racist ilk have a god given right to bear arms. According to the news reports Kosnic was standing on the grounds of a church. And, of course, pastors have been encouraging parishioners to exercise their god given right during church services too. But the members of lynch mobs throughout U.S. history have simply exercised their god given right to bear arms as they subverted the rule of law. Where have we witnessed this intersection of right wing paranoia, gun toting and Christianity before? Think KKK.

But let's assume that Kostnic was just engaged in political theatre - of course he'd never actually use the pistol to shoot an elected official or a fellow citizen! Right. Let's think about what wearing a gun does to political discussion. When we speak we are engaged in action of a particular sort. What is the difference between a threat, a warning and a prediction? Speech act theorists tell us that in large measure the difference will reside in the institutional context within which a given statement is uttered. If I am in church or a town meeting and express my views that is one thing. If I do so while wearing a fire arm it is quite another. And right wingers who claim they cannot see that are either being disingenuous or are ethically defective. Nothing I or an elected official could say to Mr. Kostnic while unarmed is a threat to him. So even if he has a right to bear arms in self-defense, by wearing this gun to a political discussion he is essentially stating that he has not got an argument (or the ability to articulate one) that will counter those offered by the folks who disagree with him. And he is signalling strongly the sort of behavior to which he plans to take recourse.

According to the report in The Guardian local police officials insisted that Kostnic was doing nothing illegal. It would be nice to think that Kostnic is so literary or so legally well-informed that he knows just how to stop short of overt threats. I'm not betting on either possibility. You? If, even without a gun, I verbally threaten the President or a Congressman or a Senator I can, I suspect, be arrested. The local police seem to be blind to the ways Kostnic and others like him are escalating conflict and, by acting in a threatening manner, inciting violence. Are we to conclude that the local police are either disingenuous or morally defective too?

The right-wing nutters are not sentient enough to be ashamed of the behavior Kostnic and many others have engaged in. But witnessing it makes me ashamed. Not afraid, Bill Kostnic, ashamed.
PS: You can find the stories from The Guardian that accompanied these images here and here.

PS2: Lest you think that Kostnic is alone, follow the links from this post at Huffington Post. The only difference in the Kostnic case is that he showed up at a meeting with the President instead of with a Congressional representative.

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Dani Rodrik Tilting at Windmills

There is a provocative - one might say wildly Utopian - Op-Ed by Dani Rodrik here in The Business Standard. The piece is prompted by the fact that the the Chairman of the Federal Reserve here in the U.S. needs to be re-appointed or replaced. He is basically arguing that Central Bankers have for too long been drawn exclusively from the ranks of those too busy genuflecting to the financial markets to actually regulate them in a meaningful manner. He claims (persuasively, I think) that such obeisance never was warranted but surely is not warranted now. Rodrik is (as usual) refreshingly frank about "the lies that the finance industry tells itself and others" and the dire consequences that follow When the Federal Reserve not only allows the bankers to lie shamelessly, but tends to actually believe their lies. And he suggests that Obama appoint someone to head the Federal Reserve who has solid credentials as being skeptical of dissembling and rationalization (otherwise known as lies).

As policy analysis and advice this all makes good sense to me. Unfortunately, two things stand in the way to Obama heeding Rodrik's proposal. At least here in the U.S., appointing someone skeptical about - let alone critical of - financial markets likely would induce some sort of preemptive capital strike as investors took their money elsewhere. The second thing is that Obama - despite being pilloried as a "socialist" or a "Marxist" by right wing nutters - basically lies prostrate before Wall Street, not just out of prudential concern, but because market worship is central to his ideological make-up. For Obama, Rodrik's proposal cannot gain entry to the category of 'change you can believe in,' because it is not change he is capable of imagining in the first place.

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Fame (again, or more, or something)

A short while ago I was pleased to note here that I'd gotten a mention in a column on "Photography Blogs" over at the "Camera Club" blog at The Guardian. Well today I have received still further acknowledgment in SOURCE Photographic Review. I am the first suspect in their column "Ten Photography Related Blogs You Should Read." You can find the column here. This is an honor for me. Really. I thank Stephen Hull for asking me to take part and I look forward to seeing which other blogs he will include on the list, which will happen every few days for the next while.


Passings: Bill Jay (1940-2009)

Bill Jay - photographer, educator, publisher & writer - has died. You can find an obituary here in The Guardian.


11 August 2009

Depicting Hope ~ Dorothea Lange

J.R. Butler, President of the Southern Tenant
Farmer's Union, Memphis, Tennessee, 1938.
Photograph © Dorothea Lange.

"Lange, it seems to me, was brave in her record of human suffering. She didn't turn away. Look at the portrait of the president of the Southern Tenant farmer's Union. Look at that man's eyes. He knows he's not going to win." ~ Robert Adams
Adams makes that remark in the course of a conversation, just after he'd announced: "Here's a heresy for you: I think Dorothea Lange was greater than Walker Evans." It seems to me, having been reading Adams a bit lately, that this judgment reflects his broader view of how photographers need or ought to engage the world. In another essay he notes of Lange that "As an artist, her prime subjects were . . . the beauty of the world, and the courage it takes to survive in it." Her stance, in other words, differs significantly from the distanced, disengaged one that Evans typically adopts. Lange is perhaps best known for her images of depression era Americans confronting relentlessly dire economic crisis. But there is a consistent theme in her work that people did not suffer this adversity either in silence or isolation. So there are, in Lange's best work, depictions of labor organization and strife, as well as of the immediate face of authority.

For me the question that Adams raises is an interesting one. Is Lange's portrait of J.R. Butler one of suffering? Or is it instead a portrait of something perhaps more elusive - hope? Here I turn to Václav Havel who notes that:
"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, . . . the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from 'elsewhere.'"
Havel, of course, suggests that hope in this sense is "a dimension of the soul" or "an orientation of the spirit." Nine years in Catholic school have left me pretty resolutely averse to any kind of talk about souls. You could say the Sisters of St. Joseph pretty much beat such nonsense out of me.* And this is not the place to address the ways in which Havel's view might be persuasive. It seems to me that Butler is a man facing adversity, more or less unblinkingly, because his activity "makes sense" in just the way Havel suggests. So, perhaps this is less the face of suffering than that of hope in a direct political sense?
* Ironically. of course, they thought that all the wacks, smacks, and worse would, somehow, some way, save my soul.

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Passings: Marcey Jacobson ( 1911~ 2009)

Ex patriot American photographer Marcey Jacobson has died at her adoptive home in San Cristóbal, Mexico. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here. A collection of Jacobson's photographs appeared not long ago, published by Stanford University Press; you can find the book here.


10 August 2009

Bullshit (2nd in a Very Irregular Series) ~ etown.org

It has been a long time since I promised "a semi-regular feature aimed at puncturing purveyors of bullshit" flowing from the moralistic and self-righteous. You can find the first installment here. And you can find a discussion of what I mean by bullshit here ~ it is not just catchy advertising! And while it surely applies to the loathsome right, it hardly applies only to them.

This time out I want to talk about a radio show I heard for the first time this evening. It is called etown. It is hard to argue with "music.ideas.community."! You can find their website, where I lifted the logo above and the following statement, here.
about us > what is etown?

etown's mission is to educate, entertain and inspire a diverse audience, through music and conversation, to create a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable world.

etown is an exciting weekly radio broadcast
We're heard from coast to coast on NPR®/public, commercial, and co
mmunity stations. Like old-time radio variety shows, every etown show is taped in front of a live audience and features performances from many of today's top musical artists as well as conversation and information about our communities and our environment.

etown is a community builder
By featuring diverse music and interviews with a wide variety of authors, poets and policy-makers, etown creates a constantly expanding "community on the air." With the addition of inspiring e-chievement awards, listeners all over the country are reminded that individual efforts really do make a difference. etown is a place where respect for each other and our natural environment go hand in hand.

etown is a great live event

Whether at the Boulder Theater or one of the many other venues around the country where the show is recorded, etown is an entertaining, informative and downright inspiring live show. Hosts Nick and Helen Forster lead the show seamlessly, mixing music and message with humor and energy to create a one-of-a-kind live show. The show includes two musical guests, an interview guest and the presentation of the e-chievement winner. At the end of every show all musical guests collaborate on a one-of-a-kind exciting finale.

Tonight the show featured Bruce Cockburn who, while I'd not claim to be a huge fan, I generally like. And it was broadcast from Montpelier, Vermont. After singing the first number Nick Forster the show's host chatted with Bruce about his trip to Iraq and eventually noted how the point of the show was to connect the dots (or something to that effect) between ideas and music and ... well, you get the point. Also, during his intro this evening, Nick had noted to the audience that Montpelier is maybe the only state capital in the country that does not have a MacDonald's restaurant. (An observation met with enthusiastically self-congratulatory applause.) There is a point to relating this last point, but for now, back to this evening's show.

One of the things the etown folk apparently do each week is present an 'e-cheivement' award to someone who has been nominated by a listener. This week the recipient was Paul Rice. Here is what the etown web page says about him:
Paul Rice, TransFair USA: As a young man, Paul developed deep concerns regarding issues of global hunger, poverty, sustainable agriculture, and the challenges of rural economic development. Building on the broad experience gained while living and working in developing countries around the world to address these issues, he founded the nonprofit TransFair USA in 1998. It's the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. TransFair USA audits transactions between U.S. companies that offer Fair Trade products as well as international suppliers from whom they source. Annual inspections ensure that strict socioeconomic development criteria are being met. They ensure that farmers and farmworkers are paid a fair, above market price for their product. TransFair USA has certified several million pounds of coffee, providing farmers in poor countries with over $140 million more than if harvests were sold to local intermediaries.

Website: www.TransFairUSA.org
Email: info@transfairusa.org
Address: 1611 Telegraph Ave. Ste. 900, Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 510-663-5260
Well, that is terrific. And it seems as though Rice is doing good work. So, to this point I am thinking, this is not a bad show. A bit treacly perhaps, but not bad. Then came a word from the sponsors. Here is the set of sponsor logos from the etown web page:

Note the logo in the upper left hand corner. Then, go to The Rocky Mountain News and you can learn from this story that from 2001 through 2006, McDoanld's Corporation was the major shareholder in Chipotle. Yes, the same McDonald's that Nick Forster derided in this opening comments, was the underwriter of Chipotle's growth for the better part of a decade. Damn those golden arches - it makes me feel soooo good to be moralistic.

Things don't get much better, though, once you dig a little deeper. Once you've read the RMN story, go to The Nation and search on 'Chipotle.' What you'll get is this set of links to stories about how the firm - which turns out to be a local Colorado outfit, started roughly at the same town as etown itself was launched - deals with farm workers here in the U.S.A.. Let's be charitable and just say the bottom line is 'not very well.' (And, let's be clear, this is not a new issue. Chipotle has actively resisted dealing with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers which represents farm workers in Florida. In other words their exploitative behavior is not just an oversight. It is ongoing and willful.)

So, on the one hand we are giving an e-chievement award commending a fellow for trying to do right by poor farm workers in developing countries while on the other hand we re accepting underwriting funds from a corporation who not only owes their current financial well-being to McDonald's but is actively engaged in mistreating farm workers here in our own developing counties.* The RMN story relates the self-satisfaction of the Chipotle brass for purchasing free-range pork. It is more important, apparently, to worry about the welfare of animals than to deal in a fair way with the farm-workers who are putting the veggies on the table.

So, here are the questions I have for Nick Forster- when you connect the dots for us, can you explain why you are are lauding 'fair trade' with agricultural workers in developing countries while taking money from Chipotle? How about helping build community among the farm workers in Florida? Community is not just about feeling good. It is about organizing and solidarity. In other words, it is about political action informed by political principles. Next week Nick, will you speak out on the air about the way Chipotle underwrites the exploitation of farm workers? Or perhaps you could bestow an e-chievement award on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers!
* Although I am not certain about this, I believe that McDonald's has had an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since early 2007.

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09 August 2009

The Kids are Alright ~ Graduate Photography Online (2009) at SOURCE

Photograph © Lois Bennett (University of Wales ~ New Castle).

Over at SOURCE you can find the 2009 installment of their terrific annual feature "graduate photography online." You can find it here. The feature spotlights work by several hundred young photographers from across the the United Kingdom. I think this undertaking is truly invaluable ~ for young photographers trying to make their first steps into the world, but also for we crotchety old folks who want to see what the youngsters are up to. I've pinched this image by Lois Bennett because her work at SOURCE really stands out from the crowd ~ and 'the crowd' here is comprised of a bunch of really fine photographers.

08 August 2009

G.A. Cohen (1941-2009)

Jerry Cohen, one of the very best political philosophers in the world died this week. Cohen retired last year from the Chichele Chair in Social and Political Theory at Oxford. You can find an obituary by Stuart White at Next Left. Cohen had just recently published - Rescuing Justice & Equality - an imposing criticism of liberal (Rawlsian) approaches to justice. And he has a slender volume ~ Why Not Socialism? ~ forthcoming early in the fall. I think that is the question he would like to have posed at his passing.
P.S.: Over at Crooked Timber Chris Bertram has both posted a touching remembrance and then posted a set of links to the reaction that others have expressed to Cohen's death too.


Music as a Weapon of War

"We tend to have a misconception about music—
that it is this thing that delights the senses, elevates
the spirit. While I like that idea, it is only part of
what music has been." ~ Jonathan Pieslak

When I think of the intersection of popular music and war I think about something like Tom Waits singing "The Day After Tomorrow." Unsurprisingly, my perspective is somewhat skewed.
Jonathan Pieslak is a music professor who has written what sounds like an interesting - actually, pretty frightening - book on the ways American military personnel in Iraq use music, as it seems to me, mostly to antagonize and terrorize civilian populations. He was the subject of this profile at The New Yorker. There is a website that is an advert for the book here.

I posted earlier today on the legal battle over whether the military should be required to release photographs of prisoner abuse and torture. The claim by those who think not is that the images will create increased hostility to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. If what Pieslak reveals is vaguely true, the images are the least of our problems in that regard. The problem is that our "boys in uniform" create all sorts of images that will stiffen resistance to their mission.

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