30 November 2009

News Flash! ~ Republicans Promote Profligate Spending and Rampant Redistribution

"During the 1990s, the Republican Party promised to create a federal government that was small, inexpensive, and efficient. Their stated plan was that the national debt would be reduced, and ‘unfair’ income redistribution would be curtailed. Yet Republican control of the legislative and executive branches of government during the last two decades has had the opposite effect. Government has grown; the national debt has expanded; and redistribution has increased. Moreover, the ‘unfair’ redistribution Republicans decried—and still decry—turns out to run strongly in their own constituents’ favor."
That is the punch-line of this paper - "The Truth about Redistribution: Republicans Receive, Democrats Disburse," by Gary Richardson - that arrived today from The Economist's Voice.

Richardson shows that without exception - meaning in each and every one of the fifty states - comparing those states that vote Republican to those that vote Democratic, the former take in more (sometimes considerably more) in federal expenditures than their citizens pay in taxes. Mostly, according to Richardson, this reflects Republican control of the Congressional appropriations process. Is any one surprised?

Labels: ,

29 November 2009

The Real Recession

Greg and Sheila Dawson. Photograph © Stephen Crowley/The New York Times.

In The New York Times today is a nice trio of features on the explosion in the use of food stamps across the country. The explosion is among 'middle' and 'working' class people who never thought they would need to rely on public aid to feed themselves and their families - that is, until they are confronted with under-employment or lose their jobs altogether. There is a story, a photo essay, and an interactive map showing county-level statistics. I find interesting two virtually identical comments by men interviewed for the story:
"I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now." ~ Greg Dawson

"I always thought people on public assistance were lazy, but it helps me to know I can feed my kids.'' ~ Tyrone Mangold
These remarks brought to mind observations by economist John Roemer that I mentioned here last summer. Roemer speculates that the common experience of material insecurity induced by political economic crisis, because it distributes risk more equally, can lead people to support more solidaristic political-economic policies (say, universal health care or, in this instance, food stamps) because they come to understand that it is in their self interest to do so. Maybe so.

That said, the seemingly pervasive claims that the "recession" has bottomed out and that we are on the road to recovery seem hollow in light of these stories. And imagine if we had no "safety net," however thread bare and meager are those programs that have survived two-plus decades of right wing attack!


The Tolerent and Peaceful Swiss (2)

And so the Swiss indeed have voted to insert a ban on Minarets into their constitution. There is a report on the referendum here at The New York Times. This is a follow up on an earlier post.
[Photograph © Associated Press.]

Labels: ,

28 November 2009

There is an Interview with Rebecca Solnit ....

. . . here at The Believer. I know it may seem as though I link to pretty much everything she writes or says. That is because I think she is as smart and interesting as anyone writing about politics and culture these days. So, here is a link to a recent review she wrote for the London Review of Books as well!

Labels: ,

Mark Nowak ~ Coal Mountain Elementary

Poet Mark Nowak and collaborator, photographer Ian Teh, have assembled a pretty remarkable book called Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). Notice the verb. The book was not exactly written by Nowak. All the text consists of more or less alternating passages from three sources: (1) testimony provided by miners who survived the 2006 Sago, West Virginia explosion (in which a dozen miners died) and from members of the rescue teams that struggled to save them - the testimony was given to the state Office of Miner's Health & Safety; (2) a curriculum for schoolchildren developed by the American Coal Foundation; and (3) press reports of the death and mayhem created by numerous mid-decade mining disasters in China. Interspersed with the text are a couple of dozen uncaptioned photographs - half by Nowak, half by Teh - of the area surrounding Sago and various mines in China. This is an extremely creative endeavor to prompt readers to think about commonalities and complicities and connections relying, powerfully, on the irony of lessons designed for elementary school pupils to do so.

Labels: ,

27 November 2009

The Tolerant and Peaceful Swiss

According to this report from AP, Sunday there will be a referendum in Switzerland on whether or not to ban Minarets throughout the country. The political right (which is quite robust in the country) is pushing the 'vote yes' campaign on grounds that the Minaret is a symbol of power, that Islam is not simply a religion but a political/legal/cultural system at odds with the Swiss constitution. The posters capture the alleged menace.

Labels: ,

26 November 2009

Best Shots (95) ~ Mary Ellen Mark

(122) Mary Ellen Mark - Shyama, Ahmedabad, India
(26 November 2009).


25 November 2009

Mobilization for Climate Justice (2)

Ten days ago I mentioned the upcoming - next Monday, November 30th - mobilization for climate justice. You can find a reminder here from Rebecca Solnit about the mobilization and the reasons for it. Here are some of the good bits:
"There are endless questions and conundrums about the largely unforeseen situation in which we now find ourselves, all six billion of us. One of them is: if capitalism and communism both failed, what’s the alternative? The big tent of subversions and traditions called the left hasn’t, in recent times, done a very good job of providing pictures of the possibilities available to us. Still, perhaps the answer to what the political and social alternatives might be will prove very close to what a sustainable world in the face of climate change might look like: small, local, smart, flexible economies and technologies, democracy as direct as possible, an elimination of excess wealth as part of a leveling that might also eliminate dire poverty.

Some of our hope for the future has to be that, one day, the ecological and the economic can be aligned so that, among other things, petroleum and coal become increasingly expensive, as well as increasingly offensive, ways to run our machines. Will we be creative enough to embrace change before crashing systems and wild weather force change on us in the form of an unbearable crisis? Decisions about the nature of that change to come must be made by the citizenry, which seems to be fairly willing to face change when it gets its facts straight, rather than by wealthier nation-states and their leaders who seem, at this juncture, more interested in protecting business than life on Earth."


Passings: Charis Wilson (1914~2009)

Nude in the Doorway (Charis, Santa Monica), 1936.
Photograph © Edward Weston.

According to this report from AP, Charis Wilson, the model who posed for many of Edward Weston's famous nudes has died.
Update: (29 November) There is an obituary here in The New York Times.

Labels: , ,

24 November 2009

Deutsche Börse 2010 ~ Fashion Statement

For a while now, The Guardian has had up this slide show presenting some work by the four finalists for the Deutsche Börse prize. In his accompanying column Sean O'Hagan proclaims:
"Photography, like art, pop and literature before it, is now awash with prizes. . . . If the health of a medium corresponds to the number of gongs, contemporary photography would seem to be in fine fettle. It is, of course, not that simple. Prizes are not just a barometer of excellence, but of changing taste and, perhaps more importantly, curatorial values."
Let's not be naive. This is true enough but too polite by at least half. Professions form themselves - usually under the heavy hand of a select few discourse shapers - by institutionalizing venues and establishing the media of self-congratulation. In photography think only of the way John Szarkowski helped establish Walker Evans as the benchmark. In social science think of the way economists accrue capital via the Nobel Prize. In each instance the processes at work are deeply political and so, none-too-pretty. So, in the description just nipped from The Guardian what seems missing is that prizes do not so much reflect changing tastes as contribute to the process. The curators and other bestowers of honors are trying to create fashion (and dollar value) by promoting work that embodies their own preferences. By situating themselves as creators of fashion, as promoters of this or that hot artist, the curators can bask in the buzz and maybe score some new "major" show. Does any of that really need saying?

In any case, the four Deutsche Börse finalists this year are Anna Fox, Zoe Leonard, Donovan Wylie, and Sophie Ristelhueber. And a quick look at the short lists for the past half-decade, by the way, suggests that O'Hagan's claim about the emergence of "conceptual" work is strained, at best. Robert Adams won the prize in 2005. Esko Männikkö was picked in 2008 from a largely traditionalist short list. And last year the list was similarly recognizable. O'Hagan must've been working a tight deadline. Otherwise he might've looked for himself.

Labels: , ,

22 November 2009

So Long Bill!

According to this report over at The New York Times, Bill Moyers has decided to retire from the weekly grind at PBS. The same report indicates that PBS has cancelled the NOW series. That means that two relatively honest TV shows are gone as of the spring. According to The Times report: "PBS said in a statement that it was in the middle of a “review and reinvention” of its news and public affairs programming, and that it would announce plans for its lineup in January." My money is on the prospect that PBS will 'reinvent' the insipid. Any takers?


21 November 2009


Lyndon B. Johnson, as Senate majority leader in 1957, giving
F. Green, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, “the
© George Tames/The New York Times.

Like him and his policies or not, LBJ knew how to gather the votes he needed. And that is something the contemporary Democrats - especially including Obama - seem to have forgotten how to do. This picture from the paper today depicts classic legislative politics.

Labels: ,

Enthusiasms (28) ~ JD Allen Trio

Saxophonist JD Allen has put out a pair of really terrific recordings over the past couple of years. His partners in crime are Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). You can hear the trio on this broadcast from the Village Vanguard (via npr) late last summer. The tunes are subtle and concise, the arrangements sparse, and the musicians interactive. This is not a conventional soloist with supporting rhythm section undertaking. Allen has received a lot of press for his most recent release Shine! which indeed is very, very good. But for my money his earlier cd I Am, I Am is close to being a real masterpiece.* Not only is the music impressive, but the cover got me wondering. Where had I seen this I AM before?

Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, 1968 ~ Photograph © Ernest Withers.

March 29, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee: National guardsmen
bayonets block civil rights activists trying to stage
a protest on Beale Street.
The marching demonstrators,
wearing signs which read 'I Am A Man',
were also flanked
by tanks.
Photograph © Bettman/Corbis.

* Both cds are on Sunnyside records.

Labels: ,

20 November 2009

Art & Politics Don't Mix?

I hear it again and again, mostly from the mouths of those art world types eager to keep the thoroughly commercial dimension of their enterprise out of sight. They announce with great ardor that art and politics are like oil and water, or that political art is uniformly inferior to the allegedly unadulterated product. But if art is a way to communicate, what it communicates, and what we (artists and audiences) are communicating about or for is variable. So writing politics out of the conversation - a blatant intellectual and cultural gerrymander - seems, well, a bit daft. The relations between art and politics are going to alter with time and space. That does not mean that there is no relation, but that the relation is inconstant. In the hoopla surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the fall of communism there have been a series of press reports about events (rightly) celebrating the role of ~ gasp! ~ artists in that process. One does not have to look far afield; look here and here for instance.

Labels: ,

Rules & Utopia

Stanford economist Paul Romer has an interesting, very provocative idea. He lays it out in this TED talk. One of the things that I think he misses - largely because he is an economist, and so likely thinks rules emerge from nice processes for nice (read efficient) ends - is that institutional rules typically are the product of conflict and struggle, typically (again) between parties that are asymmetrically situated with respect to such minor things like power and material resources. This is perhaps not insurmountable. But he is way too sanguine, I think, when he raises and dismisses the spectre of colonialism. Choice is important. True enough. But in the face of a system of rules that may need reforming or re-adjusting, choice is not only not enough. It may well be counter-productive. What is needed is coordination. What is required, in other words, is politics. And most leaders are - just based on casual observation - loath to make space for coordinated opposition and criticism. Perhaps Romer has thoughts on this that would've cluttered a short presentation. I hope so. (Thanks to Cui Zhiyuan for calling my attention to this link.)


19 November 2009

Best Shots (94) ~ Sara Ramo

(121) Sara Ramo ~ Invasion of Everything That Was Restrained (Detail)
(19 November 2009).


17 November 2009

Against the Tide of Trick and Trap - Markets Require Transparency and Accountability or They Don't Work.

I recommend this video of an interview with the remarkably articulate and sensible Elizabeth Warren (she is chair of Congress's the bailout oversight board*) in which she explains how to make financial markets work well. Two words - transparency & accountability. At the moment we have precious little of either. And, as she intimates, the two are related. If we have transparency in financial products (say credit cards) then market forces will drive those who offer duplicitous products out of business. But, as she also makes clear, a criterion for federal bailout funds should be (and should have been last year!) that those in charge at the failing financial institutions should lose their jobs and the shareholders in such firms should lose their capital. Ouch! But that is how markets are supposed to work, no? Someone ought to have brought that to the attention of the BushCo officials who were busy insuring that there would be no market discipline on Wall Street. To be fair, the Obama group has not done much better. In any case, the interview is about 19 minutes long, but it is worth watching. The interviewer is James Surowiecki from The New Yorker. (You can find the essay in which Warren first proposed a Consumer Product Safety Commission here. As she says - 'if its good enough for microwaves, its good enough for mortgages.' Regulation-induced transparency, that is.)

For a somewhat different view of the need for reform of financial regulations, here is a short paper by Dick Posner from The Economist's Voice. Posner is correct that Bernanke he is correct too insofar as he thinks that this places the fox in charge of the chicken coop. But imagine what the financial markets would do if Obama came in and cleared the decks and replaced the culpable with someone like Elizabeth Warren! Posner is too quick to blame the government agencies charged with oversight of financial markets for failing to head off the market disaster of the past several years. He is, I think, insufficiently attuned to the extent to which the Federal Reserve, for instance, sees itself as accountable to financial markets. Market players have no incentive whatsoever to be concerned with systemic stability - it is, after all, a public good. This is a point Warren makes nicely. The financial entrepreneurs will devise and sell pretty much any type of flim-flam product they think they can get away with selling. And in the financial markets of late, the move has been to peddle products that systematically occlude the view of buyers, sellers, insurers and regulators - think credit default swaps, securitized mortgages, and so forth - that are meant to undermine transparency. These are products that are, like cigarettes, dangerous when used properly. They are dangerous to the institutional structure of well-functioning markets. And, unfortunately, the only entity with any reason to monitor the performance of that structure is - you guessed it, the government. Unfortunately, though, the foxes remain in charge.
* Officially known as the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Labels: , , ,

The 'Hidden' Cost of Health Insurance Reform? Or, Is this What Obama Actually Thinks?

The Obama administration is delivering a lame legislative reform of medical insurance 'reform.' It largely is unconcerned with improved access or cost control. But it is delivering purveyors of repressive policies to posts in the Justice Department! Here is is a New York Times profile of Stephanie Rose the nominee for U.S. Attorney in Iowa who is being pushed by the state's Democratic Senator. Obama is solidly behind the nomination - according to the report - in order to keep Harkin in the insurance reform coalition. But it is likely the case that our hoper-in-chief also thinks Ms. Rose is just ducky in policy terms. Where is the progressive party in the U.S.?

Labels: , ,

16 November 2009

Our Generals & Afghanistan

General (1993) ~ © William Kentridge.

So, who are we to believe? Our generals are disagreeing about whether to send more troops into Afghanistan. The mission is a loser. No doubt about that, though our generals seem oblivious to Afghan history and our own. The generals - General Stanley McChrystal (commander of U.S. troops) wants troops, a lot of them, now. Otherwise we will lose the battle and the war. Karl W. Eikenberry (retired general moved into the Ambassador's post) thinks it is a very, very, very bad idea to send troops now given the mess that passes for a government in Kabul. That the mess is our doing doesn't get mentioned, really. And what also gets neglected is that Eikenberry is not against sending more troops in principle, he is simply bargaining with the Afghan regime, trying to get them to shape up. Right. Like Kentridge's general, ours seem to be seeing with one eye at a time.

In the interest of expanding the conversation some, I thought I'd call to your attention another point of view. Late last week NPR ran this short segment, interviewing two Afghan women — Fatima Gailani, president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society; and Suraya Pakzad, founder and executive director of the Voice of Women Organization — and asked them for their advice on how the U.S. ought to proceed. Their views are complex, meaning that it seems unlikely the factors they think are important will be mitigated by a massive influx of troops. But simply talking to fundamentalists is problematic as well. How did we make this mess?

Labels: , ,

15 November 2009

Yes Men Sound Off

"It's not a radical thing; it's not a super-radical position--to
take to the streets
and demand change. It's actually a
necessary component of democracy."

At The Nation you can find this short interview with Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos who tag-team as The Yes Men ~ just in time for the release of The Yes Men Fix the World.

Labels: , , ,

14 November 2009

Mobilization for Climate Justice

Mobilization for Climate Justice is coordinating a set of nationwide protests and other political actions on November 30th. As they indicate on their web page: "N30 is significant because it both immediately precedes the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen (COP-15) and is the ten-year anniversary of the successful shut down of the WTO in Seattle, when activists worldwide came together to demonstrate the power of collective action."


"Abortion is healthcare. That's the whole point."

Over at The Nation, Katha Pollitt has a blistering column on the Stupak-Pitts amendment to what currently is masquerading as health care reform legislation. That is the amendment that the Catholic Bishops dictated and then insisted right-wing legislators insert into the bill. The next time you hear someone complain about radical Islamic clerics imposing repressive morality on women, bring up our own radical clerics. I'm sure you'll get a bewildered look.


12 November 2009

Best Shots (93) ~ Jane Bown

(120) Jane Bown ~ Jeremy Thorpe leaving court in 1979
(12 November 2009).


11 November 2009

Veteran's Day

Graffiti written in a bathroom stall in Ali Al Salem
base in Kuwait, one of the main staging points for
soldiers leaving for and returning from Iraq (2006).
Photograph © Peter Van Agtmael.


10 November 2009

Passings ~ Evelyn Hofer ( 1922~2009)

Lee Krasner's Shoes, Pollock Studio, Long Island, 1988
~ Photograph © Evelyn Hofer.

Photographer Evely Hofer has died. You can find the obituary in The New York Times here. The story notes: "Ms. Hofer’s studied approach — the gravity and stasis of her portraits owed much to the German photographer August Sander — put her at odds with the candid, on-the-fly photography of contemporaries like Robert Frank. She remained unrecognized by most critics and curators, and never received a museum show in the United States."

Labels: ,

09 November 2009

Clyde Butcher

Ochopee © Clyde Butcher

This evening on npr there is this profile of Clyde Butcher and his impressive work in Florida's Everglades. The work is beautiful. Two points from the profile. The first is that Butcher's career was transformed - in the direction he has pursued since - in 1986 when his teenage son died in a car crash. The second is that he prefers to view his work as communication rather than as art. And his environmentalist commitments bring to mind the argument (I mentioned it here some time ago) that Finis Dunaway makes regarding the (distinctly political) 'uses of the sublime.'


08 November 2009

Bi-Partisanship in Action: Lou Dobbs & the Catholic Bishops Make Health Care Policy

There are matters on which we live in what is in effect a one party state. The result is that there are issues on which one 'bipartisan' group of citizens and politicians are able to impose draconian moral views on the remainder of the population. Two of those issues (they are not the only ones) are reprodutive freedom and immigration.

The Democrats (our allegedly liberal or progressive party) barely managed to pass health care reform in the Congress even having effectively eliminated a perfectly legal procedure - abortion - from the bill in order to appease the reactionaries in their own party. This is pathetic. Where was the democratic leadership on this one? When the religious zealots came in and whined that they'd lose in the next election if their home-town clergy didn't support them (which they may or may not do, in any case) the leadership ought to have been clear: 'If you think you cannot win without the support of Bishop X, imagine how difficult it will be to win without our help. ... Oh, and, of course this is a matter of your conscience' and of 'principle' and not just of pandering to the Church, right?'

And, predictably, undocumented workers are excluded from the 'affordable health care for America' reforms too. The whole point of a public option - which is an insurance policy not publicly provided health care -is to provide a way for workers to use their own money to purchase affordable health care. Except, of course for those pesky illegals- who, on average are smack in the middle of the income and occupational groups who most need access to the public option. They will still be using thee emergency room for medical care.

Good policy - protect 'unborn babies' but leave real live human beings hanging. Change you can believe in? Here is the President himself:
"What we can do right now is choose a better future and pass a bill that brings us to the very cusp of building what so many generations of Americans have sought to build -- a better health care system for this country."
For those that need a translator, our hoper-in-chief acknowledges that we almost got meaningful health care reform. We are on 'the very cusp' of having done something useful and efficient and fair. But not quite.

Labels: , ,

07 November 2009

Distributing Unemployment

At The New York Times yesterday there was a nice column dissecting the distribution of unemployment. You can find it here. I especially recommend the interactive graphic they present here. Also, this graphic accompanying their report today that the overall unemployment rate has cleared the 10% threshold is very good. On the data graphics dimension, The Times really does some remarkable work.

Labels: ,

06 November 2009

"Local" Event ~ The Picture Man: Photographs by Milton Rogovin

I just learned of this exhibition of work by Milton Rogovin that is opening tomorrow at the ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse. I have posted several times about Rogovin, most recently here.

Labels: ,

Election Round Up

"So the good news for Republicans is that they now have two more governorships. The bad news is that they’re still Republicans — with all the baggage that entails." ~ Ruy Teixeira
That is the conclusion to this assessment of the off year elections this past week. It sounds about right to me.

Labels: ,

05 November 2009

Surprise! An Albatross Chick Will Be Able To Swallow a Plastic Bottle Cap But Not Digest It

Yesterday, The Guardian ran this disturbing photo essay by Chris Jordan [1] [2] [3]. The pictures are of the decomposing remains of Albatross chicks and the (sometimes literally) mounds of plastic they have in their digestive tracks. Here is a sample:

“The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their
parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting
what looks to them like food. Every year, tens of thousands
of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity,
and choking.” He stresses that in taking these photographs,
“not a single piece of plastic was moved."
Photograph © Chris Jordan.


Another Local Event: Anticipating Palin Here in the Heartland

Yesterday I heard a story on npr about Sarah Palin's upcoming book tour. It should be said that the npr folks simply read the AP wire release. But her is the interesting part:

Sarah Palin's book tour is a gift for her base.

No stops are planned in Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other major cities and book-buying communities that are standard for authors on the road, but where the voters tend to be Democrats.

Beyond a Nov. 16 television interview with Oprah Winfrey, nothing is scheduled for Chicago. New York will feature media appearances only. Instead, the itinerary for Palin, whose "Going Rogue" comes out Nov. 17, includes Noblesville, Ind.; Washington, Pa.; and Rochester, N.Y.

[. . .]

The tour starts Nov. 18 at a Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and running mate Sen. John McCain made a campaign appearance last fall.

Choosing Michigan as the first state fits the book's title, which refers to reports from last year that the then-Alaska governor was defying McCain's staff and instead had gone "rogue." Palin openly expressed her unhappiness with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan and effectively concede the state to Democrat Barack Obama.

"It was a mutual decision between Harper and Palin," Andreadis said of choosing Grand Rapids. "And Barnes & Noble has a great store there."

Other parts of the tour will mirror the 2008 race. On Dec. 7, Palin is booked for the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., not far from last year's Republican National Convention, where Palin's speech — in which she likened herself to a pit bull — made her a national sensation.

[. . .]

The full schedule has not been completed, but confirmed locations — many of which Palin campaigned at last year — include Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Roanoke, Va.; the Army post in Fort Bragg, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and Albuquerque, N.M..

Palin is setting up "interviews" with the phalanx of Fox network numb-skulls and other right-wing mouthpieces. And she will get powder-puff treatments by Oprah and Barbara Walters. That sure is roguish - stick to venues where no one will challenge you. Nice.


Rebecca Solnit and Rhyming

Last night I drove in to town to attend the Rebecca Solnit talk that I mentioned a few days ago. Overall the experience was disappointing. The talk was interesting, a sort of spin on her new book - which I've mentioned here. It prompted me to think about some things that will be important in some papers I have in mind to write. But Solnit read the bulk of the talk even though her extemporaneous voice is so much more engaging than her reading. Indeed, I think that is true for nearly everyone. What was troubling is that the turn out was modest - a cavernous lecture hall that was at best a fifth full. Not a soul in the first half dozen rows. On top of that, it seems that the organizer was ill and could not attend. So things were understandably unsettled; but there was no coordinated 'Plan B' in place. For the always awkward minutes before the talk, Solnit stood alone at the front of the room, eventually Margorie Searl [1] [2] stepped up and gamely read the organizer's introduction, but then Solnit's mic didn't work, there was no water on the podium, and so on.

The oddest thing was that the audience was more or less non-responsive - at he end of a fifty minute talk, two people asked questions.* But Solnit's thesis is provocative and she seemed eager to engage. No response. It was very, very weird. I don't want to come off as a moralist here. In large part the lack of participation seemed to be due to the Oprah-Maury-like way the space was set up with a mic on a long stand on each side of the auditorium down very close to the stage. I think people were reluctant to rappel down the steeply sloped stairs. And I think they felt weird at the prospect of standing three feet from the speaker, back to the audience talking into a microphone. I'd say that arrangement needs a serious re-thinking. That said, the audience seemed disengaged and uncomfortable until Solnit was properly domesticated behind a table for purposes of signing books. Then there was a long-ish line. Folks seem comfortable with semi-commercial dyadic interactions but lost when it comes to expressing ideas in public.


Solnit started her talk by quoting a line from this poem by Seamus Heaney; I thought it would be a good thing to pass along.
by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
if there's fire on the mountain
or lightning and storm
and a god speaks from the sky.

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
Solnit is considerably more sanguine than Heaney about the prospects for fortuitous convergences, of rhyming - and she is right, it seems to me, that it happens, from some at least, more than once in a lifetime. And, while she did not say so, it is true too that while poetry and art cannot fully remedy the harms done to people, they can go a long way toward mitigating, for a time, some of the worst effects.
* I was not one of them; this is, more or less, a matter of personal policy at such events. I think campus speakers are for students and that too much talking by adults (read faculty) dampens the prospects that students will leap in. Students are too ready to defer to faulty at such affairs, and faculty are too often oblivious to how dominating (and boring) they are in conversation.

** From: Seamus Heaney. The Cure at Troy ~ A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991.

Labels: , , ,

04 November 2009

Best Shots ( 92 ) ~ Tom Hunter

(119) Tom Hunter Woman Reading Possession Order,
1998 ~ (04 November 2009).


03 November 2009

Passings ~ Susan Horwitz (1947-2009)

Over the past four years there has been a lot of mayhem in my life. Some of it was just, well, inexplicable; no one’s fault, not preventable, not foreseeable. Some of it is my own fault. And a pretty large amount of it has been sown by others - for reasons that they need to deal with but likely will not. No need to go into specifics, they are pretty ugly. And I’ll spare you, the names and the actions of the culpable. They know who they are.

In any case, it has taken considerable effort to deal with my own foibles but not to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of meanness and venality. I could not have done it on my own. I had love and support from my sweetheart. I also had help from an incredible therapist, Susan Horwitz, who worked here at the University.

Susan listened carefully, told me when I needed to cut the bullshit and take responsibility, pushed me to see the many points where responsibility rested elsewhere - usually places where I had neither any control nor hope of it, and helped me figure out how to deal with all that. She also laughed easily, talked about the travails of juggling research with seeing clients, bragged about her students, and gushed about her baby grandsons.

I had not seen Susan in a while - not because the onslaught had ceased, but because I’ve mostly been able to navigate it pretty well. But in the back of my mind I considered her part of my safety net in the event that things got really crazy. Late last week I tried to contact Susan to no avail. I didn't think much of it. Today I learned that she has died, of brain cancer. She was 62. This is crushingly sad news. My heart goes out to Susan’s family. She was smart and funny and genuine. I will miss her. I do already.


On the Usefulness of Walls for Politics (7) ~ Visualizing Transcience

"Events, by definition, are occurrences that interrupt routine
processes and routine procedures." ~ Hannah Arendt

"If this proposal is correct, then it is easy to appreciate why
we so often identify or describe events in terms of their causes
and effects. Not only are these features that often interest us
about events, but they are features guaranteed to individuate
them in the sense not only of telling them apart but also of
telling them together." ~ Donald Davidson

A short while ago I posted links to a couple of essays, reflections on the collapse of communism in 1989 and the aftermath of that event actually set of events. Today I came across this pretty impressive photo essay at Spiegel Online. The series - entitled "The East-West German Border, Then & Now" - is by Jürgen Ritter and, as the title indicates, is a sort of 'before and after,' affair. In many respects it brings to mind the similar project by Brian Rose about which I posted here a couple of years back. Here, though, many of the photographs depict changes in patterns of activity, prompting one to imagine how the inhabitants now tell together things that they used to tell apart.
Both Photographs © Jürgen Ritter. Here are his captions:

(1) "The border on the peak of a mountain, 1984: The border ran along the top of the Junker Mountain by a Thuringian town called Lindewerra, in what used to be East Germany. At this altitude, Lindewerra was one of the few villages that could be observed directly from the West. This photograph was taken in 1984 in what was then the Erfurt region."

(2) "Junker's Peak, 2009: Now the only thing dividing the scenic Thuringian region is the Werra River. The scar created by the border is also slowly healing."

Labels: , , , ,

02 November 2009

Local Event ~ Rebecca Solnit at RIT

This Wednesday (11/4) Rebecca Solnit will be speaking at RIT as part of the Gannett Lecture Series. You can find details about her talk - entitled "Other Loves: Public Life & Unsaid Emotions" - as well as of a reading that she is doing earlier at Writers & Books here. If you have visited the blog even occasionally you'll know that I think Solnit is a wickedly smart, politically astute writer. I am looking forward to her talk. As a tune up you might enjoy reading her Op-Ed ("California's Common Sense Deficit") from The Los Angeles Times yesterday. You can find that here. And here is a reading - focusing early on mostly on really insightful passages on Henry David Thoreau - that Solnit gave a couple years back when she published her wonderful book of political-aesthetic essays Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes of Politics:

Part of what she reads goes like this:
"The police and the media willfully, if not consciously, mistake what kind of danger civil disobedients pose. Martin Luther King, that reader of Thoreau and great advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience, was a dangerous man in his time, because he posed a threat to the status quo, and it was for that reason that the FBI followed him and many hated him. Like Thoreau, he went to jail; like Thoreau he posed no physical danger to anyone. But to admit that activists can be dangers to the status quo is to admit, first, that there is a status quo; second, that it may be an unjust and unjustifiable thing; and third, that it can indeed be changed, by passionate people and nonviolent means. Better to portray activists as criminals and the status quo as the natural order -- and only celebrate revolutionaries long after their causes are won and their voices are softened by time, or misrepresentation; for Thoreau and King are still dangerous men to those who pay attention to their words."
Just so ... I highly recommend a trip out to RIT on Wednesday evening.

Labels: ,

01 November 2009

India and Its Maoists

This morning in The Times, you can find this report on the growing conflict in India between Maoist guerrillas one the one hand, the government and large extractive industries on the other. Caught between the two is the adivasi population who inhabit vast forested lands in southern and eastern portions of the country. The adivasi are often impoverished, indigenous tribal peoples. In The Times story Arundhati Roy is identified as among the people who believe the government ought to initiate negotiations with the insurgents. Roy published a longish essay on this matter in The Guardian late last week. You can find it here. It seems clear that Roy finds the Maoists, their history and their current tactics deeply troubling. But she also understands the reasons why the local population might side with them against the government. And she wonders why, given any number of other resistance movements across the country, the government has launched a massive military campaign against the Maoists.

It seems to me that the local population is caught between communist thugs and corrupt government officials. Both sides are more than willing to brutalize those they take to be 'collaborating' with the other side. Indeed, both sides seem to be more than willing to invoke collaboration to rationalize any havoc they cause. Roy holds out some hope that it may be possible to put brakes on the impending violence. From where I sit that seems unlikely. The choice for local populations, as is often the case, is between fanatics and expropriators. That is no choice.

Labels: ,