30 May 2010

Let Me Count the Ways ...

. . . that Liz Cheney is out to lunch on the alleged "scandal" surrounding the Obama administration attempt to dissuade Congressman Sestak from running against Arlen Spector in the recent Pennsylvania Democratic primary. (Story here.)

First, Liz got her job in BushCo how? Was it because she is highly qualified and really smart? No. It was because Daddy was V.P.; can you smell the nepotism? Second, she is now a talking head on various Sunday opinion shows why? Because Daddy got her a job in BushCo and now she is cashing in on the right-wing connections to promote her career. Nepotism anyone?

Third, Liz is adamantly against any sort of inquiry into the various brands of seriously bad behavior that pervaded virtually the entire Bush administration. But an inquiry into this mess? Hypocrisy is seeping from her pores. The make-up crew at Fox News needs a commercial break to get her powdered up.

Let's not forget that Obama has finally achieved bi-partisanship on a policy initiative - lawyers of all stripes think that the attempt to buy Sestak is not illegal. It may have been stupid. But why would that surprise anyone? I guess the question I'd pose is whether this episode should be classified under "hope" or "change"? So, getting back to Liz, to a couple of doses of nepotism and a shot of hypocrisy, lets add just flat out wrong. That, of course, has never posed an obstacle to her thought process.

Finally, there is the fact that the economy is still a mess, we have an egregiously ill-handled environmental disaster in progress and still are fighting two inherited wars. Liz and the right don't want to talk about any of that because, . . . well, because most of those problems started under BushCo. Granted, Obama and his buddies have done precious little to get a handle on any of those problems. But the Republicans were in charge when the seeds of mishap and mayhem were sown. So, on top of everything else there is the sheer disingenuousness of her tirades about Sestak.

By my count that makes five. And I'm not even good at math.

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Passings ~ HANK JONES (1918-2010)

Jazz pianist Hank Jones has died. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here. Among the music I especially like - and I am hardly a religious soul - is this set of duets Jones did a number of years ago with Bassist Charlie Haden. Here is the title track:

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29 May 2010

Knowledge, Politics, Poetry ~ Nick Lantz

List of Things We Know
Nick Lantz*

40% of all
births are
10% of all
are births.
is correlated
to detached
a damaged
a person’s
credit rating,
but in all cases
the direction
of causality
is unclear.
Chances are,
your husband
is lying to
you. Most
contract when
frozen, but
ice expands;
for this reason,
the oceans do
not freeze,
and we can
go on living.
If you see
a ripped pair
of underwear
in the bushes
by the bus
depot, assume
the worst.
Pollen leaps
from flower
to bee, but
this is only
static electricity,
not the work
of affection.
We’ve proven
that the mouse
feels fear (we
haven’t yet
devised a test
to determine
if he feels joy).
Donald Rumsfeld - with his classification of things and events into known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns - as muse! Who knew? In any case, the poem I've lifted here falls into the first category; no surprise given the title. And the book has a terrific cover too.
* Nick Lantz. We Don't Know We Don't Know. Graywolf Press, 2010, pages 15-16.

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27 May 2010

Tunnel Vision on the Costs of War, Or Why People Around the World have Reason to 'Dislike Us'

TAKING SHELTER: Afghan workers employed to clean debris
after a suicide attack took shelter underneath their wheel
barrows Tuesday after a sudden downpour in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Photograph © Ahmad Nazr/Associated Press.

This one falls in the 'what's wrong with this picture' category. Not the picture above, which reminded me of school kids hiding under desks during air raid drills. No, a reader, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, called my attention to this terrific graphic display at CNN.* It is visually striking and makes a strong point about the increase and distribution of U.S. casualties in our two wars. You know, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the the ones that the hope and change mongers in the Obama administration continue to prosecute despite the futility of both. But, as Stanley succinctly pointed out, the graphic is radically incomplete; there is no mapping of the domestic casualties in either war. Afghan and Iraqi deaths do not register (here either). Try Iraq Body Count instead; I cannot find an analogous site for the Afghan foray.

So, as the futile efforts to clean up the oil spill on the Gulf Coast are attracting your attention, don't forget the death we are sowing elsewhere. They are even less susceptible to clean up.
* Thanks!

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Best Shots (115) ~ Larry Clark

(142) Larry Clark ~ "Just a Flesh Wound, 1971" (27 May 2010).


26 May 2010

Blame the Republicans - You Bet, and Rightly So!

I'm looking at this report from The Pew Center for the People and the Press documenting the decline in public confidence in institutions.

Democrats mistrust government all the time, Republicans are extremely hostile to government when they are not in control - extreme right-wing partisanship accounts for the bulk of the collapse in "confidence in government." The Red-Staters are worried that Democrats might operate in ways that are less to the advantage of conservatives. Recall, though, that the Republicans are good at spending other people's money, mostly on themselves [1] [2]. Recall too that the extremist trends among Republicans have driven much of the political polarization in the country [3]. So, if you don't like the mess that is American politics blame the Republicans who are pushing their extremist views in ways that undermine our fiscal and political well-being.

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25 May 2010

People Who Need a Hobby or, On Second Thought, Perhaps They've Found One

Here are a half-dozen repeat walk-on performers in Marina Abramović's The Artist is Present. I surely missed some others. Each portrait of the respective person is from a different day. All these folks turned up between day 25 (top) and day 59 of the exhibition. They came day after day, stood in line waiting and then sat there playing their assigned role. (Did they bring a book to read while waiting on line? Or did they watch the action?) In several instances they are cataloged on the MOMA Flickr page as having been adjacent in line, so must've become familiar with one another. Denizens of the MOMA page have identified a couple of the culprits - one is herself a "performance artist" (does this constitute plagiarism or poaching?), another just a fellow attracted to the performance as if by magnetism! Good grief.

All images from Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present Photographs by Marco Anelli. © 2010 Marina Abramović.
P.S.: Glancing at the newly uploaded images of attendees for days 60-65, it appears that several of these people just cannot stay away.

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Here's Looking at You Kid ~ Marina Abramović

The other day The New York Times ran this report on this exhibition at MOMA written by philosopher and critic Arthur Danto. The show is actually a "performance" entitled The Artist is Present by Marina Abramović; the piece, which is part of a retrospective of Abramović's work consists in the artist sitting in a chair (generally clad in red white or blue) across from an empty chair. Visitors line up for the opportunity to sit across from Abramović for as long as they like. (One morning a woman apparently showed up dressed like Abramović and sat virtually all day.) The sitters are being photographed and their "portraits" are being posted on this Flickr page; my rough guess is that somewhere just shy of 1200 sittings have taken place so far. From what I can tell the entire ordeal is being filmed for posterity as well.

I actually have learned a lot from Danto's writings over the years. But my colleague and friend Rachel, who teaches in the Rochester VCS program recently referred to him as a "dork." Given that he seems to really, really like this whole exercise, I have begun to wonder myself. Of the current performance Danto writes that the "performance has brought MOMA itself to the cutting edge of contemporary artistic experiment" and that "It has captured the imagination of everyone interested in contemporary art." I guess I am just not all that interested.

I will come back to some "interesting" aspects of The Artist is Present in a companion post. Here I just want to pose some questions that Danto tacitly raises. Here he is:
"Performance art, as currently practiced, emerged as an avant garde movement in the 1960s and ’70s, and some of its features made it difficult to visualize how it might make the transition from galleries and public spaces to the more institutional environment of the museum.

For one thing, the medium of the artist is his or her own body, sometimes nude or engaged in highly dangerous circumstances. Pictures of nude bodies doing dangerous things raise no such obstacles in a museum space, but performance art itself is real in all dimensions. Before it can be translated and presented in a museum, a number of problems, both practical and philosophical, must be worked out.

One method would be to allow the pieces to be re-performed, which purists naturally disallow. For them, a performance is a one-time event, unlike a play, which is made to be re-performed; in theater, the distinction between character and actor is widely accepted. In the purist’s conception of performance art, there can be no such distinction; the artist and the performer are one, and must use his or her own body in the work. No one else, they argue, can do this, for reasons both moral and metaphysical.

Marina Abramovic is one of the early performance artists whose works have the deep originality that justifies their inclusion in great museums.

[. . .]

What is clear is that the possibility of sitting with Marina has ignited in the public imagination the idea that one can do more than passively experience works of art, that one can be part of a work of art for as long as one is willing or able."
I am sure that there are theorists of art who will think my puzzlement is naive, but do we define art by what can make it into a museum? And isn't the shift into "the more institutional environment of the museum" pretty much an invitation to passivity? In the current instance Abramović seeks to control the terms of the entire "experience"; that she is not quite able to do so does nothing to mitigate the fact that any creative participation by the folks who line up to sit with her is at the margins of her plan. I wonder if anyone has walked up to the sitters and spoken to them or offered to purchase the place of the person sitting with Abramović - a novel way to cut line. I'll bet not. (Maybe said purchaser would then insist that the chair remain vacant while she perused the other parts of the retrospective. Imagine the ire of the MOMA security, to say nothing of the artist, in such a circumstance.) Everyone surely is polite and well-behaved. Passive. Compliant. Proper. They all know how to comport themselves in a museum. They are indeed a "part" of the work, playing a role that has been engineered for them.

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22 May 2010

The Price of Hypocrisy ~ Late is NOT Better than Never

The last young men to be drafted for military service during the Viet Nam war reported for duty in June 1973, a month after I graduated from high school. Their lottery numbers had been chosen in December 1972. So the draft ended just before I'd have been eligible. As I recall, the numbers pulled for 1973 included my birthday. I thought the war was stupid but likely would've gone off to fight (and I am sure, to die) had I been drafted. After all one can be a conscientious objector only if one's conscience is animated by religious thinking. Even though religion and morality do not overlap, simply finding the war morally repugnant was insufficient. I have never had a single regret about not serving in the military. I don't have anything against those who do serve; nor do I hold veterans, for reason of that status alone, in especially high regard. It depends on who they are and what they do. In any case, the notion that the only way one can contribute meaningfully to your society and fellow citizens is by entering an thoroughly authoritarian institution seems pretty much daft to me. This is a theme I have pursed here and here before. In the U.S. we confuse public service with military service. Big mistake. This is a democracy, after all.

All of that is by way of background to a convergence I noticed in reading the papers this morning. The first offering was this Op-Ed in The New York Times penned by a Viet Nam veteran and former U.S. Senator. The relevant bit goes like this:
"The Vietnam War drove members of my generation in different directions. Some served because they believed in the war, others didn’t believe in the war and protested, but when drafted felt an obligation to go. Others were simply drafted. Some refused service out of principle, others out of fear, and still others because they felt that taking the time to go to Vietnam would slow their careers.

Many of those who didn’t serve were helped by an inherently unfair draft. I don’t fault anyone for taking advantage of the law. Where I do find fault is among those who say they were avoiding the draft because they were idealistically opposed to the war — when, in fact, they mostly didn’t want to make the sacrifice. The problem is that for every person who won a deferment or a spot in a special National Guard unit, someone poorer or less educated, and usually African-American, had to serve.

[. . .]

Bizarre outcomes abound. Many of those who avoided the war became advocates of a muscular foreign policy. When I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I would be invited to meetings in the Pentagon or the White House to discuss troop deployments. In those meetings, I encountered far too many Democrats and Republicans who did not serve in the war when they had a chance, and who overcompensated for their unease by sending others into harm’s way."
The second offering is from this profile in The Guardian of the smart, if bombastic and politically misguided, writer Christopher Hitchens. Having turned his back on the left, Hitchens is notoriously pro-war and anti-Islam, having embraced the right-wing penchant for deriding "Islamo-fascism." I have noted the ignorance of such views here and here before. In any case here is a useful portrait of "Hitch":
"When the invasion of Iraq was first debated, one couldn't fail to notice the preponderance of left-wing men of a certain age who came out in support of the war. Radicals as adults, but often from conservative backgrounds, now beginning to confront their own mortality, and preoccupied by masculinity and legacy, their palpable thrill about military might suggested that, deep down, they secretly feared progressive principles were for pussies. Now here was their chance, before it was too late, to prove their manhood.

In 2006, Hitchens' wife, the American writer Carol Blue, told the New Yorker her husband was one of 'those men who were never really in battle and wished they had been. There's a whole tough-guy, 'I am violent, I will use violence, I will take some of these people out before I die' talk, which is key to his psychology – I don't care what he says. I think it is partly to do with his upbringing.'

Is there any truth in what his wife said? He pauses for a second. Then, unexpectedly: 'Yeah. Yes. One of the things I've realised, writing the book, is that it has to be true.'

[. . .]

Born in 1949, the second world war was 'the entire subject of conversation' during Hitchens' childhood. He was the eldest son of a naval officer – 'the Commander' – a quietly conservative, blimpish character in the Denis Thatcher mould, who would often say that war was the one time in his life when he "knew what he was doing". Hitchens' mother was a much more colourful character, and on the face of it the dominant parental force; he was her favourite son, and he adored her. 'If there is going to be an upper class in this country,' she told her husband, 'then Christopher is going to be in it', packing him off to boarding school at the age of eight. 'The one unforgivable sin,' she used to say, 'is to be boring', an injunction her son has observed faithfully. His father, by contrast, was a dreadful bore. And yet it is quite clearly the Commander's legacy that haunts Hitchens today.

With hindsight, there was an early clue to his appetite for combat in the ferocity of Hitchens' support for the Falklands Royal Naval task force, shared by few on the left. 'I couldn't possibly see the UK defeated by those insanitary riffraff!' he exclaims. 'This was a diabolical liberty.' But Islamic fundamentalism presented a more promisingly meaty foe than a tinpot Argentine dictator, and ever since the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Hitchens says, 'I knew there would be some huge intrusion into the heart of civilisation from barbarism.'

And so chief among Hitchens' emotions by the end of the day on 11 September was 'exhilaration. Because I thought, now we have a very clearly drawn confrontation between everything I hate and everything I love. There is something exhilarating about that. Because, OK, now I know what I'm doing.' Just as his father had felt during the second world war? 'Yes, exactly,' he agrees.

It seems that Hitchens, an apostate authoritarian (of the Trotsky-ite variety) has found a way to overcompensate for his own youthful failings by re-embracing authoritarianism. Hence his sneering pride in being "right" when others are "wrong." The only problem is that acting out one's emotional insecurities doesn't make one right. And on our current wars, at least, Hitchens is not.

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20 May 2010

Happy Birthday Caroline!

The nice folks at MySpace sent me a notice that today is Caroline Kobick's Birthday. She is my one and only friend at MySpace. Despite that bit of poor judgment, she is smart and funny and talented. So Happy Birthday Caroline!


Best Shots (114) ~ Grace Robertson

(141) Grace Robertson ~ Outing to Margate (19 May 2010).


19 May 2010

New Blogs: Robert Paul Wolff

I just discovered that political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff has been keeping not one, but two blogs. On one he is publishing his memoirs (which make many of those who inhabit the discipline of philosophy seem rather narrow and cramped), on the other he is addressing 'formal methods in political philosophy.' Early on, my undergraduate advisor Jim Fratto had me reading Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism as well as A Critique of Pure Tolerance which he co-authored with Herbert Marcuse and Barrington Moore. In graduate school I subsequently read all or part of Wolff's incisive books on Marx, Kant, and Rawls. Indeed, prior to heading off to Chicago, I took a graduate seminar with Wolff at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) in which we read Marx, Freud and Mannheim.


18 May 2010

I'm With the Rapist ...

At the Cannes film festival photocall for Palme d'Or contender
Des Hommes et Des Dieux (Of Gods and Men), French director
Xavier Beauvois holds a T-shirt to show his support for Roman
Polanski, who has been under house arrest in Switzerland since
last December. Photograph © Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

I came across this photograph at The Guardian; let's say it falls into the category of the truly astonishing. Roman Polanski had sex with a 13 year old girl, confessed to the crime, and then ran away to avoid serving his sentence. What cause, precisely, is it with which Mr. Beauvais (and his friends) is demonstrating solidarity? Is it the cause of men who rape children? Or is it the cause of justice being applied differentially according to one's financial wherewithal? Just wondering. Perhaps Mr. Beauvais should consider switching to this tee-shirt:

P.S.: And, of course, there are fresh allegations about Polanski's predilections for young girls. While he is innocent until proven guilty, I am sure he will want to have a full airing of the latest charges in court, no?

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16 May 2010

Is Photography Over?

I find this sort of stylized symposium pretentious. This one, which seems to have taken place a few weeks back, hardly disappoints. But if you are the folks at SFMOMA you can do what you like. In any case, they hosted the event, inviting a baker's dozen of noted critics and commentators* to answer the question.
* Vince Aletti, George Baker, Walead Beshty, Jennifer Blessing, Charlotte Cotton, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Geoff Dyer, Peter Galassi, Corey Keller, Douglas Nickel, Trevor Paglen, Blake Stimson, and Joel Snyder. You can find their brief opening statements at the symposium web page.


13 May 2010

Best Shots (113) ~ Vee Speers

(140) Vee Speers ~ From: The Birthday Party (12 May 2010).


12 May 2010

Pittsburgh Jazz Noir ~ W. Eugene Smith

White Rose Bar sign from the fourth-floor window of
821 Sixth Aven
ue (c. 1957–1964). Photograph ©
W Eugene
Smith Archive at the Centre for Creative Photography,
University of
Arizona/Heirs of W Eugene Smith.

In the late fifties and early sixties W. Eugene Smith devoted eight years to what has become known as The Jazz Loft Project. What started as a chronicle of Pittsburgh spiraled into a massive photographic and audio undertaking that, until now, seems to have remained something of a mess. Sam Stephenson has recently edited a book from the materials; you can find an accompanying web page here.

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11 May 2010

Raymond Geuss on Realism and Utopianism in Political Philosophy

... here at Philosophy Bites.

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Marketing Paranoia and Suspicion

Graphic © fulana

I often wonder 'Where Do These Things Come From Anyway?'. These things include various witty slogans that seem idiotic but, for many, simply irresistible. In The New York Times today this story about "If You See Something, Say Something" the anti-terrorism mantra that has been popping up all over. You can see an example here and another here of how this fine advice gets incorporated into in public policy. The implementation is why I side with the skeptics and why I wish advertising execs would restrain their impulse to do something. Allen Kay! Stick to peddling shoes or usury and leave the rest of us alone!

Count me among the skeptics like Bill Dobbs who is quoted in the The Times report. Beyond the baleful political consequences there is the plea for common sense. Ask yourself: 'If I were standing near a vehicle that began smoking would I need a sign with a pithy slogan to prompt me to contact the local authorities? Or, on the other hand, am I actually a sensible adult?'

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10 May 2010

Obama Shifts Court to the Right

So, Obama plans to nominate Elana Kagan to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court. Kagan is better than we would have gotten from John McCain; but, then again, Stevens would likely not have retired had McCain been president. But from the allegedly "progressive" Obama, Kagan is a poor choice. While The New York Times uses the words "pragmatist" and "progressive" to describe Kagan, it is not clear what they know that the rest of us don't. She may well be an opportunist; her record, to be polite, is troubling. In particular, she demonstrates no willingness to confront, let alone attempt to rein in, executive power [1] [2].

From my perspective, it is not difficult to see what Obama hopes to gain. The notion that he is courting Republican votes in the Senate by appointing a 'moderate' is a joke. The Republicans are pretty much unwilling to cooperate on any issue. Given their inevitable resistance, so the reasoning goes, he ought to have gone ahead and appointed a progressive or even a real pragmatist. That, of course assumes, he is being strategic here and not simply appointing his ideal candidate. He is doing the latter. This appointment should lay to rest any suspicion (hope?) that Obama is anything other than what he is - a center-right opportunist [3]. Having set the agenda, conservatives should, if not celebrate, at least be smugly satisfied.

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09 May 2010

Looting, Politics and 'Art'

"Most European museums are, among other things, memorials to the rise of nationalism and imperialism. Every capital must have its own museum of painting, sculpture, etc., devoted in part to exhibiting the greatness of its artistic past, and, in other part, to exhibiting loot gathered by its monarchs in conquest of other nations. . . . They testify to the connection between the modern segregation of art and nationalism and militarism." ~ John Dewey (1934)
In The New York Times today is this story confirming both Dewey's observation and the general failure of art critics to get it. The critic - in this instance Michael Kimmelman - sides with the imperialists in the case of the Elgin marbles, possessed by the British but claimed by the Greeks. In part, he adopts a post-modern view of "culture" as freely circulating and so devoid of any "authentic" locus. But, ultimately, that is simply scaffolding for his claim that the British were able to take the marbles and so should keep them. The Greeks, he thinks are simply playing symbolic politics: "The Greeks argue for proximity, not authenticity. Their case has always been more abstract, not strictly about restoration but about historical reparations, pride and justice. It is more nationalistic and symbolic."

I think that claims of authenticity are moot - not for post-modern reasons, but because there never was any authentic possession to which one or another group might lay claim. In other words it is not that authenticity has been superseded but that it has always been specious, a rationalization for power and deception (including self-deception). Yet there is a good amount of rationalizing self-deception going on in Kimmelman's essay. I leave to one side his presumption that culture generally and art specifically constitute clearly bounded, discrete domains and, therefore, afford a terrain on which disengaged critics can ply their trade. I am more concerned here with the broader political implications of Kimmelman's position. Here is another juicy bit:

"Over the centuries, meanwhile, bits and pieces of the Parthenon have ended up in six different countries, in the way that countless altars and other works of art have been split up and dispersed among private collectors and museums here and there. To the Greeks the Parthenon marbles may be a singular cause, but they’re like plenty of other works that have been broken up and disseminated. The effect of this vandalism on the education and enlightenment of people in all the various places where the dismembered works have landed has been in many ways democratizing.

That’s not an excuse for looting. It’s simply to recognize that art, differently presented, abridged, whatever, can speak in myriad contexts. It’s resilient and spreads knowledge and sympathy across borders. Ripped from its origins, it loses one set of meanings, to gain others.

Laws today fortunately prevent pillaging sites like the Acropolis. But they stop short of demanding that every chopped-up altar by Rubens, Fra Angelico or whomever now be pieced together and returned to the churches and families and institutions for which they were first intended. For better and worse, history moves on"

Here the incoherence of Kimmelman's position is clear. He rightly speaks of the sorts of "vandalism" and "looting" that have been central to colonial enterprises, excusing them even as he protests that he does not. And he celebrates the fact that such actions now are legally proscribed. In the end he adopts a sort of let by-gones be by-gones stance. History after all does move on!

Yet, Kimmelman also hints at a sort of consequentialist approach to the whole matter when he suggests that the display of pillaged art works has been "democratizing" and that it has "spreads knowledge and sympathy across borders." If we want to consider consequences - and I think that is precisely what we ought to consider - then we ought to ask what precisely is the message being sent if the British are allowed to retain the marbles (or if other countries in possession of looted works are allowed to retain them in the face of legitimate claims). The answer, it seems to me, is this: the powerful and the rich can do what they please; the claims of justice are irrelevant or, at best, such claims trade upon the good graces of the rich and powerful. I presume, of course, that it is possible to sort out how to do justice in various cases and that it is possible to differentiate legitimate claims from those that are not. Those are difficult matters. But the underlying claim remains sound - we should look at consequences and when we do we should look at how the consequences impact common understandings of justice. The latter surely do not sanction simply allowing the rich and powerful to get way with whatever they have managed to get way with thus far.

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08 May 2010

Picasso, Politics, Art, Dichotomies & Misunderstanding

"Because Picasso holds the position he does, every
misinterpretation of his work can only increase
contemporary misunderstanding of art in general."
~ John Berger

The Charnel House. Pablo Picasso 1944-1945. (Oil and charcoal on
canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York).

I came across this review in The Guardian this evening of an exhibition of Picasso's work that places his politics front and center. The review and the exhibition seem to lend credence to Berger's assessment. But it seems that Picasso himself invites the misunderstandings. Here is a passage written, according to The Guardian reviewer, at about the time Picasso was making the painting I've lifted above.
"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he's a painter, ears if he's a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he's a poet – or even, if he's a boxer, only some muscles? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How is it possible to be uninterested in other men and by virtue of what cold nonchalance can you detach yourself from the life that they supply so copiously? No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy."
Here Picasso reiterates the dualisms - on the one hand, art as harmless decoration, the product of the raw talent or instinct or sheer insight and inspiration of the artist, on the other hand art as more or less purely instrumental, as propaganda, as a weapon in partisan conflict - that frame too much discussion of how art and politics interpenetrate. Clinging to such dichotomies misleads. It misleads us into thinking that art and politics do not interpenetrate, that they stand apart and that any effort to navigate the subtleties of these overlapping practices violates (in some ill-defined sense) the structure of the universe.

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06 May 2010

Surprise? Right Wing Bloggers are Rigid and Insular

Conservatives are psychologically challenged - there is considerable research supporting that position [1] [2] [3]. So when I read at The Nation about new research suggesting that, relative to its liberal counterpart, the conservative blogosphere is especially inbred and insulated politically and inflexible and hierarchical in technical terms, I am inclined to attribute that to the psychological characteristics that lead people to be conservatives in the first place. The authors of the study are simply too PC to say so.

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05 May 2010

Best Shots (112) ~ Jeff Wall

(139) Jeff Wall ~ View from An Apartment 2004-2005 (Detail). (5 May 2010).

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Sports & Politics ~ Los Suns

Steve Nash on Cinco de Mayo
(Photograph © Barry Gossage/Getty Images).

I have to say that this is a creative response to the nutters in the Arizona state government . . . screw the boycotts, talk back, demonstrate citizenship and solidarity rather than embracing your status as consumer. It is impressive that not only all the players on Los Suns supported the statement, but that their owner did too. (I will also note that their opponents in the playoff series ~ Los Spurs ~ did too.*) I would like to think that they'd have gone ahead even without league approval.
* And for an inveterate loather of the the Lakers, it is telling that their coach opposed the statement. Figures!

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03 May 2010

Celebrating Roy DeCarava

Roy DeCarava died last fall. I never met DeCarava, but I admire his work and, given what I knew of him, admire him as a man [1] [2]. This invitation recently appeared in my In Box accompanied by this message:
"Dear Friend, We hope you will join us for the public memorial celebration in honor of Roy DeCarava on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at The Cooper Union Great Hall. Please see the attached invitation below for details, and feel free to forward to colleagues and friends. We look forward to seeing you. RSVP to decarava@gmail.com ~ The DeCarava Archive."
Unfortunately, I cannot make it down to NYC; so I am passing along the invitation to you in hopes that perhaps you might be able to attend. As a photographer, a teacher, a decent human being, Roy DeCarava gave much worth celebrating.


02 May 2010

Bad News for Conservatives (1) ~ Charter Schools are a Bust

I've decided to initiate a "news digest" calling attention to news items that show the failures of conservative social engineering. I know conservatives claim not to believe in social engineering, but that is what they are up to much of the time. So this is the first in a series.

From The New York Times today we find a report about how wealthy folks with money to throw around seem not to be terribly 'reality based' ... too many foundations are eager to keep pushing Charter Schools in the face of more or less their complete failure to out-perform public schools:
"Charters have . . . become a pet cause of what one education historian calls a billionaires’ club of philanthropists, including Mr. Gates, Eli Broad of Los Angeles and the Walton family of Wal-Mart.

But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools."
When is an experiment a failure? Even if we accept the conservative criteria for evaluation - student performance on standardized tests - and even if we control for features that would advantage Charters - like longer school days and more engaged families - the "Charters" seem to be a shining example of a failed experiment.
P.S.: Just an observation: Do the folks at The Times really think that being from the second largest city in the U.S. is equivalent to being from the largest retail chain?

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01 May 2010

May Day 2010

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Photograph © AP/Frank Franklin II.

And while we are on the topic of May Day ... There are a couple of reasons to call attention to Rich Trumka. He is now President of the AFL-CIO, but before that he was leader of the United Mine Workers. It has been a bad year for miners. And it is only May.

Beyond that, I think Trumka is an extremely admirable man. A couple of years back, he gave what may well be the most remarkable speech on race in American politics since Martin Luther King, Jr.; like King, Trumka links the defense of minority rights to the struggle of labor in America. And he speaks frankly. This picture of Trumka is from a union sponsored rally this past week on Wall Street.

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May Day & the Right Not to Work

It is May Day and I wanted to note the (largely ignored) holiday, traditionally an important component in the struggle for workers' rights. In particular it is central to the struggle for the right not to work all the time.

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