30 September 2010

Best Shots (134) ~ Guillaume Herbaut

(161) Guillaume Herbaut ~ 'Beautiful isn't enough' . . . an Albanian woman
involved in a blood feud (29 September 2010).


29 September 2010

Glenn Beck, Nazi Hunter

Glenn Beck ~ Both Portraits
© Nigel Parry for The New York Times.

Today we are treated to the latest installment in the series of New York Times puff pieces on right wing ideologues. We already have had portraits (all by celeb photographer Nigel Parry) of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. This time the portraits are less scary, but they remind me of Richard Avedon's portrait of Karl Rove - the similarly buffoonish look on both faces is striking.

Karl Rove, Republican National Convention, NY,
2004 © Richard Avedon.

The problem, of course, is that Rove and Beck are no joke. They use their cleverness in more or less thoroughly malevolent ways. The Times reporter depicts Beck as genial and approachable and sensitive and so forth. The guy (Beck) is full of it. And instead of an argument he regularly simply closes off debate in the best way possible - accusing those he disagrees with of being Nazis.

ON THE AIR and in person, Beck often goes on long stretches that are warm, conciliatory and even plaintive. He says he yearns for the cohesion in the country after Sept. 11, 2001, and will speak in paragraphs that could fit into Barack Obama’s plea for national unity in his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “There’s a lot we can disagree on, but our values and principles can unite us,” Beck said from the Lincoln Memorial.

But “standing together” can be a tough sell from someone who is so willing to pick at some of the nation’s most tender scabs. Beck’s statement that the president’s legislative agenda is driven by Obama’s desire for “reparations” and his “desire to settle old racial scores” is hardly a uniting message. While public figures tend to eventually learn (some the hard way) that Nazi, Hitler and Holocaust comparisons inevitably offend a lot of people, Beck seems not to care. In a forthcoming book about Beck, “Tears of a Clown,” the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writes that in the first 14 months of Beck’s Fox News show, Beck and his guests mentioned fascism 172 times, Nazis 134 times, Hitler 115 times, the Holocaust 58 times and Joseph Goebbels 8 times.

In his quest to root out progressives, Beck compared himself to Israeli Nazi-hunters. “To the day I die I am going to be a progressive-hunter,” he vowed on his radio show earlier this year. “I’m going to find these people that have done this to our country and expose them. I don’t care if they’re in nursing homes.”

“Raising questions” is Beck’s favorite rhetorical method. Last year during the health care debate, Beck compared Obama’s economic agenda to Nazi Germany — specifically he paralleled the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s statement that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” with how Hitler used the world economic crisis as a pivot point. Photos of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin then appeared on screen. “Is this where we’re headed?” Beck asked. He allowed that “I am not predicting that we go down that road.”

If you treat people as Nazis, then you hound them like criminals and dismiss (or worse, eliminate) them rather than, say, addressing them as a interlocutors to be taken seriously enough to disagree with. That's Glenn Beck, Nazi hunter.
Update: Today, Michael Shaw, perpetrator of the terrific BagNewsNotes, poses this nice query the folks at The Times at HuffPost: just what is your puffery meant to convey? The problem with The Times is that when their ideology is not just blatant (as when they disparage any vaguely progressive politics), they tend to pretend that being objective means being 'non-committal' or 'neutral' (whatever that means). And they end up being irresponsible by giving right-wing nutters a pass.

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Cynicism is Unbecoming

"Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them.

[. . .]

The individuals in the Tea Party may come from very different walks of life, but most of them have a few things in common. After nearly a year of talking with Tea Party members from Nevada to New Jersey, I can count on one hand the key elements I expect to hear in nearly every interview. One: Every single one of them was that exceptional Republican who did protest the spending in the Bush years, and not one of them is the hypocrite who only took to the streets when a black Democratic president launched an emergency stimulus program. ("Not me — I was protesting!" is a common exclamation.) Two: Each and every one of them is the only person in America who has ever read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock. (Here they have guidance from [Dick] Armey, who explains that the problem with "people who do not cherish America the way we do" is that "they did not read the Federalist Papers.") Three: They are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views — despite the fact that they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill "cracker babies," support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over Charlie Rangel, ACORN and Barack Obama's birth certificate. Four: In fact, some of their best friends are black! (Reporters in Kentucky invented a game called "White Male Liberty Patriot Bingo," checking off a box every time a Tea Partier mentions a black friend.) And five: Everyone who disagrees with them is a radical leftist who hates America.

It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are."

Those are some of the entertaining bits from this report by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. Taibbi gets bogged down in the duplicity of Rand Paul and trades is some unfortunate analogies: "Tea Partiers . . . really don't pay attention to specifics too much. Like dogs, they listen to tone of voice and emotional attitude." After all, if we call it insulting and degrading when right wing wackos compare people to animals, it hardly is excusable to turn around and dehumanize the wackos. Hypocrisy is hypocrisy. And it is not useful.

The reason why the the party types are so reprehensible is that, unlike dogs, they should be able to marshal some semblance of self-reflection. We fail them for not managing to do so. Finally, Taibbi goes more or less wholly off the rails in the final paragraph.
The bad news is that the Tea Party's political outrage is being appropriated, with thanks, by the Goldmans and the BPs of the world. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that those interests mostly have us by the balls anyway, no matter who wins on Election Day. That's the reality; the rest of this is just noise. It's just that it's a lot of noise, and there's no telling when it's ever going to end.
If the deck is as stacked as all that why write critical political analysis - or argue back with tea party types - in the first place?
* Thanks Jörg!


28 September 2010

Slow Down and Smell the Theory ~ Alfredo Jaar

Artist’s Statement: In his own words. … Alfredo Jaar talks about his installation The Marx Lounge, a neon lit reading room devoted to left wing theory. His piece is a public realm commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010: Touched, the International Exhibition. (here)
Well, I've been a great reader of this kind of literature for many years and I really think there has been a kind of revolution going on in the last 20, 30 years in the intellectual world.

If you read some of these texts by Stuart Hall, by Terry Eagleton, by Alain Badiou, by Jacques Rancière, Frederic Jameson, etc, etc. They are extraordinary texts and essays. They are very challenging. They are models of thinking the world and that's what I do as an artist. I create models of thinking the world.

So I wanted to share this knowledge with the public because people tend to go very quickly in a biennial. They move from work to work. They are stressed. They are rushed. They want to see everything, and so this is in a way a work that asks you to ‘stop, please stop, stay here, relax, take your time, why don't we think for a while?, let’s go in depth into these subjects.’

I'm an architect making art so basically when I was given the space I wanted to create a comfortable space where people could sit down, enjoy themselves, and have good light to read, be comfortable, to offer them a break in this rush around works. And basically we created the longest possible table to accommodate some 1,500 books.

So the centrepiece is this huge table and of course we made a funny allusion to Marxism and communism with the red walls and the neon sign that says Marx Lounge, and we have the red carpet and we decided on black sofas. So it’s a very striking colour decision. We took red and black. But it's really a comfortable place. It's a place that invites you to sit down and relax and read. It's a reading room.

I wanted people to stop in their tracks, because you can access the internet in your home and on your phones. There is so much technology today, but I think the book has this value of stopping you in your tracks of asking you to go deeper inside. I have the impression that technology keeps us on the surface.

It's very difficult to sit in front of a computer and go deep inside because your eyes get tired very quickly. You have to operate software. You have to operate the mouse, etc, etc. And you are distracted by mail, by different windows opening up and flash movies and things like that. So here it’s really about you and a world construction that is being made in front of your eyes by this author in the book. I wanted to slow down and technology goes too fast. I really wanted to slow down.

Liverpool has a long tradition of progressive politics and historically it's a place where workers have fought for so many rights and so I thought it was the right place to create a work like this.
As a political theorist I find Jaar's work wonderfully provocative and his taste in "theory" unfortunate. Many (not all) of the writers he mentions are virtually impenetrable [1]. Among the problems with progressive or leftist "theory" is that verbiage takes the place of analysis; not only is there a tendency to be Luddite with respect to the often very useful tools of standard social science, but there is a preoccupation with abstraction and a turning away from genuine political and economic problems.

By contrast, among the things I like about Jaar's art is the way he keeps his eye on the ball - that is, on the problems of people in the world. For a start, here as in past projects, aiming to get people to stop and see and think. So, while Jaar sees the parody being the red neon sign 'The Marx Lounge,' I take the "theory" being peddled in this garish decor redolent of a bordello.

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"Promiscuously Putting Things Together" ~ A Conversation with William Kentridge

I stumbled across this interview with William Kentridge at The Financial Times and thought I would point out a couple of the interesting bits. The first is about seeing as an activity.

“A lot of my recent work is to do with seeing as an activity, rather than a passive reception of the world . . . What clues do you need to make sense of something? Things come together and there is an instant when you recognise, oh yes, a rider on a horse. It’s about acknowledging and celebrating that double nature of seeing, the impurity of seeing: I know that it’s pieces of wire and black paper but I can’t stop myself seeing a face.

An abstract painter might insist their work is just paint but I am saying that’s a complete distortion of what it is to be human. It’s not a mistake to see a shape in the cloud. That’s what it is to be alive with your eyes open: to be constantly, promiscuously putting things together, getting shapes to have a coherence. It’s a kind of act of aggression against the self to try to stop that. A sort of Zen purity. I am so against that!”

From a philosophical point of view this claim deflates criticisms of what has been called the spectator theory of knowledge not by rehabilitating a naive view of disengaged viewing but by insisting that spectatorship itself necessarily is an activity.

Then, speaking of the artistic avant-garde in Russia of the 1920s and 1930s, Kentridge draws an analogy to himself and other post-apartheid South African artists.
“For me, the question was: what was the relationship between that energy and inventiveness and the belief in politics by the artist? There was something about the belief in the possibilities of revolution that was part of the energy inside their work.”

“How do you keep a sense of utopian optimism, but at the same time understand the disastrous history of utopias? I don’t pretend to have an answer, but that is the space in which you work.”
A well-stated question and the pretty much the only right answer.

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26 September 2010

Anniversary ~ Five Years

I suppose that it is better to forget your own birthday or anniversary than to forget someone else's. So, that is that. On September 24th - this past Friday - this blog was five years old. Slipped my mind completely. The nice blogger folks tell me that I've written just short of 2500 posts. The various counters I've linked to provide different numbers, but on average they suggest that I've had roughly half a million visitors. Pretty amazing - as I've said before. Thanks everyone, for stopping by! And thanks too to (nearly) everyone who has taken time to comment or has provided suggestions or complained about this and that. Really.


25 September 2010

Photographer's Collectives

Over the past couple of weeks I have come across two relatively new "collectives" that young photographers have established to promote their work. Here I am less interested in the individual work - which seems to me to be uniformly very very good - than in the organizational strategy of collaboration. The first of the collectives is Razón whose five members describe their common undertaking as follows:
Razón is an international collective of visual storytellers pursuing stories independently, but sharing, inspiring, and motivating each other to seek and convey truths and reasons behind every story to be told.

Razón was founded by 5 members scattered throughout the globe, each offering a unique perspective on the events unfolding in their respective regions.

The nucleus of Razón lies in the collective’s collaborative spirit and desire to assist one another, while exploring social issues in a new age of visual storytelling.
The second of the collectives is called Luceo Images and its six members offer this self-description:
Luceo Images is a photographer owned and operated cooperative established with the goal of supporting the significant work of its members. Luceo produces the highest quality commercial and editorial photography and works to provide creative nourishment to our member photographers.

Luceo’s six founding members came together during a time of industry transition that has impacted the way that imagery is created, distributed and consumed. We are meeting these challenges with creative ideas that offer solutions to our clients and allow us opportunities to work on projects with purpose.

Luceo believes that photography is about dialogue, discussion and shared ideas. It is with this belief that Luceo reaches out beyond its group to build relationships with other individuals and collectives. Our hope is to build a network of partnerships that allow us opportunities to fulfill our goals and to offer unique products and services to our clients.


Luceo is united in a common belief that, through these times of change, the still image continues to be relevant. We believe that history extends beyond the news-cycle, and that ordinary people and personal struggle are avenues through which we can explore the bigger issues facing our world. It is with this purpose that we created the Luceo Project Fund and the Luceo Student Project Award.

Project Fund: We believe in actively encouraging the completion of significant personal bodies of work, which lack funding through mainstream outlets. In pursuit of this goal, Luceo contributes a percentage of all editorial and commercial commissions toward the Luceo Project Fund. This fund exists solely to support the long-term projects of Luceo’s member photographers. Every commission allows our clients to support significant photographic work.

Student Project Award: We also believe that developing photographers need support. To advance this cause, Luceo pledges a portion of this fund towards the Luceo Student Project Award. This award is disbursed annually to a talented student photographer in support of a significant and developing body of work
I am sure these collectives cannot be unique - there must be other such undertakings.They nevertheless seem to me exemplary of the sort of mutual aid and support that is called for in the face of daunting economic pressures.


24 September 2010

Wind Farms & Western New York

The town where I now live recently had a rather robust political-legal controversy regarding one farmer's proposal to install a 'wind farm.' It seems to me (although I am not familiar with all the details) that the whole episode was a mess, with the wrong outcome emerging from the ham-fisted attempt by local officials to push the project through over significant (but not terribly persuasive) opposition. The prospects of wind power continue, however, to make their way into local politics. [Look here and here.]

Currently there also is trouble brewing nearby over the proposal to install an off shore wind farm - I live on the shore of Lake Ontario - with people complaining, mostly about spoiled vistas and so forth. [Look here.] Given the option I've heard it said, the opponents would prefer more nuke's along the lake shore. That seems daft to me (think of the still unresolved and probably unresolvable matter of what to do with the waste that such plants generate). And the aesthetic argument strikes me as wacky too. So, this slide show at The Guardian is an especially timely contribution.

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23 September 2010

Best Shots (133) ~ Katrin Koenning


22 September 2010

Why Bernie Sanders Misunderstands the Political Problem in DC ...

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who works closely with Democrats, said in a statement obtained by The Huffington Post that he won't vote to confirm Jacob "Jack" Lew, Obama's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget because, after meeting with Lew, the senator "found too many echoes of the failed policies of the past in his responses to my questions on trade policy, Social Security, deregulation of banks and other issues."

"It is my strong belief that President Obama needs an OMB director who is willing to stand up to corporate America and the wealthy, say enough is enough, and fight for policies that protect the working class in this country," Sanders said in a statement. "Unfortunately, I do not believe Mr. Lew is the right man at this time for this important job."

I generally like Bernie Sanders - Senator from Vermont. Unfortunately, he is on the wrong track. What we need is a President who will do the things he suggests. What we have is a centrist who wants to coddle the wealthy and the corporate sector and gives barely a hoot about working people. It is not that he has tried and failed to do what Sanders wants. It is that he's not tried and has no intention of doing so. Never did.


Coming Up ~ Black Dub

Here is something to look forward to - a CD due out in about a month by a band called Black Dub. The members are Daniel Lanois (guitarist and producer extrordinaire), Brian Blade & Daryle Johnson (who play drums and bass respectively here and, among many other places, on Emmy Lou Harris's classic Spyboy), and Trixie Whitely (daughter of the late, lamented Chris Whitely and possessor of a wicked good voice). I've only heard some teasers on line, but will track the disc down once it actually appears. With this cast of characters it is difficult to imagine this one not being a keeper.


19 September 2010

Sowing Confusion? Throwing Us Off the Track? ... Those Clever Muslims

Well, it is working on me I'll tell ya! Here is a photo of President Obama - you know Barack Hussein Obama, the Muslim - along with his family, having just attended services at St. John's Episcopal church this morning. Huh? It must a one of those photo shop deals. That guy in the vestments doesn't look like a Imam, but I'm sure it's just a clever disguise. Must be. It's all part of a coordinated propaganda campaign. No doubt about that!


Anselm Kiefer - Seasons

“Ygdrasil, Autumn in Auvergne.” (19 September 2010)

“Summer in Barjac — the renowned orders of the night.” (20 June 2010)

“Snow Melt in the Odenwald,” 2010 ~ Snow melt in the Odenwald.
Goodbye, winter, parting hurts but your departure makes my heart
cheer. Gladly I forget thee, may you always be far away. Goodbye,
winter, parting hurts. (18 March 2010)

I somehow missed the initial installments, but the third appears today in The New York Times. Is it perverse to say that I look forward to winter? All three images © Anselm Kiefer.


18 September 2010

More Questions Prompted by Pictures of the Pope's Visit to Britain

What percentage of the Catholic Church is white? What percentage is male? What percentage is over 65? What percentage is wealthy enough to dress in silken robes and jewelry? This image of the pope and his entourage should give you some glimpse of the problem with the church. The hierarchy consists (almost) exclusively of rich-old-white-guys who go around insisting everyone else do things their way. Sound like a reasonable plan to you? Any wonder why the 'morality' they preach is so exclusionary and oppressive?


Best Shots (132) ~ Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez

(159) Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez ~ Laborer, Monterrey (15 September 2010).


17 September 2010

What Rich Liberals Don't Seem to Get

Consider this comparison. Recently George Soros, who certainly is very rich and may be considered a liberal, announced a $100 million (US) "gift" to Human Rights Watch, with the funds to be dispersed over five years [1] [2]. In my ideal world the need for effective human rights monitoring would not disappear. My ideal world is not a fantasy land. But such activity would not be financed through charity. Human rights activity should not be a philanthropic enterprise. Rich liberals, though, tend to think philanthropically.

Recently too, The New Yorker published this extended piece on the Koch brothers - David and Charles - who are also extremely rich and certainly right wing extremists. Koch & Koch are, according to the report, "the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America."* They generously fund "think tanks" and political candidates and, now, the putatively "grassroots" Tea Party. All, of course, on the premise that those whom they fund toe the Koch party line.** The aim is to define the political and policy agenda (or disrupt the efforts of others to do so), not just clean up messes or remedy some "problem." This is not charity, its politics.
* "Only the Kochs know precisely how much they have spent on politics. Public tax records show that between 1998 and 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than forty-eight million dollars. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles Koch and his wife, along with two company employees and an accountant, spent more than twenty-eight million. The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than a hundred and twenty million. Meanwhile, since 1998 Koch Industries has spent more than fifty million dollars on lobbying. Separately, the company’s political-action committee, KochPAC, has donated some eight million dollars to political campaigns, more than eighty per cent of it to Republicans. So far in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006. In addition, during the past dozen years the Kochs and other family members have personally spent more than two million dollars on political contributions. In the second quarter of 2010, David Koch was the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable; federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups."
** "David Koch has acknowledged that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he told Doherty. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”"


16 September 2010

Celebrating Your Appendix

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip escorted
Pope Benedict XVI to the Morning Drawing Room in
the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence
in Scotland, on Thursday. Photograph © Dan Kitwood.

I opened The New York Times this morning to find this front page image - monarchs and pope, two remnants of the dark ages. Listening to npr this morning I heard one man who planned to protest the Pope's current visit to Britain articulate the relevant matters quite succinctly; he noted that the Pope holds a series of appallingly retrograde views - you know, no woman on earth is capable of being a priest, married HIV+ men are forbidden from using condoms when having sex with their wives, homosexuals embody sin and evil, and so on. Such views are not just disrespectful, they are often deadly. The pope's job, of course, is to impose them on others. Celebrating such bigotry and ignorance is really quite astounding. And that is Catholicism, as it were, when used correctly. In other words, no one has even mentioned the church's myriad "errors" or "mistakes" - say, the scores (easily more) of child molesters the Church has enabled and continues to harbor. In this latter crime the pope and the church are fully complicit, and not just after the fact.

This picture prompted me to consider the appendix - a vestigial appendage (1) with no apparent function, that (2) I could live without, but that (3) also can, without warning, prove lethal. That is a pretty good analogy.

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14 September 2010

Ernest Withers, Say It Ain't So!

Apparently there was more than met the eye with photographer Ernest Withers who was famous for his images of the U.S. civil rights movement. Now, it is always important to ask how the state 'recruits' people into the sort of role described here. This report, if true, is a disappointment nonetheless.

Prominent Civil Rights-Era Photographer Was FBI Informant

And newly disclosed records show that one of the most prominent photographers of the civil rights era, Ernest Withers, was also a paid informant for the FBI. According to the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Withers worked closely with the FBI to monitor civil rights activists during the 1960s. Withers is said to have provided photographs, background information and scheduling details to two agents in FBI’s Memphis spying office. Withers photographed Dr. Martin Luther King at several marches and was the only photographer to cover the entire trial of those accused in the murder of the black teenager Emmett Till. In January 2007, months before his death, Amy Goodman interviewed Ernest Withers at his studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He talked about one of his most famous pictures: a mass of striking sanitation workers holding signs reading "I am a man" at what would turn out to be the last march led by Dr. King.

Ernest Withers: "The last march of his, of Martin King, they were lined up there at [inaudible] and Hernando outside of Cleveland Temple Church, and they were there with all those ’I’m a Man’ signs. And I thought it was dramatic and historic in what it was, but I didn’t know it was ending up to be as popular. But it was the last march of Martin King."

Withers’s alleged involvement was revealed because the FBI forgot to redact his name in declassified records discussing his collaboration.

This from Democracy Now! via the inimitable Stan Banos.
P.S.: Here is the report from The New York Times.

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The Dream Team

Update (16 September 2010): Apparently the possible absurdities are endless - look here if you dare.


12 September 2010

August by Douglas (Summer 2010)

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11 September 2010

A 9/11 Message ~ I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist!

"They may seek to strike fear in us; but they are no
match for our resilience. We do not succumb to fear ... "

"We will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or
hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust ... "
~ Barack Obama, 11 September 2010


Right. So, just what is it that Obama is saying when one of his agencies (the inimitable TSA) is circulating this message - and when they seem totally tone deaf when photographers object to it? What part of the message that there is zero connection between photography and terrorism are our officials missing? Apparently, the whole thing. I had hoped that once BushCo left town we might return to something resembling evidence based politics and policy. So much for the hope.

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10 September 2010

Best Shots (131) ~ Molly Landreth

(158) Molly Landreth ~ Young Women in Orthodox Jewish
Drag, Seattle, (8 September 2010).

This image is from a remarkable, creative collaborative project that Landreth is working on. She is raising $$$ to make it and circulate it. Click the widget in the sidebar and make a contribution.


09 September 2010

Best Shots (130) ~ Marcus Bleasdale

(157) Marcus Bleasdale ~ Child Soldier. Ituri Province, Democratic
Republic of Congo, 2003, (8 September 2010).

I usually do not comment on installments to The Guardian's "Best Shot" series. But this week there is a short, very insightful and intriguing video interview with Bleasdale that I recommend to you - click on the date above. Here are two remarks he makes that are incredibly telling.
"I don't want you to see one child, carrying one Kalashnikov, riding one bike there. I want you to kind of see all of them. I want you to kind of extrapolate to 30,000. There are thirty thousand of these kids out there. This is just one of them. I think that is why I find this image so important."

"The driving force behind this work is the statistics ... It's five point four million people who've died in Congo since 1998. That's the largest death toll in the world since the Second World War. ... Ummm ... That's what drives me ..."
This central problem - of capturing large numbers, of conveying "statistics" - is what I find so interesting.

Notice too - that Bleasdale, denies he's an artist and that he expresses, indeed embraces, a deep anger about the indifference the rest of the world displays toward disasters in Congo and elsewhere.

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08 September 2010

Another Crystal Clear Indication that Obama is (at best) a Right Leaning Centrist

The Obama Administration won a court decision today (hopefully not a final one, but given the reactionary make-up of SCOTUS, there is at best a fleeting hope that this decision will be reversed) by invoking "state secrets" as a defense against detainees who have been tortured by the CIA in black sites around the world. You can read the report in The New York Times here. The delicious part appears in these paragraphs:
“The administration’s aggressive national security policies have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.”

The understatement is obvious. For those who are 'disappointed' that the putatively progressive Obama is constrained somehow from putting his true political aspirations into effect this case should be a clanging whack upside the head. If Obama were a progressive this case would not exist. His administration is resisting the efforts of individuals seeking justice and he cannot blame this on the Republicans. His administration is saying 'you don't even get your day in court ... we want the torturers to be immune from any recourse ...'. This is shameful.
P.S.: (Added early the next day) ~ As I re-read this this morning there is something else. Does it need saying that the appeals court panel (11 judges!) in San Francisco who made this decision on a 6-5 vote are shameful as well. They sold the constitution down the river.

P.S. 2: Even The New York Times sees this more clearly than our political leaders ~ "Torture is a Crime, Not a Secret." Just So.

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07 September 2010

The Casualty Gap

Every once in a while people in my discipline get it right. They deploy their fancy quantitative methods to establish - at least as solidly as any piece of social research can establish anything - what grandma knows. In this book* two young guys named Kriner and Shen show that disproportionate numbers of poor and minority Americans are sent off and die when we have a war. And they show too that public opinion about war is inversely related to awareness about this "causality gap." I have spent a bunch of time here complaining about how our so-called liberal media has been complicit in the BushCo war effort precisely to the extent that it failed to report on the casualty numbers from Iraq and Afghanistan. And while I tend to agree with Andrew Bacevich's review in The Nation (he says that we ought not await public outcry based on democratic norms but hope instead for a "pay as you go" policy for wars, essentially hitting the civilian population in the pocketbook) the book nevertheless strikes me as an important contribution.
* Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen. The Casualty Gap ~ The Causes and Consequences of American Wartime Inequalities. Oxford University Press, 2010.

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06 September 2010

Happy Labor Day ~ Remember Striking Motts Workers

The Lord Provides.
Lithograph ~ Jacob Burck, 1934.

The problem, of course, is that he doesn't. Burck (1907-1982) captured the irony. And on this Labor Day it is important to remember that workers at a local Mott's plant in nearby Williamson, NY are still out on strike. I posted on their struggle here some time ago. Not only does our economic situation resemble the 1930s, the attitude and actions of employers have not changed since then. So, no romantic images of 'labor,' just a reminder of why workers need unions to protect themselves from domination by their bosses.

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Rethinking 'Humanitarian' Action

"Surely what is needed . . . is an end to the evasion of politics, and the attempt to substitute humanitarian action for it. . . . Humanitarianism is . . . an often noble enterprise . . . but it was never meant to topple tyrants, end wars, redistribute wealth or solve political conflicts. Humanitarianism has been burdened with tasks it cannot accomplish, which is part of what makes the present moment both unutterably sad and terrifying."
That is among the provocative points Susie Linfield makes in this typically provocative essay. The dichotomy that traps us as we think about how best to respond to systematic social-political-economic dislocation of various sorts consists on the one hand in the aspiration to a neutral, moralistic brand of liberal humanitarianism that, at best, treats the symptoms of man-made mayhem and, on the other hand, the use of military force, brute and blunt as it is.

Among the problematic aspects of the essay is Linfield's near wholesale misunderstanding of Hannah Arendt's analysis of compassion and its limits. That is not merely a quibble on the part of a political theorist. As rightly points out: "It is a sign of the great distance between Arendt's time and ours that compassion – whose objective form is humanitarian action – has become not only politically relevant but politically central." Actually, what institutionalized compassion does is precisely what Arendt thinks it does; it subverts the space of politics, introducing moralism for political action animated by political impulses like solidarity. It does this not just because it is an emotion, but because it undermines our ability to think in terms of large numbers. While Arendt makes a conceptual argument to this effect, her views are - as I've noted here - sustained by recent research by cognitive psychologists.

Linfield directs us to the important task of imagining new forms of politics, forms that might be effective in protecting the vulnerable and holding perpetrators, individual and collective, to account. That is a huge task one that demands not just that we cease evading politics, but work at re-configuring it by re-conceptualizing the terms on which we approach others. It seems to me that jettisoning the politics of compassion and its institutional forms is an important first step. The picture of humanitarianism and its failings that Linfield paints seems to leave us no alternative.

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Passings ~ Corinne Day (1962-2010)

In The Guardian you can find a slew of tributes to and remembrances of fashion photographer Corinne Day who has died prematurely of brain cancer [1] [2] [3] [4] [5].

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05 September 2010

Ruth Gruber

Holocaust survivors aboard the Runnymede Park, 1947.
Photograph © Ruth Gruber.

A couple of days ago The New York Times ran this story about the making of a documentary on photographer Ruth Gruber that will premiering this month. I lifted the image above from the accompanying slide show.


04 September 2010

Best Shots (129) ~ Zed Nelson

(156) Zed Nelson ~ ... portrait of a gun owner ... (1 September 2010).

For my views on guns, Americans, and their 'constitutional right' to endanger themselves and their families or to try to intimidate others in public spaces ... see these posts.

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03 September 2010

Mark & Jim's Big Adventure (Round 2) ~ Approaching Visual Images: Photography, Politics & Political Science

Today is cloudy in Washington, D.C. thanks to hurricane Earl. I am here for the annual American Political Science Association conference. In a sort of 'blow your own horn' way, I thought I'd explain what I am up to. Like most academic conferences this one consists mostly of panels of people presenting their research. I am not doing that this year. Instead, for the second year, I spent the first day of the conference collaborating with a bunch of (mostly) young faculty members and graduate students on problems surrounding doing work on visual imagery. Here is a description of the short course that a colleague and I coordinated:
Short Course #14 ~ Approaching Visual Images: Photography, Politics & Political Science

Conveners: Mark Reinhardt, Williams College and Jim Johnson, University of Rochester

The domain of contemporary politics is saturated with visual images, particularly with photographic images. This is the second year we are organizing this short course. It will explore the ways politics and photography intersect from a variety of vantage points. We intend the course to be interactive and encourage participants from any sub-field. We offer this course as an initial step toward expanding the space within political science where scholars might devote sustained attention to the visual dimensions of politics. The course is an independent initiative, not sponsored by the APSA or any formal group or organization. There is no fee for the course. However, because space is limited and because we plan to circulate a set of background readings, we ask participants to contact either or both of the course conveners no later than August 7th. Please contact one of the conveners with any questions regarding more detailed plans for the courses.
Mark, of course, is the fellow who co-curated this terrific exhibition a few years back. That means, in other words, that he has some professional experience in this area while I am more or less making things up as I go along. Given that the discipline of political science is largely oblivious to visual imagery in general and photography in particular, nearly anyone working on the broad terrain is making things up as they go. We are hoping to create a network of people who can aid one another in that process. Here is the more detailed description of how the course was structured:
Session 1 - Pictures & Political Science: We will distribute a couple of papers of our own and will do so once we have gathered, less as reading (obviously) than as spurs to conversation about how we came to be working at the intersection of politics and photography. Our hope is to use this time to open up a discussion about the exigencies and opportunities of teaching and doing research at the junction of politics and visual images given that this is not terribly common in the discipline.

Session 2 – Violence and Meaning: Making Photographs "Speak": In this session we will examine a variety of photographs involving explicit or implicit violence, as well as some of the critical discussions to which such photographs have given rise. The goal is to frame a conversation about how photographs are interpreted and, through that, about the political hopes and fears it is reasonable to impute to individual pictures and to the technologies of photography.

Session 3: Thinking With Photography: Politics & Power: In this session we will focus broadly on “pragmatics” that is, on photography and its uses. Rather than address the topic in very abstract terms we will discuss how a variety of photographers (e.g., Richard Avedon, Richard Ross, Trevor Paglen) have sought in various ways and across several genres (portraiture, architectural photography, landscape) to capture power, its operation, and its effects. Here again, the aim is to prompt discussion.
It has only just now occurred to me that we ought to have announced this undertaking here on the blog. Our plan is to do the course (with somewhat different themes) next year when APSA is in San Francisco.