31 October 2010

Idiots on Parade: Jonah Goldberg

Half empty? Half full?

What happens when people find their way into public positions by way of nepotism? You might call it idiots on parade. Exhibit #1 (of many possible) is Jonah Goldberg. That is, the Jonah Goldberg who writes for the National Review and is a mouthpiece at the American Enterprise Institute, having exploited his mom's various connections to land cushy jobs in the world of right-wing propaganda. (His mom being up to her elbows in the Clinton-Lewinsky fiasco.)

In any case, late last week Jonah published this Op-Ed in The Chicago Tribune. In it he essentially wishes someone - Julian Assange, pooh bah at Wikileaks - dead for speaking in ways that poor stupid Jonah doesn't like. Think I'm making that up? Here is Jonah's opening line: "I'd like to ask a simple question: Why isn't Julian Assange dead?" If only poor stupid Jonah were not so incredibly dim I might think he were playing at irony. But since he can barely manage coherence or consistency that seems unlikely. In fact, he himself assures us that no irony is involved here: "So again, I ask: Why wasn't Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago? It's a serious question."

Jonah, master of the genre called reactionary hyperbole, initially insists: "WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb." But ultimately he comes round to the view that the Wikileaks folks actually make the right-wing case: "Indeed, most of the documents from WikiLeaks debunk the vast majority of conspiracy theories that fueled so much idiocy on the left for the last decade. No sinister plots involving Halliburton or Israel have been exposed — because they only existed in the fevered fantasies of some coffee-shop dissidents." Jonah, being himself a coffee-shop war-monger, must have been keeping an eye on those sitting on adjoining couches.

I am not at all sure what the Wikileaks documents have to say about conspiracies of any sort. I have not read any of "thousands upon thousands of classified documents from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq" that Wikileaks published last week. And despite his assurance about what "most of the documents" say, I doubt poor stupid Jonah has either. (According to The Guardian, the latest Wikileaks revelations consist in roughly 400,000 documents. When I say poor stupid Jonah practices hyperbole I mean to point out that he has not even run eyes over "most" of the documents.) My understanding is that the documents largely are field reports about specific encounters between U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians and, usually, Iraqi military personnel - usually these are reports of the what our allies were doing to the civilians, at our behest, and why the U.S. personnel were going to do nothing about it. I also understand that failing to prevent or report war crimes by proxy is itself a war crime. But who am I to say? And I also understand that the documents Wikileaks released have had names and other details redacted so that Jonah's crocodile tears about how our poor Iraqi and Afghani collaborators are at risk are pretty much totally irrelevant. Of course, acknowledging any of that would deprive poor stupid Jonah of the chance to show how really, really tough he is. What a pathetic joke. If you want some measured responses to the Wikileaks revelations look here; they are much less entertaining than Jonah because none of these folks wishes Julian Assange dead.

The folks at The Tribune should be ashamed. This essay is drivel. I don't like it. But while I will call Jonah Goldberg a buffoon, I don't wish him dead.

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Scientific Images: Prize-Winning Snow Flakes

And the 2010 Lennart Nilsson Award (Recognizing Extraordinary Image Makers in Science) goes to CalTach Physicist Kenneth Libbrecht. He makes pictures of snowflakes. I figured it would be difficult to make any connection between his photographs and politics; then I saw the stamps. Not only are they official postage, but they have the standard distributive politics and familiar foreign policy implications at work - one flake each from Alaska and Michigan with the other two being Canadian. Can you identify which ones?

And, of course, the Europeans had to get on on the act .... These are Austrian stamps:

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The Guardian Anoints Top Ten ...

We are Making a New World (1918)
by Paul Nash - © Imperial War Museum.

. . . British Art Works About War. You can find the story, with links to most of the works, here. Their list includes the Nash painting.

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30 October 2010

Terrorism - American "Christian" Style

Members of the Ku Klux Klan participate in a cross lighting
ceremony at a Klansman's home in Warrenville, S.C., Saturday.
KKK Imperial Wizard Duwayne Johnson said it was the first
public cross lighting in 50 years. Photograph © Reuters.
P.S.: Duwayne is no relation!


29 October 2010

Moises Saman

A cemetery worker wraps the body of a man killed during fighting in Sadr
City after washing his corpse following the
Islamic tradition at the Wadi as
-Salaam cemetery in Najaf, Iraq.

Photograph © Moises Saman/New York Times.

Photograph © Moises Saman/ New York Times.

I came across this brief interview with photojournalist Moises Saman in the Columbia Journalism Review. The pictures I've lifted here are the ones he discusses in the interview. You can find more about Saman and his work here.

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28 October 2010

How the "Third Way" Memo Shows why "Moderates" Are As Dim as They Seem or, How to Make an Ass-Whuppin' Feel Pretty Darned Good

"The idea of a third way is simply the doctrine of the single way, accompanied by the announcement of the intention of moralizing it. . . . Such a project . . . humanization of the inevitable . . . represents little more than the disguise of a surrender." ~ Roberto Mangabeira Unger

Last Sunday The New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Ari Berman calling for the Democrats to stop cozying up to conservatives in their midst. I noted it at the time, but you can find the piece here. Unsurprisingly, conservative mouthpieces among the "big tent" - a phrase I loath - Democrats have their knickers in a knot and have begun a counterinsurgency campaign. Today The Times has reproduced a memo by Jon Cowan and Anne Kim at Third Way that purportedly takes issue with Berman. (You will guess from the quotation above what I think of calls for a "third way.") We'll let the folks from the self-proclaimed "leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement" state their case. Here is their memo. I highlight passages that need to be challenged but will do so below the text.

The Domestic Policy Program
October 29, 2010

Some liberals have begun to argue that losing the House majority may ultimately be “good” for Democrats by purging the party of Blue Dogs and other moderates. As liberal commentator Ari Berman recently opined in The New York Times, “Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus.”

This small-tent strategy could not be more wrong.

Both politically and substantively, liberals need moderates. By rejecting the big-tent coalition that brought them power in the first place, the only things Democrats will accomplish are permanent minority status and the frustration of their legislative priorities. Here are three reasons liberals need moderates:

1. Liberal members need the votes of moderate colleagues to make legislative progress.

Passing legislation still takes 219 votes in the House of Representatives — a threshold Democrats can’t reach without the very moderates derided by Berman and others as “fake Democrats.”

Liberal members make up nowhere near a majority of the House. Nor do they make up a majority of the current House Democratic Caucus. The Progressive Caucus, the flagship coalition of liberals, has just 78 House members.

In fact, the Progressive Caucus comprises less than one-fifth of the House and just 30% of its 255 Democratic members. In contrast, 105 current House members are Blue Dogs, New Democrats or both. Moderates, not liberals, are the numerical base of the Democratic second (sic).

2. Liberal members need moderate voters to win and keep their seats.

According to Gallup, 42% of Americans now call themselves “conservative,” while 35% call themselves “moderate” and only 20% consider themselves “liberal.” Liberals aren’t just the smallest political constituency in America; they’re outnumbered 4 to 1 by moderates and conservatives. In no state are liberals either a majority or a plurality.

Even in Rhode Island — America’s most liberal state — moderates outnumber liberals 36% to 32%. In purple states such as Colorado, moderates outnumber liberals 33% to 27%. In Nevada, the moderate-liberal ratio is 41%-17%.

Winning moderates is the only way to overcome these numerical disadvantages, which is exactly what Democrats did in 2006 and 2008. The Congressional majority won in those years (thanks to the Schumer-Emanuel big-tent strategy liberals scorn) was a moderate, not liberal, wave involving deeply purple, if not outright red, districts.

Many seats now belonging to such moderate Democratic members as Reps. Jason Altmire, Frank Kratovil and Mike McMahon were wrested from Republican hands. Not surprisingly, 42 of the Democrats elected in the last two cycles are Blue Dogs and New Democrats, while just 14 have joined the Progressive Caucus. (And of these 14, four are also New Democrats.) Call them “fake Democrats,” but they delivered a real majority.

3. Liberals need moderates — from both parties — to forge good policy.

While liberals now find it fashionable to label moderates as obstructionists of a progressive agenda, this ignores historical reality. Most of the signature pieces of progressive legislation passed in the 20th century were the products of broad, bipartisan coalitions, not liberal victories eked out over moderate and conservative opposition.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, was a bipartisan compromise reached after a 54-day filibuster in the Senate led, incidentally, by a Democrat — Georgia Senator Richard Russell. The final bill passed 73-27 after Minority Leader Everett Dirksen rounded up enough Republicans to invoke cloture.

Likewise, the Social Security Act of 1935 passed with 372 yeses in the House and 77 yeses in the Senate, while Medicare passed the House in 1965 with 307 votes in the House and 70 votes in the Senate. Politifact.com rated a longstanding liberal claim that no Republicans supported Social Security and Medicare until the very end as “false.”

According to William Galston of Brookings and Elaine Kamarck of Harvard University, Congress’s most productive period was between roughly 1929 and 1974 — a period that coincided with the existence of a broad bipartisan and moderate coalition. In their view, polarization, not moderation, is what actually leads to gridlock.

Moreover, a more ideologically diverse Democratic coalition ensures vigorous policy debates. Liberals may believe their positions represent the best choices, but many moderates have principled and legitimate policy disagreements with liberals on trade, energy, deficits, education, terrorism and other issues. Challenging often outdated liberal orthodoxies is crucial for Democrats — liberals should not be afraid to battle for their ideas or to forge sensible center-left solutions where necessary.


To believe a small-tent strategy can achieve a big agenda is folly. In the aftermath of expected losses next week, Democrats should reject the purity-test view that moderates are either unnecessary or destructive. Instead of shrinking the tent still further, they should redouble their efforts to expand it.

(1) The Blue Dogs and New Democrats are not moderates, they are conservatives. Think Ben Nelson. Think Bart Stupak. (Or think of any of the "honorary co-chairs" on the Third Way team.) I will return to this matter below. For now, though, it is important to note that these conservatives hardly are "fake Democrats." They are just plain old Democrats, at least as the party is presently constituted.

The problem for progressives in the U.S. is that the Democratic Party is not liberal. So, as I have noted here before, progressives should not be disappointed that Obama and his minions have somehow failed to implement "their" progressive agenda or angry that the administration has been thwarted by the so-called moderates in their efforts to implement it. The Democratic Party does not have a progressive agenda. Neither does the Obama administration.

So, my first objection is that the Third Way-ers are complicit in the bastardization of American political discourse. Call people by what they are. In this instance call the conservatives conservatives.

(2) Notice that the Third Way-ers do not actually respond to Berman. Instead they engage in the standard ruse of ideologists (I come back to that label below) ~ change the subject. Here is what Berman claimed:

"A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of “Democratic infighting” would also diminish.)

Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans’ incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. Since President Obama’s election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It’s easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney’s. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be."

What the Third Way-ers seek to do is depict the incessant intra-party bickering among the Democrats as "vigorous policy debate." On the health care bill, however, Nelson, Stupak and their ilk did not come out and offer sound policy prescriptions and defend them with reasons and evidence. They extorted positions - extreme anti-abortion positions pushed by the Catholic Church that run contrary to the interests of women in the Democratic party - by simply threatening to withhold their votes. Confronted with that reality (and one might multiply examples nearly endlessly) the Third Way-ers would no doubt just place being pro-choice into the category of what they call "outdated liberal orthodoxies." That is fine, but let's not pretend that that is anything other than what it is - a political assertion, not a reflection of some underlying reality.

As for Berman's second point, so far as I can tell the Third Way-ers never actually confront the matter. They claim that the conservatives are necessary to make progress legislatively without acknowledging the realities that Berman notes. A huge number of bills that are dead-on-arrival at the Senate door. Not only did the Blue Dogs and New Dems not manage to get those bills over the hump in the Senate, arguably the conservative Dems in the House were able to vote for them because they anticipated that the bills would never become law.

The Third Way-ers need to read Tom Schelling. Sometimes it is a good thing, from a strategic perspective, to have fewer resources rather than more. Berman is on solid ground here. The Dems never challenged the Senate Republicans, they never called their bluff on filibusters. And they ought to have done so. A more cohesive group might've had the gumption to make the Republicans filibuster reasonable legislation and then mock them loudly in public for so doing. I am not entirely confident about that, but it is possible; and the Third Way-ers have nothing but their blinkered ideology as evidence to the contrary.

(3) Let's talk sources. And let's be blunt. Screw Politifact.com! By playing fact check lotto, here too the Third Way-ers simply continue to debase political discussion. Facts by themselves are useless. What we need to understand is the way history has moved, the causal story behind the current polarized mess in D.C..

Having said that, let's play fact check. The Third Way-ers invoke "William Galston of Brookings and Elaine Kamarck of Harvard" as though they are independent source of authority and insight. Well not only is Galston a well-known advocate of conservationism among the Dems, but the Third Way-ers somehow neglect to mention that he and his co-author are listed as "contributing authors" on the staff page at "the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement." So, invoking Bill and Elaine is sort of like saying "Yeah, and my mom agrees with me too!" As though we should care.

This brings us to the matter of causality. As I have noted here repeatedly, there is good social scientific research demonstrating that the divisiveness in American politics is due primarily to the Republicans running far and fast to the right. That, in turn, reflects the massive increase in political-economic inequality in the country (and in which the Third Way-ers have been complicit!). In other words, the Democrats have not run to the left. And the Third Way-ers want them to stand put or, better yet, move rightwards. The problem is that since the political spectrum is now so skewed in a conservative direction (at the elite level) what looks "moderate" is frankly right-wing nuttiness. The Republicans are setting the agenda and the Third Way-ers don't grasp that at all. Their rhetoric of moderation is, as Unger notes a disguise for defeat.

(4) All that raises the matter of "realism." Third Way-ers have a remarkable propensity to be patronizing - accusing those who disagree with them of insisting on a "purity test" (as though wanting to dump conservatives like Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak who are beholden to the the misogynist, homophobic Catholic Bishops is so blindly ideological?) or of hewing to "outdated liberal orthodoxies" (like equality before the law). That is why they throw up all the "facts" about the electorate and the Democratic caucus - as though those numbers are cast in stone.

What's wrong with that view? Here, in simple terms, is my answer: This is politics people! Try this: lead public opinion instead of capitulating to it! The Republicans go to great lengths to lead public opinion; indeed they shame the Democrats on that dimension. Obama did nothing on that score in his first two years. He was asleep at the wheel because he is not a progressive and is satisfied with a hodge-podge health insurance reform, mediocre, "moderate" judicial appointments, continued military adventures overseas, and so forth. The excuse is that we need to obsess about what is "realistic" - is this bill passable? is that nominee confirmable? - instead of working to make things happen. Given how much the American political spectrum has shifted to the right the Democrats are reactionary in the simple sense. They react instead of shaping an agenda. And this run to the "middle" is getting the conservative Democrats and their Third Way apologists what precisely? Apparently it is getting them an ass-whuppin' in the mid-term elections next week. It surely has gotten them not an iota of "bi-partisan" cooperation from the Republicans. Unrequited groveling and crappy policy.Well done.

Where does all that leave Berman and other progressives? In the position of saying to Third Way-ers - you conservatives need our votes too. You need them in elections and in the legislature. And we will play hardball with you. We will challenge you for leadership positions and withhold our votes if you propose ridiculous legislation. we will leave you hanging (as the unions ought to be doing to the Dems right now but are not). We will take advantage of political opportunities (as in fusion-voting states like New York) and garner support for candidates who support progressive policies but not for those who (like, for instance, Andrew Cuomo) don't. And we will argue out loud and in public when you do stupid things. That means working to mobilize demonstrations and other forms of pressure in the face of government failure to address the needs of regular people. In other words, it leaves progressives in the position of seeking to shape politics and policy rather than simply reacting to the world depicted by putative realists.

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27 October 2010

Take a Picture goes to London

Robert dropped this into my in box this evening. His work - which you can find here - is important and, well, good. Please help him if you can. Thanks.


Waiting for Kryptonite

A documentary film is supposed to try, at least, to deal with realities - at least that is the way the genre conventionally has promoted itself. Otherwise it slips over the line into propaganda. Seems like the film Waiting for Superman has crossed the boundary - that is why we need a border fence! In NYRB this week Diane Ravitch, not a movie critic but a former enthusiast for right wing schemes for 'reforming' public education of the sort the movie peddles, has a go at the film. Let's just say, that she doesn't think it is a reality based effort. I have, in the past, posted on right wing educational proposals: the entirely mediocre record that charter schools have amassed, the anti-democratic nature of centralized control proposals and the generally wrongheaded nature of the clamor for "standards"; no need to repeat myself here.

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Best Shots (137) ~ Arno Fischer

(164) Arno Fischer ~ Waiting for Khrushchev, Ost-Berlin,
Friedrichshsain, 1957 (27 October 2010).


26 October 2010

Linda Norgrove

Funeral: The coffin of Linda Norgrove, is carried from the Uig
(Scotland) community centre to the cemetery by mourners (Picture: PA).

I have to say that this image, and several others, of Linda Norgrove's funeral today, really hit me. I am not quite sure why. But Norgrove, an aid worker kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and killed (apparently) by U.S. military personnel trying to rescue her, is a hero. We commonly honor "warriors" when we ought to be honoring those who clean up the mess the warriors make or who seek to prevent the mess-making in the first place.

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25 October 2010

Why I Won't Vote for Andrew Cuomo

Yesterday, The New York Times ran this story about our governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. It may seem odd to refer to Cuomo as governor-elect given that the election has yet to be held. But he is just another in a string of dynastic pretenders to political office around the country. The names are familiar - Kennedy, Clinton, Bush, Romney, Brown, and so forth. (The stink of oligarchy by itself is nearly a sufficient reason to vote against Cuomo.) And given that the New York State Republicans have nominated a complete idiot and political incompetent to oppose Cuomo, the chances of him not ascending to the Statehouse are approximately zero.

Now, Cuomo is a Democrat. He is rightly concerned that state government in New York is a mess. But look at who he blames and how he hopes to remedy the situation. According to The Times, Cuomo: "will mount a presidential-style permanent political campaign to counter the well-financed labor unions he believes have bullied previous governors and lawmakers into making bad decisions. He will seek to transform the state’s weak business lobby into a more formidable ally, believing that corporate leaders in New York have virtually surrendered the field to big labor." Are you kidding? First of all his diagnosis is, at best, tendentious. Like our local 800 pound gorilla Tom Golisano (corporate honcho, charitable benefactor and all around windbag), who has run for governor himself as an independent, Cuomo wants to blame everything on the unions. Second, he wants to invite in corporate interests as a remedy. This is a Democrat? Unfortunately, yes.

Let's not pretend that the public sector unions in New York are flawless. They surely are not. But if Cuomo wants to tackle the corruption and dysfunction in Albany he might try a more direct route - propose and push through institutional reform. Change the rules of the legislative process that make the state government about as undemocratic a governmental entity as you will find in the United States. According to this 2004 report from the Brennan Center at NYU Law School, the structure of state government is more or less wholly anti-democratic. (Nothing much has changed since the report was issued.) Consider some examples. The Speaker of the House and the Leader of the Senate exercise more or less dictatorial powers, including over the legislative calendar and the staffing budgets of individual lawmakers. The committee structure, such as it is, does nothing to promote examination of and debate over legislative proposals. There is no operative system of conference committees to resolve disagreements between the two chambers. The problem with state government, in other words, starts at home, with a constitutional structure that actively invites corruption and gridlock. And I am willing to bet that that structure was not put in place by public sector unions. It surely pre-dates their ascendancy. The venality and corruption in Albany are political in the narrowest possible sense. I also am willing to bet - and the article in The Times supports this suspicion - that Cuomo will do nothing to address the institutional problems of state government.

Since Cuomo is a sure winner in the election, I plan to vote for the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins. Further down the ballot I'll vote my usual Working Families Party line.

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24 October 2010

Joao Silva

Photojournalist Joao Silva stepped on a land mine while embedded with U.S. military in Afghanistan. You can read reports here and here.


Torture, Still U.S. Policy

One standard ploy on the part of American conservatives when arguing about the BushCo military adventures in Iraq has been to ask something like "Well, are you saying that the Iraqi people are not better off now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power?" The implication was that even though each of the rationalizations that BushCo trotted out to justify their criminal invasion and disastrous war (e.g., the Hussein-al Qaeda connection, WMDs, and so on) proved to be lies, the consequences of their policy had been salutary. After all, the conservatives smirked, we lied to topple a brutal dictator who sanctioned systematic torture of Iraqi civilians.

Well, it turns out that that line of argument, like the earlier conservative and neo-conservative lies, is proving to be less and less persuasive. What the U.S. military did was to unleash an alternative source of brutal, arbitrary power on the Iraqi people. You can find reports here and here in The Guardian. Indeed, the U.S. military has continued to participate in the systematic torture of Iraqi "detainees" by proxy, that is, by allowing the Iraqi police and military to do the torturing for us.

What evidence do we have that the practices detailed in these reports have ceased under the Obama regime? None.

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Political Strategy for the Democrats - Dump the Conservatives

There is a smart Op-Ed in today's New York Times, written by Ari Berman who regularly writes for The Nation. In his essay Berman argues that the Democrats have subverted themselves by recruiting conservatives into their party. I could not agree more. The news headlines these days are about how the Democrats are about to 'lose' one or both houses of Congress. The journalists seem to not notice that over the past two years the Democrats have hardly "controlled" either house. Sure, the Republicans have been obstructionist. The real problem though, has been legislators who, while nominally "Democrats," actually have no stake in or commitment to liberal, let alone progressive politics. The Democrats cannot lose control of either house in the upcoming elections because they never had it in the first place. The fiasco reflects the popular Democratic strategy of running the party to the middle. As the Republicans increasingly have run further and further to the right, the 'occupy the middle' strategy has simply shifted the entire political spectrum rightward. This is the legacy of Clinton and Obama and their minions. Nicely done.
P.S.: And here is Berman at The Nation, forwarding an AP report that indicates the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is taking precisely the wrong tack - they are funding the right wing Democratic candidates who opposed, while cutting off those who have voted for Obama's tepidly centrist agenda.

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Passings ~ Marion Brown (1931-2010)

When I lived in Amherst, Mass. briefly after graduating from college, I had the chance to hear saxophonist Marion Brown play live. Among my favorite records (well before vinyl was the 'retro' medium for hipsters) at the time was a solo recording by Brown. In any case, Brown has died. You can find a notice here in The New York Times. (Thanks Patrick!)

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23 October 2010

Juan & the Pesky Muslim Terrorists

I am sitting in O'Hare airport listening to the repeated announcements about the DHS security level - it is orange, should you be wondering. So, it seems apposite to comment on the latest media dust-up.

Juan Williams should not have lost his job for confessing his personal prejudices. We all have them. Some are more ignorant than others. And the ignorance of your prejudices changes with context. (Hence, even if the scare tactics of DHS are not meant to inflame prejudices, it is predictable that they do so.) So, here is something for Juan to ponder as he enjoys his new $2M gig with the Fox folks: given recent research demonstrating that engineers are over-represented among Islamicist types, perhaps we ought to worry when we spy fellow passengers of middle eastern descent wearing pocket protectors? They are asserting their identity as techno-geeks over everything else. Or perhaps we ought to work at keeping our prejudices in check. Williams's thoughts on Muslims are just ignorant. But they are no more ignorant than what passes for news reporting by npr's own Dina Temple-Raston on a regular basis. She sees terrorists - Muslim ones- lurking under the bed regularly and tends to simply parrot claims by any American official peddling fear and anxiety. So why just fire Juan?

According to npr they fired Williams for engaging in activity contrary to their commitment to objective journalism, or something like that. Well, Williams has been taking money from Fox for years. How is that consistent with objective journalism? Getting paid to consort with Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and other propagandists seems to me to have been sufficient grounds for separation.

And, by the way, this has nothing to do with George Soros. ... The folks at Fox seem to think that sponsors simply buy and sell mouthpieces everywhere and not just on their network.


21 October 2010

Surprise! Britain Subject to Laws of Gravitation: S@#* Still Rolls Down Hill Onto the Poor in Budget Cuts

"The tax and benefit changes are regressive rather than progressive across most of the income distribution. And when we add in the new measures announced yesterday this is, unsurprisingly, reinforced.

Our analysis continues to show that, with the notable exception of the richest 2%, the tax and benefit components of the fiscal consolidation are, overall, being implemented in a regressive way." ~ Carl Emerson, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Margaret Thatcher, 1975. Phototograph © Srdja Djukanovic.

When Margaret Thatcher proposed budget cuts of about 4% in the 1980s her Conservative policy was depicted as draconian and regressive. And rightly so. Now the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition has upped the ante, proposing cuts significantly deeper than those Thatcher peddled. And, of course, in presenting their policy the coalition insisted that their proposal would be even-handed. Ooopps! Turns out that that is not true. It only took a day for the independent analysts to say so. And, of course, once the spending cuts exacerbate the ongoing recessionary economic trends, things will only get worse. Cameron/Clegg are not just Thatcher in drag, they have taken the hormone treatment too.
P.S.: It is already tomorrow (Friday) on the east coast - I am still in Oregon, preparing to give some comments at a conference in Portland. But here is a link to Paul Krugman's column in The Times in which he alternately bemoans and mocks the Conservative/Lib-Dem budget blunder.

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Best Shots (136) ~ Susan Derges

(163) Susan Derges ~ 'A portal to another world'
- photogram 2008-2010, (21 October 2010).


20 October 2010

Anything is Possible

I have posted here several times on William Kentridge and his work. Tomorrow night my visit with August will be over and I will be driving up I-5 from Ashland to Portland when this film is aired. So I will miss it, however not nearly as much as I will miss August. Pretty obvious, I hope. But spending time with my boy like I have this week convinces me that while the title of the film may not be literally true, it pushes us in the right direction - in politics, in art, and in life. That is something I plan to remind August of as he gets bigger.

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19 October 2010

End of the West

"Carefully stacking up everything I made next to everything I ruined
in broad daylight ..."

~ Michael Dickman (from We Did Not Make Ourselves).

This is a slim first volume of poems by Michael Dickman whose themes strike a chord with me.* Mostly, the poems are populated by kids (sometimes grown) their extended families and their friends (many, apparently, now dead but still around) and, often, their families. I don't think you'd call the poems nostalgic. Nor would you call them self-indulgent. Having seen plenty enough of the latter I know it when it skulks into the room. And while some characters re-appear across poems I wouldn't say haunted either. Maybe unblinking is the right word. Without recrimination, really, too.
From: Little Prayer
Michael Dickman

[. . .]

You think it's going to hurt, and it does, only not in the way that you

Her hand there and then
not there
hand there
and then not
there [. . .]
* Michael Dickman. End of the West. Copper Canyon Press, 2009.


18 October 2010

Fairey Heads West

Somehow my Google alerts captured a blog post by (I think - at least he signs the statement) the wholly unimpressive Shepard Fairey. Turns out that he has generated this poster of Cornel West. (I reprint it under the 'fair use' regs ...). Now, Fairey himself is a bit of a buffoon. (I am not overwhelmed by Fairey's 'art,' although I don't find it offensive. I do find offensive his muddying the legal waters surrounding the matter of fair use with his shenanigans last year.) I don't want to hold that, however, against Dr. West, whom I think is very smart, very articulate, but to my mind not always sufficiently judicious regarding the tasks to which he lends those talents. Who am I to say? After all, Dr. West is a very busy man. For some reasons behind my ambivalence I recommend a pair of year old columns - one, two - by Scott McLemee.

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17 October 2010

Preview: Infinite City

Right Wing of the Dove ~ The Bay Area as
Conservative/Military Brain Trust (Antonia Juhasz).

Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces.
Cartography by Ben Pease & Artwork by Mona Caron.

These are samples from a forthoming book by Rebecca Solnit and a slew of artists, map makers and designers. The collaborative undertaking is a push to get us to re-imagine San Francisco. And it is a push to get us to re-think the use of maps - away from exclusive concern with official locations and consumer opportunities and toward the more expansive, less well publicized, but terribly important culture and politics of a given place.

Regular readers will know that I think very highly of Solnit - indeed, she is perhaps our most acute and creative public intellectual, a wonderful writer with good politics who works on and with visual artists of various sorts. You can find some of my previous posts on she and her work here.


16 October 2010

And the very, very very good news is ...

... that yesterday Susan defended - with aplomb - her dissertation and so you can call her "Doctor Orr!" This photo of us is a few years old and we have weathered mayhem of all sorts since. (The perps know who they are!) But this accomplishment in the face of such adversity is simply wonderful. I am traveling from Gainesville, where her defense was held, to the west coast today to see August. So despite it all life is good. A third of the way to the best year ever ...


14 October 2010

House Where Nobody Lives

From: Interiors (Foreclosed Homes) © Todd Hido.

The other day The New York Times ran this column and an accompanying slide show on photographers who have sought to document economic crisis in the past and of folks who are trying to do so with our current disaster. The strategy among those working today seems to be to concentrate on houses rather than people. The hope, it seems, is to generalize away from the plight of this or that particular person or family. That strikes me as an interesting approach. In any case, it brings to mind this song:
House Where Nobody Lives
Tom Waits

There's a house on my block
That's abandoned and cold
Folks moved out of it a
Long time ago
And they took all their things
And they never came back
Looks like it's haunted
With the windows all cracked
And everyone call it
The house, the house where
Nobody lives

Once it held laughter

Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone's heart break
Or did someone do somebody wrong?

Well the paint was all cracked

It was peeled off of the wood
Papers were stacked on the porch
Where I stood
And the weeds had grown up
Just as high as the door
There were birds in the chimney
And an old chest of drawers
Looks like no one will ever
Come back to the
House were nobody lives

Once it held laughter

Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone's heart break
Or did someone do someone wrong?

So if you find someone
Someone to have, someone to hold
Don't trade it for silver
Don't trade it for gold
I have all of life's treasures
And they are fine and they are good
They remind me that houses
Are just made of wood
What makes a house grand
Ain't the roof or the doors
If there's love in a house
It's a palace for sure
Without love...
It ain't nothin but a house
A house where nobody lives
Without love it ain't nothin
But a house, a house where
Nobody lives
Of course, in our current crisis the question "did someone do somebody wrong?" has a more complex and different implication than Waits likely intends. And while there is lots of heartbreak, it is caused by forces well beyond personal family hardships. Criminal perhaps?

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12 October 2010

Oil from the Air

Oil Spill #10, June 24, 2010. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky.

Oil Spill #13, Mississippi Delta, June 24, 2010.
Photograph © Edward Burtynsky.

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11 October 2010

View from the Day Job

In my 'real' life I am a college professor - hence the unstylish tweed jacket. But here I am introducing a colleague who was winning a well-deserved award for his research.


10 October 2010

Thelonious Sphere Monk (October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982)

Thelonious Monk, 1959. Photograph © Herb Snitzer.

I've said it here before. I surely will say it again. Today ought to be a national holiday - a celebration to mark the birthday of Thelonious Monk. Straight, No Chaser.

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09 October 2010

Congrats to Allie & Chris

Photograph © Justin Shockley.

I am not at all sure how this story from the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times made it into my Google alerts, but it did. And it made me like these two people - Allie Compton & Chris Ryan - whom I'll never meet. Thank goodness for friends who know us better than we know ourselves. Best of luck!


08 October 2010

Nobel politics and Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo. Photograph: Liu Xia.

I have posted here several time about Liu Xiaobo, currently imprisoned by the Chinese regime for his political activities. Today he has won the Nobel Peace Prize. You can find reports here and here. I think this is a very worthy choice.

There has been a relatively high visibility campaign on Liu's behalf over the past year. Most notably, a group of prominent political figures circulated this statement, with another group following with this letter, publicly urging the Nobel committee to award the prize to Liu. The campaign has itself reportedly prompted an extremely negative response from the Chinese government. And it generated conflict among Chinese dissidents, with some endorsing the candidacy with others opposing it. With all due respect, I think the opponents are shortsighted. What is at issue here is not Liu's personality - whether he is flawless, a saint rather than a political actor - but the extension of democratic principles in the face not just of authoritarian politics but of market forces as well. On this point I recommend this essay by Chinese novelist Ma Jian. And disagreement is just what those principles countenance. In a sense the Nobel committee has created some political space. To the extent that the Chinese people are able to get the news it, of course, offers them encouragement. But the prize can and should be seen not just as holding the Chinese government to account but also, and importantly, as placing pressure on "our" democratic governments to endorse their own principles by speaking out on the prize. It will be interesting to see if any intrepid Western leaders take advantage of the opportunity the committee has afforded them! Any leader who speaks out would not just potentially jeopardize relations with an important trading partner, but open whomever speaks out to scrutiny of their own political practices. I am not holding my breath. Are you?

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07 October 2010

Best Shots (135) ~ Uta Kögelsberger

(162) Uta Kögelsberger ~ Getting Lost, 2006 (6 October 2010).


05 October 2010

Something is Fishy 'Upstate' ...

In The New York Times recently have been a spate of stories on controversy surrounding wind turbines. First there is this sort of 'I told you so' column by Stanley Fish, basically reiterating a bunch of complaints that people in 'upstate' New York (the lower Hudson Valley and foothills of the Catskills is hours away from 'upstate') have made about the installation of wind turbines near their bucolic communities. Fish opposed the installation of turbines in the town where he has a summer home and seems to think that reiterating his complaints makes them persuasive. Today there is this story about an island in Maine where some residents articulate claims much like Fish's.

As I have made reasonable clear here in the past, I am a pretty confirmed supporter of wind energy. It seems to have a lot going for it. (For instance, unlike Nukes, it generates no lethal waste that needs - and lacks - safe storage for centuries; unlike the 'fracking' process for extracting natural gas that Fish disingenuously mentions as analogous to wind power, it will not poison the water table; unlike oil, it is unlikely to draw us into wars or to despoil beaches and pretty much everything else.) I am not a blind supporter, though. Turbines make noise. The physics of the things pushes us in the direction of large installations, but not inevitably. And the process for planning them (or any large scale technological project) ought to be transparent and not dominated by corporate interests. That said, I think Fish is pretty much wholly off the mark. My plan is to write a separate post on why. I figured this one can serve as background.

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August Johnson, Summer 2010. Photograph Douglas Milano-Johnson.

Yesterday, one of the fellows who invented the process of in vitro fertilization won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The story is here. This post is my personal thank you.

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04 October 2010

Ariella Azoulay Denied Tenure

Ariella Azoulay. Photograph © Miki Kratsman.

For the past decade Ariella Azoulay has taught visual culture and contemporary philosophy in the Program for Culture and Interpretation, Bar Ilan University. She is the author of many works, including The Civil Contract of Photography (2008) and a short paper "What is a Photograph? What is Photography?" (2010) that you can find here.

Last night my friend Mark Reinhardt passed along this news article from Ha'aretz reporting that Azoulay has been denied tenure by the University. This is a touchy matter, as a University administration may dig in their heels in the face of external criticism. And, I am reluctant to provide the higher ups at Bar Ilan a rationale for doing so in this instance. It is, after all, Azoulay's livelihood that it is at stake. However, as the Ha'artez report makes plain, Azoulay's supporters suspect that this negative decision amounts to retaliation for her political views. If you don't have time to plow through her book, you might check out her contribution to this symposium on "Photography & Human Rights" at Aperture. Does what she says there sound like the sort of view that political officials - whether Israeli or American - would find endearing? I didn't think so.

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03 October 2010

Sunday Morning Lessons ~ Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger. Photograph © Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times.

Yesterday, I finished what I hope are the very last changes in a boo manuscript entitled The Priority of Democracy: A Pragmatist Approach; assuming my co-author Jack can track down four obscure citations we will be able to ship the manuscript off to the publisher tomorrow or the next day. In any case, although he never actually uses the word democracy in this interview Pete Seeger offers us some final advice that comes very close to the core: "It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with."

I am not always good at what Pete suggests - if someone is spouting foolishness I tend to say so and look for more productive uses of my time. An example - Susan was watching one of the talking heads shows on TV this morning where the debate was broadly over whether we Americans should 'fear Islam'; my response was, - as opposed to what? fearing Hindusim? fearing Christianity? We are not debating those questions - despite ample historical and current reason to do so. I came downstairs to read The Times on line instead. Life is way too short. But then, having escaped the TV Lunacy, Pete was there to remonstrate with me.

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02 October 2010

Guardian Photo Critic Misses the Importance of Black & White

Green Warehouse, 1978. Photograph © William Christenberry.

Palmist Building (Winter), Havana Junction, Alabama 1981.
Photograph © William Christenberry.

Sean O'Hagan is at it again. The photo critic at The Guardian has this review of a newly opened exhibition entitled "Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South" (slide show here) in which he discusses work by Walker Evans, William Christenberry, Eudora Welty, William Eggleston, Carrie Mae Weems, Susan Lipper and Alec Soth. Fine photographers all. But the following statement brought me up short:
"Weems, the most political photographer here, confronts the turbulent racist history of the American south, placing herself in a series of resonant locations and contrasting the barbarity of slavery with the refined social etiquette that held sway among rich plantation families."
Oh, and did he forget to mention Weems is the only African-American photographer he planned to to discuss? So, the fact that Weems makes race evident (meaning she explicitly makes it central to her work), while all the white folks (here not just the photographers, but apparently, the curators of this show) apparently "don't" do so is political? Why is it not political that the white photographers (mostly) focus elsewhere - or are least seen to do so? I'd put the stress on this last phrase because they don't really.

In Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, for instance, James Agee (Evans's co-conspirator) explicitly talks about why they are not going to address race - and then offers pointed vignettes demonstrating the cruelty of race relations in Alabama circa 1937. And, after all, do the white folks in Lipper's "Grapevine series" not play a role in, or suffer the consequences of, the peculiar way race works and has worked in the South?* Do they have no race? What about this image by Alec Soth? Does it plumb racial themes?

Jimmie's Apartment , Memphis, Tennessee, 2002.
Photograph © Alec Soth.

Who is that in the photos clipped and taped to the back of the closet door? Do those images contrast with the shabby apartment in any way? And did Memphis figure in "the turbulent racial history of the American south"? Is it, perhaps, a "resonant location"? By and large, I find O'Hagan's photo criticism wacky - and I don't mean that in a good way. I've said that several times here before. In this instance, I wonder what he was thinking when he looked at this exhibition.
* And, of course, race is an American problem, not one just for the South or just for blacks.

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