30 January 2011

Photographer Documents Marcellus Shale's Impact on Farmscapes

Natural gas drilling site on mountainside, Tioga County.
Photograph © Jack Preston/Terry Wild Stock.

My google alerts turned up this brief interesting notice from Lancaster Farming which I assume is a local publication in rural Pennsylvania. It is a review of sorts of a little photography exhibit "at Julie’s Coffee, a shop in downtown Williamsport, Pa"; the work being exhibited is by Terry Wild who, in his spare time, has been documenting the impact of gas drilling industry on the local landscape. You can find this "sideline" work here.

The changes ot the landscape may seem innocuous, but they are, as Wild establishes, pretty pervasive. And the drilling process, as I've noted here before, threatens the water supply in frightening ways. New York State currently has a moratorium on the drilling process (through July 1st) and I hope the legislature will make it permanent. Virtually everything we know about fossil fules and how they are extracted (or nuclear energy and how the fuel is extracted and the waste stored) makes supporting wind and solar energy it seem like a no-brainer.

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Beck's Campaign Against Francis Fox Piven (3)

"I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income." - Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here? (1967).
"It is our purpose to advance a strategy which affords the basis for a convergence of civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor. If this strategy were implemented, a political crisis would result that could lead to legislation for a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty." - Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward The Nation (1966).
In The Guardian today there is yet another story on Glenn Beck's ongoing campaign against Francis Fox Piven. I found it funny that Piven arranged to meet the correspondent from the paper at a NYC restaurant called "Havana Central."

One thing that strikes me about Beck is his ignorance about history. You can find a link to the 1966 essay by Piven (and her husband, the late Richard Cloward) that so exercises Beck here at The Nation. That is where I lifted the statement above - from the first paragraph of the essay. My point today is just to say that Piven and Cloward were advocating a strategy to implement a policy that, as I noted here a year ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. also endorsed. And since Beck has announced his aim to reinvigorate Dr. King's message, how is it that he objects to Piven and Cloward? What better way to end poverty does Beck envision than the one King came to embrace? Beck instead ought to be embracing Piven as an ally in that cause. Maybe that is why he has afforded her all the publicity that trails in the wake of his diatribes.
P.S.: You might find this portrait of Piven and this more recent Op-Ed from The Los Angeles Times - both by Barabara Ehrenreich - interesting.

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Not That This Should Need to Be Said But: ‘See, Officer, I Can Too Take That Picture’

You won't be able to read this version of this internal memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But what it basically says is that law enforcement officers should stop harassing photographers who are making pictures of putatively "sensitive" Federal sites. It explicitly instructs officers to not seize equipment or otherwise interfere with photographers as they go about their business. You can find links to a life size (legible and printable) version of the document here at The New York Times.

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29 January 2011

Dreams and Delusions

If there were any doubt prior to his State of the Union Address, there can be no longer any uncertainty. Thanks, Mr. Fish! Obama crowed about the resurgent Wall Street crowd and about corporate profits. But you might have noticed that he forgot to mention unemployment or the poor. There is no reason to assume that innovation (Obama's hope for economic recovery) and so forth contribute to job creation or improving wages unless the rapacious capitalists are held in check - after all jobs have evaporated and wages tanked over the past decades of steady improvements in productivity.

This evening as I drove in top swim some laps and go to the grocery store, I heard the new Tavis Smiley & Cornel West tag team on the local public radio station. (I must say that I really am shocked that our own WXXI, the world's most boring npr station, carries the show.) I was impressed with the direct criticism that West leveled at Obama. The criticism is well deserved. My only doubt is that Obama ever was anything other than a centrist. In any case, Having heard this one episode of the Smiley-West show, I may be shamed into being more thoroughly sympathetic to Dr. West than I have been here in the past.

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Annals of Propaganda: Congressional Facebook

Karen Bass, California Democrat. A onetime physician assistant and
a Los Angeles native, Bass, 57, was the first African-American woman
to lead a state assembly in the United States, taking the helm of
California’s in 2008. Photograph © Christopher Leaman.

Billy Long, Missouri Republican. A longtime auctioneer and real-estate
agent in southwestern Missouri, Long, 55, has been voted the best auctioneer
in the Ozarks for seven years straight. Photograph © Christopher Leaman.

I stumbled across this story at The Washingtonian - mostly a set of portraits of some of the freshman class in the U.S.House of Representatives. Here, however, is how the folk at The Washingtonian introduce the photographs:
"The new class of the 112th Congress is the largest in years. Voter unhappiness in November swept in nearly 100 newcomers representing 39 states. As they begin work in January, their varied backgrounds and heritages underscore why the House of Representatives is known as the People’s House (stress supplied - JJ)."
Well, this seems partly true. There are some women here. And there are some non-Caucasians as well. And I concede that this is only a sample of the class. But if you look a bit closer you'll notice that the "varied backgrounds and heritages" have a distinctly partisan cast. Nearly all the Republicans are middle aged white guys whose incomes, I'd wager, place them in the top 5% or so of the distribution. Where are all those "varied" reps from the red districts? The "People's House" my keester! The class seems to be long on Billy and way too short on Bass. No surprise though, when the Republicans sweep into town.

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It is Sooooo Hard to be a Libertarian

Published in The New Yorker 4/19/2010 © David Sipress.

Libertarians are a funny bunch. Sometimes they are useful for their fanaticism, sometimes they are politically dangerous in their fanaticism, sometimes they are simply hypocrites. I've noted these tendencies here before.

Libertarians are not the only hypocrites, of course. But they seem adept at acting upon that particular vice. The classic example is Robert Nozick invoking the rent control laws in Cambridge to prevent a landlord from raising his rent. The story is more complicated - as in many law suits there is no "good guy" - but it is delicious.

Now there is this reminder of how Ayn Rand*, libertarian propagandist par excellence, having denied research establishing a tobacco-cancer link smoked like a fiend (actually like a non-autonomous addict, but that is another matter!) and turned to social security and medicare when she, predictably enough, got cancer late in life. The blatant moochery of it all! I'll bet she patronized the U.S. Postal Service too.

In any case, I came across the cartoon I've lifted here a while ago and have been waiting for the appropriate point to incorporate it into a post. This seems like a good time. I'm sure this is the local volunteer fire department anyway.
* I do recognize the difference between Nozick who was a formidable thinker and Rand who was an intellectual charlatan. Unfortunately, they share the libertarian propensity to hypocrisy.

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28 January 2011

Best Shots (147) ~ Victoria Jenkins

(174) Victoria Jenkins ~ Smoke & Mirrors (26 January 2011).


Passings ~ Boxall, Constantine, Douglas

Once again The Guardian has published a series of obituaries of photographers - Tony Boxall (1929 -2011), George Douglas (1922-2011), and Dennis Constantine (1926-2010). Once again, these are people with whose work I am unfamiliar.


26 January 2011

Repeal Health Insurance Reform - Another Brilliant Conservative Idea

I lifted this graphic from HuffPost; I don't know where they got it. Is it possible that providing health care to the uninsured is a drag on the economy? Just wondering.

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25 January 2011

Cello Politics

Pablo Casals performs at White House Dinner for Governor and
Mrs. Munoz-Marin of Puerto Rico, November 13, 1961.
Cecil Stoughton/The White House (Public Domain).

This morning npr ran this report on the concert that Pablo Casals gave at the Kennedy White House in 1961. It focused on the intersection of politics and art. Casals, an exile from his native Spain, refused to play in any country that officially recognized the Fascist government. What is it about cellists and politics?

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24 January 2011

Framing the War in Afgahnistan

"This mandating of what can be seen - a concern with regulating
- was supplemented by control over the perspective
according to which the action and destruction of war could be
seen at all. By regulating perspective in addition to content, the
state authorities were clearly interested in regulating the
visual modes of participation in the war."

~ Judith Butler. Frames of War, page 65.

Caption (Toronto Star) : US Army flight Medic SGT Patrick Schultz
talks to a wounded US soldier in the rear of a medevac helicopter
while enroute to Kandahar Airfield after he was injured by an
improvised explosive device in Zhari District, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Photograph © Louie Palu/Zuma Press.

A short while ago Michael Shaw wrote this post at BagNewsNotes.* He pointed out a striking similarity in the work of three terrific photographers - James Nachtwey, Tyler Hicks and Louie Palu - who had recently been embedded with military units in Afghanistan. More to the point, he noted the similarity in the way their respective work framed the ongoing war there.

The folks at PDN report that one of the photographers - Palu - has taken exception to Michael's post. To his credit Michael has updated the post to reiterate what I took to be clear in the first instance - namely that this is not about the intentions of the photographers, but the strategy of the Pentagon and the tone-deafness of the media organizations. That said. Palu has got to be kidding if he thinks that "accepting an embed" is a politically naive decision. think about the practice of embedding journalists: The military are going to send you to see what they choose for you to see. This is part of the "regulating of perspective" of which Butler speaks. And while that need not make any photographer a tool of the military, it does make is especially difficult to present anything resembling an oppositional or critical view of what is happening in Afghanistan.

So, Palu's complaint about the use of individual pictures misses the mark by a wide margin. The same goes for the self-serving - and I would add patronizing - rationalization of his editor quoted in the PDN piece. The problems with embedded reporting are ongoing - they are not, as the editor suggests, something from the past that Michael has simply dredged up. What we are getting is the regulation of perspective, a particular "official" framing, that is meant to limit what we see and how we interpret the war. The fact that photographers and journalists have no choice but to accept embeds if they want to cover the war does nothing to alter that state of affairs.

The images Palu and Nachtwey and Hicks made were taken up by large media organizations and used in ways that they may hardly have intended. But those images, taken from a military-sanctioned perspective, sustain an interpretive frame whether the photographers like it or not. The fact that, as Michael points out, the stories in Time, The New York Times and The Toronto Star are near substitutes for one another is telling in that regard.
* For the record, I know and like Michael - he runs what I consider to be an invaluable blog. And if you scroll down the comments on this particular post, you'll see that I threw in my two cents early on.

P.S.: Updated 26 January 2011 ~ There is an interesting and helpful post here on this ongoing discussion.

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23 January 2011

New Label ~ child porn?

Girl and Cat (1937) ~ Balthasar Klossowski de Rola.

I have posted numerous times here about the travails artists and photographers who have encountered censorship, formal and informal, justified by the fear of "child pornography." At Salon.com you can find this interesting slide show of works (some of which, I've noted in my posts) that have generated "controversy" along this dimension. Most of the images (including the one I've lifted here) are readily available on line. There is no doubt that that makes them available to perverts. But there is no doubt too that museums and media outlets and politicians are way too concerned about the sensitivities of everyday people. There are issues to be discussed and argued over in all this. But blanket censorship seems to me a poor substitute for such interactions.

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22 January 2011

Beck's Campaign Against Francis Fox Piven (2)

As a follow up on my earlier post, it is important to note that Glenn Beck is not obsessed just with decades old essays by Francis Fox Piven. He takes exception too to her other writings, especially those in which she endorses collective action on the part of the disenfranchised, the poor, the unemployed.

You can find one of Piven's recent essays, one in which she calls for mass protests of the unemployed, here in The Nation. Beck claims he denounces violence left, right and center. Where in the essay does Piven call for violence? Where does she claim that the protests she proposes will overthrow what Beck calls "our system"? Indeed, she explicitly remains agnostic about the stability of American capitalism. And she proposes local protests as a strategy for mitigating the hardships of the unemployed regardless of what one thinks on that larger issue. Beck seems not to be able to read terribly well. He is simply worried terribly about political protests. Protesters can be "unruly" (Piven's word) and obstreperous and confrontational without being violent. Is that too difficult for Beck and his listeners to understand? Is it too difficult for Beck and his listeners to understand that when 'politics as usual' is not working for them, those who are enduring hardship have a right to collective action? Perhaps so.

Which of the following protest movements might Beck find objectionable? The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who have been protesting in Buenos Aries since the early 1980s? (After all the mothers initially made contact in various government offices as they tried to find their "disappeared" children. And they arguably contributed to the collapse of dictatorship in Argentina.) The delegates from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who raised a ruckus at the 1964 Democratic Convention? (You remember Fannie Lou Hamer talking back bluntly to the politicos?) The striking Sanitation Workers in Memphis in 1968? (After all these were public sector workers protesting against inhumane - indeed lethal - working conditions.) The Polish trade Unionists in Solidarity or the churchgoers who flowed from services in Leipzig to occupy public space and protest Communism? (After all these were peaceful mass protests aimed, yes, at undermining the legitimacy of a regime that was not addressing the needs of common people.) The activists from ACT-UP who in the 1980s (among other things) took over government offices to protest a regulatory regime that was literally killing people with AIDS? (After all they were aiming to make government regulation effective in the face of corporate profit-making and bureaucratic sclerosis.) The protesters at (among other similar events) the 2001 G8 Meetings in Genoa? (After all, these people have diverse views about how the world economy should operate that their elected (and unelected!) leaders systematically neglect.)

It would be easy enough to multiply examples. One final point to note. In each instance I have mentioned here, any violence came disproportionately, indeed almost exclusively, from the government not the governed. Glenn Beck claims to be attentive to history. Maybe not so much.

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Beck's Campaign Against Francis Fox Piven

I have posted here a couple of times on the perverse pre-occupation that conservatives have fostered in the writings of political scientist Francis Fox Piven. Well, the inimitable Glenn Beck has kept the focus on Piven with the result that some of his wacko listeners are issuing threats against Piven's life. You can read about the situation here in The New York Times and find a report here on DemocracyNow!.

I disagree with Piven about many things. But this state of affairs is both intolerable and directly attributable to Beck's behavior. Is it a reach to draw a connection between Beck's repeated "remarks" about Piven and her putatively dangerous ideas and the threats she now is receiving? Well, the paper that gets Beck especially exercised is a decades old essay that appeared in The Nation. Before this recent set of events, I (a political scientist and subscriber to The Nation) had never heard of the paper. How would regular Americans have come across the essay? So, 2 + 2 = ... Beck speaks and wackos do his dirty work.

Beck is a blustering, ignorant, bully. It is that simple. And there is simply no "civil" way to put that.

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21 January 2011

Lucas Dolega

In the Fall, renowned photographer João Silva stepped on a landmine and lost his legs. I noted that tragedy here and you can find an update on his situation here. Now another photojournalist Lucas Dolega has been killed while covering the political unrest in Tunisia. He was, it seems, murdered by security personnel. You can find a story here. There is a common tendency to romanticize photojournalists as intrepid heroes. I think it is important to resist that temptation. But it is important too, to understand how dangerous the job actually is and how many risks photographers take to cover important events.


20 January 2011

Best Shot (146) ~ Colin Jones

(173) Colin Jones ~ Rudolf Nureyev and Lynn Seymour,
Fulham, London, 1966 (19 January 2011).


Passings ~ Tweedie, Dominic & Pikow

In The Guardian since the turn of the new year I've noticed a series reports relating the deaths of photographers who, while quite accomplished, were wholly unknown to me. So, here are links to their obituaries: Penny Tweedie (1940-2011), Zoë Dominic (1920-2011) and George Pikow (1922-2011).


19 January 2011

"Just Plain Dumb" ~ Where the Burdens of Regulation Actually Fall

The other day Obama ventured onto the opinion page at The Wall Street Journal to, as the mainstream press put it, extend an olive branch to "the business community." He offered up this lecture about the need to adopt grown up approach to regulation. It never occurred to me that Obama needed to mend fences with business, in large measure because on virtually every issue he has been supine in that respect already. Think about how he approached health care reform by accommodating industry demands before the legislative process commenced. That is why we got an incoherent effort at health insurance reform instead of a reform of health care system. So, now what will happen is that administrative agencies will spend their time navel gazing (reassessing existing rules) instead of applying them. And industry lobbyists - and here is where the money really counts in politics - will spend their time and effort defining for regulators which rules are especially burdensome.

Coincidentally, last night Susan and I watched Gasland a film that raises serious questions about the natural gas industry, their access to government officials, the ways they have been exempted from environmental regulations, and the consequences of all that for the lives of regular people. The tale is not a pretty one. And the problems the film documents are coming to a town or village near you as the industry aggressively pushes to deploy dangerous drilling techniques in more and more areas. Watching the film made me wonder why it was that the EPA, Bureau of Land Management and various State level agencies were not doing even a minimally good job at protecting us from industry. Obama has nothing to say about that.

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J. Henry Fair ~ The Difference Venue Makes

Crime and Punishment, 2010 (Oil from BP Deepwater Horizon spill
on the Gulf of Mexico.) Photograph © J. Henry Fair.

Roberta Smith published this smart review in The New York Times the other day of work by J. Henry Fair. I especially appreciate the contrast she draws between the works shown in the gallery and those that appear in Fair's forthcoming book.* Smith looked closely and did her job well. Fair is clearly a remarkable photographer and his work seems interesting. It fits into an emerging "genre" of work relying on aerial views to create forceful views of environmental mayhem. (I've posted here several time before about photographers working on similar projects.) But the selectivity that Smith notes is telling.
* J. Henry Fair. 2011. The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis. New York: powerHouse Books.

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18 January 2011

Passings ~ Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)

Milton Rogovin (2004). Portrait © Alec Soth.

The wonderful photographer Milton Rogovin has died. You can find an obituary here and further commentary here in The New York Times. I've posted several times here on Rogovin and his work. There is little to say but that he had a long life and lived it well, with integrity and enthusiasm.
P.S. ~ Updated 19 January 2011: You can find a nice, brief 2008 essay on Rogovin from the British Journal of Photography here.

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17 January 2011

Governor Cumo, MLK Jr,. & the Unions

More than 5,000 men lined up prior to the March 28, 1968 march
led by Martin Luther King during the sanitation workers' strike.

(Copyright Ernest C. Withers Trust.)

Every year on this day (and on some other days as well) I try to post something that might counteract the sanitized remembrances of Martin Luther King, Jr. we find in the mainstream press. At a time when our own "liberal" governor here in New York has drawn a gun-sight (Sarah-style) on the backs of public sector union members, it is important to recall that King died in Memphis supporting the rights of Sanitation Workers (yes public employees) to unionize. On the off chance that Mr. Cuomo would like to brush up on his history, he might start here.

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Like a Thief's Dream

At The Guardian today Sean O'Hagan has this nice (sort of) review of Danny Lyon's (not-exactly-photography) book Like a Thief's Dream.* I have posted a couple of time here on Lyon and his work. Likewise, I posted here a number of times - mostly critically - on O'Hagan. Not this time. This sounds like a book worth tracking down. You can find an interview with Lyon on the book here.
* Danny Lyon. Like a Thief's Dream. New York: powerHouse, 2007.

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Interview: Eric Hobsbawm

Yesterday The Guardian carried this interesting interview with Eric Hobsbawm who, in addition to being an influential historian remains a pretty unrepentant Marxist. At the very end he offers this basic diagnosis of our contemporary situation:
"What I'm saying now is that the basic problems of the 21st century would require solutions that neither the pure market, nor pure liberal democracy can adequately deal with. And to that extent, a different combination, a different mix of public and private, of state action and control and freedom would have to be worked out. . . . What you will call that, I don't know. But it may well no longer be capitalism, certainly not in the sense in which we have known it in this country and the United States."
My own thinking about politics and culture (starting with my doctoral thesis) owes a considerable amount to Hobsbawm's historical essays on the "invention of tradition" - a conception of historical events that converges surprisingly with the work of Thomas Schelling. I will add that Hobsbawm also served pseudonymously for many years as the jazz critic for the New Statesman in Great Britain. You can find his reflections on that part of his career here.

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An Immodest Proposal ~ Thank Some Non-Veteran for Their Service

My oldest son Douglas is a college senior majoring in biology and environmental sciences. We spent the afternoon working out some of the material infrastructure for his senior research project - which has something to do with the feeding habits of local birds (of which there are, here in our neck of Western NY, a remarkable variety of species - look here and here, for instance). It was fun spending time and witnessing him thinking the project through a bit.

Once Doug headed back to his apartment I came across this post - "Dying for Discovery" - at The New York Times. It recounts the risks and sacrifices that naturalists have made studying things like birds over the years. The author than remarks:
"We go to great lengths commemorating soldiers who have died fighting wars for their countries. Why not do the same for the naturalists who still sometimes give up everything in the effort to understand life?"
He goes on ". . . it also occurs to me that they might prefer to be remembered some other way than on a stone monument, or on paper" and suggests that some of the research done by naturalists (who happened to lose their lives on a research trip) in Amazonia prompted Peru and Bolivia to establish large national Parks to protect wild habitats and species.

I often complain that we disproportionately honor those who have gone off to kill or who have been killed in war. I think this post is important for reminding us that there surely are other domains of endeavor in which individuals risk their lives and who deserve our gratitude and admiration.

I find it obsequious and cloying to hear the radio show hosts and politicians offering a "Thank you for your service" whenever they encounter a veteran or military personnel. What about the social workers and parole officers and teachers and, yes, scientists and artists, who work in underpaid professions for years and decades in order to contribute to a better world? After all, they could be out there peddling sub-prime mortgages (or some other form of snake oil) and making real money. When was the last time you heard someone - anyone - publicly thank those folks for their service? No, instead we are taking aim at them (the teachers and parole officers are, after all members of those dastardly public sector unions) in the misguided quest for fiscal responsibility.

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16 January 2011

Passings ~ Judy Bonds (1952-2011)

Environmental Activist Judy Bonds has died. Bonds (the picture here is from 2009) was a critic of mountaintop removal coal mining and was director of Coal River Mountain Watch. You can find an obituary here in The New York Times and another one from West Virginia Public Broadcasting here.

I've lifted this video remembrance from Appalachia Rising:

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15 January 2011

"Closure is Bullshit"

My son Jeffrey died nearly four years ago. I work pretty hard at not being the 'dead boy's father.' Instead, I am a man who's son has died. In that role there are lots of parts of my life - some extremely good, others less so, still others indifferent, a handful of active irritants. You can count Doug and (my own) August and Susan among the very, very best parts. Writing here regularly ranks up there, but in a different category. Lots of things have happened to me or are going on in my life. And, by the way, my son died nearly four years ago. Please don't forget that last thing, while I try to sort out and enjoy the rest too. Hence the title to this post, which I've lifted from An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.*

Elizabeth McCracken has written the single best book - a very frank and sorrowful and cynical and funny all at once memoir - I have read on this struggle. Now, you may think that faint praise, given that what little I have written here about the literature of grief is ambivalent at best. O.K., so there is no real competition. This is a wonderful book nevertheless. It made me sob and laugh out loud repeatedly, more than once almost simultaneously.

McCracken and I occupy different branches of the family tree of grieving, an image she plants in the book. But our branches are adjacent. And while we never have met, I understand completely the inappropriate, irresistible urge she describes to treat people, in this instance herself, as close. So far I've resisted the urge to send McCracken a thank you note. But I could not resist writing about her book here. Go ahead and read it.
* Elizabeth McCracken. 2008. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. New York: Little Brown.

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13 January 2011

Tucson Billboard

Gee, what is it like to live in Tuscon? Is all interaction, all communication about shooting? (This comes from HuffPost.) Are right wingers incapable of thinking without reference to this sort of metaphor or analogy?

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12 January 2011

Walter Mosley (12 January 1952 - )

Walter Mosley, San Francisco, 2010.
Photograph © Mark Coggins.

I've nearly missed this, but it is Walter Mosley's birthday. Over the years I have read probably two-thirds of his two dozen plus books. That is a lot of thought provoking fun - a rare combination. I've posted on Mosley and his work here a number of times.

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Best Shot (145) ~ Richard Nicholson

(172) Richard Nicholson ~ 'Roy Snell' from the series 'Analog - Last One Out',
2006 (12 January 2011).


11 January 2011

Kelly-Giffords Campaign Messages

In my post yesterday I speculated, without evidence, that the electoral campaign last fall in the 8th Arizona Congressional District was likely to have involved themes of weapons and violence and that Jared Loughner would not have had to try hard to encounter such language or imagery. Well, here are a couple of examples from the the fellow who ran against Gabrielle Giffords. He is tea party darling Jesse Kelly. The top image is an announcement that reportedly appeared on Kelly's web page - I am not sure whether the event actually ever took place. The bottom image is of the candidate himself going to war, presumably against the dastardly liberals. (Thanks to Stan Banos for the links.. And no, I do not support the buffoon Matt Drudge!)

If you visit Kelly's defunct campaign web page now you find a standard comment deploring senseless violence. No mention there about this sort of campaign tactic.

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10 January 2011

Circling the Wagons: Conservatives & Jared Loughner

It would be nice (but wholly unexpected) if a single prominent conservative politician or media mouthpiece would so much as countenance the possibility that right wing rhetoric is even occasionally a bit out of hand. And it would be even nicer if they would acknowledge that it might be possible that those who are mentally unbalanced might be influenced by extreme rhetoric in dangerous ways.

American conservatives are falling over themselves to insist that Jared Loughner is simply a mentally disturbed individual. They point out that his Internet ramblings were just that, ramblings, and so incoherent. Loughner was not a conservative ideologue.* So, on their account, there is no - literally zero - connection between right wing hyperbole, on the Internet or talk-radio or in electoral campaigns, and Loughner's attempt to shoot his "liberal" Congresswoman to death.

This is a sensitive issue. Loughner did something despicable and criminal. No other description will do. But we do need some sort of explanation. That hardly is the same thing. There is no doubt that Loughner is mentally ill. The question is whether that is a sufficient account. I do not think so. And I think that the willingness of conservative figures in the media, in politics, and among the citizenry to engage in de-humanizing violent rhetoric established a crucial context within which Loughner formulated his plans. It is, after all, simply OK these days to carry your weapon to a political event. Just ask conservatives to say otherwise.

Of course, neither the bigoted, reactionary talk radio jocks, nor lunatic web-page sponsors, nor opportunistic politicos on the right instructed Loughner to do anything. And, of course, it is well beyond the ability of social scientists to establish anything like a specific causal explanation in cases like this. Indeed, social science is not much use in establishing general patterns across apparently similar cases. (Which is not to say that they have not tried; for instance here and here.) But having conceded all that, it seems implausible to suggest, as conservatives from Rush Limbaugh to David Brooks are doing, that there is no connection - none - between conservative rhetoric and Loughner's shooting spree. The impulse is to simply chalk this up to the actions of an insane person, thereby individualizing and depoliticizing the event. While I may be wrong, I think this is unpersuasive. Here is why:
(1) Compare Loughner to Seung-Hui Cho, the mentally disturbed student who opened fire on students, staff and faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007. The differences are instructive. First, Cho reportedly was diagnosed from an early age with a set of specific mental disorders. Nothing I have read thus far - for instance this report in The Guardian - suggests that the same is true of Loughner. Second, Cho did not seek out a political figure to assassinate; he shot up a college campus, presumably because he felt aggrieved by fellow students or his academic environment. By contrast, Jared Loughner hunted his target down and shot her at a political event. Why did he not shoot up the Community College from which he'd been expelled? Why did he not go to the Army recruitment center where he'd been rejected? Why did he not track down any of the myriad right-wing politicians roaming across Arizona? He did none of those things, even though, in the case of the College and the Recruiters, the potential sources of alienation and resentment were clear and proximate.

(2) The right typically falls over itself to take credit when its "message" seems to have influenced people to do this or that - say elect Scott Brown over Martha Coakley. But in this instance they insist that there is simply no possible way that quite specific messages - like Sarah Palin's targeting of Gabrielle Giffords - could have any influence on the thinking or actions of anyone. Palin's advertisement was especially prominent and blatant, but not, I suspect, unique in attacking Giffords during the election last fall. Loughner would not have had to expend much effort (if any) to come into contact with the attacks. Indeed, if he were (as news reports suggest) already predisposed to dislike Giffords, he arguably would've been primed to notice them. Again, this is not to say that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy to induce Jard Loughner to do anything. It is simply to say that vicious attacks using violent language or imagery create a cultural ecology of permissiveness in which violence against ones political opponents might seem acceptable. In my view the right in the U.S. has done just that.**
Those on the right in America love to wax eloquently about the virtues of personal responsibility. In this instance, however, they are running as fast as they might from the notion that they - media types, politicos, street-corner screamers - might have contributed in any way whatsoever to creating an ecology in which violent language has become routinized.

My friend Susan makes the important point that, even if it were warranted, there is little that we might do collectively to rein in vitriolic political language. We can answer back, of course. But there is no call for legal penalties for engaging in political speech. (Although I do not think carrying your side arm to a political meeting or coffee shop or church is a speech act. As such that behavior can and should be regulated tightly.) Susan suggests that what we need is tighter regulation on the purchase and ownership of outrageous weaponry (like the 30 round magazines that turned Loughner's pistol into an assault weapon) that is useful only for shooting people. I agree. But, how many conservatives are lining up to back anything like that? (The lunacy of Arizona's lax gun laws is a topic for another time. Let's just say that an armed citizenry did nothing to prevent the Tuscon shootings, either as a deterrent or in the event.) And Susan prompted me to wonder about something else too. How many conservatives, having depicted the Tuscon shootings as the handiwork of a lunatic, are going to buy a plea of 'Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity" in this instance? Will they be happy if Jared Loughner, madman, ends up not in prison but in a mental institution?
* Does the typical caller to Limbaugh or Beck (or Rachel Maddow, for that matter) have a coherent political ideology? Incoherence on that score hardly differentiates Loughner from most Americans.

** And it is not the case, I suspect, that one can simply say "Well, both sides engage in that sort of rhetoric ... blah, blah." I do not have quantitative data, but am willing to wager that the right engages in violent rhetoric and does so in more prominent venues than do "liberals." Any takers?

P.S.: Updated the next morning ~ You can find Brooks developing his rationalizations and evasions here.

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09 January 2011

Graphic Politics, The Full Monty

Since apparently, many of the right wing agitators like Palin are scrambling to take down the incriminating evidence regarding how they promote violence, I figure it is important to provide an archive. Here, I've lifted the full graphic created by those lost in Sarah-land. As expected, Sarah sends condolences but takes no responsibility. Indeed, according to her minions she is totally not responsible for the acts of an insane person. Here is the post from The Caucus blog at The Times:

One of Sarah Palin's top aides responded Sunday to mounting criticism that she had helped to incite the kind of violence that exploded in Arizona at a meet-and-greet by Ms. Giffords, wounding 20 and killing six.

In the wake of the shooting, many people drew attention to a map of the United States that had been part of one of Ms. Palin's Web sites that showed targets on the districts of lawmakers who supported President Obama's health care legislation.

Ms. Giffords was one of the targeted lawmakers, as she noted in an interview on MSNBC last year.

In a radio interview Saturday night, one of Ms. Palin's top aides, Rebecca Mansour, said of the map of lawmakers: "We never, ever, ever intended it to be gun sights." Ms Mansour said attemps to tie Ms. Palin to the violence were "obscene" and "appalling."

"I don't understand how anyone can be held responsible for someone who is completely mentally unstable like this," Ms. Mansour said. "Where I come from the person who is actually shooting is culpable. We had nothing whatsoever to do with this."

She added: "People who knew him said that he is left wing and very liberal. But that is not to say that I am blaming the left for him either."

Ms. Mansour, who helps run SarahPAC, Ms. Palin's political action committee, made the remarks to Tammy Bruce, a radio talk show host, on a podcast made public on the internet. Ms. Bruce is introduced at the beginning of her show as "a chick with a gun and a microphone."

Ms. Bruce complained on her show that liberals were incorrectly politicizing the shooting by blaming conservatives.

"We all know that the liberals, there's something wrong with them," Ms. Bruce said. "The reaction on the left was to start blaming somebody."

Ms. Bruce added that: "Saying that a mass murdering crazy guy is representative somehow of the political dialogue going on, especially with the non violent Tea Party movement....and yet there are attach this to the tea party and other politicians."

I'd characterize this as the obtuse making excuses for the obtuse. The shooter in Tuscon clearly had a screw (or two) loose. But he didn't dream this scenario up on his own. And, the Palin crowd are hardly alone; think of all the nutters wearing their guns to political meetings last year. But here is the question to Palin and others: if there is no connection between the assassination of the federal judge and the attempted assassination of the Congresswoman and the murder of the nine year old girl, then why remove the graphic? If it was OK to run that graphic last fall, why not keep it available now?

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08 January 2011

Graphic Politics

Well, how should we interpret this sort of graphic? I suppose that it is an innocent picture and that anyone who takes it seriously is an insane madman? Guns don't kill people, and pictures don't either. Right. And, of course, firearms belong in church and coffee shops and public meetings. Right, again. I've commented on such nuttiness here before. So where is the responsibility? That is a term that conservatives love to toss around - as though they are committed to values. Is it time yet for conservatives to stand up and not just decry 'senseless violence,' but say 'our rhetoric and our politics inform and contribute to the violence'? I'm guessing that will not happen.

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07 January 2011

Our Heroines: Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, Politician and Nobel Peace
Prize Laureate, 65. Photographs © Platon (2010).

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Portrait of a Failed Politician?

“If you widen the lens, the public is being sold a big lie — that our problems owe to unions and the size of government and not to fraud and deregulation and vast concentration of wealth. Obama’s failure is that he won’t challenge this Republican narrative, and give people a story that helps them connect the dots and understand where we’re going.”~ Robert Reich
Just so. Obama has lost the political battle. Indeed, he never actually engaged it. Rather than challenge the right wing account of political and economic world, he capitulated to it. The result is more or less total failure. And other "liberals" - like Andrew Cuomo, for instance - are following in his footsteps. But that does not mean Obama failed; he is doing precisely what he aims to do. The result is - not "will be," but "is" - a disaster for working class and poor Americans.

So, where might Obama (and his mini-me Andrew Cuomo) start if they wanted to tell a different tale instead of simply embracing the right wing view? It is not all that difficult! Consider a passage from this essay in The Guardian:
"No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems. Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble. It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.

All that was the work of the finance industry.

Yet, as America continues to search for solutions to its economic problems, it is the labour movement, and not the banking sector, that is getting it in the neck. This is despite the fact that many unions, especially in such cases as the bailout of Detroit's automakers, have proved themselves highly flexible in sacrificing wages and long-held workers' rights in order to preserve jobs. Meanwhile, the finance industry, where true and meaningful reform has failed to happen, still squeals as if President Obama were a raving socialist."
In other words, accurately identifying culprits is a reasonable place to start. And the anti-union story about the sources of our economic disaster simply holds no water.

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06 January 2011

Best Shots (144) ~ John Stewart

04 January 2011

Belarus Free Theatre (2)

I posted here a while back on the political repression of the Belarus Free Theatre. You can find an update on their travails here in The New York Times.

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03 January 2011

Peter Ainsworth

Photograph © Peter Ainsworth, from the series Concrete Island.

Over at HuffPost you can find this top-ten list of artists who not only are "emerging" but whom the critic deems especially promising within that category! (Maybe I am a bit cranky today, but I find it presumptuous when critics anoint as "emerging" primarily those artists who the critic herself or himself has noticed. It is simply another instance of the critic - or curator or award jury member - as taste-maker that I've noted here before.)

In any case, the sole photographer on the list is Peter Ainsworth. In this interview, Ainsworth explains that he is preoccupied "with social, political and functional use of the landscape: boundaries that are blurred when one reaches the outskirts of any city." And he remarks that, after meandering through various more contrived approaches his work is "returning to the document. To depicting what I see around me." Fair enough. But the image I've lifted here is (if I understand correctly) part of series taken in a highway underpass which Ainsworth had to actively (if somewhat inadvertently) discover. It didn't pop up in his field of vision in any simple way. In that sense his experience is like Edward Burtynsky initially stumbling on otherworldly landscapes around mines.

I actually think much of Ainsworth's work (I find the term "practice," which he himself uses repeatedly, obnoxious) quite good. But his preoccupation with the periphery of landscapes really reminds me of Robert Adams or Richard Misrach; and, theoretically, his focus on the human traces on the landscape brings to mind Rebecca Solnit's various writings on the topic.


01 January 2011

Binayak Sen

Binayak Sen is an Indian physician and human rights activist. After prolonged incarceration and legal proceedings, an Indian court has sentenced Sen to life imprisonment for sedition. The court made its decision under special security laws. Sen's lawyers plan to appeal the decision. You can read a brief report here in The New York Times; there is an older interview with Sen from Democracy Now! here. We rightly hear lots of outrage when this or that authoritarian regime seeks to silence dissent. It will be interesting to gauge the response to this decision in 'the world's largest democracy.'

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