28 February 2011

Excuse Me Dr. Barro, Your Ideology Is Showing

Economist Robert Barro has published this anti-union Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal today. Pretty predictably, he wants to blame the fiscal crisis in the states on unions. Is there actual empirical evidence that, as Barro puts it, " the structure of strong public-employee unions . . . helped to create the unsustainable fiscal situation."* It would be nice to see it. The reason why Barro presents none is that, as far as I know, there is none to present. Even an economist should be able to do better than that.

Barro does present some evidence that right-to-work laws promote economic development. There is no real surprise that right to work states attract more robust corporate activity than more union friendly states. Of course they do. Corporate investment goes where companies don't face any countervailing power. And what about relative wages and benefits in those states? I don't know the empirics in any detail, but I am wagering that there are pretty impressive distributive consequences of disallowing unions. (Have a look at this report from CNN for some initial warrant on that score.) Surely Dr. Barro wouldn't want to discount the massive inequalities that untrammeled corporate power (and markets are meant to be power free zones, no?) generate!

As a theoretical matter Barro presses the claim that "collective bargaining on a broad scale is more similar to an antitrust violation than to a civil liberty." Of course that requires that we ignore the power asymmetries that exist in virtually any labor negotiation between an employer and individual employees. The historical corollary of this theoretical complaint is that Barro seems to want us to head directly back to the late 19th Century, to a time when the state imposed atomization on the labor market and thereby enhanced the power of employers. In other words, Barro doesn't like the way democratic politics has reshaped labor markets by sanctioning collective bargaining. After all, the Wagner Act (1935) cleared Congress and was signed by Roosevelt.

In this essay Barro displays a problem to which economists are quite susceptible: they too readily allow their ideology - usually some facile version of libertarianism - to impede their analysis. We know in general terms what markets (there is no such thing as "the market" except in the world of right leaning ideology) require to work effectively. We know too that allowing collective action can offset biases that prevent effective functioning of markets in atomized settings. There are lots and lots of efficient market outcomes. There is no reason why we ought to opt for the most asymmetrical and unequal of those on offer. At least nothing Barro says here suggests that we should.
* Since he is preoccupied with Wisconsin, is there any evidence that the public employee pension system is in trouble there? Barro implies that it is, but offers not a shred of evidence.

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26 February 2011

Follow-Up on "Today, we are all Joan Miró" - On Art & Politics

Joan Miró. Plate 4 from the Black and Red Series, 1938.
Image © 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

A couple of days ago I posted some thoughts on this column at The Guardian by Jonathan Jones. In the piece Jones castigates "us" as being like Joan Miró who responded to the Spanish Civil War from afar rather than like George Orwell who went off to fight with the Republicans. Here are some more questions. Does art have to be activist to be political? The two are not the same, after all. Is "activist" even the best strategy? What would Jones make of the long series of paintings Robert Motherwell made over the course of decades, all entitled "Elegies for the Spanish Republic"?

Robert Motherwell. Elegy for the Spanish Republic, #126 (1965-75).

Or what about another visual cut at fascism - Leon Golub's series of canvases on torture and interrogation? Are we even in a position to know - even post- Abu Ghraib - about, let alone intervene in, such practices? At least one can ask if we know enough detail to intervene in practices like those Golub depicts that we generally suspect are occurring.

Leon Golub. Interrogation II, (1980-81).

More to the point, should we be criticizing artists like Golub, Motherwell, and Miró - holding them up for thinly disguised scorn - because they are not Orwell? After all, they "just" or "only" used their art to depict horrors and consequences. They didn't take up arms. And so ...?

And, of course, in an era where one's adversaries are likely enough to be mercenaries (ex-military paid, say, by Blackwater or its corporate offspring) or child soldiers (who are basically trained sociopaths) would taking up arms be anything other than more or less certain and largely pointless suicide? Jones would surely flinch at shooting down a twelve year old, even if the child were armed. And in that instant the boy would have shot Jones - to say nothing of you or I - for his trouble. The mercenary would've killed Jones before he had time to flinch. Nothing personal in this. But what is it that Jones expects of art?

Politics does not generally involve violence. And it cannot require intervention or action across time or space or absent some coordinated movement. Nor can it demand that essentially individual level activity like painting generate immediate, unambiguous action. That is the remit of the propagandist. The works I have lifted for this post are attempts to raise questions, provoke reflection, give voice to emotions and to do those things in response to violence and terror. It seems to me that we are in Miró's debt - and in Golub's and Motherwell's too. And it seems to me that Jones misses the point.

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25 February 2011


Statistics are unrelenting. Today the probabilities, small as they are, caught up with Susan and I and our hopes for the future. . . .

Asa Anthony Orr Johnson (13 November 2010 - 25 February 2011).

Update/clarification (27 February): In my sadness I fear I have mis-communicated. Asa was conceived last November  . . .  and miscarried last week. Neither Susan nor I put much stock in the notion of an "unborn baby"; at just 17 weeks Asa was a promise as much as anything. But we had given Asa his name and our plans for the future had begun to orbit around the possibilities he held out. I am sorry to have mislead if I did; it was not my intent.

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"Today, we are all Joan Miró."

So says Jonathan Jones in this essay in The Guardian. In so doing he places a finger on the moralistic types who condemn violence and oppression but, when the chips are down, are unprepared not only "to fight for justice but also to face and tell the truth." Miró, it seems, fell into that category during the Spanish Civil War. I'll take Jones's word for that since I don't know the actual history. So, let's assume that Miró both could've taken up arms in the Republican cause and didn't.

The hero of this piece is Orwell - the anti-Miró - who both set off to fight the fascists in Spain and (in Homage to Catalonia) frankly exposed the foibles and hypocrisies of the Republican coalition. I agree with Jones on the need to engage in politics not philanthropy or posturing. But I disagree that "fine words ... spoken in support of fine ideals" are necessarily empty or cheap. And I suggest too that it was difficult enough to set off to fight fascists in Spain - where it was relatively easy to tell the good guys from the bad. In many (perhaps not all) conflicts today the demarcation is murkier.

And the complicity is deeper too, I suspect. Mubarak, of course was our client; and so too was Saddam Hussein. Our Naval fleet, I believe, anchors in Bahrain. Ought we be taking up arms? Would doing so now be too late? Now, once the people in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and lord knows where else have taken to the streets, should we be there providing armed protection? Just what is Jones suggesting? Is he trading moralism for delusion?

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24 February 2011

Coming Soon to a Local Independent Music Store Near You

A new record by Buddy Miller and a bunch of his friends. You can find a little taste here - a cover of a George Jones tune. I posted about Buddy here a while back and things have not changed since then.

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Best Shots (151) ~ Michael Hess

(178) Michael Hess ~ Bingo, Southampton 2008 (23 February 2011).


Wake Up Democrats! American Workers are Under Assault by Republicans

It is no surprise that Republicans across the country have taken aim on unions and done so in a concerted campaign. Nor is it a surprise that they have done so hypocritically, rationalizing their political agenda in terms of the need to address fiscal crisis in the states. What is also unsurprising - and no less disturbing - is that neither the unions nor the Democrats seem to have had a clue that this attack was in the offing. They were too busy hoping for the emergence of civil, bi-partisan politics. Is there a lesson here?

As I drove in this morning there were two useful segments on npr: the first confirmed the predictable, namely that the Obama administration is steering clear of controversy and hoping for a nice bi-partisan resolution to the labor conflicts in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio ... the second was an interview with a law professor who studies public sector unions and, guess what, they are not nearly the drag on the public budget or boon to selfish workers that the Republicans portray them as being. Surprised?

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21 February 2011

This is Independent Media?

If you read The Guardian, it was front page news yesterday that Raymond Davis - the man at the center of current dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan - is a CIA operative. I suppose that is hardly a surprise. Nor, unfortunately, is it a surprise that the American press has been complicit in seeking to hide that fact. As The Guardian reports: "A number of US media outlets learned about Davis's CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration." Just now* The New York Times has admitted to this complicity:
"The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A., and on Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication. "
Even though Davis's CIA connection is common knowledge you can, for instance, listen to this report at npr from this morning and never hear that fact mentioned. This is independent media?
* Meaning within the past hour.

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20 February 2011

The Assault on Lara Logan Should Not Be Marginal to Our Reflections on the Flowering of Democracy

Photojournalism is a dangerous occupation. But as is typically the case, the dangers are not evenly distributed. There are two forthright essays at The New York Times on the dangers that beset women journalists. You can find them here and here. The women who've written these essays - Kim Barker and Sarina Tavernise - were prompted to do so by the vicious attack on correspondent Lara Logan by a mob of men in Tahrir Square last week. It goes without saying, I hope, that Logan has proven courageous in making public her own experience. In case it doesn't, I recommend this thoughtful comment. It is good news that she apparently is recovering from the physical harm she suffered.

Yet another response to Logan's experience appears here at npr. In it, Jane Arraf rightly holds up a mirror to those here in the west who are condemning the sorts of cultures that allegedly sustain attacks like the one Logan endured. Arraf's remarks are not, as conservatives will surely insist, about blaming the West; they are an invitation to learn something about ourselves instead of merely posing as cheerleaders. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the spread of democratic values. But there is nothing wrong either with acknowledging how partially and precariously they exist here at home.

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19 February 2011

On McEwan and the Jerusalem Prize

Ian McEwan (2009). Photograph © Phillip Hollis.

You may like Ian McEwan and his fiction or not. I really have no opinion on that matter. But I do very much like his approach to receiving the Jerusalem Prize tomorrow. He has rebuked those who call for an intellectual and cultural boycott of Israel even as he frankly criticizes the deep and abiding horrors of Israeli policy toward Palestinians. You can read about his trip to Israel for the Prize ceremony here in The Guardian. I have posted here repeatedly about the folly of boycotts - in Israel specifically but elsewhere too. Politics is about arguing and that is what we ought to be doing. It seems to me that McEwan gets that.

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Retirement? What was that?

For those who think privatizing social security is just a terrific idea, I recommend this story from The Wall Street Journal. How many of your friends and relatives will end up eating cat food in their old age? Not only do people discount the future and not save enough, but the private funds most of us must rely upon are insecure and volatile. The people getting rich off your 401(k) are the same financial firms that brought you the current depression.


Change the Subject: Wisconsin & Framing the Debate About Public Sector Unions

I listened to this report on npr this morning. And I've been reading about the events in Wisconsin and elsewhere here and here and here. I have to say that the Democratic assembly representatives are doing just the right thing. They have shown more gumption than the Obama administration has done over the past two years!

There are a couple of issues that are disturbing about the way things are transpiring. Let's talk about secondary matters. First, the Wisconsin governor is clearly trying to force de-unionization on the workers by demanding not just sharing the costs of financial hardship, but by seeking to so constrain the scope of collective bargaining as to make the union irrelevant. Second, the Governor exempted unions representing police, fire and other emergency responders. Guess what? Those were unions that supported his electoral campaign. If this were Indonesia we'd describe that as corruption. Here we call it Republican governance. Finally, the fiscal crisis in the states is being cause in the first instance by venality in the public sector and government incompetence and malfeasance at the federal level. So the demands being placed on public sector employees and recipients of state-level aid are completely misplaced.

What is even more troubling is the rhetoric surrounding the uprising in Wisconsin: it generally runs like this: "Public sector unions should shut up and quit whining. After all, they are 'just' being asked to kick in for health benefits and pensions. In other words, they are being asked to share the pain." It is easy enough to reply by making a couple of points. (1) Well, the workers already (last year) agreed to concessions. And (2) the workers are outraged (rightfully) over the Governor's attempt to undermine their right to bargain collectively.

Even those points are off the mark. The problem here is not that public sector unions are spoiled. It is that private sector workers are deprived. They by and large lack unions and so are now and have been getting hammered economically. How do you think we got the massive, decades long shift in income and wealth to the already rich? Why is it that so many private sector workers have low paying, no benefit jobs? Why is it that all that has happened despite rising productivity in the U.S.? The short answer is no unions. And that is what progressives ought to be pushing in response to the way events are being framed.

What progressives ought to be saying is this: "If the Republicans manage to undermine public sector unions, then the downward pressure on wages and benefits will increase across the economy. All you folks in the private sector will bear the consequences too and those consequences will be negative, for you and your families." Call for solidarity, point out the divide and conquer strategy of the right.

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17 February 2011

Best Shots (150) ~ Nicholas Muellner

(177) Nicholas Muellner ~ Untitled, 2003 (16 February 2011).

For the second week running I will break with habit an comment on one of The Guardian's series of "Best Shots." As it turns out Muellner lives not too far from where I live; indeed I have been to the falls he depicts here. And then there is his comment about the photograph:
" The image has an ominous feel. At the time, I was shooting a lot of beautiful winter landscapes that had a sinister feeling. This was during the buildup to the Iraq war, so I wanted to make images that had a sense of history and knowledge slipping away, being covered up. That's what the snow is doing. And the people walking toward the waterfall are literally walking on thin ice. Logic tells you they're on the ground – but in the picture, they're just floating in white space. "


The Contemporary Condition

. . . is a blog produced by a group of political theorists who announced themselves here a year ago today. I know several of these folks and know of several others. While;e they are not people with whom I regularly rub elbows, theirs is an interesting and provocative enterprise. So, I thought I would call it to your attention.


16 February 2011

Unions ... in Egypt and Wisconsin

What do Cairo and Madison, Wisconsin have in common? There is a simply terrific column by Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post today that draws the parallels. (In case you are not paying much attention to the GOP assault on unions - what's new, right? - here is an update on the Wisconsin situation.)

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Australia ~ Photographers Self-Censor

"Stop Or I Won't Shoot!"
Photograph © Linsey Gosper

Australia is a long way off. But here at the other side of the earth we can learn lessons from the Australians. A couple of years back I posted a number of times about the effort there to censor an exhibition by Bill Henson. The fruits of that effort now seem to have ripened. Here are remarks from this essay photographer Linsey Gosper published in The Sydney Morning Herald:
"Censorship prevails, not only through policy, the media and institutions, but more significantly from artists themselves.

From my personal experience as a photographic artist, and from conversing with many diverse Australian photographers, the most common change in the creation of art now is self-censorship."
This is a forthright statement. It will no doubt displease not only the censors but the photographers who are assiduously avoiding them. And the latter will surely condemn Gosper.

I must say I am unsurprised by this analysis. We have seen self-censorship and much less forthright discussions of it elsewhere and for the same reason. So, my question for Ms. Gosper is "what is to be done?" Having written the essay, is there a venue for challenging the oppressive atmosphere in practice?

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15 February 2011

The Conventional View of Detroit

A mural in East Detroit. Photograph © Danny Wilcox-Frazier.

I pinched this photograph from a photo essay, entitled "Elegy for Detroit," at Mother Jones. (You can find yet another, equally bleak, collection of photos by the same photographer here, also at Mother Jones.) I missed it last fall when it appeared. But I have a sense of deja vu thinking about it. I posted here about a similar vision of the city a while back and what I said then applies in this instance as well. I won't repeat myself other than to say that Detroit, like, for instance, all of the cities across Western New York, is a third world country. And photographers seem to be treating such locations as such - sites of despair and hopelessness, nothing more. This conventional view seems to me not so much false as (for reasons I advance in my earlier post) very partial.


14 February 2011

Five Years Old

My son August is 5 years old today. This is another of the pictures his brother Douglas took of him when he was visiting last summer. Happy Birthday My Sweet Boy! I miss you.* And don't forget - Papa loves August . . .
* I have never actually been able to spend August's birthday with him. I thank his mom for that. And of course she continues her campaign for the 'mommy dearest' award by once again refusing to give him the present I sent out. Did I mention she has pulled such things numerous times before? Oh well; nothing to be done.

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Calling a Lie a Lie

This post by Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com is worth your time. How can journalists live up to their (usually vastly exaggerated) claim to 'speak truth to power' if they cannot say that something is false? I am not a fan - at all - of Anderson Cooper. But Greenwald suggests how deep the problem actually goes:
"Had Anderson Cooper used such harsh language to describe the statements of someone universally despised in American mainstream political circles (an American Enemy -- such as, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez), it would likely have gone unnoticed. But here, Cooper used such language to condemn one of America's closest and most cherished allies, and it was thus gently deemed a departure from journalistic propriety. But had Cooper said such things about a leading American political official, then a true journalistic scandal would have erupted."


Can Seeing Democratic Politics in the Cairo Streets CHange Stereotypes in the West?

Antigovernment Protesters that had been sleeping at the edge
of Tahir Square since the beginning of the uprising wave the
victory sign after hearing about the resignation of Mr. Mubarak
(11 February 2011). Photograph © Moises Saman/
New York Times.

Men of Middle-Eastern extraction wearing the kaffiyeh celebrating success of pro-democracy protests. How can that be?

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12 February 2011

Democratic Revolution in Egypt: Thinking With Pictures

Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak
resigned and handed power to the military, in Cairo,
Egypt, Friday,
Feb. 11, 2011
. Photograph © Khalil Hamra/AP.

On Twitter, Nevine Zaki circulated an image she says she
photographed Wednesday of Christians protecting Muslims
during prayer. Photograph © Nevine Zaki (3 February 2011).

Before the fall ... anti-Mubarak protesters wave Egyptian
flags at Cairo's Tahrir Square on 10 February 2011.
Photograph © Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images.

A general view shows the crowded Tahrir Square in Cairo on
February 10, 2011. Tens of thousands of Egyptian workers walked
out in mass nationwide strikes to demand wage increases and
show support for the widening revolt against Mubarak's regime.
Photograph © MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images.

So what is it that we learn from events in Egypt? Well, first there is the dissonance that many Americans must feel when watching dark skinned throngs, chanting in Arabic, engaged in protests for - democracy! After all, isn't it the case that we are supposed invariably to be suspicious of Muslims? But here are Muslims partaking in prayer during pro-democracy protests. Second, there is the observation that striking workers were an integral part of political events in Cairo. Strikes? Yikes, there is a notion. Finally, there is the largely - not entirely, but largely - non-violent character of the protests. Peaceful Muslims? How can that be? Islam in intimately related to Terrorism, no? Just wondering.

Follow Up: Oh yeah, I did neglect the obvious. Democracy here is not in voting booths or legislative assembly, but in the streets and the public square.

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11 February 2011

Category Mistake at World Press Photo Awards ~ Top Prize Given Not for Photojournalism But for Propaganda

'This could become one of those pictures - and we have maybe just ten in our lifetime - where if somebody says "you know, that picture of a girl...", you know exactly which one they're talking about.' ~ Jury chair David Burnett

'It's an incredibly strong image. It sends out an enormously powerful message to the world, about the 50% of the population that are women, so many of whom still live in miserable conditions, suffering violence. It is strong because the woman looks so dignified, iconic.' ~ Juror Ruth Eichhorn

'It's a terrific picture, a different picture, a frightening picture. It's so much about not just this particular woman, but the state of women in the world.'~ Juror Vince Aletti

'Part of what the World Press Photo contest does is to take pictures to a wider audience, an audience that is going to ask why? And this photo makes people ask "What on earth...?" "What's going on...?" "What has happened...?" For me, this was the picture that asked the most important questions.'~ Juror Aidan Sullivan

The jury decision is in and this picture by Jodi Bieber won the main prize - the World Press Photo of the Year, 2010 - at the World Press Photo awards. You can find the jury member's rationalizations I have lifted above here. The category mistake is that, perhaps despite the photographer's intention*, this image was an integral part of a TIME Magazine propaganda piece last summer. I have defended that claim here repeatedly and will not reiterate my view. What I find especially disturbing here is that the jurors are aiding and abetting the propaganda campaign by de-contextualizing Bieber's photo, presenting it as an iconic representation of the plight of women across the globe. In fact, it was deployed to much different ends, namely in an attempt to shore up support for a brutal decade old war. None of the jurors quoted on the World Press Photo page so much as mention the war or its costs. Shame.

Among the observations that animate my preoccupation with photography is this one from David Levi Strauss: "The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?" That is a question the World Press Photo jury either neglected to ask or asked and then set aside. I am unsure which possibility is worse.
* Here I am being generous. On the front page Bieber's web site this evening you will find not the simple image but the TIME cover.

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A Question Prompted by The World Press Photo Awards

A man throwing the body of a dead child at the morgue of the
general hospital, Port-au-Prince, Jan. 15, 2010.
(AP Photo/Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP)

I came across this photograph at "In Focus" over at The Atlantic where it was part of this post showing some of the 2011 World Press Photo winners in various categories. I generally take a pretty permissive stance on what is a justifiable subject for photography - whether art or documentary or photojournalism. There are lots of things that are a waste of time, or simply not to my taste, but so what. I am not too patient with the squeamish.

There are a lot of things about the world that it is hard to imagine. And photography is, as philosopher Patrick Maynard points out, a technology that usefully amplifies our capacity to imagine. Generally, I think this is a necessary task. And it identifies the intersection of politics and photography understood (regardless of genre) as an art. This image takes me right up to - maybe across - the bounds of possibility. I find it excruciating. And, no, I cannot imagine being this child's sibling or parent or neighbor. And I cannot imagine, either, being the worker at the morgue.

On the other hand, this is the reality of an epidemic. I have just shown my undergraduate students films on James Nachtwey and Sebastião Salgado, both of whom photographed the mass deaths from cholera in the refugee camps housing Hutus who had fled following the genocide in Rwanda. Their images depict earth moving equipment being used to scoop up piles of corpses and dumping them in mass graves. Gruesome, but important in keeping the epidemic from getting worse. This photograph nevertheless seems worse - meaning more brutal - to me.

So, my question is whether this image crosses the line. I am undecided. It seems as though various editors are undecided too. You will not find it reproduced among the images in the report of the WPP awards at The Guardian [1] or the BBC [2]; but it is included without comment in the reports at The National Geographic [3] and The New York Times [4]. At The Atlantic you have to click through this message - Warning: This image may contain graphic or objectionable content. Click to view image - before viewing the image.

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New Blog ~ "In Focus" at The Atlantic

Last week I was in Utah and a smart woman I met there, Ella Myers, pointed out to me a new photography blog at The Atlantic. It is called "In Focus" and is run by her friend Alan Taylor (who previously ran "The Big Picture" at The Boston Globe). In any case, this is a welcome addition - combining a sharp eye and way better producti
on values than you'll ever see around here! - so stop by and check things out.


09 February 2011

Best Shots ( 149 ) ~ Elina Brotherus

(176) Elina Brotherus ~ Self Portrait (?) 2003 (9 February 2011).

I normally don't comment on the images in this series. First I want to once again thank The Guardian for running it and for their photography coverage more generally. Then I want to say that I have a question. What does it mean to say this is Brotherrus's "best shot" when someone else actually clicked the shutter? Just asking.


Is There Something in the Water?

Last year it was Democrat Eric Massa resigning his Congressional seat for nuttiness. Today it is Republican Chris Lee resigning his Congressional seat for nuttiness. The two represented adjoining districts here in Western New York. The region is developmentally challenged (in the economic sense) and we cannot manage to keep a sane person in Congress. That helps. Of course, I exclude my own Congresswoman, Louise Slaughter, who is terrific.

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07 February 2011

Courage: "An Open Letter from an Artist to a Mexican Crime Cartel Boss"

"Do you ever feel sorry and secretly cry? Do you sometimes look at yourself in the mirror and feel embarrassed or angry? Do you really believe that Jesus Malverde, St. Judas Tadeo and the Holy Death are protecting you? Are you willing to pay the huge price of putting your relatives and friends at risk for a relatively short life of power, sex and glamour? Do the movies and soap operas that you inspire make the daily risks worthwhile? Don’t you ever wonder if creating a truce with other cartels might actually be beneficial to you and to the whole country? Am I naïve for asking these questions?"

Photograph © Michael Macor / The Chronicle.

At In These Times this week you can find this courageous open letter by performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. In his letter Gómez-Peña addresses the performative dimensions of the violence and mayhem that the drug cartels generate. The passage I've lifted above contains a series of hardly naive questions. Unfortunately, the answer to each is very likely not those Gómez-Peña would like. And I fear that he has placed his well-being in jeopardy by speaking out.

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06 February 2011

Who Says We Lack Bi-Partisanship? Or, Batista, Pahlavi, and Marcos, Oh My!

Occasionally, the folks at The New York Times get things right. Today, they published this story about U.S. foreign policy toward authoritarian tyrants. Here are some of the good bits:
"If the United States is, as so many presidents have said in so many speeches, the world’s pre-eminent champion of democracy, then why does the drama unfolding in Cairo seem so familiar?

A Washington-friendly dictator, propped up for decades by lavish American aid as he oversees a regime noted for brutality, corruption and stagnation, finally faces the wrath of his people. An American administration struggles over what to say, what to do and what to expect if the strongman is toppled.

Every country has both values and interests. Sometimes they coincide — for example, promoting human rights can help combat terrorism — and sometimes they conflict. What makes the United States stand out, perhaps, is how frequently American officials proclaim their values to the world, setting themselves up for charges of hypocrisy when a policy is expedient rather than idealistic.

History is rich with precedents. ... Since World War II, the White House, under the management of both parties, has smiled on at least a couple of dozen despots."
The report is brief, hence leaves out some especially deadly clients (Pinochet, Hussein - yes, the very same Saddam - Somoza, Suharto, etc.) but basically hits the nail on the head. Of course, it is unclear whether The Times would encourage support for the values over the interests here. Are they concerned about the hypocrisy? Or are they concerned that the bi-partisan American consensus is to back a dictator more or less whenever given the chance?

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Reading Around - 50 Designers Pick Books

I stumbled across the Designers & Books page which gives you an idea what these folks think are important things to read. I always find these things interesting.


Best Shots (148) ~ Robert McCabe

(175) Robert McCabe - Emperor Penguin, Ross Island,
Antarctica, October 1959 (2 February 2011).