30 April 2011

Trump: The Caricature

Donald Trump during a speech in Las Vegas on April 28, 2011.
Photograph: David Becker/Getty Images.

Have you seen a picture lately of Donald Trump with his mouth closed? This photo is from The New York Times today. It seems that his snarling visage is festooned everywhere. All for nothing.
P.S.: One thing I've not seen any comment on is Obama's characterization of this episode. He said he hopes to put the birth certificate issue to rest because it simply meant being "distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.” That final phrase seem to fit Trump to a T.


28 April 2011

Best Shots (160) ~ Philippe Vermès

(187) Philippe Vermès ~ Atelier Populaire, May '68
(27 April 2001).


27 April 2011

Jumping Through Hoops to Satisfy Paranoid Right-Wing Conspiracy Theorists

Are you satisfied? Please note: what has been "proven" here is that those who've been fixated on this nonsense are morons. This whole episode is a prime piece of evidence for establishing competency tests for citizenship.*
* For another such episode look here. Lunacy is bi-partisan.

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26 April 2011

A Real Plan for Deficit Reduction

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has a budget proposal out that is worth considering. It should embarrass the Obama administration and any supporter of the administration still harbouring the illusion that the president is all about hope and change. Krugman gives it a thumbs up, the folks at The Economist give it a thumbs up too, ditto The Guardian . . . and, of course, I have to say that my own Congressional Representative is a CPC member . . . Louise Slaughter does Western NY proud!
P.S.: It turns out that the CPC plan works mostly by identifying and addressing the actual sources of our deficit - namely run away defense spending (on Republican sponsored wars in Iraq & Afghanistan) and the Bush administration tax cuts. Unsurprisingly, I find that gratifying (look here and here).

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25 April 2011

Drawing John Berger

There is a nice story in The Guardian here about John Berger, occasioned by the imminent publication in Britain of a new book of his entitled Bento's Sketchbook. Of course, the book won't appear here in the states until late fall.

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24 April 2011

Bright Moments

Yesterday, my oldest son Doug played in the last home game of his lacrosse career at Nazareth. NAZ lost badly, but the sun shown. And today he called to tell me that his adviser told him he did an "outstanding" job on the Senior Research Project for his Biology Major. It doesn't get better than that.

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21 April 2011

Best Shots (159) ~ Melanie Friend

(186) Melanie Friend ~ East Berlin, 1990 (20 April 2011).


20 April 2011

Photojournalists killed in LIbya

Two committed and accomplished photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, have been killed while working in Libya. You can find coverage of the story at The Guardian here and here and here, at The New York Times here and here and here, and at npr here.Needless to say, this is very sad.

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18 April 2011

Government 101

France, bureaucracy, Picardie, 2006. Pascale Hoornaert (b. 1952) works
for eight hours a week as town clerk in Ancienville (population 78), Aisne
department, Pidardie region. She holds the same position in two other
villages nearby, working a total of 31 hours per week. Monthly salary:
1,025 euro (US$ 1,348). Photograph © Jan Banning.

Lee, New Hampshire (population 4,145) Board of Selectmen, January 27, 2003
(L to R) Dwight Barney (Chairman), Joseph Ford, Richard Wellington.
Photograph © Paul Shambroom.

At The Guardian today there is this short notice of quite interesting work by Dutch photographer Jan Banning that consists of portraits of bureaucrats at work in eight different countries ("Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen"). Banning suggests his "photography has a conceptual, typological approach reminding of August Sander’s ‘Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts’ (‘People of the Twentieth Century’)." Put aside that by declaring the work "conceptual" he risks setting off yet another round of whining by Guardian photography critic Sean O'Hagan.* What strikes me about these portraits is less the comparison to Sander, than the series called "Meetings" that American photographer Paul Shambroom did several years ago. Shambroom toured the U.S. photographing local government 'in action.'

In Banning's images it is interesting to note the context; nearly all of the officials work under the watchful eye of the heroic or the powerful (Gandhi, Mao, Putin ...), often surrounded by the trappings of legitimacy. It is interesting to contrast these banal scenarios with the many images of disgruntled citizens manning the barricades or with photos of famous elected officials. Politics only appears glamorous.
* For my previous (mostly) dissents from O'Hagan's various complaints look here.

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Workshop ~ Blogging Images: Photojournalism & Public Commentary

This is the poster advertising an upcoming workshop I have been invited to take part in on April 30th. The event is hosted by Robert Hariman (No Caption Needed) at Northwestern University. The other presenters are photographer Brian Ulrich (Not If But When) and bloggers Michael Shaw (BagNewsNotes) and John Lucaites (No Caption Needed). This is pretty impressive company and the workshop should be fun. The plan is for us each to talk a bit about what we do with our blogs as the basis for discussion with students in the morning and then have sessions with students in the afternoon to discuss their own work.
P.S.: For information about the workshop write: j.baldwin.philippi@u.northwestern.edu


17 April 2011

A Business Major: What is It Good For?

Earlier this spring the University of Rochester where I teach announced that it is inaugurating an undergraduate major in business. (UofR is not alone. At the same time SUNY College at Brockport where Susan teaches is launching a business school.) Many of my colleagues in the Arts and Sciences take what might be called a dim view of this initiative. Proponents of the initiative tend to depict this as typical snottiness on the part of over-educated, left-leaning elites. In case you think that the skepticism is just that, you ought to read this article from The New York Times Magazine. Actual research finds that Business majors study less and less hard than their peers who major in other subjects and, unsurprisingly, they seem to get less from their education as a result.* And then we set them loose to make decisions that impact the lives of others in fundamental ways. And, of course, the article suggests that what the best undergraduate business programs provide is essentially - yes, you guessed it! - a typical liberal arts education in science, social science or humanities.
* One curiosity in the article is the disjunction between the research results that find b-majors to be working less on average and the claims by faculty and administrators in the article that only a minority of their own students fit that profile. I can imagine a set of factors that might differentiate most business students at Radford or Ohio University from the patterns discovered in the research studies. Whether those factors actually are at play is an empirical question. And I am absolutely confident that the business majors at Rochester all will be above average!

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16 April 2011

Memo to Joe Nocera (and the People Who Hired Him): Try Harder!

Some of you may have noticed that The New York Times has added a new columnist to its editorial page. His name is Joe Nocera and, as a long time correspondent for business periodicals, he seems now to be the official mouthpiece for corporate insanity at The Times.

To date Nocera has published not one but two columns trumpeting the virtues of hydraulic-fracturing as a way of extracting natural gas. I have posted here several times about the stupidity of that process. Nocera seems not to have read my posts. I suppose that is excusable. But he also seems not to have bothered reading this series of articles that his own newspaper published last month on the lunacy of "fracking." And he seems to have missed the stories running in The Times today on (1) the actual practice of (as opposed to the imagined oh-so-nice-and-clean industry propaganda about) drilling for natural gas and (2) the campaign from the right to subvert state-level environmental regulations.

What is wrong with this sort of oversight? Well, there is the obvious problem is that it makes Nocera look exactly like a shill for industry. But there are a couple of other reasons. The first is that Nocera simply is dismissive of those who raise well-founded objections to natural gas drilling. His standard retort is that skeptics are somehow "biased" or self-interested. The second is that his own position depends and depends crucially on the good-will of industry and the competence of regulators. Unfortunately, there is no basis for either of those presumptions.

In his first column Nocera announced that his thinking on the "fracking" issue specifically and on natural gas drilling more generally owed a large debt to his friend T. Boone Pickens. Talk about a credibility deflating admission.* Of course, good ole T Boone is unconcerned with the money. Ask him and he'll say as much. And as for the safety of natural gas extraction here is Nocera: " In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation." You know, those two southwestern states who've built a well-deserved reputation for environmental stewardship!

This is reasoned argument? Yet Nocera has the temerity to attack the credibility of the Cornell University scientist who - as The Times reported - published research findings suggesting that just maybe natural gas is no panacea. Here is a simple asymmetry to ponder. The Cornell scientist might just possibly have come to his policy conclusions on the basis of his research; spokesmen for the extractive industries in Texas came to their policy views on the basis of the profits they have made or stand to make. We are supposed to think of the common good, the national welfare and so forth; they are allowed to speak for their economic self interest. Of course, many property owners in Pennsylvania and "upstate" New York are concerned about their property values. They might also be concerned about the water pollution and other environmental degradation that follows on gas drilling ('fracking' or otherwise). They may also be worried that the Northeast will turn into Texas or Oklahoma (and I mean that in the best of all possible ways!). Nocera never countenances either possibility.

Instead, Nocera promises us nirvana: "The truth is, every problem associated with drilling for natural gas is solvable. The technology exists to prevent most methane from escaping, for instance. Strong state regulation will help ensure environmentally safe wells. And so on." All we have to do is set aside all the reporting, all the research. Or perhaps, like Nocera, we simply need to place our faith in a world in which vigorous regulators and virtuous energy companies will take great care and avoid the incompetence and venality we've come to expect from them. Any takers? How about all those city dwellers in NYC who get their water from reservoirs upstate?

If you cannot muster the faith, Nocera will invite you on the guilt trip. The one that meanders through the corpses of American military personnel dying for oil in the middle east. There is a leap! Basically, Nocera's "argument" amounts to non-sequitors, ad hominem attacks, cozy-ing up to gas industry billionaires, leaps of faith in industry and regulators, and a plea to believe him (as opposed to reporters and researchers) that natural gas exploration is clean and safe. All this in the first few weeks of his residency on the op-ed columns. What a joke. The Times cannot be that desperate for columnists.
* Memo to Joe: Simply admitting that you are working as a mouthpiece for the rich and financially involved does not excuse sloppy thinking or make otherwise incredible statements believable.

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14 April 2011

Is a Reality Based Politics Possible?

One of the things progressives often wonder is why average working Americans don't repudiate Republican political-economic policies that privilege the wealthy. One clear reason is that average Americans somehow do not manage to align either their assessments of, say, the actual distribution of wealth or the ideal distribution that they would like to see with what is, in fact, the distribution of wealth in the U.S.; the result is that there is a massive disconnect between motivation, assessment of possibilities and actuality. Is it possible to surmount that predicament? That is the first step in any hope for progressive politics. The second step would be to recognize that the data reported here suggest that the average American hardly is an egalitarian.

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Defending Bob Dylan

Here are columns by Jon Wiener (The Nation) and Sean Wilentz (New Y0rker) defending Bob Dylan's recent concerts in China from lame whining by various liberal media elites. Enough said.

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13 April 2011

Best Shots (158) ~ John Gossage

(185) John Gossage ~ Ruby (13 April 2011).


12 April 2011

The Truth From Washington

"The ground shifted and spending reductions Democrats recently described as 'extreme' and 'draconian,' they are now calling 'historic' and 'common sense.' The debate has turned from how much to grow government to how much to reduce it."~ Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

"There are a number of us in the caucus now pushing back very hard on our leadership. ... Who knows where they'll end up, but maybe we can take enough D's with us to make them uncomfortable and to make them stick with making the president act like a Democrat." ~ Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon).

I rarely agree with McConnell about much. But he is dead on here. The Democrats have been politically inept again. They have let the Republicans set the agenda - pure and simple. Meanwhile, Defazio's problem - as a member of the "progressive caucus" in the House - is that Obama is acting like a Democrat.

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Passings ~ Billy Bang (1947-2011)

Billy Bang, Brussels, 2005. Photograph © Daniel Theunynck.

Tonight npr reports that the extraordinary jazz violinist Billy Bang has died. This is a terrible loss. I was privileged to hear Bang play numerous times and found him not only an extremely talented but a fundamentally decent man.
P.S.: Here is the obit from The New York Times.

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11 April 2011

Four Years

My middle son Jeffrey died four years ago today. This is him holding his baby brother August the prior fall. Among the numerous cruelties of Jeff's death is that August (now 5) will never have the chance to get to know him.

Then there are the little ironies. This afternoon Nazareth played Cortland in lacrosse (a thorough thrashing, it must be said, by Cortland). At half-time we learned - via loudspeaker - that my oldest son Douglas's hard work has paid off. He was named the Nazareth Scholar-Athlete of the year from his team; the award goes to a player who is integral to the team and puts in strong academic performance as well. There is no one who would be prouder of Doug's accomplishment than Jeffrey.

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Picturing Dictators

Laurent Gbagbo and his wife in Abidjan after his arrest on Monday.
Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.

This is the image that accompanies reports in The New York Times regarding recent events in the political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. Gbagbo is the former dictator who has refused to relinquish power in the wake of elections last fall. Here is a man who wielded dictatorial powers but appears now, having been captured by opposition forces, rather pathetic. Perhaps he can rely on his friends among prominent American conservatives and evangelicals for solace. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether the opposition - headed by Allassane Ouattra - will be an improvement.

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Adam Zagajewski ~ Three (more) Poems

In one of his poems (not these) Zagajewski notes: "Without silence there would be no music." That is a theme - the symbiosis of music and quietude - that, it seems to me, runs through the poems in this volume.* So, for instance ...

Music In The Car

Music heard with you
at home or in the car
or even while strolling
didn't always sound as pristine
as piano tuners might wish -
it was sometimes mixed with voices
full of fear and pain,
and then that music
was more than music,
it was our living and our dying.
Music Heard With You

Music I heard with you was more
than music . . . - Conrad Aiken

Music heard with you
will stay with us always

Grave Brahms, and elegiac Schubert,
a few songs, Chopin's fourth ballad,

A few quartets with heart -
breaking chords (Beethoven, adagia),

the sadness of Shostakovich, who
didn't want to die.

The great choruses of Bach's Passions,
as if someone had summoned us,

demanding joy,
pure and impartial

joy in which faith
is self-evident.

Some scraps of Lutoslawski
as fleeting as our thoughts.

A black woman singing blues
ran through us like shining steel,

though it reached us on the street
of an ugly, dirty town.

Mahler's endless marches
the trumpet's voice that opens that Fifth Symphony

and the first part of the Nineth
(you sometimes call him "malheur!").

Mozart's despair in the Requiem,
his buoyant piano concertos -

you hummed them better than I did,
but we both know that.

Music heard with you
will grow still with us.
Music Heard

Music heard with you
was more than music
and the blood that flowed through our arteries
was more than blood
and the joy we felt
was genuine
and if there is anyone to thank,
I thank him now,
before it grows too late
and too quiet.

* From: Adam Zagajewski. 2008. Eternal Enemies. New York: FSG,
pages 8, 44-5, 93.

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10 April 2011

Frances Perkins (1880 - 1965)

Frances Perkins, pictured here in an undated photo, was born on this day in 1880. Perkins was the first woman to hold a cabinet level position in the United States government. She was Secretary of Labor under F.D.R; in that post she was instrumental in enacting in Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the first federal minimum wage law as well as limits on the length of the working week.

In the midst of the ongoing onslaught by Republicans (and GOP-wannabe types like Andrew Cuomo) on labor unions it is important to remember that progressives have gained support from unions and that that support translated into bedrock social legislation. You can link to the Frances Perkins Center in Maine here.

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08 April 2011

Sluts for Choice

"So why does the media keep claiming the looming government shutdown is about 'abortion?' . . . In adopting this lazy shorthand, media outlets tacitly accept the Republican frame: PP’s main business is performing abortions, and the federal government—you, the taxpayer!—pays for them. None of this is true. Ninety-seven percent of PP’s business is providing birth control, basic gynecological care, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and the like. Its abortion services are not funded with taxpayer dollars. Thanks to the Hyde amendment, there has been virtually no federal funding of abortion since 1976. Next time, so-called liberal media, try these handy phrases: 'Birth control blocks budget agreement.' 'Government shut down looms over Pap smears.' 'Republicans to women: can’t afford cancer screening? Tough luck.'" ~ Katha Pollitt
As is typically the case, Pollitt is on the money. The 'policy riders' that the Republicans are pushing are about controlling women's health and sexuality. The protesters in the image here (shamelessly lifted from Bag New Notes) have the matter just right.
Photo credit: Jewel Samad/AFP-Getty Images ~ Caption: Participants shout slogans and display placards during a rally to “stand up for women’s health” at the National Mall in Washington, DC, on April 7, 2011. Participants from across the country gathered in a show of support for Planned Parenthood, the family-planning group in the crosshairs of the budget battle blazing in Congress, where a federal shutdown is looming.

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06 April 2011

Best Shots (157 ) ~ Rodrigo Moya

(184) Rodrigo Moya ~ Guerrilla's, Venezuela, 1966 (6 April 2011).


05 April 2011

Amnesty International (1961 ~ )

Prisoner Of Conscience, 1977 (US)
Poster by Joan Miró to mark the Amnesty year.

Over at The Guardian you can find this slide show of posters designed for Amnesty International for its various campaigns over the past half century. The slide show is part of a series the paper is running called Amnesty at 50. Conveniently enough, this collection of political graphics also gives me the chance to renew my campaign in defense of Joan Miró.

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Whose Horn is that You're Tooting?

This post falls solidly into the self-promotion category. Last fall I wrote a review of recent books by critic Rebecca Solnit and photographer Richard Misrach for an online journal called Invisible Culture which is published by the smart, talented graduate students in the Rochester program in Visual and Cultural Studies. Well, the piece - initially entitled "Disasters, Political not Natural" - has just appeared; you can find it here.

And, for the nerdier among you, my paper "The Arithmetic of Compassion ~ Rethinking the Politics of Photography" is due out in the British Journal of Political Science in late spring/early summer. You can find the abstract here and, if you have access to CUP journals, can get the pre-publication version on line. The paper has been making the rounds of journal editorial processes for a number of years and finally has found a good home.

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04 April 2011


Martin Luther King’s room at the Lorraine Hotel hours after he was shot,
Memphis, Tennessee (April 4, 1968). Photograph © Steve Schapiro.

At the risk of belaboring a point I have been making here for what now has turned into years, Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated on this day in 1968, was in Memphis in solidarity with sanitation workers, who were striking the city not just for decent pay and working conditions but for recognition of their right to form a union. In light of the concerted, ongoing campaign by Republicans to subvert unions, it surely is plausible to wonder how far we remain from the promised land of which King spoke the night before he was shot. King did not "lead" the Memphis strike; indeed, he struggled to keep pace with the radicalism and resolve of the strikers. Who might now aspire to that role?

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Chinese Authorities Arresting Critics

According to these reports in The New York Times, Chinese authorities are more or less systematically detaining critics, notably artists and writers. Prominence seems no longer to afford any protection, as the regime has detained even the very visible artist Ai Weiwei. (This helpful post at The New Yorker provides some context. This is not the first time he has had run-ins with the authorities - you can find a digest here at The Guardian.)

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03 April 2011

Photographic Conventions: Prayers and Protests

I've started to notice a pattern of imagery surrounding the political conflicts roiling across the Islamic world. Some of the pattern is embodied in images from different photographers, some is due to the tendency of editors at Western publications to print images from the same photographer. No matter. What are we seeing here?

Sitra, Bahrain — Wearing a Bahrain flag tied into a cape, a man
prays with others Friday in the city that hosted three funerals for
victims of a government crackdown on protesters at the Pearl
roundabout. Photo: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times.

Sana'a,Yemen: A Yemeni girl stands among female
anti-government demonstrators attending noon prayers.
Photo: Muhammed Muheisen/AP.

Sana'a, Yemen: Anti-government protesters attend Friday prayers during a
demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah
Saleh. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP.

Yemeni children stand among women attending Friday prayers, during
a demonstration
demanding the immediate resignation of Yemeni
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa
on Friday. For weeks thousands
of Yemenis have been calling for Saleh's ouster. He said
Friday that
he's willing to leave power "but we need to hand power over to safe
hands, not
to sick, resentful or corrupt hands." Photo: AP.

Israeli soldiers keep watch as Palestinians perform their Friday prayers
in an open field in
the village of Qusra, near the Jewish settlement of Shilo.
A Shilo resident was sentenced to
8 months in prison this week
for kidnapping and beating a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in
Photo: AFP.
Sources: The images here are the product of a very unsystematic search. I'd wager you can find other, similar images pretty easily. The top image is from the "Framework" feature at The Los Angeles Times - 02/18/2011. The second and third images are from the "24 Hours in Pictures" feature at The Guardian - 03/22/2011 and 04/02/2011 respectively. The bottom two images are from the "Picture This" feature at Spiegel International - 04/01/2011 and 03/25/2011 respectively. In each instance. I've lifted both image and caption from the source.


02 April 2011

Passings ~ Manning Marable (1950-2011)

Manning Marable, historian and social theorist, has died. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here.


01 April 2011

Weekend Reading Assignment

Boy & Dog in a Johnnypump (detail), 1982 © Jean Michel Basquiet.

In the past couple of weeks, two essays by Rebecca Solnit have appeared at The Nation; one on radicalism and revolution is here and one extending her work on disaster and politics to the recent events in Japan is here.

And in the April issue of Harper's John Berger has offered an appreciation of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Unfortunately, if understandably, Harper's maintains a pretty much impermeable pay-wall. Berger counsels perseverance when approaching the artist. His first sentence: "Before you get to him,you have to walk through a lot of hot air, because he became a local and then a global legend, and you have to ignore the screeches of the vultures who deal his work." I recommend that you persevere and track down a copy of the magazine.

Finally, I recommend this piece from The Washington Post a few weeks back on the issues underlying the Republican assault on unions. I neglected to mention it at the time. It is by two political scientists Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker who are smart and insightful on American politics and power generally.

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Best Shots (156) ~ Fergus Greer

(183) Fergus Greer ~ Leigh Bowery, 1989 (30 March 2011).