30 August 2011

Best Shots (175) ~ Katsu Naito

(202) Katsu Naito ~ Meat Market, 1990 (28 August 2011).


27 August 2011

The Thomas Court?!?

"In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, [Clarence] Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. Since the arrival of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2005, and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in 2006, the Court has moved to the right when it comes to the free-speech rights of corporations, the rights of gun owners, and, potentially, the powers of the federal government; in each of these areas, the majority has followed where Thomas has been leading for a decade or more. Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice enjoyed such broad or significant vindication.

[. . .]

The implications of Thomas’s leadership for the Court, and for the country, are profound. Thomas is probably the most conservative Justice to serve on the Court since the nineteen-thirties. More than virtually any of his colleagues, he has a fully wrought judicial philosophy that, if realized, would transform much of American government and society."
That is the thesis of an essay by Jeff Toobin in The New Yorker this week - you can find it here. The essay examines the possibility that Clarence Thomas's vision may be the undoing of Obama's health-insurance-reform-law. Perhaps Cornel West is not criticizing the most influential "Brother" in American politics after all?

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26 August 2011

Brother West (2)

Today, The New York Times ran this pointed Op-Ed by Cornel West. I have posted on 'Brother West' here numerous times. And each time I say that while I don't agree with all of his assessments I very much admire his outspokenness. That remains true. I appreciate his willingness to speak out for the poor and for the working people in America. I also appreciate how Dr. West speaks for an un-sanitized interpretation of Martin Luther King and his radical political and economic agenda. Dr. King indeed must be viewing not just the hardships created by our current economic disaster but the paralysis of our political leaders in the face of that hardship with outrage.

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24 August 2011

A Pox on All Your Houses (2)

Photograph © Jason Lee Parry.

Hailey Clauson is yet another teen-age kid being used by adults for fun and profit. The image lifted here, taken in 2010, has been used by Urban Outfitters (among others) on a tee-shirt and published in some rag called Qvest. And Hailey's truly, truly disgusted parents have now filed suit against the retailer and the photographer (reports here and here). We've seen this sort of thing before, indeed we've seen it over the course of decades (e.g., [1] [2] [3]). Once again all the putative adults - starting with Hailey's parents, her handlers, and the photographer Jason Lee Parry and his crew and going on to the publications and stores who've used the image - are culpable. They are peddling the young girl's sexuality - let's be frank, her leather encased crotch - and they know it. All the squabbling and recriminations and legal and media posturing is just the aftermath of a bunch of morally deficient adults who have engaged in indefensible behavior.

The fact that the "outraged" parents have filed suit despite allegedly having been present at and/or approved the photo shoot, seems especially hypocritical. You are farming your kid out to sell s!*t folks! I'd ask "What were you thinking?" - but either you weren't or you were thinking simply of the green. I'm not sure which makes you more loathsome. Doesn't matter. After all, even before the pictures were snapped you might have asked "What is my 15 year old daughter wearing here?" Does she wear those lace-up leather hot pants to school?

For his part, Parry still (as of 10:30 pm EST, 23 August 2011) has the offending shot up on his web page - so, despite his protestations or (no doubt feigned) naivety, he is soaking up the notoriety. Jason, here is a hint: just because a kid's loathsome parents are around, you can still exercise some adult judgement. They may be wholly venal, self-absorbed and corrupt; are you too? Your web pages announces that you are "self-taught." Nice. Now go learn something about exploiting kids. Of course, being less explicit would undermine your status among the fashionistas. Couldn't risk that. Twit.

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23 August 2011

Jan Saudek and the Australians

Black Sheep & White Crow (1995) ~ Jan Saudek

Well the Australians are at it again, allowing the offended least common denominator sensibilities of some exhibition-goer to intimidate them into censoring the work of photographers. This time organizers of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale have reportedly removed the work pictured above from their exhibit. The photograph is by Czech photographer Jan Saudek. Why has it been removed? Because a woman complained to a bunch of government agencies that the image displayed a mother pimping her young daughter. And the agencies made it clear to the organizers that future public funding for the Biennale could not be assured if they disregarded such insightful public comment.

Government officials in Australia seem to be even more simpering than those in Britain or here in the States in situations like this. I am not persuaded by the offended woman's interpretaiton of the photograph. Neither am I a huge fan of this sort of work. But the decision to censor and self-censor is simply craven.

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On the Wonders of Globalization

I recently finished reading Dani Rodrik's The Globalization Paradox: Democracy & the Future of the World Economy (W.W. Norton, 2011) and highly recommend it. Rodrik argues that one cannot simultaneously have national sovereignty, democracy and "deep globalization." He does so via a brief for institutional pluralism and economic experimentation. Not surprisingly, I find his argument pretty persuasive. Today in the papers there are two reports that highlight the sorts of tension Rodrik identifies in particular contexts: the first is here at The Guardian, the second here at The New York Times. If deep globalization means that labor is un-free with regard to collective action (i.e., unions) we end up with the sorts of situaitons reported in the news today. What we need instead is the sort of "sane globalization" that Rodrik recommends, that is political-economic arrangements will allow democratically enacted and systematically enforced restraints on labor markets.

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21 August 2011

Jennifer McKendrick

Making a go of it as a professional photographer of any sort takes gumption and the margins (as they say) are always tight. So I have to say that this story about Jennifer McKendrick is pretty impressive. Not only is she turning down business but she is being up front about why. Impressive is the word.

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Best Shots (174) ~ Sean Smith

(201) Sean Smith ~ 'A Bit of Normality,' Mitrovica, Kosovo (21 August 2011).


20 August 2011

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding plays for President Obama at the White House in 2009.
Photograph © Gerald Herbert for AP.

My own musical tastes run in other directions but Spalding is quite talented - The New York Times ran this profile of her last week.

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19 August 2011

World of Class Warfare

I have missed nearly a week of posting while delivering August to the west coast and then recuperating from the high quality return service offered by United Airlines. That is a story for another time. It seems too that I missed Jon Stewart skewering the right wing and its early 19th century views on the rich and the poor (those "animals"). I highly recommend these two segments he did on class warfare and especially the point at which he schools the right in the powers of long division for political-economic analysis. There is little better than being able to show how conservatives compound their niggardliness with flat out stupidity.

P.S.: If you want the text in which Warren Buffett reveals his socialist propensities you can find a link here.

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15 August 2011

Best Shots (173) ~ Murray Ballard

(200) Murray Ballard ~ Cryonics Lab, Phoenix, 2006 (14 August 2011).


Bad News for Libertarians & Conservatives (2) ~ Inconvenient Truths

"I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation." ~ Warren Buffett

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August (Summer 2011)

Today is August's last day here with me this summer. Yesterday we celebrated his half-birthday (he's 5 and one half). Today is LEGOs and Nerf Guns and swimming. The last day of Y camp was Friday. This is a photo of us on his first day in Rochester - watching his brother Doug play a summer league game. We did that every week. We've had a great time together and he has gotten to know Doug and Sam, Susan and Mickey & Vincent (the pooches) much better. Too bad he has to cram all that in in such a short time. We thank his mom for that arrangement - go figure.

Tomorrow we fly the 3000 miles to where his mom lives on the west coast. I miss him already. Next summer we'll have six weeks instead of four. And soon enough he'll start being here virtually the entire summer. That is something to look forward to.

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14 August 2011

My Latest Mistake

Just to give you some indication of how un-American I have become, I saw the headline to this report ~ "SEC Decides Against Adding Texas A&M" ~ at The New York Times and figured that somehow the folks at TAMU had gotten caught up in some wrongdoing with its endowment and fallen (almost) afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission. I inferred that the SEC had been considering adding the TAMU folk to some larger indictment. So much for my naive ways. Turns out that the story is about the business of college football - an infinitely more tawdry enterprise than mere securities fraud.


Retrospective Justice, the "Arab Spring" & the Prospects for Democracy

Political theorist Shlomo Avineri has published this pointed essay at Ha'aretz, comparing the way "justice" is being applied to Mubarak in Cairo and the way things worked in East Europe following the collapse of communism. Needless to say, the trials in Cairo are much the worse for the comparison. And it is interesting to imagine what might happen to the various Israeli officials who have participated in the various oppressive policies against the Palestinians.

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13 August 2011

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

I came across this web page this afternoon. And it seems like a worthwhile and necessary outfit. Note that the Campaign thinks that military action against Iran will be a disaster. In other words, it is possible to simultaneously condemn the oppressive politics of the Iranian regime and dispute hawks in the US and Israel who are willing to attack the country.

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12 August 2011

Libertarian, Conservative or Just Plain Dim?

“I’m for freedom. . . . “I’m not for the government
dictating to us what we must do with our bodies.”
~ Texas State Representative David Simpson (R - Longview)

I don't know whether Simpson is a conservative, a libertarian, or simply dim. According to this report in The New York Times, he is complaining about laws requiring student vaccinations. He cherishes, apparently, the freedom of each and every individual to contribute to epidemics, to spread viruses and bacteria they carry to others. The problem with people like Simpson is that they forget we actually live in a society and that, by commission or omission, things we do necessarily impact others. And it is the job of government to secure us against the irresponsibilities of others. It would be interesting to guess at what the enlightened Mr. Simpson thinks about policy options for treating HIV+ individuals. Or, his stance on abortion.* Anybody got a guess?

This attitude strikes pretty close to home for me. Actually that is not true in geographical terms, only in emotional ones. My son August lives in what his mom describes as an "Idyllic small town" on the west coast. One problem with the town (other than the fact that cooking and dealing meth seems to be one of the largest occupations in the surrounding poor county) is that roughly a quarter of the kids in the local school system are not immunized. August will be attending a school - a sort of public charter outfit (I was not consulted in that decision) - where fully one-half of the students are not immunized. August has his shots. But the school has a large parental participation component and so he will be exposed to the numbskulls who are setting their kids up to get some disease or other. No doubt they will be rambling on about how their own commitment to "freedom," or some new age mumbo-jumbo justifies their putting other people's kids at risk too. So, it will take some real doing to prevent August from absorbing buckets of nonsense.
* And before anyone leaps in saying abortion is imposing a cost on someone for the irresponsibilities of others, let's just say that your metaphysics does not persuade me that you (or the government) ought to be able to dictate what any woman does with her body.

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11 August 2011

Best Shots (172) ~ Adolphus Opara

(199) Adolphus Opara ~ Chief Aderemu Awogemi Akeke, 2009
(7 August 2011).


10 August 2011

Political Advice for the President

I hate when the press pitches underhand. I cam across this story at The New York Times; it leads with this sentence:

"It was a year and a half ago when President Obama told Diane Sawyer of ABC News in an interview that he would rather be a good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

Clearly this does not exhaust the options. Obama seems to me to be working very hard at being a mediocre one-term president.

And most of the sage advice referred to in this report recommends that he become even more mediocre by embracing right-wing priorities - cutting deficits, scaling back social security, etc. - more thoroughly. That way leads to the label "LOSER" in 2012. The single biggest thing Obama could do to simultaneously attack the budget and insure re-election is commit now to insuring that the BushCo tax cuts expire for everyone. that would make huge chunks of the deficit simply disappear. And it might persuade lots of folks at the bottom of the wealth/income distribution to think he is worth voting for. Fat chance!


09 August 2011

He's Baaacck!

Those afraid of Ai Weiwei must be dismayed. His tweets apparently have resumed.
Update (12 August): There is a further, more recent, report here.

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Bachmann Cover

I don't read Newsweek, so I don't know if the mag has anything like a coherent political stance. But this cover surely seems unobjectionable. I must say that I do not buy the claim that "the meme of the crazed female politico is problematic, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum." And I have no idea whether "Newsweek editors presumably had to dig for an unflattering shot." Is there any evidence for that claim? I suspect there are many competing shots of Bachmann looking similarly crazed. The folks at Newsweek have produced some in defending themselves. After all, Bachmann is a fanatic - in both religious and political terms - so it is not really surprising that she has the glassy eyed stare of one. And she is always going on about how outraged she is about this or that .... well, outrage ... perpetrated by someone or other. Just where is the problem?

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Brother West

Cornel West. Photograph © Christian Oth
The New York Times.

I missed this snippet of an interview with 'Brother West' last month. He has a large personality and I don't agree with all of his judgements. But his take on the Obama administration seems to me just about right. And I appreciate his willingness to speak out for the poor and the working class.

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07 August 2011

Political Advice

This is the final frame in this strip by Brian McFadden at The New York Times. The only thing missing is the Obama 2012 campaign button on the fellow in green.


Interim Report on Summer Fun

August has been here for a couple of weeks. He is an extremely sweet boy. We've been swimming nearly every day at the Y ~ he proclaims regularly that he doesn't much like swimming in lakes or streams or the ocean. But in a pool he is like a fish.

In fact, August seems mostly to be an indoors sort of kid. He will play LEGOS for hours and can pretty much ignore the age level designations the company provides. And his musical taste seems to run in interesting directions - in the car we've been listening to a newish Buddy Holly tribute CD - Rave On (I give mixed reviews). August can sing the lyrics to half the tunes but especially likes the Paul McCartney version of "It's So Easy." It is safe to say that (with the exception of Florence + the Machine's version of "Not Fade Away") Paul's tune is the best on the album. That is embarrassing for all the young hotshots. But Paul's interpretation of the tune also is deeply weird. I'm glad August likes it. And I'm glad he sings along.

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06 August 2011

Why Unions Are Good For You, Even If You Won't Admit It

In Mother Jones you can find this nice summary of a recent academic paper demonstrating the relationship between the decline in unions and the rise in political-economic inequality in the United States. Two points stand out. First, oligarchy doesn't just happen, it is created. And the attack on unions - both politically and economically - has been a concerted one. Second, the research punctures the ideological belief among many workers that they deserve what they earn and get paid on the basis of merit and hard work. (As though the inverse relation between numbers on worker productivity and inequality of income and wealth in the U.S. over the past four decades didn't put that illusion to rest.) Non-union workers benefit from the proximity of unions too - even if they are indifferent or even hostile toward collective representation.

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05 August 2011

Petra Collins & Thylane Loubry Blondeau ~ Does It Make a Difference Who Is Behind the Camera? Or Only Who Is In Front of It?

Both images © Petra Collins.

I have posted here repeatedly on questions of exploitation, sexism, and censorship. You can follow the various labels below for samplings. And I tend to be pretty harsh about adults who use teenage girls for their own enrichment. I also tend to be pretty damning of male fashion photographers who manage to eroticize war, torture and violence - all for fun and profit. Blah, blah, blah. I make exceptions and always take umbrage at conservative politicians who endorse censorship (and curators or photographers who embrace self-censorship) too.

So, here is a question: If you have a bunch of images of teenage girls, taken in clearly provocative poses, do you object? What if the girls are in various states of undress? What if the girl is - like Thylane Loubry Blondeau - just ten but her mother thinks it is OK (it is Vogue, after all!)? What if the photographer is herself a teenage girl? As I have said previously, I actually think the issue is less sex than the venality of adults and publishers and handlers (agents and agencies).

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04 August 2011

Bad News for Libertarians & Conservatives - If Only They Cared

I've spent some time lately thumbing through an interesting survey of recent work in political economy: Timothy Besley. 2006. Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government. Oxford UP. Besley is a professor of economics at the London School of Economics. He provides a nice tour of political-economic models motivated by the difficulties that infect principle-agent relationships. And here is the very last paragraph (page 233) of the book:
"The material in this book shapes broad thinking on the competence of government. We have begun from a position that while markets have their limits in allocating resources, so do governments. It is evident that the economics profession is now providing tools to meet the challenge of deciding where the boundaries lie between public and private responsibility. There is a section of opinion that equates good government to small government. Moreover, this has been a dominant tradition in political economy in the past. However, there is nothing in modern political economics to support this claim even if attitudes toward government intervention are more cautious than in the past. A political-economy approach can also fuel optimism - if we can understand the logic of good government, then perhaps this is the first step toward creating it" (stress added).
Please note the italicized phrases. Nothing.

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Best Shots (171) ~ Sarah Roesink

(198) Sarah Roesink ~ Self-portrait, 2004 (31 July 2011).


02 August 2011

Leon Shambroom

While I was teaching in Ann Arbor last month I missed posts on two blogs I regularly visit. The posts were by Alec Soth and Brian Ulrich both talented photographers and nice guys whom I know from various actual or virtual interactions. Both posts announce a benefit for Leon Shambroom, a twenty-five year old who suffered brain damage caused by carbon monoxide poisoning when he was trapped in a house fire last summer.

Leon is the son of writer-curator Joan Rothfuss and photographer Paul Shambroom whose incisive work I have mentioned here on several occasions. I do not know Joan or Paul. But if you are even an irregular reader you will likely know that a little over four years ago my teenage son Jeffrey died suddenly from a burst aneurysm in his brain. So I share with Joan and Paul the experience of witnessing a son laid low by catastrophic brain injury. In Jeff's case the medical bills were astronomical but finite and were nearly all covered by insurance. Leon and his folks, by contrast, confront large, ongoing, seemingly open-ended, medical expenses.

Among the things that kept me sane after Jeff died was writing this blog. And the many, many expressions of kindness from readers were deeply touching. Please, if you are able, pass along some love and support to Leon too. The benefit Alec and Brian announced has passed. But you can still help out - go here to The Leon Shambroom Fund. I very much hope you will do so.

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01 August 2011

Pass the Treacle, Please

Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in January,
appeared on the floor of the House of Representatives after
the vote. (House Television, via Associated Press)

This is the image accompanying the report in The New York Times this evening about the House vote on the deficit/debt limit deal. Let's get a couple of things straight at the outset. Giffords is still a sworn member of the Congress; so she has every right to be there and cast her vote even if, as it turned out, her vote was superfluous. Second, nothing I say here is meant to downplay the horrors of the attempt to assassinate her or the suffering of those who died or were injured in that melee.

That said, when I saw this photograph I nearly blew a gasket. Tonight is not a feel-good moment. The Giffords appearance does nothing to alter that. The House was voting on a piece of legislation drawn up under pressure of extortionate tactics embraced by reactionaries in the Congress. These are reactionaries of the same ilk as those who drew bull's eyes on the targeted districts of Democratic Representatives - including Gabrielle Giffords - during the last electoral cycle. In other words, the legislation that she came back to vote on is distinctly not a "compromise." It will pay off enormous deficits - run up, remember, by successive Republican administrations - on the backs of the poor and the working and unemployed classes in the United States. This bill stinks and I would have been among the 161. The Giffords intervention would've been way more impressive - and newsworthy - if she'd voted no!

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