30 November 2011

The Lesson of Ivan Jirous

Earlier this month I noted that Czech cultural impresario Ivan Jirous has died. Yesterday The Guardian ran this obituary which gives me an opportunity to note his passing once again and to offer Jirous as an example for current politics.

As a result of an unlikely friendship and political alliance with Václav Havel, Jirous was a key figure in what ultimately became the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe. His arrest and trial in 1976 provided an animating event in the emergence of open coordinated dissent in what then was Czechoslovakia.

There is a lesson here for contemporary politics. Here is how Havel describes overcoming his own skepticism about Jirous and other denizens of the cultural and musical underground he inhabited in the 1970s:
"Suddenly I realized that, regardless of how many vulgar words these people used or how long their hair was, truth was on their side. Somewhere in the midst of this group, their attitudes, and their creations, I sensed a special purity, a shame, and a vulnerability; in their music was an experience of metaphysical sorrow and a longing for salvation. It seemed to me that this underground of Jirous' was an attempt to give hope to those who had been most excluded."*
In other words, Havel overcame his skeptical and patronizing attitudes and persuaded others in the "the official and officially tolerated opposition" (what we might term the 'respectable' dissidents) to take seriously and to listen to the young and disenfranchised and vulnerable. The consequences for progressive politics were immensely important. This seems like a lesson that established progressives in the U.S. might learn from OWS.
* From: Václav Havel. 1991. Disturbing the Peace. NY: Vintage, pages 126f.

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27 November 2011

Chicks With Guns ~ Still Dim

Alison, Marlee, Lee & Morgan with Boss 20-gauge side-by-sides.
Photograph © Lindsay McCrum.

I came across this review in The Los Angeles Times of a new book by Lindsay McCrum. I have written here numerous times about guns - and about how, generally, I don't get the attraction or the point and how, specifically, I think those who insist on toting guns in inappropriate places (e.g., political meetings, church, Starbucks, etc.) are defective socially, cognitively, morally, or maybe all three.

Here is my view. I don't hunt but don't object to those who do or who do so with guns. Beyond that, it is pretty clear that having a gun in the house does not make one safer. I won't go on again about the knuckleheads who insist on bearing arms at town meetings and other public events. All those claims apply when the gun owner is a "chick" too. In this instance, though, I'd add that a practice or tradition does not necessarily get any less dim simply because "chicks" are engaging in it.

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26 November 2011

An Intellectual Experiment ~ Ethics and Improvisation

I came across this lecture by philosopher Arnold Davidson and subsequent discussion that focus on the intersection of improvisation and ethics, jazz and philosophy. The philosophical sources of the lecture are Foucault, Hadot, and Cavell (the latter channeling Emerson, Throreau, Wittgenstein). Unfortunately. Davidson is ill-prepared time-wise and skips nearly all the musical examples he had prepared, sticking instead to familiar terrain of philosophical texts. Even then he gets to the punch line late (starting around minute 30:00 or so) - there he says “ . . . Since improvisation is the free creation of differences, it challenges and calls for intelligibility. These differences in intelligibility are a source of discomfort.” And various forms of improvisation are an aid in the face of such discomfort too insofar as they evidence both fluidity and coherence they can, by generating work that is “fluid but not amorphous, coherent without being frozen” help establish and reestablish intelligibility by, I think, generating and settling discordance. I think this is plausible and will try to hunt down more refined versions of the argument as they appear. Interestingly, Davidson is collaborating with the esteemed musician/composer.historian George Lewis [1] [2] on a broad project here.

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Best Shots (185) ~ Annie Leibovitz

(212) Annie Leibovitz ~ Georgia O'Keefe's Pastels (22 November 2011).

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25 November 2011

Danny Gutherie Succeeds

Top: The Proposition (2009); Middle: Adam & Cain (2010);
The Appraisal (2007). All three images © Danny Guthrie.

A faculty member in photography at Michigan State University, Danny Gutherie, evidently is being swept up in a ruckus about the propriety or otherwise of his work - which includes images like those I've lifted above. Here is part of a statement about the work from Gutherie's web page:
My interests in making these pictures are both political and personal. Certainly subject matter such as this is politically charged. In the last couple of decades many female artists have investigated the personal landscape of their sexuality, as a means to seize control of their own representation within a culture milieu whose imaging of women has a long track record of idealization and exploitation. Taking my cue from this work, through direct and indirect references to classical painting and photography, my intent is to acknowledge these various traditions and debates, twisting and blurring the codes of classical aesthetics, contemporary rhetorically motivated art, and even erotica. In particular, I want the viewer to know I am investigating a history and practice of representation where the roles of viewer and viewed, seducer and object of seduction, are examined and perturbed. In short, I hope to move beyond simplistic notions of viewer and victim, exploring the possibility of a complicated exchange of power that informs the way these pictures come about.
This is not work - despite Gutherie's view that it is "edgy" - I find especially interesting or provocative. That said, I don't see why anyone ought to be getting their knickers in a knot about impropriety. According to news reports, these are not students from Gutherie's classes, they have input in the decision as to whether the images are displayed, and the University seems to be on top of the process by which models are solicited and treated. In particular, there apparently have been no complaints from the people who actually appear in the photographrs. A Google search generates a slew of news reports (the confluence of wire services and some slow news days): The headlines all assert that Gutherie's photographs ". . . stir debate," ". . . prompt questions," ". . . draw attention," ". . . stir up controversy," or some such theme. Guthrie, it seems, has been successful. That, I suspect, says less about the work than about the moral anxieties and aesthetic norms of those who are complaining about it.

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24 November 2011

The Efficient Choice in Economic Policy

23 November 2011

On UC Davis

Over at The Nation, Jon Wiener has written this nice piece - I had thought of doing a similar one myself - contrasting two You Tube videos taken at UC Davis last week. The first is the notorious video of Officer John Pike pepper spraying students. The second is of Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi exiting the central admin building on campus accompanied by a campus Chaplain and passing through a group of students. Katehi had claimed to be threatened by the students and refused to leave the building - hence the presence of the Chaplain. The silence is deafening as the Chancellor departs.

This pair of videos speaks to the anxiety and fear that elites experience in the face of democratic, peaceful dissent. They are truly eye opening. And I must say that in both instances the students at Davis displayed exemplary sorts of courage and restraint.

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Passings ~ Paul Motian (1931-2011)

Drummer Paul Motian has died. You can find an obituary here in The New York Times. It is difficult to say how much I admired Motian and how much I owe to his wonderful music. So this is truly sad news for me on top of being an immense loss to the world of music.
P.S.: Here is a very nice remembrance of Motian. And another here.

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22 November 2011

Our Occupiers, The Mayor & Rochester's 13 %

What follows is the text of this short Op-Ed Susan and I published in the City Newspaper this week.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Our Occupiers, the mayor, and Rochester's 13 percent

After protracted conflict and numerous arrests, Mayor Tom Richards and Occupy Rochester reached an accord allowing the protesters to stay in Washington Square Park. Their agreement is crucially important because absent access to public space, effective freedom to speak and assemble, and along with them democracy, wither.

That said, the mayor has not actually engaged with our Occupiers. He claims, after all, that while sympathetic to many of their concerns, most fall far beyond the purview of his administration. Is it so difficult to see how "We Are the 99%!" is relevant to Rochester?

The Brookings Institution just issued a report tracing the growth since 2000 of concentrated urban poverty in America. The basic concept is this: Someone lives in concentrated poverty not just if she herself lives at or beneath the officially defined poverty line, but if 40 percent or more of all those residing in the same census tract as she also live at or below the official poverty level. In 2010 the official poverty level was $22,300 for a family of four.

Using this metric, the situation in Rochester is grim. Of the primary cities in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in America, Rochester ranks third in concentrated poverty. In relative terms Rochester is just ahead of Syracuse (fourth) and significantly ahead of Albany (20th) and Buffalo (29th). In absolute terms, Rochester has a population of 202,644, of whom 56,813 live at or below the poverty level. Of that poor population, 26,705 reside in concentrated poverty. That is just over 13 percent of the city's entire population.

Concentrated poverty has negative consequences. It tends to depress educational quality, real estate values, and private economic investment while placing upward pressure on crime rates, the cost of living, and local government expenditures. Each of these trends is disturbing. Shouldn't Mayor Richards consider them to be central to his concerns? According to the Brookings report, those living amid concentrated poverty confront a "double burden" - their individual poverty is compounded by contextual features of "the place in which they live." This, in turn, "complicates the jobs of policymakers and service providers working to promote connections to opportunity and to alleviate poverty."

The Brookings report, however, neglects other crucially important factors. Concentrated urban poverty has dire political consequences. While it does not break down the Rochester numbers by race, the report notes that, nationally, "African Americans remained the single largest" racial group experiencing concentrated poverty. There is no reason to suspect that Rochester diverges from that pattern.

Political scientists Cathy Cohen and Michael Dawson have demonstrated that African Americans who live in concentrated poverty are more likely to believe that politics works to the advantage of the wealthy and white. And they are less likely to participate in politics in various ways. As in the Brookings report, these findings identify a contextual impact over and above the burden of individual poverty. Significantly, Cohen and Dawson use a much lower threshold (30 percent) to measure the effects of concentrated poverty. So, given the levels the Brookings report establishes, it is likely that the negative political consequences of concentrated poverty in Rochester are especially pronounced.

Put bluntly, concentrated poverty like that found in Rochester is bad for our democracy. It reduces political participation among the least advantaged, making it unlikely that the political system will be responsive to their interests and values. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Occupy Rochester decries economic hardship and the highly skewed distribution of wealth and income. The concerns they articulate point directly to the plight of many city residents. This should not be hard for the mayor to understand.

Susan Orr is assistant professor of political science at the SUNY College at Brockport. Jim Johnson is professor of political science at the University of Rochester.

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You've Heard of Naked Self-Interest? Well, Here are Instances of Naked Solidarity

Self Portrait © Aliaa Magda al-Mahdy

This is an image Aliaa Magda al-Mahdy, a young Egyptian woman living in Cairo, recently posted on her blog. You can find a report here at The New York Times and another here at The Guardian. Unsurprisingly, she has received scant support from any end of the political spectrum in Egypt. Conservatives are pressing charges, liberals are running away fast and far. But she has received solidarity from this group of Israeli women.

Israeli women posing for a photograph in Tel Aviv, to show
solidarity with Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy.
Photograph © REUTERS/Anat Cohen.

And this, apparently is simply one instance of a virtual epidemic of such bare solidarity. In China, authorities have accused Zhao Zhao, an assistant to artist Ai Weiwei, of possessing pornography because he had pictures on his camera of Ai naked with several women. And today, his friends and supporters stripped in support of the artist. You can find reports here and here in The Guardian. And here are, respectively, the offending photo and a sample of the the subsequent expressions of solidarity.

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses with nude women in Beijing.
Photograph © Afp/AFP/Getty Images.

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21 November 2011

Best Shots (184) ~ Jodi Bieber

(211) Jodi Bieber ~ Bibi Aisha, 2010 (20 November 2011).

I typically post entries from this series at The Guardian without comment. But since I've written a bunch of posts on this one already, I feel I should link to them. You can find them here. For now, let's just say I am not a fan of Bieber on this one or of TIME virtually ever.

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Poet v. the State

Authoritarians since Plato have distrusted poets. Here, from The New York Times last weekend, is a report of one recent encounter.


20 November 2011

#Occupy as Symbolic Politics

This nice article appears in The New York Times today on what I reluctantly call the "branding" of Occupy Wall Street. This is the second article by Alice Rawsthorn that has caught my attention lately. Here she takes a designer's eye to OWS. While Rawsthorn notes a variety of precedents, she might have focused more on ACT UP not only for having pioneered the LOGO [Your Location Here] style, but for the incisive use of graphics to convey complexity. That said, her analysis is politically useful as a way to both assess symbolic politics and anticipate the emergence of cliche.

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19 November 2011

The New York Times Peddles Stereotypes of Economic Insecurity

Belinda Sheppard and two adult children live above the poverty line, and
barely cover their bills. Photograph © Doug Mills/The New York Times.

So, among the things that is surprising is that just as the OWS protesters are raising a ruckus about political-economic inequality in the U.S., there has been a steady stream of news reports about just how dire matters actually turn out to be. So, here is a report from The New York Times on recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau showing the creep of economic insecurity beyond the usual suspects (undereducated, unemployed, racial minorities) and the usual places (desolate urban and rural enclaves).
Patched together a half-century ago, the official poverty measure has long been seen as flawed. It ignores hundreds of billions the needy receive in food stamps, tax credits and other programs, and the similarly large sums paid in taxes, medical care and work expenses. The new method, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, counts all those factors and adjusts for differences in the cost of living, which the official measure ignores.

The results scrambled the picture of poverty in many surprising ways. The measure shows less severe destitution, but a bit more overall poverty; fewer poor children, but more poor people over 65.

Of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care.

Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.
You'll notice that roughly half of those among the "near poor" - meaning they are above the official poverty line, but just, and that they are one mishap or mis-step away from the precipice - are white. This is an important story about the "suburbanization" of economic hardship and insecurity.

Unsurprisingly, right-wingers want to invoke euphemisms to mask the extent of the problem. (Why even bother to ask mouthpieces from the Heritage Foundation?) But the real questions I have are for the "liberal" reporters and editors at The Times: Why put a black face on this predicament? And why not a married couple instead of a single parent? The photograph at the top of the page appears just below the story headline.

It is not that I want to discount the hardships of Black Americans, but politically, it is too easy and too common to identify poverty as "Black" or "Hispanic" and so as not "our" problem. The visuals matter.

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OWS Violence?

Elizabeth Nichols, Occupy Portland Protester Pepper Sprayed (17 November 2011).
Photograph © Randy Rasmussen/The Oregonian.

At this point I plan to simply collect images of the "violence" of OWS protests. A sort of informal archive establishing how the protesters threaten the gladiator-like law enforcement officers and so need to be subdued forcibly.
P.S.: Here is a story in The Guardian of just released footage from a couple weeks back in Oakland - again of an unprovoked attack on a protester by Darth Vader wannabes.


Occupy activist Dorli Rainey, 84, after being hit with pepper spray during
a protest in Seattle (16 November 2011). Photograph © Joshua Trujillo/AP.

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Where is the OWS "Violence" Coming From?

This image shows an officer from the UC Davis police force nonchalantly dousing students with pepper spray because they refused to comply with orders. The story is here at Mother Jones.

This is authoritarianism in action. Put a normal guy (who is well paid with benefits and looking forward to a state pension, by the way) in uniform and he nearly always loses all sense of proportion. Watch the video - the riot-gear-clad, armed-to-the-teeth campus police are essentially driven off peacefully by the outraged students.

One thing that has astonished me listening to news reports about OWS protests across the country is the presumption on the part of the media that protests will be violent. More specifically, the presumption seems to be that when there is violence that the protesters will be the perpetrators. From what I can tell that is simply elite anxiety. Nearly every instance of violence that has come to my attention has been perpetrated by law enforcement. Sometimes they are just using their own bad judgment, sometimes they are acting on orders from elected officials. But this episode in Davis is a perfect example of how law enforcement escalates conflict in the most casual of ways. The kids were sitting on the sidewalk for Christ sake. Pepper spray?!?
P.S.: There is a YouTube of the officer "warning" the students that they will be subject to "force" if they don't move (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGagKL_tvS8). To be blunt, this sort of procedural butt covering does not justify the actions he then takes. He might as well be saying: "I warn you, if you don't do what I order I am about to take totally disproportionate action against you!"

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Democracy is Not in the Streets

Photograph © Sacha Lecca/Rolling Stone.

I've stolen this image from Michael Shaw here at BagNewsNotes who, as always, has a very keen eye for the ironies swirling around what passes for American democracy. As the police beat and arrest protesters who step off the sidewalk this financier strides confidently down the middle of the street. I suspect his obliviousness is studied. Look closely and you'll notice the ear buds - an iPod usefully filtering out the any indication of the consequences his activities generate.


18 November 2011

Benetton's Unhate Sucks the Air Out of Politics

Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China – President of the USA.
Photograph © Benetton.

"What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate."
That is the rationale, such as it is, for the new Benetton "campaign." I've lifted one of five digitally manipulated images of kissing world leaders. As is typical of the Benetton crowd, this one is safely diffuse, risque without actually risking offense or taking a stand on any political issue. It bemoans a presumably "natural" human propensity, not politics. Have I mentioned that the commercialization of "dissent" is bad news? And, of course, the design idea is not new; here is a poster from the Gran Fury collective of ACT-UP New York, designed in 1989 to go on the side advert panels of city buses.

So, the spoof actually predates the real thing. Notice three things besides the two-plus-decade lag. The Gran Fury design (1) addresses a specific controversial issue, (2) it is about causality and responsibility (it took sides on the issue of what was turning a disease into a catastrophe) and finally (3) Obama and Hu Jintao might as well be kissing their grandmothers ("No tongue!") whereas the folks in the ACT UP graphic are seemingly into it. Gran Fury offered incisive commentary on public fear and misunderstanding in the time of an epidemic. Benetton offers a Hallmark-like "let's just all get along" greeting which assumes there are no actual issues at stake in politics, no interests, commitments or attachments worth disagreeing or fighting over. So, for some perspective, I selected the particular image from the Unhate campaign above precisely in light of this news out of Australia this week. (Thanks Angad - I hope this passes muster!)
P.S.: According to this report in The Los Angeles Times, the White house objects to the Unhate adverts not because they are political, but because they use Obama's image for commercial purposes. And the homophobes at the Vatican more or less immediately threatened legal action to suppress images that depicted a smooching Pope Benedict. Predictably Benetton immediately caved in the face of the threat. There is some political backbone for you! Here is the offending image:
Pope Benedict XVI – Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb.
Photograph © Benetton.

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17 November 2011

OWS & the Democratic Party

Yesterday in The Guardian Barbara Ehrenreich criticized elites in the Democratic party, including President Obama, of selling the OWS movement down the river. When I first read her piece I thought it was on point. Turns out, however, that her criticism was too understated by half. If the biggest problem were that Obama and other Democratic elites have been silent regarding the Occupy movement things might be better. After all, we now know (reported, for instance, by AP here and Mother Jones here) that the evictions in Portland, Oakland, Atlanta, NYC and so forth are part of a concerted and coordinated strategy by - predominantly Democratic - elected officials to dismantle the movement. Of course they seem to have acted with the full connivance of Obama's Department of Homeland Security, but that has not been definitively established. The local concerns about public health and safety are - regardless of the DHS angle - all just so much bullshit.

Michael Bloomberg concluded his rationalization for attacking the OWS folks in NYC with this statement: "“Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments." The problem? Bloomberg has not argued with anyone. He sent out the armed (and, in the event, pretty brutal) NYPD. Just as the other mayors have done. That said, it is important to recognize that (as reported here at Democracy Now!) some local officials have in fact resigned in response to the heavy-handed response by the various mayors.

The image above captures the real problem for government officials - including our Democrats. It is a screen shot of this map from The Guardian, showing the location of various Occupy outposts world-wide.

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16 November 2011

Michael Ramirez Impersonates Pravda Cartoonist

Now, I get the fact that cartoons are meant to amplify or magnify this or that aspect of reality for comic (and substantive) effect. But last I knew, outright falsification is not part of the game. Where to start with this piece of disinformation? Well, we might first note that the "violence" surrounding the OWS protests is virtually always perpetrated by "law enforcement." But we might also ask what percentage of the Tea Baggers are employed - how many are retirees living on those dastardly "socialist" programs (Medicare & Social Security)? I won't go on - life is too short. Of course, this piece of propaganda ran this morning in our very own Gannett paper The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
P.S.: So, it turns out that Tea Baggers - about 18% of the American population - tend to be richer, whiter, more conservative, angrier and male(r) than the rest of the population. Oh, and did I mention that they tend to think the plight of American racial minorities is overstated? (Call that stance what you will!) No surprise that Michael Ramirez thinks the Tea Baggers are more representative than they are - those are precisely the characteristics of the folks who pay his salary.

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99 from the 99%: OWS Protraits

"I'm here because property is robbery" (Alexi).
Photograph © August Bradley.

Regular readers will know that my youngest son is named August. Well today I came across this post at Lens featuring the work of another August - August Bradley - who has done this impressive set of portraits of folks at OWS. Bradley's work carries on an emergent tradition of sorts - if two photographers, Joel Sternfeld and Marc Vallée, (with perhaps a nod to Dorothea Lange) can constitute a "tradition." All this work is a creatively appropriates portraiture, a genre that traditionally has been an instrument for the rationalization of elite power.

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15 November 2011

What Gives with Conservatives?

Is it just me or are the conservatives at The New York Times stable of columnists falling over themselves to excuse the behavior of those who were enablers of accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky? Today we had David Brooks and yesterday it was Ross Douthat. Stop making excuses!


Best Shots (183) ~ David Trood

(210) David Trood ~ Crazy (13 November 2011).


14 November 2011

Shahidul Alam - My Journey as a Witness

"A lot of the work that I do makes me unpopular with my government."
~ Shahidul Alam

Today npr ran this interview with Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam. The interview is occasioned by the publication of a collection of Alam's work - My Journey as a Witness. The opening quote above gives an incisive counterpoint to much of what passes for journalism in the United States. And it sheds understated light on the risks - that I have noted here before - Alam and other photographers regularly take in their effort to depict for us the wide world.


Local Event ~ Susie Linfield at UR (11/17/2011)

I have posted here multiple times about Susie Linfield and her smart analyses of contemporary photography. Well, she will be speaking on the University of Rochester campus Thursday evening November 17th - details here. Linfield's recent book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence is very, very good. She will be talking on "Photojournalism and Human Rights." The talk is free and open to the public.

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13 November 2011

Reading Around

To start, I want to call your attention to an incisive assessment of the Obama presidency by my colleague Robb Westbrook that appeared early this fall in The Christian Century (20 September 2011). It is entitled "The Liberal Agony: Why There was No New New Deal." Robb does so much in so short a space that I won't try to indicate the good bits. Unfortunately, the essay is behind a wall and it only just showed up on the UR library subscription this past week. This is a must read analysis!

There is an interview with the always smart and entertaining Cornel West here at The Washington Post. Annotation: I like the distinction he draws between "a deodorized Martin Luther King Jr. who is easily assimilable to the American mainstream" and "the real funky Martin" who "was a threat," who "created unease." I've made a similar point here on numerous occasions but not as eloquently.

There is an interesting interview here at In These Times with economist Nancy Folbre in which she advocates for "on stronger collective commitments to the development of human capabilities and efforts to strengthen families and communities."

There is a long-ish set of reflections here by Rebecca Solnit in which she looks hard at OWS and why eschewing violence makes the movement "unconventionally dangerous" - threatening in precisely the way Dr. West depicts MLK.

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Passings: Norton Dodge (1927-2011)

Norton Dodge, an economist who smuggled dissident art out of the former Soviet Union, has died. An obituary is here at The New York Times. Those scandalized by the finances of art collecting will be interested in the role Warren Buffett plays in this story.


12 November 2011

No Surprise, Masterpieces Follow the Money: On Crystal Bridges and the Demise of Public Institutions

Today, it seems, is the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, brain child of Walmart heiress Alice Walton. This morning, npr ran this segment on the way various denizens of the East and West coast art world establishments have gotten their noses out of joint about Walton's various acquisitions and near-acquisitions. Now, I have no great fondness for the unimaginably wealthy, especially when they have inherited and not actually "earned" their wealth, and even more especially when whomever did "earn" the family fortune did so more or less brutally on the exploitation of workers and destruction of local communities and ecologies. So, no love for Alice on my part. That said, it is difficult to have much sympathy for the art-world types who forget that many of the big established museums and galleries have been in bed with Alice-like characters for ever. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in this incisive piece in The Nation on Crystal Bridges several years ago: "Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways." Just so.

Solnit's essay was occasioned by Alice's acquisition from The New York Public Library of Asher Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits. A good question, one that, as far as I can tell, none of the people yacking about Alice actually articulates, is just why it is that our public institutions are in such dire financial straits that they feel compelled to place artistic treasures on the market in the first place. (To be clear the npr correspondent never poses the question either!) Perhaps the poverty of the NYPL and various colleges and universities is the converse of the concentration of income and wealth in the very highest reaches of the American population?

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Passings: Magor Jirous (1944-2011)

Czech dissident Magor Jirous has died. You can find a report here at Reuters.

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Making "Art" at the Expense of Someone Else's Dignity: Marina Abramović Has Another Go

I have been pretty clear here that I think Marina Abramović (and her propensity to recruit co-performers) is a pretty thoroughgoing travesty. This report and this one too on her upcoming "performance" at LA MOCA simply confirms my view. The response, however, renews my faith that in some corners of the art world there are people capable of exercising everyday common sense.


11 November 2011

A Pie Chart to the Face of Each of Republican Presidential Candidates

Source: CBS News

In addition to the clear political absurdity of Republican voters, there is the media's insistence on committing a graphical faux pas - using a pie chart.
"Tables are clearly the best way to show exact numerical values, although the entries can be arranged in semi-graphical form. Tables are preferable to graphics for small data sets. A table is nearly always better than a pie chart: the only thing worse than a pie chart is several of them, for then the viewer is asked to compare quantities located in spatial disarray both within and between pies ... Given their low data density and failure to order numbers along a visual dimension, pie charts should never be used." (Ed Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 178).
In combination this makes it difficult to see that none of the front-runners could decisively beat "someone (anyone?) else" even among avowed Republicans!

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Veteran's Day Lyric

It is Veteran's Day again. And, once again, Tom Waits supplies an appropriate lyric. The actual performance of the song pulses harshly with adrenaline and the sort of barely contained hysteria that comes from knowing there are people, visible and not, willing and hoping to kill you. And then you are "home?"

Hell Broke Luce
Tom Waits*

I had a good home but I left
I had a good home but I left, right, left
That big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf
A Humvee mechanic put his Kevlar on wrong
I guarantee you’ll meet up with a suicide bomb
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce

Big fucking ditches in the middle of the road
You pay a hundred dollars just for fillin’ in the hole
Listen to the general every goddamn word
How many ways can you polish up a turd
Left, right, left, left, right
Left, right
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce

How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess
Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce
Left, right, left

What did you do before the war?
I was a chef, I was a chef
What was your name?
It was Geoff, Geoff
I lost my buddy and I wept, wept
I come down from the meth
So I slept, slept
I had a good home but I left, left
Pantsed at the wind for a joke
I pranced right in with the dope
Glanced at her shin she said nope
Left, right, left

Nimrod Bodfish have you any wool
Get me another body bag the body bag’s full
My face was scorched, scorched
I miss my home I miss my porch, porch
Left, right, left

Can I go home in March? March
My stanch was a chin full of soap
That rancid dinner with the pope
Left, right, left

Kelly Presutto got his thumbs blown off
Sergio’s developing a real bad cough
Sergio’s developing a real bad cough
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce

Boom went his head away
And boom went Valerie
What the hell was it that the president said?
Give him a beautiful parade instead
Left, right, left

When I was over here I never got to vote
I left my arm in my coat
My mom she died and never wrote
We sat by the fire and ate a goat
Just before he died he had a toke
Now I’m home and I’m blind
And I’m broke
What is next
* From: Bad as Me (Anti, 2011).

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10 November 2011

Reading Around

A new Op-Ed by Dani Rodrik here on the rise of right-wing politics in Europe as a consequence of festering political-economic crisis.

An essay by Amartya Sen & Jean Dreze here on the dire pattern of growth without development in India.

A criticism here by Henry Farrell & Cosma Shalizi of the technocratic policy reform advocated by Cass Sunstein & Richard Thaler.

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09 November 2011

Donna Ferrato

Over at Lens you can find this sobering retrospective of work by Donna Ferrato who has spent decades documenting domestic violence.

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08 November 2011

John Rawls Occupies Wall Street?

You can find a podcast here of an nice interview Josh Cohen on John Rawls and Occupy Wall Street.

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07 November 2011

Best Shots (182) ~ Mitch Epstein

(209) Mitch Epstein ~ Martha Murphy & Charlie Biggs,
Pass Christian Mississippi, 2001 (6 November 2011).


06 November 2011

Ai Weiwei as the Al Capone of China

It is well known that the U.S. Government convicted mobster Al Capone of tax evasion when they couldn't get him for running liquor during Prohibition. Well, the Chinese government has convicted Ai Weiwei of tax evasion too rather than charge him with some nefarious political infraction. Now, according to this report in The New York Times, Ai Weiwei also is head of something like a money laundering gang!

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05 November 2011

Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951

Photograph © Jerome Liebling

This exhibition opened yesterday at The Jewish Museum in NYC. It seems like it will be worth a trip sometime. It is interesting to see the ongoing tension between politics and art surrounding not only the original work, but what one finds in the notices of the opening. I lifted this image by Jerry Liebling from The Lens blog where the post stresses how both politics and aesthetics inflected work by members of the League. (The caption here is interesting compared to other places you can find the image on the web as "Union Square, New York, 1948.") But the post itself is trying hard to rescue members of the Photo League from the imagined charge that they were simply propagandists. Hence the resolution of the discussion in how members were committed to making beautiful images.

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03 November 2011

"Settlers" in the West Bank: What Do We See?

A Jewish settler folded clothes among a pile of personal belongings and remains
structures demolished by Israeli troops, in the illegal Jewish settlement
of Ramat Migon, a hilltop site near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Photograph © Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press.

Over at The New York Times recently I've come across some striking images made by Tara Todras-Whitehill of Israeli settlers in the aftermath of having their homes demolished. I've lifted one of these images above.

What I find interesting is the pathos of the images and the way that the caption does not quite name the "settlers" as criminals. These are people who, in fact, are violating the law and who are not being "removed" and so simply rebuild. What we see is the perseverance of apparently isolated settlers. This, at best, is a partial view.

What we tend not to see - or perhaps I am simply overlooking the images that actually appear - are photographs of the settlers rampaging against Palestinians and their supporters who seek to defend their land in the territories. Nor are we seeing the true scale of the illegality here - the systematic land grab that is going on with at least a wink-and-a-nod from and often with the active connivance of the Israeli government.* Likewise, we are not seeing - same caveat - the conflicts between the settlers and the Israeli troops who are sent to demolish illegal construction. By contrast the stereotypical shot of Palestinians is of youth throwing rocks at Israeli security forces. Have I just missed the broader depiction of the dynamic in outlets like The Times?

For a harrowing first hand report on the scale of the Israeli building program in the West Bank and an equally harrowing account of the violent reaction to anti-settlement protests I recommend this two part post by David Shulman at the NYRB.blog.

In closing I want to be clear that I am not criticizing Todras-Whitehill here. In fact, her work is quite impressive. I am raising questions about the appropriation of particular images by mainstream press outlets. And perhaps I am raising questions about the possibilities of actually photographing the sorts of things I mention.
* In the first of the posts I recommend, Shulman offers this sketch: "According to the statistics compiled by Peace Now, in the ten months following the end of the “as-if” freeze on building in the territories in October 2010, work began on 2,598 new housing units; 2,149 new units were completed, and building continued on at least another 3,700. The rate of housing construction per (Israeli) person on the West Bank was double that in Israel proper. If you drive south from Jerusalem along Road 60, the main north-south artery, you see signs of building by settlers everywhere." We are not dealing with isolated violations.

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02 November 2011

Same S*&%, Different Day - Or, How to Rationalize Really Bad Behavior.

I lifted this from Colin Penter at FB whom I am pretty certain borrowed it from elsewhere. Sounds about right to me.



At The New Yorker you can find this report on what looks to be an exciting exhibition opening in Beijing (In know! Not exactly my neighborhood.) The show, curated by Jeroen de Vries and Susan Meiselas is called COAL + ICE and includes work by a bunch of remarkable photographers from both China and abroad. It tries to establish visual links between various links in the process of extracting and using fossil fuel - specifically coal. So, we have images from mining to pronounced, large-scale environmental change. The exhibition is up through November 28th.

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