31 January 2012

The Irrational Market in Executive Compensation

Question: The typical chief executive officer of a publicly traded corporation in the U.S. is paid more than his or her marginal contribution to the firm's value.

Strongly Agree: 0%
Agree: 32%
Uncertain: 32%
Disagree: 7%
Strongly Disagree: 0%
No Opinion: 10%
This is part of the latest poll taken by the Institute on Global Markets at Chicago Business School. The respondents are all big-wig economists - so this is "expert" judgement you are getting here. (As an aside, I think this project to gauge 'what economists think' about a range of policy matters is pretty useful.)

This suggests that a considerable number of economists are not persuaded that typical executive compensation schemes in the U.S. are well structured. CEO's seem to be overpaid, even by the narrow criterion of contributing to the profitability of their firm. How can the labor market work like that? And if the experts are correct, why should execs continue to get paid disproportionate amounts?


Media Politics and the American Flag

Photograph © Beck Diefenbach. AP Caption: Occupy Oakland protestors burn
an American flag found inside Oakland City Hall during an Occupy Oakland
protest on the steps of City Hall, Saturday, January 28, 2012, in Oakland, Calif.

Occupy is back in the American news again after something of a lull. The authorities in Oakland and Washington, DC are pressuring activists in predictable ways, taking up again the wave of arrests and evictions and brutality, that they initiated earlier in the winter. Much of the mainstream media in the U.S, has shifted attention, becoming preoccupied with the family feud that passes for politics among Republicans. Both The Guardian and The Nation, however, have maintained pretty consistent, ongoing reporting here and here respectively. That said, the mainstream media does seem intent on presenting the Occupy folks as dangerous, violent louts.

When I saw the picture above my initial response was "how stupid!"; and I immediately began to wonder how many of the Occupy folks in Oakland or elsewhere would sanction this action. Few I assumed. I am not one for "venerating" the flag or any other political symbol or idea. (I don't think one can desecrate things that are not sacred.) But as a tactical matter this sort of behavior is simply adolescent and stupid. How might you better alienate virtually all of the 99% in the U.S.? So it is nice to see this smart and timely commentary from my friend Michael Shaw over at BagNewsNotes documenting how photo editors across the nation converged on the flag burners and not on those who objected to their antics.

Photograph © Beck Diefenbach/AP. Caption: A woman pleads with Occupy
Oakland protestors to not burn an American flag found inside Oakland City
Hall during an Occupy Oakland protest, Saturday, January 28, 2012, in
Oakland, Calif. Police were in the process of arresting about 100 Occupy
protesters for failing to disperse Saturday night, hours after officers used
tear gas on a rowdy group of demonstrators who threw rocks and flares at
them and tore down fences.

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30 January 2012

Best Shots (191) ~ Zarina Bhimji

(218) Zarina Bhimji ~ Wall with Shoes, Uganda, 1999 (25 January 2012).


29 January 2012

New York Times to OWS - Find a Photogenic Leader

A protest in Santiago, Chile, last month [July 2011]. Students have held rallies of
up to 100,000 people and taken control of dozens of schools around the country.
Photograph © Fernando Nahuel/European Pressphoto Agency.

In the paper today is this profile of Chilean student radical Camila Vallejo Dowling. The tacit message is that charismatic leaders are essential to a recognizable political movement - even if in the Chilean case she is, ahem, a communist. I do not mean to take anything away from Dowling; she seems bright, articulate, politically astute. But two things are important to note: first a lot of the impetus for and creativity of the movement comes from elsewhere and others (even The Times grudgingly acknowledges that before insisting again on the crucial role of leadership) and, second, the movement is, in important ways, traditional, hence the "cacerlazos." The Chilean protests, in other words, involve much more than a pretty young woman [1] [2]. Camila Dowling surely would agree.

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28 January 2012

Thoughts on Apple

“I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry, and maybe in any industry, of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain . . . I mean, you go to this place, and, it’s a factory, but, my gosh, I mean, they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools, and I mean, for a factory, it’s a pretty nice factory.”~ Steve Jobs (2010)
Manufacturing #11. [Cafeteria at] Youngor Textiles,
Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, 2005.

Photograph © Edward Burtynsky.

Manufacturing #10AB. Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, 2005.
Photograph Edward Burtynsky.

I use an Apple MacBook Pro. It is a nice, but hardly flawless, machine. While using an Apple gives me something in common with Lisbeth Salander, it does not make me cool (that is really difficult to imagine) or especially insightful. In fact, her Apple laptop it is not what makes everyone's favorite, slightly wacked, avenging anti-heroine cool either.

I have written, mostly critically, about Apple and the impulse to canonize Steve Jobs here on several occasions since I became un-PC. ( I will say for the record that when, during the State of the Union Address earlier this week, our Hoper-In-Chief pointed out Jobs's widow, I wondered how she must've felt about being invited to the official ritual to serve as a prop.) But Apple has been in the news lately for its knowing complicity in highly exploitative environmental and labor policies. In particular you should read this extensive piece in The New York Times earlier in the week. Alternatively, Apple hipsters might download this segment from This American Life and listen to it on their iPods as a podcast.

What is the point? Surely not that Steve Jobs (or any of the other Apple execs) is a bad man. He may or may not have been a nice fellow or a jerk, honest or duplicitous, caring or oblivious, and so forth. Character issues are a sideshow. Surely not, also, that Apple is the only company knowingly complicit in environmental degradation or exploitation of workers in the developing world. The report in The Times makes it crystal clear that that hardly is the case. So too do Burtynsky's images of nice Chinese factories. (If you don't care for Burtynsky on all this, try Chris Jordan or Pietr Hugo.)

So, here are some points to take from the recent revelations about Apple.

First, a cool logo and image does not make a corporation less capitalist, less preoccupied with profit. Apple differs not at all from Wal-Mart in that respect.

Second, there is little room for moralism here. Using this or that product or brand does not make you guilty or culpable any more than abstaining from doing so absolves you of guilt or culpability.

Third, as the This American Life segment I link to above makes clear, lots and lots of things are "hand made"; that, for instance, probably includes your cell phone. When labor is very, very cheap "handmade" loses its romantic connotations.

Fourth, it is not just manufacturing that has been globalized. So too has environmentalism. And recycling of high tech gadgets (with its attendant health disasters - think carcinogens, heavy metals, etc.) is done by hand too. On this it is important to go back and read the earlier comment on moralism. Recycling your electronic toys as you engage in planned obsolescence does not make you a better person. It simply means that somewhere in China, or another developing country, people are taking your junk apart by hand.

Finally, all this news about Apple suggests that voluntary standards - whether for fair labor practices or environmental protection - are a joke. Companies will fabricate vacuous criteria that they will then work around. And they will turn a blind eye to the evasions. That is how capitalism works.

So, even if - as Jobs opined - the Cafeterias are nice, making iPhones-Pads-Pods by hand is a pretty crappy way to make a living. Apple ought to do better, but they won't. That is how capitalism works.

China Recycling #12. E-Waste Sorting, Zeguo,
Zhejiang Province, 2004.
Photograph © Edward Burtynsky.

Manufacturing #16. Bird Mobile, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, 2005.
Photograph © Edward Burtynsky.

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27 January 2012

AI ~ Science for Human Rights: Human Rights Monitoring for the 21st Century.

Beirut City, Lebanon, After (l) and Before (r)
Bombing by Israeli Forces (2006).

I suspect Colin Powell's duplicity and dissembling about WMD in Iraq will have made many skeptical about the uses of aerial (actually satellite) photography to document phenomena on the ground. But one should not identify a technology with any particular one its uses. I've noted some of the uses of aerial imagery here before. Skeptics might follow this link for a demonstration of how Amnesty International is using aerial photography as an aid to visualizing the consequences of violent conflict. Amnesty is not alone in this enterprise; you can find interesting discussions of the broader intersection of human rights work and aerial imaging technology here and here too. (Thanks for the idea Will Moore!)

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On the Uses of Bridges for (Democratic) Politics

At The Guardian today is this report on various extremely creative protests against authorities in Russia. Among the most creative is pictured in the sequence images above. It is a really big penis hastily painted by the group Voina on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg. As the bridge was raised the member appeared to become aroused and poked out directly facing the building housing the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Apparently, the bridge stays up for several hours each night to facilitate traffic on the river.

You can more detailed report on the June 2010 action - apparently entitled "Dick Captured by the FSB" - in an earlier piece here in The Guardian, here at Der Spiegel and here at The New York Times. Among the fun facts revealed there are that last April the Russian Ministry of Culture awarded Voina a €10K contemporary art prize for this "project" and that, subsequently, a Russian Court issued an international arrest warrant for Oleg Vorotnikov, one of the group's leaders, on charges of hooliganism. That has prompted solidarity protests like the one captured in the image below of the Charles Bridge in Prague last November.

Having said all of that, it is important to keep one's focus on the politics here and not write all this off as silliness, just the antics of idiosyncratic personalities. This is not, in other words, a matter of aesthetics or of law - those are the terms in which the Culture Ministry and the Courts respectively frame Voina's actions. What is at stake, and what Voina calls attention to, is the lack freedom and democracy in Russia.

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26 January 2012

Thinking With Data Graphics ~ Fewer Unionized Workers = Lots of Crappy, Low Paying Jobs

In light of recent political events in the U.S. - specifically Obama's State of the Union yammering about the need to generate good jobs and the continuing assault by Republicans on labor unions - these graphics (and the report they partly summarize) are telling. Recently The New York Times ran a pointed editorial on the interaction; the essay nicely deflates ideological claims about the dire consequences of unionization. You can find it here.

The clear question is what differentiates the U.S. from similarly low-union-density countries like Japan and New Zealand and from moderate-union-density-but-nonetheless-low-wage economies like Germany. Unions, in other words, are only part of the story. That said, the U.S. is an outlier both in terms of the percentage of low wage jobs and percentage of non-unionized workers. No coincidence there.

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23 January 2012

New Book ~ Parvati Nair on Salgado

After a week visiting with Susan's family in the UK I returned to a pile of mail. By far the most pleasant item in the pile was a copy of Parvati Nair's new, insightful study of Sebastião Salgado.* To the best of my knowledge this is the first full-length examination of Salgado's monumental body of work and so is long overdue. My problem is that it is the start of term and I am going to be tempted to set aside the corresponding demands in order to leap into the book!
* Parvati Nair. 2011. A Different Light: The Photography of Sebastião Salgado. Duke University Press.

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22 January 2012

Appropriate Contrast

20 January 2012

Prescience ~ José Saramago

I've spent this past week in Manchester (UK) with Susan visiting her family. I've spent a bunch of time reading this novel - Seeing - by Portuguese writer José Saramago (1922-2008 2010).* The novel, first published in 2004, is not easy going - it is a bit disorienting stylistically - but definitely worth plunging into. It relates the series of increasingly draconian, largely uncomprehending reactions on the part of a central government to the apparently uncoordinated statement made by the electorate in an unnamed capital city; the "subversive" action that precipitates this government campaign is decentralized, leaderless, and entirely peaceful and the "movement," such as it is, articulates no particular demands. Sound familiar?
* José Saramago. 2006. Seeing. New York: Harcourt.

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Best Shots (190) ~ Leo Maguire

(217) Leo Maguire ~ Fred, 2007 (18 January 2012).


Springsteen Invoking American Ideals, Again

Well, here is a report from NPR on an in-the-works album by Bruce Springsteen. Something to look forward to - and that from someone (me) who has always resisted deification of Bruce. There is a link to a sample from the new album from the NPR page.

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19 January 2012

Democracy in Peril (2): United States

"While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit." ~ Jonathan Turley (WAPO, 13 January 2012)

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Democracy in Peril: Hungary

Today The New York Times ran this Op-Ed by Gyorgy Konrad on the rapid, planned subversion of democracy by the governing right-wing party in Hungary. You can find an analogous essay by Konrad and a dozen other prominent politicians and intellectuals here at Open Democracy. And, in a series of guest postings at Paul Krugman's blog Conscience of a Liberal [1] [2] [3] Kim Lane Scheppele has presented detailed background to recent events. The situation is, to be blunt, dire.

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Kodak is Kaput

There is no way that the news for Rochester is good - the news being that Kodak is bankrupt. I have lived in Rochester for two decades and have watched as the once dominant employer and manufacturer missed opportunity after chance after innovation, mostly out of short-sightedness and complacency. It is safe to say that I've not been overly sanguine about the company or the city here, mostly because I watched the same process in the town where I grew up as General Electric and its successors treated the community with disregard. The New York Times recently tried to stick this happy face on the economic situation in Rochester; but if the reporter had taken a drive along St. Paul heading north from downtown, or North Clinton or any of several other main thoroughfares, he'd have been ashamed for the mis-representation he peddled. Like most of Western NY State, the city is, as I have mentioned here before, a mess; and the surrounding county is not far behind - think crime, crushingly bad public education, concentrated poverty, and so forth. This is the miracle of private enterprise at work.

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18 January 2012


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17 January 2012

Mieko Mahi and the Enterprise of Ideology

Abstract pipe rack. Photograph © Mieko Mahi.

I came across this brief notice of work by Mieko Mahi at the web page of ABC News. On her own web page she trumpets herself (putatively in the words of others) as 'the Annie Liebovitz of the oil and gas industry'. That seems apt to me. I've been pretty clear here that Leibovitz is a talented woman who places her efforts at the service of vacuous celebrity. Mahi herself notes that she "caters" to the energy industry in much the same way - producing glossy images to divert attention from the underlying mess. After all, extraction of oil and natural gas is not pretty. I recommend Mahi's work as an example of ideology - how to render the slippery, black, dangerous basis of pervasive degradation, penury, violence and conflict all sparkly and shiny and bright. No wonder the industry types love her work! Interesting too is how the folks at ABC present her beautifying enterprise more or less without comment.

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14 January 2012

Marines Not Fighting for "Our Freedoms"

So, here is the latest installment in the media war. I've read a lot of excuses for this stupidity. 'These are just young recruits.' 'They are in a war zone fighting and it is difficult for them to draw boundaries.' 'This behavior does not reflect the "vast majority" of U.S.military personnel.' Blah. Blah Blah. All those excuses point to a failure in the U.S. military. The standard claim is that ours is a professional, disciplined military force. (and the Marines pride themselves on being the most disciplined of them all!) Well, the repeated, documented bad behavior on the part of American troops surely brings that into question.

All of that said, the one line of excuse that I find especially pathetic is one that goes like this: 'You have no business criticizing U.S. troops because they are off fighting to protect you and your freedoms.' More blah, blah blah ... The problem is that this line of reactionary twaddle has no basis in reality.*

First, Iraq: We were in Iraq on false pretenses. BushCo lied their way in. Period. And all the death and devastation, for Americans and Iraqis, were a waste. The war there had nothing to do with "our freedoms" or protecting them.

Second, Afghanistan: In Afghanistan, there may have been some rationale - Al Qaeda allegedly was operating from there. But that rationale, if it ever were persuasive, is now moot insofar as Osama bin Laden is dead. (And, he, you'll recall, was killed in Pakistan.) In other words, even if these four morons had reason to be in Afghanistan before bin Laden was killed, there is no reason for them to be there now.

Finally, the Bad Guys: Please remember too, that al Qaeda didn't give a lick about our freedoms. They were pissed about U.S. military deployments in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The problem with al Qaeda, in other words, has nothing to do with "our freedoms." And, I will add, two more things. (1) The problem with the Taliban (a bunch of ruthless thugs, but arguably no more ruthless or thuggish than many others) is in no small part an American creation. (2) The Taliban represent zero threat to the U.S. or our much vaunted freedoms.

So, these Marines are not fighting for me or my freedoms or for you and yours. They are fighting because someone said "go fight." They were trained to not ask questions and to treat adversaries as other-than-human. And so, their behavior is wholly predictable. These guys too are a waste. And so too will be the conflicts (with more death and mayhem) that their actions encourage as this imagery circulates well into the future.
* I'll leave aside the minor notion that we allegedly live in a democracy and citizens are supposed to be commended for speaking up and criticizing those who claim to represent them.

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13 January 2012

Havel & Kundera

I came across this depiction of the drawn out, cross-genre disagreement between Václav Havel and Milan Kundera over politics and efficacy and moralism. When I teach Max Weber, I use Havel as an example of 'value rational' action, mostly to establish how rare the category actually turns out to be. For Weber, action is value rational just insofar as (1) it is undertaken with no hope of success and (2) regardless of the consequences to the actor. Havel's brand of dissent in the 1970s and early 1980s seems to fit the bill. But, as this description of the dispute with Kundera - who mocks such action as self-aggrandizing moralism - makes clear, it worked after all (at least it contributed mightily to the course of Czechoslovak politics in 1989 and thereafter).

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11 January 2012

Recommended Reading: Pragmatic Utopianism as "The Future of Black Politics"

You can find a smart and provocative essay by Michael Dawson (along with a set of pointed responses) here at The Boston Review. I agree with a much of what Dawson has to say about the crucial importance of African-Americans to any viable progressive political mobilization in the U.S.. Yet I am persuaded too by Tommie Shelby's insistence (in his comment on Dawson) on the importance of multi-racial political organizations. (More generally, I wonder if Dawson might craft a reply by building upon the distinction, articulated by Bob Moses and Charles Payne as they channel Ella Baker, between mobilization and organization and on the crucial importance of both for progressive politics.) Finally, and perhaps gratuitously, I wish Dawson had felt less need to rely on the pronouncements of obscurantist leftist "theorists" like Badiou and Žižek. I simply have no patience for them. He should stick with the tradition of African-American political thought from DuBois through King and Malcolm X to Walter Mosley. Reconnect that to the American political theory of pragmatism from Dewey to Unger and Cornel West, and you have more than sufficient resources to spell out the sort of pragmatic utopianism Dawson advocates.

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10 January 2012

Best Shots (189) ~ Simone Lueck

(216) Simone Lueck ~ 'It's Mara's fantasy and she own's it' (8 Janury 2012).


09 January 2012

Mobility Myth or Simply Ideology?

I missed this story in The New York Times last week - the one about how, notwithstanding fantastic tales of merit winning out and entrepreneurship and bootstrapping oneself into a better life and so forth, "Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe."

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Milton Rogovin, Dangerous Subversive? Ernest Withers, Shameful Collaborator?

Two news stories caught my eye this morning. The Associated Press has released here a new story - actually containing very little news, simply confirmation of what is common knowledge - about the U.S. government surveillance and hectoring of Milton and Anne Rogovin over the course of several decades. And here is a review of a just-opened exhibition of work by the late Ernest Withers who, it turns out, collaborated with the FBI in reporting on the civil rights movement while he photographed it.

The AP story makes clear that the Rogovins withdrew from active left-wing politics in large measure to insulate their family. My understanding is that Withers agreed to collaborate in hopes of doing the same. My point in drawing this contrast is not to cast a morality play of heroes and villains. Instead it is to suggest how pervasive and insidious red-baiting has been. The surveillance and hectoring infiltrated lives of decent people in destructive ways. And it now continues to do so. (Was it really an "accident" that the censors neglected to redact Withers' name from files released under FOIA requests?) There are pointed lessons here for the ongoing operation of the U.S. government in the area of "national security."

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08 January 2012

Exclusion Zones (2) ~ Jake Baggaley

A reader replied to my earlier post on convergences around the Chernobyl exclusion zones, suggesting that I check out work by a friend Jake Baggaley. Turns out that this was a great tip (Thanks Tom!). Baggaley is a talented young photographer who did a senior project on the "dead zone"; his work is really remarkable. You can find an interview with him here where he discusses doing the project.

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Red-Staters, Red-Baiting, and their Enablers in the Press

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich, you just heard Governor Romney...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- make his case. He’s...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve made the case on several occasions that he’s not the man to carry that message for the Republican Party.
Why not?
GINGRICH: Well, look, I think that’s a good message and I agree with him. A -- a little bit harsh on President Obama, who, I’m sure in his desperate efforts to create a radical European socialist model, is sincere.
That exchange from the Republican primary debate last night (WAPO transcript here) captures another instance of red-baiting the President. Why did Stephanopolis not ask Gingrich what he means by the criticism? Why not ask what reason or evidence might he provide for the assertion? How about Diane Sawyer the other moderator? After all, Newt is - as we continually hear - a real live intellectual!

Let's be clear. As I've repeatedly noted here I think the U.S. is worse off - politically and economically - for lacking a more robust socialist presence in politics. I hardly think the term is an epithet. Nor do I find socialist policies and ideals anathema. But red-staters do. Why allow them to get away with name calling?

Over at The Nation John Nichols indicates just how vigorously and explicitly Obama disavows socialist policies. But he also points out that as Newt the "historian" must surely know (even if he does not like it) there has been a persistent socialist tradition in the U.S.. There is nothing anti-American about that and the press ought to do its job in calling out the Republicans when they suggest otherwise.

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07 January 2012

Constitutional Politics ~ Do the Parchment Barriers Sleep Above the Covers?

Among my all-time favorite movie scenes is toward the end of Ghostbusters where Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) says of the demonically possessed Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver): "She's not my girlfriend. I find her interesting because she's a client and because she sleeps above her covers . . . four feet above her covers. She barks, she drools, she claws!"

Well, there may be those who think that the Constitution is a venerable document that hovers Barrett-like someplace well above everyday partisan politics. Right! Consider that the talking heads of the right are lining up to wail about Obama's recess appointments [1] [2] [3] while his old liberal Harvard professor has come to the President's defense [4]. If only those attacking the president had in the past demonstrated the least regard for the Constitution as something other than an inconvenience to be wholly disregarded (think torture, indefinite detention, Iran-Contra . . .) in the pursuit of this or that right-wing political fantasy. Then I might be willing to read their views other than incredulously.

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Exclusion Zones

In the Exclusion Zones*
Carolyn Forché

Ash over conifers and birches, over berry tickets. Resembling snow and
its synonyms. Silvered fields of millet.

A silence approaching bees of the invisible or the scent of mint.

One need not go further than a white towel hung in an open door.

Chernobyl, Ukraine (2009) © Timm Suess.
Village cemetery, October 1998 © David McMillan.
Chernobyl, Classroom in Kindergarten #7,
"Golden Key", Pripyat - May 2001 © Robert Polidori.

I recently started to track down photographic work on post-Katrina NOLA and realized that Robert Polidori's project After the Flood apparently is very much of a piece with his somewhat earlier project Zones of Exclusion on post-nuclear-meltdown Chernobyl. And, as I searched for Polidori's images, I came across similar - extremely good - work by Timm Suess and David McMillan. (Follow links above to their pages.) All that then led me to recall Carolyn Forché' s poem. Funny how those convergences work themselves out.
* From: Carolyn Forché. Blue Hour. Harper Collins, 2003, page 18.

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05 January 2012

Passings ~ Eve Arnold (1912 - 2012)

Photographer Eve Arnold has died. You can find an obituary here at The Guardian.

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04 January 2012

Brawling Houses and Trees

Both Images: New Orleans, 2005 © Katherine Wolkoff.

I've been asked to write an essay on politics and photographic depictions of post-Katrina New Orleans. There obviously is a pretty rich trove of photojournalism available. But I hope to avoid it. Instead I plan to pursue the work by photographers "art" like Chris Jordan, Larry Towell, Robert Polidori and Richard Misrach. My plan generally is to talk about the politics of landscape and rely on the typically depopulated scenes that all of these photographers produced.

In any case, I've started to collect materials for the essay and came across work by Katherine Wolkoff that I had not recalled. Although it is quite good I'm not going to say much about it here. But I wanted to contrast two of her images of collision because they suggest a certain madcap brawl between uprooted trees and houses departed from their foundations. There are bits of macabre humor in these depictions of disaster.

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Kodak Circling the Bowl

Well, it appears that Kodak is going to declare bankruptcy. You can read the WSJ report here. Beyond the photo relevance for some readers, this is bad news for many of the people in the Rochester area where I live and work. This has been coming for a long time. That does not make it any easier.

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02 January 2012

David Rubinger

Israeli paratroopers, Jerusalem, Israel, 1967.
Photograph © David Rubinger.

The European: Your most famous picture depicts a group of paratroopers next to the Wailing Wall shortly after its conquest during the Six-Day War in 1967. Tell me the story behind that picture.

Rubinger: I had been on the southern front outside of El Arish on the previous evening when I heard that something was going on in Jerusalem. I jumped aboard a helicopter that was taking the wounded to Be’er Sheva, where I had parked my car. Around six or seven in the morning, I arrived in Jerusalem, went to see my family and then headed towards the historic city center. The Wailing Wall had just been seized and the old houses were still there, so everything was quite narrow.

I laid on the ground and shot upwards to get the Wall into the frame. As the three paratroopers passed, I shot three almost identical frames. Shortly after that, the Chief Rabbi of the army entered the scenery with a Torah and a shofar. The students took him on their shoulders, cheering. I thought I had the best shot of the day. When I developed the film at home looking at them with my wife – convinced that the one with the Rabbi was the best – she preferred the three frames with the soldiers. I said: “What are you talking about? Those are just three people randomly standing there…” As always, the woman was right.

The European: The photo brought you worldwide recognition. The State of Israel gave thousands of copies away without asking for permission. Are you bitter about the copyright violation?

Rubinger: I got the rights back in a lawsuit many years ago. I had given one of the frames to the military spokesman on the same evening I took the photo. Since I had been very secure and could move freely although I was not working for the military, I had wanted to express my gratitude. The military spokesman handed the negative to the press office and they got busy printing copies. Associated Press used it as cover picture for a book. One or two colleagues sent the prints to their agencies with their name on it. For many years, I was upset. But today, I must confess that I am deeply grateful to all those thieves.

From: A 2010 interview here with Israeli photographer David Rubinger.

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An Interview with Roberto Unger

"The opportunity for change has already been largely squandered. But the opportunity for insight, not yet, and insight today can mean transformation tomorrow." ~ Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Unger made that statement regarding the current global economic mess in an interview on "The Future of the Left" with The European last fall.

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