30 June 2013

Unrequited Love? Simon Norfolk in Afghanistan

Bamyan Province, Afghanistan © Simon Norfolk
I've lifted this image from a series - A Love Letter to Afghanistan - by Simon Norfolk that popped up on my news feed today. These are unsurprisingly stunning photographs by a truly terrific, engaged photographer. What is slightly surprising is that the photo essay appears here at The Financial Times.

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San Francisco as the Miner's Canary ~ And then the Rest of Us

"What do the U.S. government and Silicon Valley already have in common? Above all, they want to remain opaque while making the rest of us entirely transparent through the capture of our data. What is arising is simply a new form of government, involving vast entities with the reach and power of government and little accountability to anyone."
Rebecca Solnit, who as I have said here numerous times, is among our brightest, most insightful public intellectuals, has a new book.  You can find it here. This week I used my first trip to Literati, the new independent bookshop in Ann Arbor to pick up a copy. So, while I have the book, I've not read it yet. You can find an interview with Solnit here at NPR. And you can find an even more recent offering - an essay dissecting the insidious usurpations of high-tech corporations in Silicon Valley. For Solnit, San Francisco - the city were she lives -  is like the canary in the mine shaft. That said, her lament is not just for the ways money and privilege and cluelessness are undermining life in that city. At a more general level Solnit reminds us, as in the passage I lifted above, of Foucault's warning that visibility is a trap.

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Photography - Organizational Travails

Among the persistent difficulties for photography and photographers has been the task of coordinating and disseminating large scale projects. The (in many ways misleading) exemplar here is the FSA. Among contemporary photographers some superstars - here I think of Sebastião Salgado for instance - have the wherewithal to spend extended periods pursuing a project and no worries about exposure once it is complete. Others, like Shahidul Alam spend immense amounts of time and energy creating the institutional foundations for documentary and photo-journalistic work in the developing world.Those are two obvious examples. This story at The British Journal of Photography identifies four other - quite promising - efforts to coordinate groups of photographers on joint projects across Europe and North America.

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Greenwald & the "Journalists" (2)

This You Tube video contains a longish speech Greenwald has given regarding journalism, The Guardian, the NSA & Edward Snowden. A transcript of his speech is available here.

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Greenwald & the "Journalists"

"You can be a journalist who is an advocate and advances a political point of view. Or one who remains politically agnostic. Both are legitimate. But what really matters is the information that enters the public sphere, its validity, how it is presented, and any debate it provokes. Not who put it there in the first place, or even why they did it."
My friend Michael Shaw forwarded a link to this smart commentary by John McQuiad at Forbes (of all places) on the more or less hysterical reaction in the mainstream press to Glenn Greenwald's role in breaking the NSA surveillance story.  The commentary is mis-titled "Why Glenn Greenwald Drives the Media Crazy." McQuaid actually does not do more than document that Greenwald does drive them nuts. He never gets around to telling us "why."

My take is that most journalists in the U.S. play the role of stenographer to talking heads from (mostly center-to-right wing) "intellectuals," business mouthpieces, and government officials. And if that is what it means to be a journalist, then Greenwald surely is not one. But, that is hardly a defensible conception of "journalist." In any case, the conclusion to the piece (quoted at the top) is just right. The enterprise of policing the boundaries of journalism is a sideshow. The mainstream media ought to be concerned less with professing to report news from some fantasy world of detachment and objectivity and more with figuring out what is going on in the world and letting the rest of us know. The story here is about widespread, secret government surveillance of regular citizens.

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28 June 2013

Ann Arbor

I am, under the best of circumstances, a mediocre-to-poor pool player. But here at ICPSR summer camp in Ann Arbor I demonstrate this fact in public. I rarely even hold a cue more than a couple of times a year. You can put the blurriness of the image down to my friend Ryan Bakker having had, perhaps, a beer too many. He snapped the photo. In any case, it is midnight and I am home in time to avoid turning into a pumpkin. Meanwhile my companions are lining up to sing karaoke.


27 June 2013

The Taksim Square Book Club

I lifted this is image from this photo essay at Al Jazeera; the series depicts the evolving protests at Taksim Square in Istanbul. The series of photographs is © George Henton/Al Jazeera. Here: "One woman reads The Speech, which is the text of of a speech delivered by Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, at an assembly in 1927 - while another woman (right) reads a biography of Ataturk." The women are participating in a collective practice of standing, reading silently in the Square following the violent repression of protesters by the Turkish regime. (Thanks Beth Wilson!)

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26 June 2013

The Court and Voting Rights

Dick Posner: The Court "struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (the part requiring certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission in advance to change their voting procedures—called “preclearance”) as violating the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of the states. This is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard—for the excellent reason that . . . there is no such principle.  . . . The opinion rests on air."  Just so. [source]

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22 June 2013

Summer Music - Trio 3 + Jason Moran

Here is a new release that should be really terrific. Trio 3 are each incredibly accomplished on their own. I posted on them here once before. In the past they've re augmented their releases with the nearly incomparable pianist Geri Allen. This time they've invited the nearly incomparable pianist Jason Moran to join in. Now to track down a place to actually buy the CD!

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19 June 2013

Using Drones to Make Magic Not War

Find out how here in this story about Laurie Anderson and her collaboration with Ai Weiwei in The New York Times.

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Philosophy Joke

This really is a hoot.

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17 June 2013

Pie Is For Eating, Not Viewing

"The pie chart is easily the worst way to convey information ever developed in the history of data visualization." ~ Walter Hickey

Just so, for reasons Hickey elaborates. And here at WaPo is a clever demonstration, via pie charts, of why they are particularly problematic.

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16 June 2013

Tufte on the NSA Prism Slides

The standard retort to Ed Tufte's criticisms of Power Point is that 'it is not the program but the damned users!' I think that reply actually misses his claim about the data density of PP slides. But the retort is pretty poor on its own terms. I guess the real question to ask is whether any program that seeming invites and infinite number of bad uses isn't itself a problem. Can the defenders produce large numbers - even small numbers - of truly excellent PP presentations? Unlikely. Does it matter if government officials are relying on truly opaque PP presentations in their decision-making processes? In any case, here (from WaPo) is Tufte tweeting comments last week on the NSA presentation of their (apparently totally unconstrained) domestic spying program:

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12 June 2013

Wall On Wall

One of my FB friends - Linda Ferrari from Photo Berlin - sent me a link to this intriguing project Wall On Wall by  Kai Wiedenhoefer. The project is meant to use the Berlin Wall as a space for exhibiting large format images Wiendenhoefer has made of other places - in this instance the border fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. There is a Kickstarter campaign under way to underwrite the enterprise.

It seems to me that this project prompts serious thought about a theme I have pursued here pretty regularly - the diverse political uses of walls, the nature of borders, the politics of distinction and difference. Keep an eye on it!

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So, Doug & Sam came back from their west coast tour. Sam is working at the Memorial Art Gallery and Doug is working with Sam's Dad, for a couple of weeks, doing some roofing until he heads down to Stony Brook. Here he is at the end of a day's work:

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08 June 2013

Gezi Park - Reminders for Political Theorists

A couple of reports on Gezi Park that offer important reminders for political theorists. The first from the BBC addressed the uses of humor in politics. Here there is a paper by Elizabeth Spelman ("Anger the Diary") that contrasts the distinct impact of anger, which empowers the aggrieved, and humor, which deflates the pretensions of the powerful.  And, of course, this argument subverts the dichotomy between rationality and the emotions (see, generally, Amelie Rorty) - the connections between rationality and emotions are various.  The second - here - is from Michael Kimmelman at The New York Times who underscores (among other things) both Hannah Arendt's claim that the exercise of freedom presupposes public space and Jim Scott's quasi-anarchist arguments about resistance to regimentation of (among other things) space.

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07 June 2013

Making Fun of Conservatives on Bikes ... or Not.

How funny are conservative jokes? Pretty funny. This Venn Diagram captures the various dimensions on which conservatives are apoplectic about the NYC bike sharing program. The experiment (oops, another thing conservatives are allergic to) simply embodies so many things conservatives detest.  [Source]

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06 June 2013

How China Sees the World

The cover of current issue (17 June 2013), art by Ai Weiwei. Let's put aside the idea that China is a homogenous locus of sensory capacities and hence able to see anything. Apparently the government might well see the world as coming up roses.

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05 June 2013

Turkey ~ Images, Hypocrisy, Commentary

"We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police. We obviously hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force." - John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State 
The Obama administration is speaking out on the violent official response to political protests in Turkey. And they are right to do so. Here is the series of images encapsulating that response.

Photographs © Osman Orsal/Reuters.

The image depicts Ceyda Sungur being pepper sprayed - unprovoked - by a police officer in Gezi Park, the central locus of protest in Istanbul. You can find some background on the image here at The Guardian. More on the protests below. But this image does nothing so forcefully as recall images (like, for instance, this and this) of various American law enforcement officers spraying Occupiers across the country. So, first it is necessary to remind officials of the Obama administration of the coordinated, violent campaign waged against Occupy protesters in various cities here in the United States. As I have mentioned here before, there is ample evidence that that campaign was supported (perhaps actively coordinated) by Federal law enforcement agencies. In particular, Kerry's comments on the importance not just of free association but the right to assemble underscore just how anemic those freedoms are here at home.

Meanwhile the protests in Turkey has generated bunches of commentary from intellectuals of various sorts. Since most Americans no less than nothing about politics abroad, and the rest of us don't know nearly enough, perhaps a little digest will help! Economist Dani Rodrik, Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, political theorist Seyla Benhabib, economist Daron Accemoglu . . .  I will add more as they become available.
Update (6/6/13): Here is  a commentary by Bahar Leventoglu, one of our successful PhD alums who, in addition, has herself waged a long, successful political-legal campaign for basic women's rights in Turkey - details here.

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04 June 2013

Enthusiasms (37) ~ Patty Griffin

For my birthday a couple weeks back, Susan gave me this new offering by Patty Griffin - American Kid. It is remarkably good - a dozen original tunes, subtle vocals, understated accompanists, and dedicated to the memory of Griffin's father.

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Agee & Evans ~ At It Again (Posthumously)

Yesterday evening I came across this story/review in The New York Times of a new edition of a hitherto unpublished piece by James Agee. The book* consists in the original piece or reportage Agee did on assignment for Fortune magazine. The piece never appeared there, but eventually became the text - accompanied by photographs by Walker Evans - of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The new edition reproduces some of Evans's images too. While all this is interesting intellectually, it is especially nice for me to see that the editor of the book is John Summers, a former History PhD student here at Rochester. Actually John's adviser was my colleague Robb Westbrook who regularly sends really smart students like John my way. In any case, John wrote his thesis (an intellectual history of C. Wright Mills), taught Social Studies at Harvard for a half dozen years, published a collection of his own essays**, edited one by Mills*** and, inexplicably to me, had zero success in landing a permanent academic job.

I'd lost touch with John amidst the thankfully receding turmoil of my own life, but the story in The Times indicates that he has acquired, reorganized, and now is editing The Baffler You can find  interviews with John here and here explaining what they (the journal is something of a collective undertaking) are up to. This is the sort of publishing venture you should support - not just because it leans left, but because little magazines like The Baffler sustain a robust political, intellectual and cultural ecology - so subscribe if you can.
* James Agee. Cotton Tenants: Three Families. Photographs by Walker Evans. Edited by John Summers. Melville House 2013.
** John H. Summers. 2008. Every Fury on Earth. The Davies Group.
*** John H. Summers. 2008. The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills. Oxford University Press.

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01 June 2013

Random Thoughts on the Weekend

This morning I drove in to the airport to collect Doug and Sam on their return from the big west coast adventure.  It was great to have them back. Seems like they had a great time and I am especially happy that they stopped to see August for several days. I wish they had the chance to spend more time together. It would be good for everyone concerned!

In any case, to get to the airport I drive a long stretch of the Lake Ontario State Parkway, which cuts across Braddock Bay, a bird haven. As I was driving some sort of hawk - pretty big, maybe an Osprey - swooped up from the water and across the road right in front of me and not much higher than the car top. It had a fish clutched in its claws, obviously intent on breakfast. Pretty impressive. But the entire episode happened in seconds.

Tomorrow is Jeff's Memorial Tournament. And that always is a hard day. I am wholly uninvolved with the tournament for many, many reasons. But here is a thought:

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
* W. S. Merwin, “Separation” from The Second Four Books of Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1993). Copyright © 1993 by W. S. Merwin.

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The Sun-Times Follies (2)

... in which the photo editor at The New York Times steps aside lamely (here) with nary a whimper of protest.

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