30 September 2013

Annals of Fair Use ~ Lessig v. Liberation Music

So here is a report from NPR on a fair use case involving Lawrence Lessig and an Australian record label. Fair use issues tend to elicit the idiocy in people. I've posted on that tendency here numerous times in the past. 

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29 September 2013

"Photography Can Change the World" ~ OK, Sure. What Does That Mean?

The extended cover of the 125th anniversary issue of National Geographic.
(Photo: National Geographic).
This is the cover from the 125th Anniversary issue of National Geographic. I posted about it yesterday, and thought I'd follow up. Mostly, that is because I heard this interview on NPR this afternoon as I drove to the gym. The host of "living On Earth" Steve Curwood was speaking with the director of photography at the magazine, Sarah Leen. The following portion of their exchange caught my attention:
CURWOOD: There’s another theme of this special edition, your anniversary edition of National Geographic, and that theme is ‘relate’, and I’d like to call attention to a really striking image of that segment. It's a couple in Afghanistan on their wedding day. The groom is 40, the bride about 11, and the caption says close to half of Afghan girls marry before they’re 18. But I think this has to be a classic case of a picture being worth a thousand words.

LEEN: Yes, Stephanie Sinclair who took that image, she has been working on the issue of child brides all over the world for a number of years. This particular image I find to be almost chilling when you look at it, this adorable little girl trying to imagine her being married to this guy. You say he's 40, but he looks like, older than 40, his beard, and kind of craggy, but this is the custom there. Photography can help you relate and connect to other people and get you (sic!) care about things, and I think once you start getting people to care about things you can get them to get involved and maybe even help change the world, and I think that's definitely one of Stephanie's missions.
I've italicized the interesting claim. I don't want to dispute it. I think Leen is right. What I want to do is ask if we can descend from the platitudes. What does she mean? How can that happen?This anniversary will give the nice folk at National Geographic a huge audience. It is a shame to see them squander the chance to say something meaningful.

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28 September 2013

National Geographic Photos Clean Up the Gold Trade?

"Conscience is the other trait that binds these photographers. To experience the beauty of harp seals swimming in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is also to see the frailty of their habitat: scores of seal pups drowning due to the collapse of ice floes, a direct consequence of climate change. To witness the calamity of war in the gold-mining region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also to envision a glimmer of hope: Show the gold merchants in Switzerland what their profiteering has wrought, and maybe they’ll cease their purchases.

[. . .] The images in National Geographic have revealed a world not of sameness but of wondrous diversity. But they have also, increasingly, documented societies and species and landscapes threatened by our urge for homogenization. The magazine’s latter-day explorers are often tasked with photographing places and creatures that a generation later may live only in these pages. How do you walk away from that? If my colleagues suffer a shared addiction, it’s to using the formidable reach and influence of this iconic magazine to help save the planet. Does that sound vainglorious? Ask the Swiss gold merchants. They saw Marcus Bleasdale’s images at a Geneva exhibit, and their Congolese gold purchases halted almost overnight."
Photograph © Marcus Bleasdale/VII Photo.

The passage I've lifted above comes from a self-congratulatory essay for the 125th Anniversary issue at National Geographic entitled "The Power of Photography." I'd actually be interested to know how Robert Draper knows this about the gold merchants. I have written here in passing about Bleasdale, whose work I find forceful and unusually well-motivated; he is a truly astonishing photographer. You can hear Bleasdale talk about his work here. Like him I am interested in getting from individuals to the statistics. And like him, I'm concerned with the pragmatics of photography - with how we use images. Hence my question for Draper.

I will note too that Draper proceeds to celebrate Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl."
"What her intense, sea-green eyes told the world from the cover of National Geographic’s June 1985 issue a thousand diplomats and relief workers could not. The Afghan girl’s stare drilled into our collective subconscious and stopped a heedless Western world dead in its tracks."
Mr. Draper would do well to look at the history of this image - including it's replication in other  "iconic" images. As I wrote here some time ago: "What is interesting about that photo, however, is less how it was made than the uses to which it subsequently has been put. In that regard I highly recommend the essay "Cover to Cover: The Life Cycle of an Image in Contemporary Visual Culture" by Holly Edwards. You can find it in the terrific book she co-edited - Beautiful Suffering ~ Photography & the Traffic in Pain." (And in the interest of full disclosure, I am good friends with Mark Reinhardt who is co-editor of that volume.) The travails of this image suggest that while photography may well be powerful, that power is ambiguous.

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27 September 2013


I don't know the original source. Thanks Beth!

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Sexisim in the Photo Industry? Surprised?

Over the past couple of weeks several thoughtful commentaries have appeared on sexist practices in the photo industry. This is hardly a new theme. But it is important to share these insightful commentaries by Dan Shea, Allen Murabayashi, and Erin O'Brien. As always, it is important to note that just as race is not a 'black person's problem,' so gender problems are not the sole provenance of women.

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25 September 2013

MacArthur Awards - 2013

The 2013 cohort of MacArthur Award winners has been announced and includes two people whose work I very much admire - photographer/artist Carrie Mae Weems and pianist/composer Vijay Iyer.

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23 September 2013

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - Pussy Riot, Hunger Strike

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot, convicted of "hooliganism" in summer 2012 for protesting in a Moscow church, has announced a hunger strike in protest at inhuman conditions of imprisonment. You can find an open letter from Tolokonnikova here at The Guardian.

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18 September 2013

Republicans and Power Plants

Notice anything about this map? It represents the 50 power plants in the US that are the worst polluters. You should go here to Bill Moyers' site and play with the interactive version. Here is a nugget from the story:
"Our energy comes from 6,000 power plants which together produce about 40 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change. But . . .  the 50 dirtiest power plants in the U.S. are responsible for 30 percent of the energy industry’s CO2 emissions, and a full two percent of all emissions worldwide — these 50 plants were responsible for more climate change than all but six countries in the world."
Back to my initial question. The answer is that virtually all of these plants are in red states. So when I say Republicans are full of hot air, take me literally.

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Adjunct Faculty - An Infographic

17 September 2013

Abigail Solomon-Godeau on Vivian Maier

"Maier’s life-long picture taking, made primarily in public space, was anything but the hobby of an amateur, despite its private motivation. To what extent this was a function of her asocial existence, her extreme eccentricity, her apparent asexuality, who can say? Like so much else of Maier’s life and work, this is not an answerable question. What one can say is that in some mysterious and indeed, poignant way, Maier lived her adult life through the camera’s lens, a vicarious life in which the camera “eye” and the subjective “I” were inextricably linked. I know of no such other example in the history of photography. But an important point to be made is that like photojournalism, photographing on the street is a quintessentially masculine preserve. The reasons for this are many, and include the masculine prerogatives of active looking, the gendered attributes of public space, the relative vulnerability of women within that space, and the aggressive aspects of photographing unwitting subjects."
I have posted a couple of times here on Vivian Maier and last night this link appeared on my FB news feed (Thanks Meg!) to a critical appreciation of Maier (from which I've lifted the quotation above) by Abigail Solomon-Godeau.


16 September 2013

Reading Around

There is a long report in The Detroit Free Press here on the political-economic vicissitudes of the Detroit Institute of the Arts. More generally, The Free Press also ran this extended, eye-opening report on the course of Detroit's political and economic disaster.

Benjamin Sachs (Harvard Law) sketched a new model for union organizing here in The New York Times last week.

In this OpEd at The Los Angeles Times Rebecca Solnit urges us to take the long view on Occupy and its legacy. (A longer version of the essay is here.) And at The Nation Allison Kilkenny offers this lament on where the dissipated movement currently stands.

Economist Dani Rodrik here on the troubles religion poses to Turkish democracy.

Political Scientist Ian Lustick in The New York Times here yesterday on the impossibility of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Added a bit later:  I meant to include a link to this report from The Brooking Institution - "The Algebra Imperative" - that underscores the work of Bob Moses and his Algebra Project in preparing students for math literacy and, thereby full political and economic citizenship.

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14 September 2013

Leszek Kolakowski

On a couple of occasions I've posted here about Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish intellectual who died several years ago, and whom I had the great good fortune of having as a teacher during graduate school. This week at The Nation you can find this long, appropriately critical if largely sympathetic, review essay on some of his posthumously published works.

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Talking to Labor Unions

You can find transcripts of these remarks by economist Joseph Stiglitz here and Senator Elizabeth Warren here.

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11 September 2013

Habermas Takes a Very Dim View of Merkel

Jurgen Habermas has offered a pungent assessment of the Merkel government here at Spiegel Online International: "Europe is in a state of emergency, and the political power goes to whoever decides on the admission or licensing of topics to be discussed by the public. Germany isn't dancing. It's dozing on a volcano."

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Julio Etchart

Relatives of disappeared political prisoners demand justice at rallies in 1985. 
Santiago, Chile.  Photograph © Julio Etchart.

I am not in London. But if I were, I'd hunt down this exhibition of work by photo journalist Julio Etchart - images documenting Chile after the 1973 coup that made the country safe for capitalism and dictatorship. It runs through 9/20.

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10 September 2013

Inequality in the US - Party Like It's 1928!

Just in case you figured the political economic situation here in the U.S.A. is improving or might in the medium-to-long run, have a look at this news report.

More here at The New York Times.

And there is an interesting discussion of issues and remedies here at The Times too.

And, for those who think 'so what?' and shrug, Joseph Stiglitz offers some reasons here.

Krugman blog: here.

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09 September 2013

Michel Foucault Meets Gary King (with Big Data and Statistics) in China

In his work Discipline & Punish, Michel Foucault details the historical emergence and ongoing operation of what he calls disciplinary power. Such power works via surveillance and monitoring, and ultimately, by recruiting agents to perform such functions for and on themselves. In particular it operates by disrupting horizontal, reciprocal communication and sustaining hierarchical, fragmented communications.

As it emerged, Foucault suggests, such discipline faced a difficult task. On his account it must:
master all the forces that are formed from the very constitution of an organized multiplicity; it must neutralize the effects of counter-power that spring from them and which form a resistance to the power that wishes to dominate it: agitations, revolts, spontaneous organizations, coalitions-anything that may establish horizontal conjunctions. Hence the fact that the disciplines use procedures of partitioning and verticality, that they introduce, between the different elements at the same level, as solid separations as possible, that they define compact hierarchal networks, in short that they oppose to the intrinsic, adverse force of multiplicity the technique of a continuous, individualizing pyramid (Discipline & Punish, 219-20).
This morning NPR ran this story on (statistical) research by political scientist Gary King regarding the operation of censorship in China. Now I've not read the actual papers. But here is what the NPR report claims:
King has just completed two studies that peer into the Chinese censorship machine — including a field experiment within China that was conducted with extraordinary secrecy. Together, the studies refute popular intuitions about what Chinese censors are after.

The censors actually permit "vitriolic criticism" of China's leaders and governmental policies, King and his colleagues — Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts — found. But the censors crack down heavily on any move to get people physically mobilized to act on such criticism.
"What they're after is any attempt to move people," King says. "Any attempt to [motivate] collective action."
This sounds like a partial confirmation of a Foucauldian view of power.*  The censors monitor and and disrupt communications precisely in order to preempt "horizontal conjunctions" that might sustain coordinated resistance to the regime.
* Indeed, the experimental portion of this research suggests that King and his co-authors anticipated the possibility that many Chinese citizens have indeed begun to monitor themselves and not even post potentially problematic items on social media.

P.S.: For my own views on Foucault see - "Communication, Criticism & the Postmodern Consensus," Political Theory (1997).

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08 September 2013

Say It Ain't So, Jackie Chan!

Among my fondest memories from the years when my oldest sons Jeffrey and Douglas were little are of watching Jackie Chan movies. The movies are so goofy that they'd send the boys into peals of joyous laughter.  Turns out that Jackie is considerably less critical of the Chinese regime than is Ai Weiwei, and their differences are making a bit of a splash in the press. Like here at The Guardian. I have to say this is disappointing. But it won't stop me from watching Chan's movies with August and (soon enough) Esme.

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07 September 2013

Obama's One-sided Condemnation of Using Chemical Weapons

"Of course, even as we focused on our shared prosperity — and although the primary task of the G-20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy — we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security: And that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And what I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy, it’s a threat to global peace and security.

Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel. It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East. It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations,, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.

Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations, that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence. And that’s not the world that we want to live in. This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack, and called for action. I’ve been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week. There is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by. Here in St. Petersburg leaders from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm of the use against chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response."
This is a sanctimonious and hypocritical statement on the Syrian use of chemical weapons taken from Obama's statement at the post-G20 Summit news conference yesterday. Now, I am not defending the Syrian use of chemical weapons. Far from it. The Asad regime is despicable. And much of the opposition at best is barely less so. The problem is that Obama's condemnation ought to start at home. He ought to be pursuing the officials, military and civilian, responsible for the use of chemical weapons by American forces in Iraq. To the best of my knowledge the mainstream American media have not as much as mentioned this matter. You can find reports here and here and here.

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06 September 2013

Marina Abramović ~ Latter Day P.T. Barnum

I have posted here numerous times on the fatuous Marina Abramović. NPR recently ran this too credulous interview with her in which she simply reinforced my view that she is full of it. That is not really the point here. Instead, I recommend this essay on the exploitative approach she takes to those who participate in her projects. I wonder how many of the repeat customers at her much heralded MOMA sit-in a couple of years back were paid paltry sums to fabricate "authentic" emotional responses to her gaze?

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Uptake: Jurich on Aranda and his Critics, Including Me

Fatima & Zayad, Yemen, 2011. Photograph © Samuel Aranda/Corbis.

The nice folks* at afterimage sent me a copy of their Summer 2013 issue (40:5) which contains an essay "What Do Subjects Want?" by Joscelyn Jurich. The essay assesses the critical response to the World Press Photo designation of Samuel Aranda's image (above) as Photo of the Year for 2011. Among the critical commentaries Jurich discusses is my initial, quite negative post on the WPP jury decision. I have followed up on that assessment - prompted mostly by well-deserved push back from Nina Berman, who served on the WPP jury - especially here, but here too.

My immediate response to the Jurich essay [pdf here]  is that what the 'subjects want,' what their personal feelings are, is largely beside the point in this instance. The essay concludes with reports that Fatima Al-Qaws, the now-not-anonymous woman in Aranda's photograph, is heartened by and proud of the way Aranda depicts her. That is a second order effect. Welcome, perhaps, yet even that is something to be discussed. But the award from WPP was for Aranda's putative success at addressing his primary audience - readers of The New York Times and other (primarily) western outlets. Jurich seems more sanguine than me about the impact the image may have had on that audience. My complaints about the image and the prize designation address that matter and what I continue to see as their de-politicizing thrust.
* Thanks Lucia! I hope you are well.

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05 September 2013

FEMEN Troubles? (2)

And today The Guardian is running this forthright reply by Inna Shevchenko to those scandalized by recent reports about the emergence of FEMEN.

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04 September 2013

FEMEN Troubles?

Today The Guardian raises disturbing questions about the motivations and internal organization of the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN.

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03 September 2013

What is Philosophy of Science Good For?

Over the past week or so I've not posted at all. In my day job I teach political theory at the University of Rochester. And last week was the annual convention of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Chicago. Susan and I went to give a joint paper and August came along for the fun - quite literally. Susan took him to the zoo and the natural history museum, he and I went swimming every day, and during our paper presentation he sat in the back of the room guffawing at Epic which he was watching on my laptop. On Saturday and Sunday I flew cross country and back so that he could be back in Oregon for the start of school today. Today was the first day of classes for me too. Hence the dearth of posts.

In any case, among the things I'm preoccupied with - I'm working on a book on the topic - is how social scientists use models. So I found this post at the Opinionater blog by philosophers Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain entertaining. Their argument is pretty thoroughly wrongheaded. It might be persuasive if, like them, we accept predictive success as the most important or even sole criterion for assessing the performance and progress of a science. Paul Krugman insists that they misjudge economists' success on that dimension and so are wrong on their own grounds. I think that is the wrong response, in part because it is unclear whether the work to which he refers actually predicts in the way Rosenberg and Curtain demand. There is good reason to challenge the overriding priority they ascribe to empirical performance. Other philosophers of science - Larry Laudan and Phillip Kitcher, for instance - insist that if our criteria of scientific performance and progress are properly attuned to scientific practice, they must be multidimensional in the sense of countenancing conceptual and technical as well as empirical progress.That seems especially crucial in talking about political economy. After all, there are many extremely influential models in political economy that make no predictions at all. And there are prominent political economists who doubt that the models they construct can be predictive in the first place. Rosenberg and Curtain have nothing to say about such work other than to banish it from the domain they proclaim scientific. In trying to legislate as they do, they make us wonder what philosophy might be good for.

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