28 December 2013

Noting Gerda Taro

Back from Christmas hiatus. Came across this nice piece from the BBC on Gerda Taro who was killed in 1937 while covering the Spanish Civil War.

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22 December 2013

Janet Delaney South of Market

Pat serves a customer at the Budget Hotel's Gordon Café, Mission and 7th streets. 
Photograph © Janet Delaney.

I have posted links here to various commentaries Rebecca Solnit has offered on the political-economic development of San Francisco. Here are links to a couple of her recent missives [1] [2]. I've just come across this new book South of Market by photographer Janet Delaney, who has spent three plus decades chronicling the neighborhood from which she borrows her title. Delaney depicts precisely what Solnit underscores - that "development" is at best partially assessed by focusing on the shiny new buildings and teeming masses of young recruits to the high-tech sector. Any such assessment needs to focus too on inflated housing markets and homogenized culture as existing populations are displaced by newcomers and their money.

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17 December 2013

So, Yes, Republicans Do Indeed Impose Voter Restrictions In Response to High Turnout by Minority and Lower Income Voters

OK, OK! This may fall into the "My Grandmother Knows That!" category. But it is nice to have solid research to confirm Nana's suspicion that, yes, Republicans propose and pass voter restrictions in states where turnout by m minority and lower income voters is relatively high. Shocking, I know!

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15 December 2013

Interpreting Mandela

14 December 2013

Enthusiasms (39) - William Parker Quartet ...

I bought this big box of live performances by The William Parker Quartet (augmented in numerous ways) last week and have been listening more or less non-stop. There is a lot of terrifically creative music here. The label is AUM Fidelity.(And lest you think I've gone off the deep end totally: "Wood Flute Song" is among Parker's compositions. The Quartet is Parker (bass), Hamid Drake (drums) Rob Brown (alto) and Lewis Barnes (trumpet).

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Occupy the SEC and Administrative Politics (2)

I posted here (and then updated) on the impact Occupy the SEC has had on the rule making process among Federal bureaucrats charged with regulating the financial services industry. Rather than update again, I will add a second post. I do so because the outcome this week raises important theoretical questions.

First, here is a press release from Occupy the SEC on the  newly adopted version of the Volker Rule. They offer a middling grade - let's call it a "gentleman's C-." But, second, given what research carried out by the Sunlight Foundation reveals about access to the regulators, it is surprising that we ended up with that a good a deal. The graphic above suggests who the 'real' players were. And, of course, this leads to an interesting social science question: how is it that access like this does not translate into a total gutting of the regulation?

Second, it is interesting to note that this success, this willingness to plunge into the details of bureaucratic politics, raises significant issues regarding the general political lessons we derive from rise and demise of the Occupy movement. It is common to characterize Occupy as a movement with no point, no demands, no interest in engaging in tired political activity. For instance, political theorist Bernard Harcourt* credits the movement for "resolutely resisting the call for specific demands and constantly reinventing itself" and suggests that, in so doing, "the movement liberated itself from imposed stereotypes and projections, and from others' prejudgements - from the tyranny of facile solutions and narrow-minded policy talk." Harcourt specifically invokes the refusal to become bogged down in debates over the Volker Rule as an example of this admirable propensity. Such engagement might simply issue in "a set of demands that could easily be met, yet amount to nothing." What does this say about the work of the folks who have been participating for years now in Occupy the SEC?
* Bernard Harcourt. 2013. "Political Disobedience." In Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. University of Chicago Press, pages 48,61. The paper originally appeared in 2012 in the journal Critical Inquiry. You can find an early, abridge version of the argument here at The Stone blog from The New York Times.

PS: In light of the above, it perhaps might help to look back on the early Adbusters announcement from 2011. 

 In the same volume (cited above) in which Harcourt's essay most accessibly appears, anthropologist Michael Taussig chastises "the politicians and the experts" as follows:
They see OWS as primitive and diffuse because it has no precise demands - as if the demand for equality were not a demand, at once moral and economic, redefining personhood and reality itself. ... What the experts want is for OWS to submit to the language of the prevailing system. Yet is it not the case that merely to articulate such is to sell out the movement?" (39-40)
But if, as seems clear the demand for equality is one (a demand that is), then what follows is how to make equality real. The various occupations did so prefiguratively. On that I agree. But, the occupations succumbed to a concerted effort to clear them and to reclaim and secure the various "public" spaces in which they had appeared. What was left behind was the task, among others, of subverting the barriers to entry surrounding the category "expert." Enter Occupy the SEC.

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13 December 2013

Occupy the SEC & Administrative Politics

I have noted here numerous times the work of Occupy the SEC, a spin-off of OWS that has been intervening in the regulatory hearing process in hopes of deflating initiatives from the finance sector regarding banking regulation. This week a thousand page document aimed at interpreting and implementing the so-called Volker Rule - which basically prevents banks from speculating with depositor's money for their own (the banks') economic advantage - was adopted by a handful of Federal regulatory agencies. For reports and commentary see [1] [2] [3] [4] from The Economist and The New York Times. Reports at WaPo and WSJ both note that the Occupy analysts have had significant impact on this document. For all sorts of reasons - not the least the intervention of regular citizens as 'experts' in a forbidding governance system - this is impressive news!
Update: Here, from The Nation is a quick assessment of the new regulation written by Alexis Goldstein who participates in Occupy the SEC.

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12 December 2013


I heard this story today on npr but had not seen the image. It turns out to be about this beautiful, sweet picture.


11 December 2013

Philosophy, For Example ~ What Happens When Even Those (Men) Concerned About Gender Troubles in a Discipline Neglect to Pay Attention to What Their Female Colleagues Say

Last week, political theorist Jonathan Wolff published this essay at The Guardian regarding the gender troubles in the discipline of philosophy. Unfortunately, he seemed to have overlooked a set of posts the very same issue in September at "The Stone" here at The New York Times. Had he noted the earlier interventions we perhaps might've been spared some, at least, of the hand-wringing in the comments thread about the need to be snarky and snide and bullying in order to reach "truth" or "get things right." Here is one passage from a post by Linda Martin Alcoff  in the series at The Times that is directly on point:
The issue is not debate, simpliciter, but how it is done. Too many philosophers accept the idea that truth is best achieved by a marketplace of ideas conducted in the fashion of ultimate fighting. But aggressive styles that seek easy victories by harping on arcane counterexamples do not maximize truth. Nor does making use of the social advantages one might have by virtue of one’s gender, ethnicity or seniority. Nor does stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the real world contexts, rife with implicit bias and power distortions, in which even philosophical debates always occur.

Sometimes, interestingly, the aim of truth is enhanced less by adversarial argument than by a receptivity that holds back on disagreement long enough to try out the new ideas on offer, push them further, see where they might go. Sometimes pedagogy works best not by challenging but by getting on board a student’s own agenda. Sometimes understanding is best reached when we expend our skeptical faculties, as Montaigne did, on our own beliefs, our own opinions. If debate is meant to be a means to truth — an idea we philosophers like to believe — the best forms turn out to be a variegated rather than uniform set.
And, lest it seem as though I am calling attention to the foibles of philosophers from the perspective of an outsider, recall this post on gender trouble in political science.

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Rochester NY - Economic Disaster Area

The poverty rate in the US has not changed much over the past several decades. No surprise there [1]. That things are bad all over, however, is small consolation to those of us here in Western NY. The Rochester Area Community Foundation as just released this report (pdf) identifying the City proper and the surrounding area as an economic disaster area. At a time when (1) the outgoing Mayor claimed that matters of poverty and inequality fell outside his job description; (2) the Superintendent of schools is lecturing parents and communities about "responsibility,"while proposing that we turn public schools over to be run by local colleges and Universities and (3) local "faith leaders" (why can we not just call clergy, clergy?) are harping about the need for moral renewal as a remedy for the area's problems, this report is a breath of fresh air. It identifies reality - the primary local problem is poverty. And that will not be fixed though denial or hectoring or administrative readjustment or moral uplift or philanthropy or by a combination of those things. It will be fixed by developing strategies for creating accessible jobs that pay a living wage. There are ways that this task might be addressed - I posted on this example from not-so-distant Cleveland some time ago - but that will require major institutions in town (including the University of Rochester) to acknowledge the problem and their potential role in remedying it. That, in turn, will require political pressure, since powerful institutions never take the initiative in situations like the one we confront.

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Passings ~ Jim Hall (1930-2013)

Jazz guitarist Jim Hall has died. There is an obituary here at The New York Times.

PS: In case an obit at The Times seems uninspiring, here are reflections on Jim Hall and his passing by the wonderful Nels Cline.

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07 December 2013

Dr. Higgs & The Bean Counters

The Guardian has run this sobering story about physicist Peter Higgs. Here are come of the pointed bits:
The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.
He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."
Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.
Edinburgh University's authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he "might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn't we can always get rid of him".
Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."
A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
I recommend this to those of my friends and colleagues about to launch into a Faculty Activity Report for the bean counters in one or another College or University. Of course, you shouldn't use this to persuade yourself that but for all those distracting demands - administration, teaching and publishing bundles of literature-driven papers - you'd be a Nobel laureate. Resist self-deception. But it is a nice counter-example to those pushing the rationalization of educational institutions.

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On Koudelka ~ Luc Sante

"An appreciation of stony texture also marks WALL ­(Aperture), by the veteran Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, although to somewhat different effect. Koudelka is no stranger to conflict — he documented the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and became a political refugee two years later. Here he has produced a remarkable collection of panoramic photos (each 29-by-10-inch spread is a single picture) of the barrier that has been erected over the past decade in defiance of the internationally recognized border. The wall, which divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb from the rest of Bethlehem, the proposed capital of the Palestinian state from the rest of East Jerusalem, farmers from their fields, families from their relatives, and Palestinian Bedouins from their native environment, is made up of concrete slabs, steel plates, razor-wire fences, boulders and bricked-up buildings as in the Berlin of yore. The vistas are resolutely grim, and Koudelka makes no attempt to aestheticize them, yet his sweeping photos are overwhelming. The moral chasm that opens between the sheer impact of the visual and knowledge of what is being depicted is fully intended: an invitation to consider, rather than to simply turn the page in horror and sadness." (Source)

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05 December 2013

Passings ~ Nelson Mandela (1918~2013)

1964: Eight men, among them Nelson Mandela, with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car, leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, having been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy, sabotage and treason. Photograph: AFP/Getty Image
Nelson Mandela has died. An obituary is here at The Guardian. It is perhaps more appropriate to recall his own words - The New York Times offers a digest of of his own letters and speeches here. Advice: don't stop with the inspiring but sanitized blurbs excerpted by The Times, click through to the texts themselves.

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Come to Rochester - Learn to Approach Photography in Thoroughly Conventionalized Ways

The University of Rochester and George Eastman House Announce Joint Master's Degree Program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

This is one of the headlines from the UR daily e-noticeboard this morning. The story is here. Despite the fact that I have been teaching a course on and writing about the politics of photography for half a dozen years, I have not been involved in any way. So much for interdisciplinary initiatives, I suppose. The real irony, however, is that while the  program (as described) may be in keeping with fundamental views in the humanities about photographs as objects which have meaning, it really is contributing to shaping the world in ways that conform to just that theoretical approach. My own views are that that is precisely the wrong way to think about photography. Rather than worrying incessantly about semantics of photographs, it would be more fruitful to focus on pragmatics, on the ways we (a deliberately ambiguous term) use photography and the purposes for which we do so. Recently, I invoked Rancière's essay "The Intolerable Image" which I think underscores pretty much just that point. And today in my class we read and discussed John Berger's 1978 essay "The Uses of Photography" which (I think) anticipates Rancière's argument in central ways.  Berger's essay is dedicated to Susan Sontag who, as much as anyone I suppose, is responsible for the view that thinking about photography (a technology for doing things) reduces to talking about photographs (objects and their characteristics). The new UR program is another step in making the world conform to Sontag's vision.

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02 December 2013

Koudelka Interview - Follow-Up (2)

I've just come across this critical and troubling post regarding the recent two part interview with Josef Koudelka on the Lens Blog at The New York Times. I noted the Koudelka interview here when it appeared. Prior to that I posted a link here to an essay by David Shulman on Koudelka's Wall; in that essay Shulman raises some of the factual matters noted in the post that prompted me to write on Koudelka once again.

Although I would need to inquire further, the problems seem to lie primarily with editorial decisions at The Times rather than with Koudelka. No one should be surprised by shenanigan's at The Times. Note what Shulman says of the "separation barrier": "If you haven’t seen it with your own eyes but would like to know what it is like, your best option is to study Wall, Josef Koudelka’s new book of eloquent black-and-white photographs, taken over four years in repeated trips to Israel and Palestine." Shulman notes that the wall does not actually separate Israel and Palestine, but encroaches systematically on the latter. Indeed, he suggests that: "The Wall has become one more instrument—some would say the most useful of all—in the ongoing land-grab that is the real, indeed perhaps the sole, raison d’être of the Occupation."

For his part, Koudelka makes clear that he is not sanguine. "Of course I don’t have any illusion about this book that it will change anything. I am just showing what I saw. That’s all." and "I am not this guy who wants to change the world — of course I would be happy if it helped." This strikes me as unexceptional. Critics, though, do seem to have taken exception to these remarks:
I think it is not only about the wall, my book is about the wall and the Israel and Palestinian landscape. You have this divided country and these people who react certain ways to these conditions.

For me, Palestinian or Israeli, I look at you for who you are. When I left Czechoslovakia people asked me: “Are you a Communist? Are you opposed to communism? Are you an anarchist?” How you label it doesn’t mean much to me.

We have a divided country and each of two groups of people tries to defend themselves. The one that can’t defend itself is the landscape. I call what is going on in this most holy landscape, which is most holy for a big part of humanity, is the crime against the landscape. As there exists crimes against humanity there should exist the crime against the landscape.

I am principally against destruction — and what’s going on is a crime against the landscape that is enormous in one of the most important landscapes in the world.
 But this strikes me, too, as unexceptional. (Meaning I see no reason to take exception to his comments.) Why? I read that passage in light of this one:
An Israeli poet said to me, “You did something important — you made the invisible visible.” He meant that Israelis don’t want to see the wall and they don’t even want to speak about it. They don’t go across it. It is very easy to live in one country, in France or Czechoslovakia, and ignore completely one thing, one important thing, that you want to ignore.
And, surprisingly, this comment brought to mind Jacques Rancière's essay on the intolerable image.* I don't have time to offer a detailed discussion. But Rancière invokes this image of an Israeli constructed roadblock on a Palestinian road from the series WB by Sophie Ristelhueber.

From: WB. Photograph © Sophie Ristelhueber.

As Shulman notes: "We tend to imagine the Wall as a single, monolithic structure. In reality it is a set or system of walls and fences within walls and fences, a recursive infinite regress of barbed wire, rock, and cement that turns inward as it slithers over the hills, enclosing most Palestinian villages on the occupied West Bank in non-contiguous enclaves even as it incorporates into Israel as many Jewish settlements as possible." Apparently, it is not even continuous. It is simply part, as Shulman suggests, of a wider, more concerted strategy.

As in Koudelka's images there is intolerable suffering and behavior in this image. But it is not shown. This illustrates Rancière's point:
The classic use of the intolerable image traced a straight line from the intolerable spectacle to awareness of the reality it was expressing; and from that to the desire to act in order to change it. But this link between representation, knowledge and action was sheer presupposition.  . . . Renewed confidence in the political capacity of images assumes a critique of this strategic schema. The images of art do not supply weapons for battles. They help sketch new configurations of what can be seen, what can be said, and what can be thought and, consequently a new landscape of the possible.
Rancière thinks Ristelhueber's "little pile of stones" performs just this function. So too does Koudelka's series on the separation barrier. Not because he, like Ristelhueber, on Rancière's account, "has refused to photograph the great separation wall that embodies the policy of the state and is a media icon of 'the Middle East problem'," but because he too has focused on the various segments of the wall as "elements of the landscape" that inflict "wounds and scars ... on a territory." Koudelka is uninterested in the indignation his critics express. (He knows first hand about living behind a wall.) He is interested in making the scars and wounds on landscape visible. In that, it seems to me, he succeeds.
* In Jacques Rancière. 2009. The Emancipated Spectator. Verso. I thank Mark Reinhardt for persuading me that it is worth reading Rancière. I finally seem to have gotten something from the exercise!

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01 December 2013

fierce pussy ~ For The Record

Visual AIDS presents For The Record, an exhibition and broadside project by fierce pussy for the 24th annual Day With(out) Art, on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2013. [Details]
ABOUT: fierce pussy is a collective of queer women artists working in New York City. Formed in 1991, the members of fierce pussy came together through their shared involvement in AIDS activism. During a decade of increasing political mobilization around gay rights, fierce pussy brought lesbian identity and visibility directly into the streets with posters, stickers, t-shirts and various public interventions. They have continued to engage in a reclaiming of language and public space with installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums. Originally composed of a fluid and often shifting cadre of dykes, four of the original core members —Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka— continue to work together.

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