29 December 2010
28 December 2010
Against Bipartisanship (yet again)
Political Science, Incorporated
26 December 2010
It is "Boxing Day," the day after Christmas. I am visiting my parents. The plan had been to have August and Douglas join us. The picture here is of August, taken by Douglas last summer. Of course, the plan didn't work out because August's mom decided that she was not going to bring him to the east coast for the holidays. She is, as specified by our divorce agreement, supposed to do that every other year. This is the second time running she has not complied with the agreement in this regard. The last time I let it pass without much comment here. She has now had two tries and so is batting 1000. So, it seems appropriate to start talking about this in public.
My parents are in their 80s; Doug is in school and plays a sport, so he does not have the opportunity to travel much. They didn't get to see August this Christmas, or last, or the one before that. It is unlikely that they will get to see him until next summer. (And, of course, the reverse is true too - August didn't get to see his brother, grandparents, cousins, aunt and uncle ...) So, the Grinch is taking out her psycho-pathologies* on August, his brother, and his grandparents. Of course, the divorce agreement is explicit about that too - neither parent should knowingly disrupt August's chance to have a relationship with his family. Perhaps August's mom has lots of reasons to dislike me. Does that afford her any excuse for acting so cruelly to others who are wholly uninvolved?
If you know August's mom and the subject should come up (please feel free to raise it and see what fantastic tales she can spin), she surely will offer a list of self-serving excuses and rationalizations. Believe what you will; I am sick of deflating her tiresome claims. Maybe - despite the lesson we learned in kindergarten about there being multiple sides to any story - all of her complaints are true. But ask yourself, what possible inconvenience would suffice for you to keep a five year old boy from seeing his family at the holidays? Shouldn't the obligation be to bend over backwards to do what is best for your son? For most folks that is Parenting 101. Apparently not for August's mom.
* "Narcissism . . . describes a devastatingly vulnerable person, compensating for a deeply imprinted inadequacy with a desperate need for admiration, and a grandiose self-image." Benedict Carey. 2010. "Narcissism: The Malady of Me," The New York Times (4 December). I am more than happy to chat about this admittedly non-professional diagnosis any time.
The Shpilman Institute for Photography
About The SIP
The SIP (The Shpilman Institute for Photography) is a research institute that aspires to facilitate, promote, initiate research, open debate and creative work in the field of photography and video. Our mission is to initiate and support innovative research and artistic production that advance the understanding of photography and related media.
We believe that The SIP’s mission is to further our knowledge of photography’s expressions, applications, and the ideologies and mechanisms that surround its practices. The research on photography that we initiate and support allows us not only to understand the world of photography but also to understand the world through photography, both within and beyond traditional social and cultural boundaries.
The SIP will allow varied audiences to participate, collaborate, interact, research, learn, exchange ideas, create, and think together on the meanings and functions of photography.
The SIP was founded by Mr. Shalom Shpilman, a scholar, collector, and a supporter of the arts.
23 December 2010
Pollitt on Assange
"WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know—it's a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?" ~ Katha PollittPollitt, of course, is correct. And as she also notes, there is a real possibility that the prosecution of Assange is being pressed as assiduously as it is for political reasons. There are after all, well documented pressures from both the U.S. government and individual commentators to retaliate against Assange specifically and Wikileaks generally.
All that in no way means he should not have his day in court; or, that his accusers, should not have theirs. (By that I mean that both parties in what is an adversarial process should be able to avail themselves of all their legal options.) But - and here Pollitt is off the mark - it is a mistake to draw an analogy between Assange and Roman Polanski, who also has fought extradition in a rape case. After all, Polanski confessed to drugging and raping a 13 year old. In that sense, he has had his day in court. And, of course, Assange's accusers are both adults. In a complicated case like this it is important not to inflame issues by making far fetched comparisons. Pollitt is typically much more careful than that.
Not only that, but not all Assange's defenders are easily characterized as clueless men. He has had his thoughtful defenders too. It turns out to be pretty complicated (not impossible) to keep all the balls in the air on this matter.
Belarus Free Theatre
I came across this story in The New York Times, reporting widespread harassment of political opponents by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus. The story itself chronicles the harassment of the Belarus Free Theatre; here is a clip from Voice of America that goes over some of the same ground.
And, of course, the elections have now taken place in Belarus. Lukashenko, predictably, won re-election. According to this report in The Economist, the results are being contested and the regime has responded with violence and repression.
22 December 2010
From the Agencies
21 December 2010
Anselm Kiefer ~ 4th Season (Winter)
20 December 2010
Strong Evidence Against the Theory of Evolution
Update: Why evidence against the theory of evolution? One would presume that holding ludicrous beliefs runs counter to any plausible understanding of "fitness." And apparently that is no barrier to pro-creation among Americans.
What is it I Dislike About Tom Hunter?
From the series Unheralded Stories
Photograph © Tom Hunter.
I stumbled across this story from the British Journal of Photography on Tom Hunter. The image above - an obvious appropriation of Andrew Wyeth - left me flat. In part this is because I find Wyeth, who was both a political conservative and a shameless manipulator of art world markets, pretty objectionable. (You can find details in this obituary from The New York Times; Wyeth died in 2009.)
It is not just the Wyeth either. I was not especially taken by the image - an appropriation of Vermeer - Hunter selected last year as his "Best Shot." Yet it is the Wyeth too. Compare the description that the BJP story offers of Hunter's image with the paragraphs about Wyeth's painting from The Times obit. Here are the respective passages:
I suppose that Hunter might think the "dignity" of Wyeth's Christina somehow maps onto the resistance that the Council Estates residents displayed. That is a considerable stretch; most obviously, Christina seems to me a misanthropic individualist struggling to reach her isolated outpost, while the residents of Upper Clayton apparently managed some concerted action in defense of their common lives. Maybe I've missed the analogy. It seems though that if we are going to appropriate art history to some more contemporary purpose (as Hunter aims to do) there ought to at least be one.
One picture encapsulated his fame. “Christina’s World” became an American icon like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” or Whistler’s portrait of his mother or Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Wyeth said he thought the work was “a complete flat tire” when he originally sent it off to the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. The Museum of Modern Art bought it for $1,800.
Wyeth had seen Christina Olson, crippled from the waist down, dragging herself across a Maine field, “like a crab on a New England shore,” he recalled. To him she was a model of dignity who refused to use a wheelchair and preferred to live in squalor rather than be beholden to anyone. It was dignity of a particularly dour, hardened, misanthropic sort, to which Wyeth throughout his career seemed to gravitate. Olson is shown in the picture from the back. She was 55 at the time. (She died 20 years later, having become a frequent subject in his art; her death made the national news thanks to Wyeth’s popularity.)
It is impossible to tell her age in the painting or what she looks like, the ambiguity adding to the overall mystery. So does the house, which Wyeth called a dry-bone skeleton of a building, a symbol during the Depression of the American pastoral dream in a minor key, the house’s whitewash of paint long gone, its shingles warped, the place isolated against a blank sky. As popular paintings go, “Christina’s World” is remarkable for being so dark and humorless, yet the public seemed to focus less on its gothic and morose quality and more on the way Wyeth painted each blade of grass, a mechanical and unremarkable kind of realism that was distinctive if only for going against the rising tide of abstraction in America in the late 1940’s.
There is a point to this complaint. The Hunter piece is, after all, presented in the BJP story as an exemplar of work that valorizes the local in contrast to the work of other photographers who take too global a stance. But analogies fall flat if, as seems to be the case here, they miss local detail.
19 December 2010
Bye, Bye Euro? A Problem of Political Economy
"Alas, it may now be too late for the eurozone. Ireland and the southern European countries must reduce their debt burden and sharply enhance their economies’ competitiveness. It is hard to see how they can achieve both aims while remaining in the eurozone." ~ Dani RodrikAnd the problem, on his account, is not one of venal, short sighted politicians (personal responsibility!) or of simply unfettering economic markets but of constructing effective centralized political institutions.
17 December 2010
(Almost) No Comment: Fox News is the American Pravda
"In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.____________________
Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican."*
* Source: Here.
Labels: Media Politics
Against Logo Politics
As a good place to start I suggest this commentary by E.J. Dionne. That said, I am much less patient with the No Label types than he seems to be. Our problem, documented not by partisan accusation but by actual research (since we all want, in Dionne's terms, to be fact based), is a rapid, relentless move rightward among Republicans. That shift is grounded in and subsequently helps sustain dramatic increases in political-economic inequality. Incivility and the hectoring tone of politics is a symptom of that underlying reality. So simply making nice is not going to get us anyplace useful. What it will get us is Obama-esque capitulation to reactionary demands. In other words, the location the No Label crowd hope to occupy - what they call " the vital civil center" - is not the center; it consists in a set of right-leaning or flat out conservative positions that look "moderate" only in comparison to the reactionary views of conservative Republicans. If we neglect that, our politics will generate disastrous consequences. And talking nicely to one another as we head over the precipice does nothing to change that.
Politics is about competition and disagreement. One need not be a cynic to suspect that "consensus" is typically a way of papering over the way one or another group is getting the shaft. I have inveighed against bi-partisanship repeatedly here and won't do so again. It generates bad policy and undermines democracy more generally. The No Label folks simply don't get that. They think we need a new logo. I think we need democratic politics.
15 December 2010
Vivian Maier (1926-2009)
12 December 2010
Pragmatism, Politics, and Disagreement
Much has been made recently about Obama and his putative pragmatism - where by the latter I mean not simply opportunism but a philosophical position with political implications.* I think that that characterization of Obama is strained, at best. As an indication of why, I suggest that you watch the short clip included in this report. The clip is part of an interview that Justice Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court gave this morning with Chris Wallace at FOX News. Breyer is himself on tour, peddling a new book.** There are two issues on which Breyer seems especially astute. First, is his appreciation of the visual aspects of political ritual, in this case the annual State of the Union address. But, second and more importantly, Breyer who himself claims to be a pragmatist, stresses through out the segment the importance of diversity and disagreement. He, unlike Obama, is not all about consensus and compromise. So, while conservatives on the court took umbrage when - in a rare moment of actual progressive chutzpah (defined as audacity) - Obama criticized their Citizens United decision in last year's address, Breyer seems to welcome such disagreement as healthy. He is quite clear that while the court issues opinions in support of their decisions, the American population will - quite legitimately - challenge those opinions. So he is concerned less with forging consensus than with the basic issue of how disagreement can be structured in such a way that legislation and judicial decisions can be accepted and, hence, be effective. In raising that issue, and in recognizing the importance of robust disagreement, he makes both his colleagues on the court and Chris Wallace, the FOX interviewer - with their notion that the court is somehow due automatic deference - appear especially feeble.
* James Kloppenberg. 2010. Reading Obama ~ Dreams, Hope & the American Political Tradition. Princeton University Press.
** Stephen Breyer. 2010. Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View. Knopf.
11 December 2010
Making the Invisible Visible: Brothers and Sisters creative team Lisa Jelliffe and Kirsten Rutherford have teamed up with the anonymous German street art collective Mentalgassi, to create art installations for Amnesty International. We’ve called the installations ‘Making the invisible visible’. They highlight the case of Troy Davis, a man who has been on death row for 19 years in the USA, despite serious doubts about his conviction. The posters are displayed on fence railings. Front on, you see nothing but bars. Troy’s face only becomes visible from an angle. Please help save Troy from being executed: www.amnesty.org.uk/fence.I have posted here numerous times on various ad campaigns that Amnesty International has run. This one (which I first saw over at Ads Of the World) is quite slick - part of a campaign for Troy Davis who is on Death Row in Georgia (U.S.A.) and that is something you should read about. Davis is on death row despite the fact that prosecutors presented no physical evidence against him and nearly all of the 'witnesses' they did present have now recanted. The American criminal justice system, being blind, is failing him and, by extension all of us here in the States.
Advertising Agency: Brothers And Sisters, London, UK
Creatives: Mentalgassi, Kirsten Rutherford, Lisa Jelliffe
There is a video clip here that helps convey the dynamic aspect of this AI installation. I want to point out the similarity to another piece of art that was included in an exhibit a few years ago - Los Desaparecidos. I have in mind the piece 30,000 by Argentinian artist Nicolas Guagnini, the title of which refers to the number of people who were 'disappeared' by the Military junta in the late 1970s.
Like the AI installation, 30,000 has a dynamic aspect. The face, taken from a photograph of Guagnini's father, a journalist who was disappeared in 1977, appears, vanishes, and reappears as the viewer moves around or past the work. Where the AI installation uses black bars for effect, the ghostly black and white of 30,000 conveys the invisibility that is one legacy of dictatorship in Argentina. Need I belabor the analogy?
10 December 2010
Does Sean O'Hagan Really Get Photography?
Nothing much has changed in my assessment this year. But instead of simply repeating myself, I'd ask you to consider a hypothetical. According to the Prize web page, the Deutsche Börse Prize is awarded "a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year." When, as will soon enough be the case, Sebastião Salgado completes his Genesis project (which, by the way, The Guardian has been previewing in installments) and publishes the planned for book and mounts the planned for exhibition, will he be eligible for the Deutsche Börse short list by O'Hagan's lights? It is not just that Salgado's work has "pretensions," but it arguably also calls into question in various ways naïve views of photography and its uses. I am not sure how, given his ongoing complaints, O'Hagan could not object if the jury included Salgado for the shortlist. But I am then not at all sure who he might deem worthy of consideration.
08 December 2010
Best Shots (143) ~ Pietro Masturzo
Lessons of Wikileaks
The problem is that as Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, Amazon, Everydns.net and PostFinance (the Swiss bank handling funds for Julian Assange's legal defense fund) cut services to Wikileaks, they are acting on the government's allegation that Assange and/or Wikileaks may have committed a crime. To date there are no actual legal charges, let alone convictions in the fracas. And while Joe Lieberman is stomping around demanding that we simply dispense with the first amendment altogether it is not at all obvious that Assange and his compatriots have actually broken any law.
I am not big on conspiracy theories. But as the corporate world capitulates to government demands like this, I am tempted to reassess that propensity. And I wonder why it is that the companies are not nearly so interested in falling into line on say, tax compliance or environmental protections or whatever when the government stops by and says 'pretty please.'
It is important to note that not all the companies that the U.S. Government is pressuring in the anti-Wikileaks campaign have capitulated. According to this report The Guardian, the Swiss firm Switch, which now hosts the Wikileaks web site, is resisting the pressure. Just when one starts to think that all corporations are simply craven here comes a surprise.
Update (later that same day): *I highly recommend this post by Henry Farrell - who, unlike me, actually knows a lot about this general topic of government interference with the Internet - over at Crooked Timber. No need to take my data free speculation for anything more than what it is.
06 December 2010
Obama Capitulates . . . Again
But it was clear that Republicans were happier with the results."
- NY Times
This statement comes from a report on the imminent tax deal. Why are the Republicans relatively happy? Because Obama has basically capitulated. The very rich folks are getting another gift, just in time for the Holidays. Regular people are getting that stash of coal. This is pathetic. But don't take my word for it; I recommend Ari Berman's remarks at The Nation and also those of Paul Krugman here at The New York Times.
05 December 2010
Censorship and Self-Censorship at the National Portrait Gallery
decision to fund art. That decision has been vigorously
debated over the past 30 years, and the argument
continues today. But once the decision is taken, does
anyone believe our politicians should be curating the
museums, dictating what is and isn't art?"
The folks over at The Economist pose the question very well in this story. They are addressing the latest (successful) effort by American Christian fundamentalists (in this case Catholics) to dictate cultural standards that comport with their own parochial sensibilities. It is difficult to know who to dislike more in this episode, the offended Christians and the censorious politicos or the craven curator seeking to rationalize his cowardly behavior.
04 December 2010
No Comment (almost)
don't tell" policy during a Senate Armed Services Committee
hearing on DADT Thursday. Photograph AP/Alex Brandon.
I will withhold comment on John McCain making a jackass of himself at the Senate hearings this past week. Well, not quite. The only consolation as we watch Obama make a shambles of American politics is the recollection that the alternative was McCain. Truly scary! But what I really wanted to note is that it turns out, according to the recent survey conducted by the military themselves, that those military personnel who are most afraid of gays are the big, brave Marines. Go figure.
Elections in Exotic Places (4)
El Kubra, north of Cairo, Sunday. Opposition charges of ballot
stuffing, bullying and dirty tricks clouded the legislative election.
Photography © Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.
a voting center in Port-au-Prince Sunday. Haiti's elections ended
in confusion as 12 of the 18 presidential candidates denounced
"massive fraud" and demanded the polls be annulled. Street
protests erupted over voting delays and problems.
Photograph © Reuters/Eduardo Munoz.
a window into the local opposition party office where a deadly
overnight attack occurred in the Yopougon neighborhood of
Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. Gunmen
attacked an office of presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara,
killing at least four people, authorities said. The unidentified
assailants used automatic weapons during the overnight
attack and were able to get to the site and escape despite
a curfew. Photograph © AP/Rebecca Blackwell.
These are three images (and captions) from the Salon.com week in pictures feature. And, as is typically the case, we are get a view of exotic elections as not just exotic, but exclusively as events surrounded by incompetence, mayhem, violence and corruption. (See earlier posts in this series here.)
03 December 2010
Best Shots (142) ~ Raymond Cauchetier
02 December 2010
It is funny how I discover things on the Internet. My nominee for the least charitable, most self-indulgent, resentful essay on photography ever is Ingrid Sischey's 1991 trashing in The New Yorker, of Sebastião Salgado.* It is a paper so incoherent, so devoid of plausible judgment, I've always wondered how the editors allowed it to see print.
Sischey, of course, has gone on to distinguish herself as editor of that bastion of serious thought and incisive commentary ~ Interview magazine. She now has ascended to the post of contributing editor at Vanity Fair. All this demonstrates that early failure is no barrier to success in the world of vacuous publishing ventures. It also establishes how easy it is to squander whatever meagre abilities you might have on thoroughly specious undertakings while still feeling justified in voicing sanctimonious criticisms of those who try, at least, to put their more substantial talent to productive use. I suppose that is the risk of swimming always in the shallow end of the pool.
I already have devoted enough time to Sischey here. So, . . . end of that rant. My point, in any case, is that for some reason my Google alerts flagged this interview with Sischey about what to do at Art Basel/Miami. And on the same page is a link to a photo essay: Vanity Fair’s Year in Review: January to June 2010. And that slide show is what I really wanted to talk about. How is that for circuitous?
The bulk of the VF half year review consists of pics of entertainers and their enablers (read Hollywood actors and directors). But, interspersed with tie sideshow, are the three images lifted here; they deserve comment.** We have, in order, rabid mercenary, rapacious financiers, and . . . well, everyone's hero, the good General David Petraeus. This seems to me to constitute a real slap at the General. Don't get me wrong, I've made it clear here more than once that I don't hold him in terribly high regard. But there are limits. Petraeus may be misguided, he may be committed to pursuing a losing policy in an authoritarian decision-making structure, but he is not a venal, ideologue like Prince or simply venal like the the boys from Goldman Sachs. That makes him culpable but probably not criminal. You cannot say the same of Prince, Blankfein, and Cohn. Apparently, our media have more or less completely lost the capacity to discriminate not just between the serious and the ephemera, but between between the honest (if deluded) and the crooks.
I have to say that one of the virtues of Blankfein and Cohn is that, as bald bankers, they deprived Leibovitz of the signature fan-induced, wind-swept hair that renders so many of her portraits formulaic.
* If, after this characterization, you want to read it, you can find Sischey's essay reprinted in Liz Heron & Val Williams, eds. 1996. Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography from the 1850's to the Present. Duke University Press.
** All three images © the photographers noted in the Vanity Fair caption/credit.