28 February 2010

Plagiarism?

"The financial ramifications can be considerable. Leong's prints
sell for as much as $25,000, and Burdeny's for up to $10,500.
Confusion between the work of the two artists in the marketplace
could adversely affect those values."


Churchgate Station, Bombay (2004).
Photograph ©Raghu Rai.

Churchgate Station, Bombay (1996).
Photograph © Sebastião Salgado.

Well, there has been a bit of a dust up in the past week or so about photographers (allegedly) copying photographers. You can find one news report here, an earlier one here. I offer the two images I've lifted above as a suggestion that just maybe this fracas is more than a bit overblown. And, of course, I've posted repeatedly on Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment the primary theme of which is the ways that photographers replicate each other's images. In those posts, as well as in Dyer's book, you can find more examples.

Of course, we worry way more about the implications of "confusion" for markets here than we did in say, thinking about credit default swaps and such totally opaque financial instruments.
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P.S.: The opening quotation is from the LA Times news report to which I link in the post.

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Their Criminals, and Ours

"China has no 'dissidents' . . . There is only the difference
between
criminals and those who are not criminals."
~ Ma Zhaoxu, Spokesman Chinese foreign Ministry

This is a remark, reported here at The Guardian, by a Chinese government official commenting on the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo. It might seem comical to hear regime mouthpieces, with a straight face, parsing words in hopes of rationalizing their oppressive actions. But, as I have noted here repeatedly, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to individuals like Liu Xiaobo. It has consequences for the debasement of language and thereby of politics. And it does not, of course, happen only in those despicable far away authoritarian places like China. After all, just this week David Margolis, an official at the U.S. Justice Department, engaged in the very same practice. He announced that when John Yoo and Jay Bybee flouted - systematically and knowingly - domestic and international law in their quest to rationalize the torture of people being held in U.S. custody under suspicion of partaking in terrorist activity they simply exercised 'poor judgment' instead of professional misconduct. The distinction Margolis draws basically is between being morally obtuse and being legally culpable. The news reports are here and here. We don't have war criminals in the United States, we just have eager, if slightly flawed, public servants operating under circumstances of extreme stress.*

Just to be clear about the political consequences of all this - Margolis not only lets the Bush minions off the hook here, he gives cover to the 'let's ignore the past and hope for the future' strategy that Obama is pursuing on this matter. And, not to be overlooked, he allows countries like China to continue thumbing their noses at sanctimonious rhetoric from Americans.
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* But of course, as subsequent news reports make clear, we have dramatically incomplete record for making that assessment because large numbers of official emails to and from Mr. Yoo during the relevant time period mysteriously are missing and unrecoverable.

P.S.: And if you want to see that this language game is being played not just in the halls of justice but in the mainstream media, see this post and this follow-up by Glen Greenwald at Salon.com . . . We don't have Terrorists in the U.S., we just have deranged 'tax protesters.' (Meaning, presumably, that we cannot torture the latter if they are captured?) Just ask the folks at Newsweek. Pretty remarkable!

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27 February 2010

Communications from the "bizzaro universe" . . .

So, I came across this profile of Keli Carender, darling of the 'tea-baggers,' in The New York Times*; it just goes to show that you can be hip & trendy (nose-ring), creative (actress), smart (math teacher), and young and still be a conservative ideologue. In other words one need not be a dour old reactionary to be, well, a reactionary.

Poor Ms. Carender, who attended a public university, whines and complains that someone might 'take her money' to pay for health care, and seems wholly seems oblivious to the irony. I guess taxpayer subsidies are outrageous affronts to liberty only when they benefit someone else? Ms. Carender's 'intellectual' inspiration, old Tom Sowell is a crackpot all of whose work is supported by the right wing Hoover Institution. But enough of the ad hominem observations. Ms. Carender finds them offensive having in the prior breath dismissed those who disagree with her as purveying "the usual hyperbole and empty, hateful rhetoric of people who presume themselves to be intellectually and morally superior to anyone who does not share a liberal, progressive or left-wing ideology." Irony upon irony, I suppose.

Despite what she might have surmised from reading Sowell, there are good reasons why deficit spending is the proper response to a depressed economy. And, of course, far and away the primary cause of the deficits that she so dreads is the hair-brained tax policies and foreign adventures initiated by the Bush administration. Ooooppps! Is it that Ms. Carender is simply not smart enough to figure this out? Or does she inhabit not a reality based but an "alternative bizzaro universe"?
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* I've just come across this profile at npr too.

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26 February 2010

Johnny Cash (26 February 1932 - 12 September 2003)

There were many reasons to admire Johnny Cash. Here is one. And here is another:
Man in Black
Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

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25 February 2010

Best Shots (102) ~ Raghu Rai

(129) Raghu Rai ~ Young woman ­doing namaz, Dehli
(24 February 2010).

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24 February 2010

Greg Halpern

A few years ago students at the University where I teach asked if I would speak on a panel they were organizing on sweatshops and globalization. I agreed and, in the course of the event, I suggested two things to them. The first was that if they are interested in whether the University spends money on garments made abroad under exploitative conditions they ought to worry less about the tee shorts for sale in the bookstore and more on the various uniforms bought by the Athletic Department. My bet is that (despite the fact that our AD is a good fellow who is extremely progressive on all sorts of matters) the companies who make uniforms for Rochester's teams rely on low wage workers in developing countries. I suspect that that is where the real money, year after year, goes. The second point was that if students were concerned about 'off-shoring' of jobs, they ought to look at the University's practices with regard to maintenance and cleaning and food-services on campus. The point being that their own College engaged in just the troubling labor practices about which they were concerned. The students found this suggestion a bit too close to home. Exploitation operates far away, no?

All of that is by way of saying that I learned today (via a reader who directed me to this post at Conscientious) that Greg Halpern, the young, talented photographer who did this book on the living wage campaign at Harvard now lives and works in Rochester.* I recommend a visit to Greg's web page where you can find not just excerpts from the book, but a bunch of his equally good more recent work.
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* Thanks Mike!

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23 February 2010

Portraits of Home 2

Photographer Cathy ten Broeke found and recorded this underground,
makeshift sleeping arrangement in Greater Minnesota on a tip that a
veteran was living here. Photograph © Cathy ten Broeke/GMHF.

The Greater Minnesota Housing Fund has put together a couple of exhibitions ~ Families in Search of Shelter in Greater Minnesota and Veterans in Search of Stable Housing in Greater Minnesota. You can find their web page here.

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22 February 2010

British Authorities Continue to Harass Photographers (even more)

The folks at The Guardian have published two video interviews with amateur photographers who have been harassed by police for taking pictures on the streets.* In both instances the photographers video-taped their initial interactions with the authorities and The Guardian includes that footage.

This is a depressing pattern - in both the UK and the US - about which I have posted numerous times. Not only is the British law overly broad and poorly specified, but it seems pretty clear that the 'cop on the beat' is in most cases clueless about what the law does and does not allow. As a result, citizens are being questioned, detained and arrested for no reason whatsoever. In terms of their absurdity the interactions between the photographers and the police remind me of nothing so much as old Monty-Python sketches. Unfortunately the absurdity wears thin in the face of the more or less systematic violation of civil rights.

You can find the video interviews, the first with Simona Bonomo here and the second with Bob Patefield here. I admire their fortitude in the face of the police. But I also wonder whether in the U.S. their refusals might not have encountered what one might call a more vigorous response on the part of police.
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* Thanks Chris!

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21 February 2010

On The Pleasure of Flinching

"While mainstream networks were still fretting over whether to show flag-draped coffins on the nightly news, wrestling internally over the complicated ethics of embedded journalism, and creating ever more extravagant banners and catchphrases, camera phones quietly and permanently altered the journalistic landscape."
And the upshot of the essay by Nicholas Sautin at Guernica from which I lifted this sentence is that the pervasive presence of digital technology and the resulting spread via the Internet of amateur images made in war zones and other terrains of atrocity have more or less corroded whatever "ethics of shock and incomprehension" may have exited in earlier eras. But Sautin arrives at the same destination as his predecessor Susan Sontag - the moralist who bemoaned the lack of a settled 'ecology of images.' For both the glut of images means that no responsibility can be placed on viewers; and hence all we can expect is political complacency.

My objection is simple. Political complacency, not just about distant wars in exotic places, but about mayhem and suffering and hardship right here in our neighborhoods exists independently of images and their effects. There is no 'right to look' that we might earn. Like Sontag, Sautin is wailing at the representations not the actualities, refusing to see that the two are separable. This is simply more hand-wringing; another attempt to blame media rather than ourselves.

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Evans & Lange & Rothstein & Shahn, Oh My!

Ironically, today I was searching online for an image by Dorothea Lange - "Strike Meeting, Yuba County, California, 1938." Searching unsuccessfully, I'll add. However, I did come across this product - "The FSA-American Apparel Tee Shirt" - at Zazzle. This is ironic because the FSA generally and its individual photographers in particular surely would find the vigorously anti-union American Apparel pretty despicable. (Just to be clear, this is not an American Apparel product. It is some guy printing on an AA tee shirt. His other work glorifies the Fords - you know, Henry and his offspring.) It is ironic too because the FSA had a policy of not allowing individual photographers to claim individual credit for their work. That smacked of photography as an art form rather than as documentation. This was an interesting counter movement to the efforts of, say, Stieglitz and Evans, to insure that they and their favorites were treated as artists. They needed - and so helped define - the merely documentary as a category against whom they could contrast themselves.

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20 February 2010

Passings ~ Abdulkhakim Ismailov

Red Army soldiers hoisting the Soviet flag over the German
Reichstag, Berlin 1945 (detail). Photograph © Yevgeny Khaldei/AP.

Who? Usually I post only obituaries of photographers, not of their subjects. But since the photographer Khaldei claimed this scene was staged, it seems appropriate to note the passing of his collaborator Abdulkhakim Ismailov.

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And Another ...

Great Britain's Amy Williams celebrates her gold medal.
Photograph © Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters.

Well, I suppose I should be happy that it is not just US medalists [1] [2] who are trained well. I just came across this rarity - a gold medalist from Great Britain at the Winter games - at The Guardian.

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19 February 2010

Yet Another Wheaties cliche ...

Just in case you thought the spontaneous patriotic pose was really that, here is an image from the home town Chicago Sun Times after Evan Lysacek won the gold medal in men's figure skating. In my earlier post I asked who taught the kids to pose like this. The question was facetious - they need to conform to the cliche in order to attract the sponsors and endorsements. And - I suppose - they deserve to cash in some on years of hard work. Here I'd like to ask what self-respecting photographer would make an image of this fabrication. (This one won't do because the medal is hanging outside the frame.

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World Cup Art?

William Kentridge (South Africa), Bicycle Kick (2009).

Up on my Google alerts today popped the web page for official vendor for "the FIFA 2010 Official Art Posters Edition series. Six local and eleven international artists were selected to create the poster collection. These works are a celebration of and homage to the ‘beautiful game.’" Now, I am not much a of a soccer fan - I can take it or leave it. But I do find the notion that the organizers of a major sporting event would devote at least part of their PR budget to commissioning actual artists (instead of advertising flaks) pretty impressive. The three posters I've lifted here are my favorites, but nearly all of the posters are interesting.

Kendell Geers (South Africa), Free Balling (2008).

Soly Cissé (Senegal), Football Continent (2008).

So, let's set aside commerce (each poster is an "official licensed product.") Here the boundaries between not just sports and politics, but between each of those two domains and art, are proving permeable. This must give those busy policing boundaries a real headache.

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18 February 2010

It's True! But Shhhhh! Don't tell the 'Teabaggers,' Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, or the Rest of the CPAC Crowd ... They Will Be Insufferable.

Beijing, China: The face of US's President Barack Obama
portrayed as ObaMao is seen printed on a keyring for sale
at Chaoyang park during the Chinese new year holiday.
Photograph © Diego Azubel/EPA.

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Repeat After Me ~ It is Wholly, Totally, Completely Inappropriate to Politicize the Olympics!

Just ask Lyndsey Vonn or Shaun White who, by sheer coincidence, managed to strike the exact same pose as they spontaneously celebrated their respective gold medals yesterday. I've not noticed this particular pose before - but that is surely my inattentiveness. Who teaches the kids how to get ready for the Wheaties box cover? And, of course, flag waving jingoism is not political. Athletes are only political when they mention such unpleasantness as racism or human rights violations [*].

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Best Shots (101) ~ Anna Fox

(128) Anna Fox ~ Hampshire Pram Race, 2006 (17 February 2010).

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17 February 2010

David Levi Strauss ~ From Head to Hand

David Levi Strauss is a wonderfully perceptive critic. I've said that a bunch of times before. He has a new book of essays that surely will be worth tracking down.

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Enthusiasms (29) ~ Paul Motian

I've not heard a note from this recording; it won't be released for a few weeks. However, I am totally certain that it will be simply terrific. Paul Motian was the very first musician to elicit my enthusiasm in public and I've noted his work on several occasions since. Chris Potter and Jason Moran are perfect co-conspirators. Look up "anticipation" in the dictionary ~ you'll find my smiling visage.

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Dick Cheney Punks Barack Obama and Eric Holder

KARL: ... waterboarding, clearly, what was your...

CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques that...

KARL: And you opposed the administration's actions of doing away with waterboarding?

CHENEY: Yes.

This past weekend on national television Dick Cheney, former Vice President of the United States, admitted to criminal activities. More specifically, he admitting to advocating torture while he was in office. This - justifiably - has gotten reliable commentators agitated - look here and here. As is usual, Glenn Greenwald has a useful take on the situation:
"In general, people who commit felonies avoid publicly confessing to having done so, and they especially avoid mocking the authorities who fail to act. One thing Dick Cheney is not is stupid, and yet he's doing exactly that. Indeed, he's gradually escalated his boasting about having done so throughout the year. Why? Because he knows there will never be any repercussions, that he will never be prosecuted no matter how blatantly he admits to these serious crimes. He's taunting the Obama administration and the DOJ: not only will I not hide or apologize, but I will proudly tout and defend my role in these crimes, because I know you will do absolutely nothing about it, even though the Attorney General and the President themselves said that the act to which I'm confessing is a felony. Does anyone doubt that Cheney's assessment is right? And isn't that, rather obviously, a monumental indictment of most everything?"

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16 February 2010

Why Lists are Pretty Silly

I recently came across this survey at PDN which was meant to determine the most influential living photographers. Let's set aside the obvious question: What do you mean by "influential"?* The problem is that the PDN folk couldn't figure out how to count the votes, so there are three different lists discriminated by how responses are tallied - number of votes, number of individual voters or number of votes per voter (the last being a measure of intensity I suppose). The lists overlap to some extent but not the order. I found the whole thing too confusing. So, maybe you can get confused too!

I actually am more interested in who are the most interesting photographers - some of the folks on the PDN lists would make my own list, some of them I've never heard of. An off-the-top-of-the-head list of photographers who make none of the PDN lists: Frank; Koudelka; Kratochvil; Rio Branco; Wall; Burtynsky; Soth; Sekula; Jordan; Misrach; Meiselas; Rogovin; Pfahl ... So if you were confused by simply trying to figure out who made the PDN list, you'll surely be even more confused when you start to think of all the people who didn't. In the end this ranking exercise was a waste of column inches.
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* Answer: "We left it to our survey participants to define the term ..."; which I have to say is pretty dim.

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How to Proceed with Reforming Financial Markets

What follows is an excerpt from an Op-Ed by Dani Rodrik on international financial Regulatory reform. I especially like the italicized portion.
"Global coordination, like global governance, sounds good. But the practical reality is that it cannot deliver the tough regulations, closely tailored to domestic economic and political requirements, which financial markets badly need in the aftermath of the worst financial upheaval the world economy has experienced since the Great Depression.

In a world of divided political sovereignty and diverse national preferences, the push for international harmonisation is a recipe for weak and ineffective rules. That is one reason why international bankers love international coordination.

Many scholars of international relations consider the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the international body of regulators charged with devising a new set of global standards, as the apogee of international rule-making. Yet it is surely telling that this will be the third version of its guidelines in as many decades.

The last big idea the Basel committee had was that large banks should calibrate their capital requirement based on their own internal risk models. But the dangers of permitting banks to police themselves were made amply clear in the latest crisis.

When financial regulations are devised by a coterie of global regulators in distant venues, it is bankers and technocrats who gain the upper hand. Returning the process to national capitals would shift the balance of power to domestic legislatures and national stakeholders. Bankers and their economist allies may rue this, but it is as it should be. Politicisation is the necessary antidote to technocrats’ tendency to be captured by banks. Democratic accountability is our only safeguard against a return to light regulation.

Democratic accountability would also result in regulatory diversity — different countries doing their own thing — and that is not a bad thing, either. If the US wants to place size limits and tighter capital requirements on banks, it should be free to do so. If Europe wants to devise its own rules for credit-rating agencies and hedge funds, it should simply go ahead."

All that then is required is that the national law-making processes be extricated from the grip of national financial institutions.

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Two 'New' Blogs

I have recently come across a couple of blogs written by photographers. Both seem like they are interesting. The first is What's Going On? kept by Dawoud Bey from Chicago. The second is The Spinning Head kept by Asim Rafiqui in Stockholm. Neither of the undertakings is actually "new" - more like new to me.

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15 February 2010

Can We Consider Israel a Decent Society?

"What is a decent society? The answer I am suggesting is roughly the following: A decent society is one whose institutions do not humiliate people. I distinguish between a decent society and a civilized one. A civilized society is one whose members do not humiliate one another, while a decent society is one in which the institutions do not humiliate people." ~ Avishai Margalit
Jewish Settler Throwing Wine at a Palestinian Woman,
Shuhada Street, Hebron
.

Photograph © Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times.

This image was given third prize in the General News category of the World Press Photo competition this year. I posted on the announcement of winners several days ago. I will come back to the way such images are understood in a subsequent post. Here I want to use this image to examine some important questions.*

For starters, imagine if the caption read: "Israeli Thug Desecrates Purim by Assaulting and Terrorizing a Palestinian Woman." Then let's note that according to the photographer this thug was not alone. Outside the frame are his complicit companions, none of whom, as far as Castelnuevo reports, did a thing to stop his attack. Did they all have a good laugh at the woman's expense?

Apparently, we have an image here of gratuitous, socially sanctioned cruelty. It is easy enough to see such behavior as what Margalit would call uncivilized. Does it indicate that Israel has lost its decency too? Perhaps. One would have to ask whether the policies of the Israeli government toward Palestinians and the effects of the institutions of Israeli society - ranging from indifferent to violent, including complicity with settler violence - provide the context or atmosphere that makes a young thug like this assume it is just OK to attack a Palestinian woman. After all, Hebron is in the Palestinian territories and still the young thug seemingly acts with impunity. Is he at all worried that the authorities - Palestinian or Israeli - might hold him to account?

Margalit is a subtle thinker. He is clear that the sort of humiliation he has in mind is normative not psychological. It is not just that I feel humiliated (like "tea baggers" in the U.S. who, taking the election of an African-American president as an affront to their self-respect, demand that someone give them their country back) but that I have good reasons to think social and political institutions assault and damage my self-respect. Might the woman in this picture have reason to think that Israeli institutions and policies do just that?
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* It should go without saying that one might use other images of other bad behavior in other places to raise similar questions. That this should go without saying doesn't mean that I don't need to say it as a way of pre-empting the charge that I am picking - unfairly - on Israel. I have argued here before that the way to engage Israel and Israelis is to engage them. That is what I am doing. This image, unlike those of military violence and its consequences seems to be a better vehicle for the task.

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Rebecca Solnit on "the Eeyore chorus"

I'll admit to being susceptible to the sort of over-privileged cynicism at which Solnit takes aim in this essay over at The Nation. Among the reasons I most like Solnit is that her writings provide a strong antidote.

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14 February 2010

Democrats Shoot Selves in Foot, Screw Unions Again

My friend and companion Susan sent me this column by Harold Meyerson at The Washington Post. Meyerson seems just right regarding the broad political and economic consequences of the demise of unions. The Democrats - wittingly or witlessly - have more or less orchestrated that demise. It is not that the unions are blameless. But the legal environment in which they operate is structured to the advantage of employers in a stark way. And that is a state of affairs that the Democrats repeatedly have failed to remedy. They always have some other priority.

So, as Meyerson notes, the problem is not just that Obama's first year "has been close to an unmitigated disaster" for organized labor, most especially because the chances of passing even a compromise version of the Employee Free Choice Act have evaporated due the administration's political incompetence. The problem is that this is like groundhog day. Meyerson points out that "this marks the fourth time in the past half-century that labor's efforts to strengthen workers' ability to organize have been deferred by the Democratic presidents and the heavily Democratic Congresses they supported." Maybe the unions need a new political strategy?

I am sure some readers will write in to suggest that unions are bad for economic performance . . . blah, blah, blah. Let's just recall that the truly nasty, unjustifiable mal-distribution of wealth and income in the U.S., to say nothing of the deregulation that generated our recent financial meltdown, have been generated - indeed accelerated - during decades of marked union decline. I don't know if there is a causal story there, but the correlation is inverse. What we know is that absent strong unions the S*!T has hit the fan in economic terms.

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Institute for New Economic Thinking?

I stumbled across the web page of a new Soros-funded undertaking called The Institute for New Economic Thinking. You can find it here. The Institute is holding an initial conference (invite only) at Cambridge. Having looked over the agenda it seems like they will be rehashing now standard questions. So, while the Institute is a welcome undertaking (and is backed by substantial funding and lots of smart fellas) it is not clear on first glance how "new" the thinking will actually turn out to be.

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Kosorukov ~ Coal Miners

Photograph © Gleb Kosorukov.

At The Guardian today there is a short essay, a slide show, and a brief video revolving in one or another way around a project by Gleb Kosorukov at coal mines in the Ukraine. This work is, I think, yet another powerful installment in what should be considered a photographic tradition depicting men who work in extractive industries. I have posted on the topic multiple times before.

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13 February 2010

WORLD PRESS PHOTO 2009

Photograph © AP Photo/Pietro Masturzo.

This image by Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo was selected as the World Press Photo of the year 2009. It depicts a women shouting on a rooftop in protest at the presidential election results in Tehran, Iran, June 24, 2009. You can find the winners in various other categories here.

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12 February 2010

Not Just a Metaphor - The Marketplace of Ideas

This report in The Nation reveals how your cable news networks have become a soap box for corporate shills. This is bi-partisanship at work. Both Democratic and Republican lobbyists are taking part. And note too that it is not just right wing nuts at Fox who are offensive on this. It is the "centrists" and "liberals" at CNN and MSNBC too! This is not a free press, it is a press that is bought and paid for. We cannot rely on the ethical scruples of the corporate shills or the networks here. This is a political problem.

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Liu Xiaobo - Update

Well, the Chinese authorities have said "No, We really mean it!." According to this report in The New York Times an appeals court has upheld the guilty verdict and prison sentence recently imposed on Liu Xiaobo. While this would be troubling if Liu had simply been exercising his individual right to free speech, it is to my way of thinking especially problematic insofar as his "subversive" acts involved composing the list joint demands that have appeared under the title Charter '08. In short Liu and the other signatories top the Charter are not just demanding democracy in some future China, but acting democratically in the actually existing China. The report in The Times makes plain how difficult and necessary such prefigurative action remains - it notes two other cases, those of Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren, who independently have been convicted and imprisoned for speaking out critically about the government.

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11 February 2010

Umida Akhmedova - Update

Today The New York Times published this report on the prosecution of Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova on charges of slandering the state. I had posted on the case here a couple of weeks ago. Akhmedova was found guilty of the charges but the court declined to impose a penalty which might've involved several years imprisonment. You can find more on the case here at RFE/RL.

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Best Shots (100) ~ Max Vadukul

(127) Max Vadukul ~ Mother Teresa, 1997 (10 February 2010).

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10 February 2010

On the Obama Administration's Policy on Extra-Judicial Assasination of American Citizens: A Quiz

Which of these things is unlike the others?

(1) "Governments shall prohibit by law all extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions and shall ensure that any such executions are recognized as offences under their criminal laws, and are punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the seriousness of such offences. Exceptional circumstances including a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of such executions. Such executions shall not be carried out under any circumstances ..."*

(2) "Being a US citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans." ~ Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair**

(3) "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . ." ~ Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment V
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*Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 52, U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989). Find document here.
** See news report here based on earlier report here based on initial report here.

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Expansive and Up-Close, Photographic Environmentalism

I recently confessed to being the owner of an Apple laptop. I therefore found this report on the newly established relationship between Apple and photographer Richard Misrach pretty interesting. Apple has made one of Misrach's remarkable images the default wall paper for their new iPad device. You can find the image here. I guess this makes Misrach's work the visual equivalent of Muzak?

More seriously, Misrach is an environmentalist. Rebecca Solnit has typically smart things to say about the politics of his work in her recent Storming the Gates of Paradise where she suggests of his beautifully expansive landscapes that they "challenged us to feel the conflicts of being fully present in a complicated world." I think she is right in that assessment. The irony, I suppose, is to imagine Ed Burtynsky or Chris Jordan making one of their disconcertingly tightly focused close-ups of discarded high-tech devices only this time using defunct iPads.

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09 February 2010

An Introduction to Pragmatism

The folks at Philosophy Bites have posted this nice discussion with Robert Talisse on the topic of pragmatism. Rob is a smart guy and nice fellow who manages to convey the basics in straightforward terms.

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08 February 2010

McCullin's Landscape

Towards an Iron Age hill fort, Somerset, 1991.
Photograph © Don McCullin.

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on Don McCullin, and prompted by a comment by Tom White, here is an example of the landscape work that McCullin has done in recent years.

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07 February 2010

There is a moving interview with Don McCullin

Don McCullin, 2008. Photograph © Felix Clay.

. . . here at The Guardian. McCullin seems like a remarkable man. He makes clear the the alleged glamor of being a photographer of war and mayhem is an illusion: "Some times it felt like I was carrying pieces of human flesh back home with me, not negatives. It's as if you are carrying the suffering of the people you have photographed."

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06 February 2010

Western NY as Third World Country

I have posted on this subject here several times before. But the bad "news" re-emerged once again this week when the middle-of-the-road Brookings Institution published this report on the suburbanizaton of poverty in the United States. Before we get to that phenomenon, let's have a look at the "Top 10" cities in the United States ranked in terms of the percentage of their populations living at or below the (niggardly annual income of $21,834 for a family of four that constitutes the) Federal poverty level. Here they are:
1 - Hartford, CT ......................................... 33.5%
2 - Youngstown, OH-PA ........................... 33.5%
3- Detroit-Warren, MI ............................. 30.7%
4 - Cleveland, OH ..................................... 30.5%
5 - Buffalo, NY .......................................... 30.3% (53.0%)
6 - Syracuse, NY ....................................... 29.7% (53.1%)
7 - Rochester, NY ..................................... 29.3% (53.5%)
8 - Dayton, OH ......................................... 29.2%
9 - McAllen, TX ........................................ 28.3%
10 - Provo, UT .......................................... 28.2%
Note the three cities in red (the parenthetical numbers are the proportion of the population living in princely style at less than twice the federal poverty level) . Moving eastward along the thruway we find Albany, the state capital, is relatively affluent - only 24.9% of its population falls into the poverty category! The worse news is that the poverty rate in the suburban areas surrounding these cities is growing rapidly. In 2008 the suburban areas that encircle each of the three Western New York cities had poverty rates of between 8.2% and 8.6%. The Brookings folks project continued robust growth on this score in the immediate future. This pattern is a political and economic scandal.

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Best Shots (99) ~ Michael Ruetz

(126) Michael Ruetz ~ Joseph Bueys Boxing, Kassel, 1972 (3 February 2010).

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04 February 2010

Disaster, Photojournalism, and Group-think

I have been pondering the relationships between photography and disaster lately. The problem is not, I think, that photographers somehow exploit the stricken, although the squeamishness of those safely reading reading the paper at a distance (and especially their too readily expressed resentment at being confronted with disturbing images) is pretty telling. What is troubling is how little the images actually show us. There are conventions and stereotypes galore. This comes out very nicely in this post over at The New York Times photo blog. We are shown eight variations on the same image (including one by photo-deity James Nachtwey). And I am certain the post's author could've done the same with other images (say of desperate earthquake victims, arms outstretched amide the crush of others, reaching for food or water at an aid distribution center). If the photographers are not traveling in packs, their editors back home surely are thinking in packs. This is not a problem just with photographers and photo-editors (follow the first link above to Rebecca Solnit's reflections on how, in the wake of disaster*, news reports invoke the spectre of "looting" in knee-jerk ways). But it is a problem for them - or at least the visual coverage of the Haitian earthquake and its aftermath suggests it is.
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* I want to call Chris Anderson on the notion that disasters like an earthquake or Tsunami are 'natural' and so call forth the need for inquiry. He cannot be that naive. He claims (in The Times post) that in such cases: "There is no need for explanation or contemplation." There are no 'natural' disasters. In each case the extent and impact of the damage and resulting misery is closely tied to political-economic factors. On that point follow the links in the first post above to this post by economist Ed Glaeser.

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02 February 2010

Magnum Archives Sold, Moved

Archives. I am not all that knowledgeable about them. But Magnum has just sold its press print archives (through 1998) to MSD Capital (D stands for Dell, stands for computer) who have had them shipped to the University of Texas where they will be housed. Reports are here at PDN and here at The New York Times. Such purchases of cultural/historical resources by the wealthy is obviously nothing new. But it always makes me slightly nervous. According to the PDN report MSD "has purchased only Magnum’s press prints, not licensing or resale rights to the images" while Magnum "still holds all negatives and contact sheets." This sounds like a complicated legal arrangement and the question of who holds rights to what is important in terms of the control of public access and, ultimately, public memory.

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01 February 2010

The Metaphysics of Campaign Finance

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate or basic or fundamental structure of reality, in particular the sorts of entities that constitute the world. It is by definition non-scientific coming, as the label suggests, after physics. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, illustrated how law is shot through with bizarre metaphysical assumptions. Those metaphysical assumptions underwrite a set of political practices that, to say the least, are dubious. In this column at The Nation Patricia Williams holds the Roberts-Alito-Scalia-Thomas-Kennedy sect up for the ridicule they so richly deserve.

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Deficit Discourse

"In fact, the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years."
As I have said here before, I agree with Paul Krugman that rather than simply whining about the deficit we ought to look at where it comes from. That is, let's talk about the sources of our deficit problems. How might we control the deficit into the future. Consider this graph:

The graph comes from this report at the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities. You will notice that a primary source of the deficit now (and increasingly into the future) are the tax cuts that the Republicans passed - via a budget reconciliation, by the way - under BushCo. Add in the wars and all the wasted spending they have generated and, well, there is a real clear way to deal with the deficit. Obama should ditch the "budget freeze" on "discretionary" programs and do something bold. End the wars and pledge to veto any budget bill that arrives on his desk if does not repeal the Bush tax cuts. It is that simple, no?

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