30 April 2010

There is an interview with Jürgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas
(Ink & Watercolour on Paper, 2007)
© Terje Nicolaisen.

. . . here at The Financial Times. Unfortunately, the relative number of column inches devoted to the introductory profile of Habermas and the too-short interview that follows is way out of balance. Nonetheless, Habermas is smart and influential. The piece is worth reading.

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29 April 2010

Drill Baby, Drill? (2)

This is a follow up on my post from a couple days back. Point #1: I lifted the map above from The New York Times it nicely illustrates the calamity being created by a single well. Point #2: when you are told that expanding off-shore drilling will create 'real jobs right here in America' you should reply: 'Yeah, What Kind of Jobs you Talkn' About?' ... You can find a gesture toward an answer here. The analogy to miners in Appalachia is telling - no options, incredibly dangerous work, and parents who really, really don't want their kids to follow in their footsteps.
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P.S.: And before you think 'there goes Jim, that wacky pinko, being alarmist about the environment again,' consider the damage that this 100 mile long slick will do to the economy of the area, which relies on tourism and fishing.

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Annals of Fair Use: “Shame on Al Gore” and Shame on the State of Texas

Cameron Todd Willingham, 1994.
From Texas Death Row © Ken Light.

Regular readers will know that I have pretty expansive understanding of "fair use" when it comes to photographs. I acknowledge that many cases are quite complicated. Some, however, are not. And when Al Gore and his company not only used this image by Ken Light without permission, but then appealed a small claims court ruling in Light's favor, they were well out of line. Arguably, the judge that found for Gore on appeal is totally wrong. You can find a story on the case here in The New York Times.

Even more importantly (Light would surely agree) is this story from The New Yorker, the source from which Al and company lifted Light's picture of Willingham; it argues that Willingham, who was executed in 2004 very likely was innocent of the crimes he was accused of committing.

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28 April 2010

"PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid"

Agreed. According to this story in The New York Times this PowerPoint slide has evidently been making its way around the Internet. It - no joke - purportedly depicts U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. It was part of an official presentation to General McChrystal last summer in Kabul. The military is evidently learning what Ed Tufte has been preaching for several years. Once he has finished with his current posting to Washington - as adviser to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board - perhaps Tufte can be transferred to Afghanistan?

And, of course, it goes without saying that the stupidity of our being involved in our current wars in the first place is not a product of PowerPoint.

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Best Shots (111) ~ Sophie Ristelhueber

(138) Sophie Ristelhueber ~ Because of Dust Breeding (Detail)
(28 April 2010).

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27 April 2010

Drill Baby, Drill?

Fire boats try to put out the Deepwater Horizon before it sank.
Photograph © KPA/Zuma/Rex Features.

Does anyone remember the Republicans chanting "Drill Baby, Drill" during the 2008 presidential election campaign? We dodged the McCain/Palin bullet and got a fistful of "hope" instead. Does anyone recall that Obama insists on expanded offshore drilling as a key component of what passes for his energy policy? "Change" anyone? This rig has collapsed into the sea. A dozen or so workers died, many others were injured. The industry is dirty and dangerous and does nothing what-so-ever to wean the U.S. off of fossil fuels. At the moment the well head is pushing in excess of 40,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day. I'd say that Obama's policy is a joke, but that would make light of what is an ongoing calamity.

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26 April 2010

Eyjafjallajokull

This is not usually the kind of image I mention here. But this appeared in a British tabloid over this caption: "Spectacular: The Northern Lights are seen above the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano last night." I'd have to agree. There are a handful of similar shots here.

BBC Interview ~ Sebastião Salgado

There is an interesting, longish audio interview with Salgado here at the BBC.

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25 April 2010

Photography Not Terrorism: Thank the Lord for Libertarians

The NY Civil Liberties Union is pressing a legal challenge to U.S. Government regulations that led to the arrest of photographer Antonio Musumeci outside Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse in Manhattan. You can find reports here and here. You can find street level images of the Courthouse and its surroundings by simply using Google maps; this is a point I've made here before. Musumeci is a libertarian (as is the fellow he was photographing on the day they were arrested) accounting, no doubt, for his willingness to seek legal redress.

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Educational 'Reform' Haunts Rochester

On occasion I have posted here on educational reform in a general way. Well, reform is on the agenda in Rochester. The mayor and several other local politicos are pushing hard to institute a scheme (still fairly ill-defined) of "mayoral control" over the city school district. The district currently is governed by a superintendent and an elected school board. The new scheme - as I understand it - would dismantle the board and keep the super. It has some significant support and, a while back, the President's of three dozen local colleges and universities endorsed the Mayor's plan.* This is viewed as a get tough move, a dose of realism. In fact it is a mistake - dramatically anti-democratic and based (politely) on scant evidence that the new governance structure is relevant to addressing the pressing needs of students, parents, teachers and staff in the Rochester school district. In responses to critics of his plan the mayor typically adopts a burden shifting stance: the critics, he complains, don't offer a plan for addressing the ills of the school system. The premise of such complaints - and it is a false premise - is that mayoral control itself is a plan for addressing the failures of school system. That is where the mayor is wrong.

Here is an open letter, published yesterday in the Democrat & Chronicle opposing mayoral control. You will note that it includes several suggestions about how to proceed. I am among the impolitic 35.
Dear Rochester Community:

As many of you may already know, Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy has proposed to eliminate the city school board and bring the school system under mayoral control for a five-year trial period. On Feb. 23, the presidents of 19 Rochester-area colleges and universities submitted a letter (to the Democrat and Chronicle) endorsing Duffy's proposal and joined a small group of high-profile supporters including Monroe County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Morelle and state Assemblyman David Gantt. We certainly respect their right to free speech and we appreciate working at institutions with leaders who are willing to engage in pressing public issues. As faculty and staff from Rochester-area colleges and universities, however, we oppose mayoral control.

We can all agree that the Rochester school system is in a dismal state. We agree with the presidents fully when they conclude that, "The stakes are high." We agree with the underlying motivation of the area colleges' letter. The future of investment and growth in the region is linked to the fate of Rochester city schools. The presidents of area colleges should certainly care about these issues. However, they should use their considerable influence to seriously examine and address all of the factors that militate against a vibrant, sound and effective education for all city students. Mayoral control is not the answer. The reasons for our opposition to mayoral control are threefold.

First and most fundamentally, it will tear away an important layer of democracy. Routine school board meetings provide transparency and opportunities for parents and community members to register their views on important policy decisions. Mayoral control would eliminate a valuable mechanism for citizen participation. We should find ways to make the board more democratic, responsive and accountable. Such reforms might include term limits for school board members, more representation of parents and students on the board, and the creation of a rotating leadership structure. If Duffy is so confident that the residents of Rochester are on board with this proposed change, he should call for an advisory referendum and a legitimate poll involving a representative sample of city residents.

Second, mayoral control has too often served as a prelude to the privatization of public schools through voucher programs, increased proliferation of (for-profit) charter schools (which funnel public funds to the private sector) and the elimination or dilution of collective bargaining agreements, measures which do not necessarily improve classroom instruction and authentic academic growth. In one city after another, whenever mayoral control has been instituted, it has been met with resistance from students, parents and educators for the resulting loss of transparency and fairness and the erosion of basic labor rights of teachers and support staff.

Third, we are not convinced that mayoral control will yield the kind of radical improvements in school performance touted by its advocates. The implementation documents released by the mayor on March 15 and 29 include a number of guaranteed services and promised outcomes, including the following: the promise to staff schools from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. each day; the commitment to provide "the best after-school program in the country"; the guarantee of school bus service to all elementary students who request it; and the provision of "the best behavioral and psychological support for disruptive students..." We applaud the mayor for recognizing some of the core areas that must be addressed for city schools to be successful. Many of these initiatives are indeed long overdue and vital to the educational well-being of city students. However, the mayor has not indicated how these initiatives will be funded given the painful cuts in state and municipal education budgets.

The most recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) contradict this claim made in the area colleges' letter that there is "considerable evidence that mayoral control improves outcomes." Of the urban districts that have been tracked by NAEP since 2002, the highest performing districts, Austin and Charlotte, are not mayor-controlled, while the lowest performing districts, Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., are under mayoral control. (In fact, Chicago and Cleveland have been mayor-controlled for almost a decade). Atlanta, the district that saw the most improvement since 2002, is not mayor-controlled.

Even though it mentions the problem of concentrated poverty in passing, the area colleges' letter stops short of providing a progressive solution to the enduring matter of segregation in the region's public school systems. How can we continue to profess equality of opportunity in a nation where geography and class largely determine the quality of education children will receive? The area college presidents might have embraced other remedies, such as more equitable funding schemes, better health services and jobs, regional consolidation of school districts or resource sharing between urban-suburban districts. Such progressive remedies have been touted in recent years by academics (many who work at the very institutions these presidents represent), parent associations, public school reformers and advocacy organizations like the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education here in New York.

Those of us who want to improve the quality of public education and maintain democracy have a serious fight on our hands. The future of young Rochesterians and our right to self-governance are well worth fighting for. Thank you for your time and consideration of these issues.

— 35 Concerned staff and faculty of Rochester-area colleges and universities

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* The plan has significant, articulate opponents too.

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23 April 2010

Obama as Opportunist

I want to call your attention to this post ~ "People Thought Obama Would Be Progressive Because He's Black. Big Mistake. But He Could Still Be The Most Transformative President Since FDR" ~ that appeared at 3 Quarks Daily a while back. The author, Evert Cilliers, is spot on about Obama and his prospects (which is a comment on the pathetic state of our politics); he is literate and very funny to boot.

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22 April 2010

Best Shots (110) ~ Nigel Shafran

(137) Nigel Shafran ~ Compost picture 3 2008-9 (21 April 2010).

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Promise Unfulfilled

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~ Emily Dickinson

This is just another in a line of poems that capture something we've been promised but which remains undelivered. What is the phrase? "The check is in the mail ..."

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21 April 2010

Passings ~ Dorothy Height (1912-2010)

Dorothy Height on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial
at the March on Washington in 1963 (Photo: AP).

Dorothy Height, a key, if unheralded leader in the American movement for Civil Rights has died. You can find an obituary here in The New York Times.

The key observation from The Times report reads: "If Ms. Height was less well known than her contemporaries in either the civil rights or women’s movement, it was perhaps because she was doubly marginalized, pushed offstage by women’s groups because of her race and by black groups because of her sex. Throughout her career, she responded quietly but firmly, working with a characteristic mix of limitless energy and steely gentility to ally the two movements in the fight for social justice."

Height was hardly the only female civil rights activist to resist this dual exclusion - think of Ella Baker, for instance - and while the movement for civil rights was a crucial one, it is useful to recall its flaws even as we celebrate its accomplishments and keep an eye on its still unattained goals. The same, of course, is true of the women's movement.

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19 April 2010

The Problem With Conventions

Election observers taking notes at a polling station. Voting in
Sudan’s elections has been extended by two days to ensure
technical problems do not prevent voter participation.
Photographer © Pete Muller/AP (The Guardian, 13 April 2010).

David Campbell has written this typically smart post on the photography of famine generally and famine in Africa more particularly. His concluding comments, referring to the image I've lifted above, are especially on point:
"One of my refrains for how we should understand photographs in these situations is that the problem lies with the absence of alternatives as much as it does with the presence of the stereotypes. Which means I should conclude with a double-page spread published by The Guardian this morning on the Sudanese elections. Clearly any place that is home to both food insecurity and a practicing democracy cannot be simply represented."
David is concerned with the conventions of documentary photography and photojournalism that inform depictions of large-scale human suffering in forms such as famine, epidemic, war, and other sorts of mayhem. He is especially concerned that such depictions dominate the ways that African countries appear in the Western media. David has put his finger on two distinct problems:
(1) How can one depict famine and so on in ways that do not assume stereotypical form (familiar images of starving babies, lines outside of distribution centers, the crush of people with outstretched hands as aid workers distribute provisions, etc.)?

(2) How can one depict the diversity of social and political experience in African countries in ways that, while not ignoring the difficulties that people face across the continent, nonetheless do not perpetuate what some refer to as 'Afro-pessimism'. (I've posted on this matter here a number of times.)?
These are daunting questions and David is correct both to raise them and to suggest that on both dimensions we are captive to conventions. The problem, in other words, is not necessarily one of bad intentions on the part of photographers or the NGOs who host them. Moralism, after all, is a none-to-attractive convention too.

My suspicion, though, is that very similar conventions inform photographic depictions of democracy, especially in African countries and in other 'exotic' places that have yet to embrace our own faith in that political form. It is not so much that I want to question the faith (although it is important to keep an eye on how it actually manifests itself) but that I think we need to keep an eye on how we serve up democracy as antidote. This is a theme I plan to take up over the course of the summer. Thanks David.

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17 April 2010

On Miroslav Tichy

In The Nation this week is this essay by Jana Prikryl reviewing an exhibit of work by Czech photographer Miroslav Tichy at the ICP in NYC. I know of the famous emigré Czechs - Koudelka and Kratochvil - but had never heard of Tichy who labored on, to the point of mental instability, under the communists. Indeed, while Koudelka has become notoriously peripatetic, Tichy retreated to haunt a single small village. More precisely, it seems, he haunted the women of the village.

The review is odd, as is the work being reviewed. Prikryl first notes what she calls "Tichy's sublime indifference to politics." But she also describes his life in the late 1950s and early 1960s:
Around this time he became certifiably eccentric, and his abnormality, anticipating in reverse the period of Czech "normalization" following the Prague Spring, manifested itself in a few ways. He was certainly a confirmed dropout and recluse. He stopped changing his clothes and mended his coat with wire until it acquired the worm-eaten texture of something out of a Tim Burton movie. [. . .] These habits alone would have been enough to make his life difficult in Communist Czechoslovakia: not only was his appearance a rebuke to the rather conservative socialist ideal of the clean, honest worker but his habits seemed to advertise a radical independence. Barely eating, barely washing, making whatever he needed, going nowhere he couldn't walk--he simply declined to participate in any exchange that would link him to society. Before every May Day parade, the police would lock him up in an asylum so that the sight of him wouldn't embarrass party officials passing through town; early on, before she died, his mother always packed him a little suitcase for this annual excursion.
Tichy may not have articulated his life as self-consciously as, say, Havel (in terms of "living in truth") but it is hard to see anyone asserting radical independence under a totalitarian regime as indifferent to politics. And later still Prikryl calls attention to and contests the distinctly political interpretation of his work that the ICP curators apparently present. It is not that she exactly denies that interpretation. She simply thinks it is, at best, too "arid and clinical." Having not seen the work it is impossible to say much other than the show seems like it would be worth the trip.
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P.S.: You can find another review of the Tichy exhibit here in The New York Times. It notes similar "political" themes in his work: "Clearly Mr. Tichy admired legs, and backsides, often cropping the image to show just the lower body. But he did more than ogle. Many photographs show conspiratorial pairs of women: gossiping, telling secrets or otherwise staking out bits of privacy in public." I lifted the two images (both untitled and undated) in this post from The Times review.

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16 April 2010

Music Rochester

Every so often The Guardian runs a story about the disappearance - or at least precarious existence - of local record shops. There is another in the paper today. I often complain about Rochester as a cultural backwater, but there are at least three terrific independent record stores in town (compare that to supposedly hip places like, say, Ann Arbor, which seems unable to sustain any) - The Bop Shop, Record Archive, and Lakeshore Record Exchange. Each of the stores occupies a distinct niche - for instance, I try not to go the Lakeshore for fear that I will single-handedly dilute the hipness of the staff and clientele simply by virtue of my age. In any case, on this dimension at least our cultural ecology seems relatively robust.

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15 April 2010

Surprise!

It turns out that the extremists who make up the "tea party" crowd tend to be ... a bunch of old, economically well-off, white guys who are "angry" and "pessimistic" because they think the government is paying too much attention to the needs of the poor and minorities and not enough to the rich! Who'd have guessed that?

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Tories Open the Door to Economic Democracy in Britain!

. . . at least that is the conclusion Hilary Wainright draws in this essay from The Guardian yesterday. She suggests that since the Conservative Party Manifesto invites citizens to join with the government to monitor and hold to account various political agencies, it must, by extension extend an analogous invitation with respect to corporations and markets. The latter, she reasons, have just as much, perhaps more, impact on the lives and well-being of individuals and communities across Britain than do governmental agencies. And so, just as we need to identify ways of holding concentrated political power accountable, so too do we need to identify ways to hold concentrated economic power accountable. Sounds right to me.

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14 April 2010

"You Will Not Be Alone" ~ Judith Butler

"To struggle against fear in the name of social justice is part of a long and venerable Jewish tradition; it is non-nationalist, that is true, and it is committed not just to my freedom, but to all of our freedoms. So let us remember that there is no one Jew, not even one Israel, and that those who say that there are seek to intimidate or contain your powers of criticism. . . . I understand that it is not easy to speak out in this way. But if you struggle against voicelessness to speak out for what is right, then you are in the middle of that struggle against oppression and for freedom, a struggle that knows that there is no freedom for one until there is freedom for all. There are those who will surely accuse you of hatred, but perhaps those accusations are the enactment of hatred. The point is not to enter that cycle of threat and fear and hatred--that is the hellish cycle of war itself. The point is to leave the discourse of war and to affirm what is right. You will not be alone."
~ Judith Butler, speaking in favor of a resolution calling for the University of California to selectively divest from investments in companies that contribute to war crimes in Israel and elsewhere.
I have, in the past, posted in opposition to the call for a cultural boycott of Israel in response to its ongoing, condemnable treatment of the Palestinians. (Click on the 'boycotts' label below.) In the remarks from which I've lifted this passage, Butler offers what I take to be a sensible and sensitive gesture toward a more nuanced way to address Israel and its policies. It is about learning and relearning how to speak publicly about injustice.

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Best Shots (109) ~ Milton Gendel

(136) Milton Gendel ~ 'He drew a picture of me on my shoes' (14 April 2010).

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12 April 2010

The British Election Campaign

Ah, British politics! There is an election campaign under way. A couple of months back I posted here on some of the early campaign graphics. But now the visuals are heating up a bit. This is a photo of an anonymously created London billboard 'taking the piss' out of the Tory candidate David Cameron. Deserved so, in my estimation. Earlier in the month The Guardian ran an April fool's spoof, claiming that Labour was mounting a campaign seeking to capitalize on the now notorious bad temper of the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown. My sweetheart Susan thinks 'Gordo' is pretty terrific, despite all the bad press. I agree that he is a big improvement on Blair who in Manchester parlance was 'all fur coat and no knickers!' So 'Gordo' is our household candidate. Here is one of the fake posters that The Guardian folk produced.

And, indeed, here is our Gordo out on the hustings, apparently scaring the tar-nation out of a young child. Perhaps Labour might've embraced the spoof? Perhaps the parents here are wondering how they will deal with junior's recurrent nightmares?

Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah in a coffee shop in Kirkcaldy.
Photograph © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Now to the main point. In The Guardian today is this story reporting that the House of Commons has appointed photographer Simon Roberts as the "official election artist." The report notes an extremely interesting twist:
". . . Roberts . . . will, he says, be concentrating on the 'relationship between the politicians canvassing and the voting public with images from battle-buses and village greens to polling stations and shopping centres.' His images will be exhibited in the House of Commons this summer. Alongside them will be a gallery of photographs taken by members of the public.

. . . Roberts has therefore invited people to participate in what he calls the Election Project by sending their own mobile-phone or digital-camera images to a dedicated website. The aim, he says, is to 'create an alternative photographic vision alongside my own' – one that will 'add a collaborative and democratic dimension to the overall work.'"
I think this is a pretty remarkable, self-effacing initiative. Roberts has added a link to the Election Project to his web page. It will be worth following.

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Golf as a Salve for Domestic Stress?

I have for many years considered golf (much like ice fishing) to be the sort of pass time that contributes to marital longevity. After all, when you get one party to a marriage out of the house for a good chunk of their (typically his) waking hours, and when you do that on a very regular basis over the course of many months, the pressures of actually living and interacting with one's spouse full time are dramatically diminished. Separation makes the heart grow fonder? Not exactly. More like golf as a soothing liniment applied generously for purposes of conflict avoidance. After all, I said longevity not happiness.

I hardly am one to give advice about how to succeed at marriage, having done at least my bit to destroy two different efforts. (It will be a cold day in July before the other parties to those failures offer a similar acknowledgment.) Perhaps I ought to have heeded my father's advice and taken to the links? I doubt that a topical treatment would've helped much. In any case, all that is a prelude to saying that I found this view of professional golf as morality play truly obnoxious. The TV announcers seem to have been oblivious to their 'family values' projections and the subsequent newspaper assessment couldn't muster even a whiff of irony.*
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P.S.: After posting this I wandered over to Salon and found this truly funny take on yesterday's golf coverage.

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11 April 2010

Three Years

Three years ago today I was due to fly to Chicago for a conference. My flight was delayed by several hours. I planned to surprise my sons and go to see their lacrosse game, having told them I'd miss it because of travel. As I was leaving my office the phone rang; my ex-wife had called to tell me Jeff had been injured during the pre-game warm ups and that he was en route to the emergency room in an ambulance. Jeff never regained consciousness. He died of a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. He was 14 and so would now be nearly 18 and enjoying his final term of high school. This is a picture of Jeff - grinning as usual - taken the fall before he died. I miss Jeffrey desperately every single day. I love his brothers Doug and August even more and more often. Do me a favor, hug your loved ones an extra time today and find some way to show them how much you love them.

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10 April 2010

Some Reasons Why Robust Unions Are Important Right Now

An organizer for United Cannery, Agricultural Packing and
Allied Workers of America talks to a nighttime street meeting
at outside Shafter, California. Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress.

I came across this image today. Unions are not a panacea. But robust unions go some way to protecting people. They can afford some protection from rapacious employers who simply don't care that shortcuts they take are deadly. They can protect them from government regulators who (as Alan Greenspan did this week*) excuse their own failings and brag about an essentially 'C-' performance on the job. And unions might put some starch into the collars of politicians like Obama who, offered an opportunity to resist the consistent and extreme rightward shift in the Supreme Court over the past four decades, seems to be heading toward more accommodation with the conservatives. We need unions.
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* "I was wrong 30 per cent of the time, and there were an awful lot of mistakes in 21 years." ~ Alan Greenspan, April 2010. As a devoted disciple of Ayn Rand, Greenspan surely would accept no curve on his grade - that would require him to expect altruism - and in my book, 70% is a solid C-.

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08 April 2010

Sergey Borisov

The nice folks at The Guardian published this slide show previewing an exhibition in London entitled Glasnost: Soviet Nonconformist Art. It includes the following three photographs:

Catwalk (1987).

Glasnost and Perestroika (1986).

Dialogue (1983).

All three are by (and, to the best of my knowledge, still under © to) Sergey Borisov. They clearly share a common ironic sensibility that appeals to me. But I've not been able to find out much at all about Borisov. This seems odd and likely is attributable to my own inabilities. Help?

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Best Shots (108) ~ Dorothy Bohm

(135) Dorothy Bohm ~ Lisbon, 1963 (7 April 2010).

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07 April 2010

A Reminder

Namir Noor-Eldeen.
Photograph ©
Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press.

There is now hubbub, reported in The New York Times for instance, about a newly released video showing American troops in 2007 killing Iraqi civilians from a helicopter hovering over Baghdad. The video is gruesome. The chatter from the Americans is worse. But neither should come as a surprise. Among the victims - and that is the proper word - was a talented young photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen. You can find a remembrance of Noor-Eldeen, along with some of his work, here at The Lede blog.

The post is touching. It also is a reminder. War is shitty. And the young men we send to fight are desensitized by the experience. War is kill or be killed. So we should be surprised not in the least about the crass attitude articulated by the American troops in the video sound track. In fact, this is precisely what you claim to be grateful for when you thank military men and women 'for their service.' If you find the attitude of these young men offensive - and you should - the proper response is to oppose useless military adventures like the BushCo invasion of Iraq. Obama said he'd end the war and instead authorized more troops.

More generally the video is a reminder of why government and the military seek so diligently to control access to information and visual depictions of their activities. On the one hand, they (sincerely, I think) don't want journalists to be in harm's way. On the other hand, our military leaders don't want we regular folks, sitting at home in our comfy chairs, to see the death and destruction and mayhem they are sowing in our name. This video is unique in that it has been released (despite official efforts). There are surely similar videos - well hidden under the military cloak of being 'classified' material - of similar killings. And there just as surely have been many, many other such episodes that were not caught on film. War is shitty. Always. Unavoidably. Unfortunately, it is sometimes unavoidable too. The tragedy here - or should I say crime? - is that our fiasco in Iraq was, and is, totally unnecessary.
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P.S.: There are useful commentaries on all this here at Newsweek and here at The Guardian. Notice that the latter includes the video whereas the U.S. media do not. And note too that the U.S. media can't even bring themselves to spell out the profanities the American personnel use. Are they protecting our delicate sensibilities?
P.S.2: Glenn Greenwald has written a series of very good posts on the episode too [1] [2] [3] [4].

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06 April 2010

Impossible Polaroids

Today The Guardian is running this story about a company trying to maintain production of Polaroid film. As I've noted several times here, I don't get the Polaroid thing. And I am not terribly concerned with the technical aspects of photography (other than insisting that it is a technology that we use to do things with and, as such, - trivially - has crucial technical dimensions). In any case, Sean O'Hagan writes:
"Given the right kind of marketing . . . the . . . film will probably succeed, but the bigger question underlying all this techo-primitive innovation is, why do so many of us long for the Polaroid in all its clunky, clumsy, grainy old-fashionedness?"
Good question. Unfortunately, I find his answer incomprehensible (literally, I don't know what he means):
"The answer, I suspect, is to do with the kind of demands a Polaroid camera makes on the user, which are manifestly not the same kind of demands a digital camera makes. One is big, hands-on, clunky, somewhat difficult and, even in an expert's hands, can be hit-and-miss. The other is streamlined, compact, easy, and relatively fail-safe in terms of the end results – you shoot and delete until you capture the image you want. One is somehow "authentic", the other is arguably even more so but does not carry the weight of the relatively recent, thus overly fetishised, pop-cultural past.
Maybe it's me, but this last part (especially) seems like gibberish. It amounts to saying that we now have nostalgia for a technology that we used to like because it had a certain nostalgic character. Huh? That said, if Patti Smith thinks Polaroids are OK, who am I to argue?

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04 April 2010

Obama Goes Nucular

Obama’s Obscure Pronunciation of ‘Nuclear’ Breaks With Tradition

by Andy Borowitz
Posted on Apr 4, 2010
WASHINGTON—In what some are calling the boldest move of his presidency, Barack Obama broke with a time-honored tradition observed by several U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, by pronouncing the word nuclear as it appears in the dictionary.
Announcing a new weapons pact with Russia, Obama repeatedly pronounced the word nuclear in a way that has rarely been used by a U.S. president since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
But according to Davis Logsdon, a professor of international relations at the University of Minnesota, Obama’s pronunciation of nuclear may have been key to the diplomatic breakthrough: “The Russians have heard presidents pronounce it “nucular” for so long, they may have thought he was offering something new.”
Obama’s obscure pronunciation of nuclear drew harsh reactions from members of the tea party movement, who see the president’s obsession with correct English usage as an attempt to make the nation more European. A sign at a recent tea-bagger rally read, “Obama Wants to Disconnect Your Granma [sic] and Correct Your Gramar [sic].”
Elsewhere, Sarah Palin campaigned for John McCain today in a bid to shore up his support among morons.
© 2010 Creators Syndicate.

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Anniversary: Winston Smith

It was "during the lunch interval" on this day (or one somewhere around it) twenty-six years ago (roughly) that Winston Smith inscribed the first, fateful words in his diary.

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01 April 2010

Freedom Arrested in Venezuela

"The arrest of Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, a former president of Venezuela’s Chamber of Deputies, governor of the Venezuelan state of Zulia, and presidential candidate, should concern the entire world . . .

The seeming trigger for Álvarez Paz’s arrest appears to have been his statements on “Aló Ciudadano” (“Hello Citizen”), a talk show broadcast by the private TV Channel Globovisión. Álvarez Paz commented on a resolution passed by the National Court of Spain (Audiencia Nacional de España) about alleged relations between the Venezuelan government, the Colombian guerilla group FARC, and the Spanish terrorist group ETA. Álvarez Paz rightly called for these allegations to be examined.

But, after simply calling for the law to be enforced and criminal activity investigated, Álvarez Paz was arrested on charges of conspiracy, spreading false information, and incitement of hatred. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

The arrest of Álvarez Paz is important evidence of the promiscuous abuse of the legal system by Chávez and his functionaries in order to persecute, intimidate, and silence those who criticize his government. It also corroborates reports published by international organizations and institutions like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House about the increasing deterioration of political liberties in Venezuela." ~
Václav Havel, et. al.

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