30 June 2012

"Socialized Medicine" - American Style

"Modeled after proposals advanced by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and other conservative research organizations in the 1990s, the main provisions of the president’s health care law were intended to eliminate the most salient problems associated with the current system."
Heritage and AEI being, of course, notoriously right-wing policy joints. Hence the ire of Republicans on this issue persists as a remarkable bit of hypocrisy. You can find the full essay - which also explains why insurance markets are especially problematic - by economist Robert Frank here at The New York Times.

A brief expansion. Here is another key point from the essay:
"It isn’t that people should buy health insurance because it would be good for them. Rather, failure to do so would cause significant harm to others. . . . To claim the right not to buy health insurance is thus to assert a right to impose enormous costs on others."
And, of course, there is no such right - given by God or the Constitution. It exists solely in the fantasies of libertarian ideologues.

28 June 2012

Best Shot (211) ~ Alison Stolwood

(237) Alison Stolwood ~ Cow & Calf, 2009 (27 June 2012).

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27 June 2012

Our Distorted Economy

What is wrong with this picture? All time high: Ratio of Corporate Profits to GDP. All time low: Ratio of Wages to GDP; Thirty Year Low: Ratio of Civilian Employment to Total Population.

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25 June 2012

Passings ~ Horatio Coppola (1906-2012)

Argentinian photographer Horatio Coppola has died. Again, here is an accomplished photographer about whose life and work I have remained in the dark. The Guardian ran this obituary.

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Passings ~ Sunil Janah (1918~2012)

Indian photographer Sunil Janah has died. I was not familiar with his work - that primarily being a function of my inadequate knowledge. You can find an obituary here.
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P.S. (10 July 2012):  The New York Times finally ran this obituary.

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24 June 2012

Incoherent Criticisms of Political Science

In The New York Times today you can find this more or less incoherent Op-Ed by Jacqueline Stevens, a political theorist at Northwestern University. It is difficult to know quite what Stevens objects to.

On the one hand Stevens claims that political science is not too good at predicting. That is true, but neither new nor fatal as a criticism. On that point she might have read this Op Ed by my University of Rochester colleagues Kevin Clarke and David Primo, also published in The Times, a month or so ago. As they make plain (both there and in the paper and book that Stevens also seems to have overlooked) models are not terribly useful for making empirical predictions. So what? As Stevens herself intimates, we might judge performance by ability to explain rather than ability to predict. (This move does not deflate the claim of political scientists to be doing science. After all, are evolutionary biologists great predictors? How good are geologists who study plate tectonics at predicting specific earthquakes?) In other words, Stevens takes the wind out of her own sails.

On the other hand, Stevens seems to be unhappy that political scientists take money from the government at all. Except that she really is not. If work by her preferred sort of political scientist were funded by some government agency, the money, it seems, would somehow miraculously be sanitized. Research "especially [by] those who use history and theory to explain shifting political contexts" to "challenge our intuitions and help us see beyond daily newspaper headlines" merits governmental support. I admit that I really do not know what that means.

Stevens, of course, mostly objects to military funding of social scientific research. I share her skepticism. But where precisely does she propose to draw the line? At what point does the source of research funding become acceptable? By what criteria? Public, but not military? Are only non-governmental sources acceptable? The latter restriction, it seems, is too much even for Stevens. That is a good thing. Private right wing foundations - Olin, Smith Richardson, etc. - have funded all sorts of social science research. Do they pass muster? The endowment at the private, liberal Russell Sage Foundation (for whose generosity I myself am grateful) originated, I believe, from the fortune of a conservative railroad tycoon.* Does research funded there pass muster? How about if the research in question is grounded in quantitative methods and focused on matters of political inequality?

Finally, Stevens offers a truly astounding remedy for the dire situation she sketches. We should use a lottery system to discriminate between the sort of "contrived data sets" about which she complains and the "thorough demographic, political and economic data collection" she thinks the government should fund. That proposal is breathtaking in its shortsightedness. What we lack is judgement and discrimination. And we should use randomization to remedy that shortcoming?

I will stop there.
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* Foundations, after all, are largely institutionalized ways of dodging taxes. So, if we are concerned, as Stevens intimates we should be, with fairness and equality ...

P.S.: A comment pointed me in the direction of this blog post in which Stevens follows up on the Op Ed.

23 June 2012

Free Expression, Patriotism & Zoe Strauss at the White House


I do not know photographer Zoe Strauss though I have posted here - more or less without comment - on her work.* Strauss, it seems, has created a bit of a fracas by posting this photo of herself on Facebook. In the snapshot she is attending a White House reception for LGBT activists last week. And Strauss is expressing her, to my mind wholly justified, estimation of Ronald Reagan whose portrait hangs behind her.


Two things are important here. First, let's not re-write history. While he was president, Reagan was, simply put, a reactionary bigot regarding the AIDS epidemic which, we should recall, erupted with full force during his administration. There is no need to retell the sordid tale, but if you are interested start here and here and here. There is no reason whatsoever to "respect" a president, former or current, for ignorance and inaction in the face of a lethal epidemic. Even if, as some on the right would like to do, one wanted to rationalize Reagan's long silence in the face of the epidemic, it is difficult to excuse the repressive, ineffective policies he advocated once he did open his mouth. This 1987 graphic from the ACT UP archives suggests how activists at the time viewed 'the gipper.' I see no reason to revise their estimation.

Second, gay Republicans - to say nothing of the mouthpieces in the right wing media - are getting their knickers in a knot about Strauss's action. Here is Christian Berle, a pooh-bah of sorts among the Log Cabin Republicans:
"It is unfortunate that the image conservative America is seeing today of LGBT people is of gay leftists misbehaving at the White House, rather than the millions of patriotic, decent LGBT citizens, many of whom, like Log Cabin Republicans, hold President Ronald Reagan in high esteem. . . .  These photographs have hurt our community and make advocating for inclusion and equality more difficult. The participants should be ashamed."
It is really difficult to know where to start with this bit of nonsense. One obvious problem is that gays and lesbians have not attained such equality as they have to date by being polite. Another problem, of course, is that there is nothing unpatriotic about criticizing a president or, for that matter, the presidency more generally. Nothing whatsoever. So let us not be hypocritical. I wonder what Mr. Berle (and his Foxy friends) might say about this image, made by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei.

White House (1999) ~ From the series "Study of Perspective." Photograph © Ai Weiwei.

Is it OK for dissidents from repressive Communist regimes to express their discontent - the bird in this image is the photographer's own middle digit - with human rights policies emanating from the White House? If not, why not? If so, do we only support dissent by foreigners urging some president or other to be tough on communists?

Zoe Strauss exercised her right to free speech. Good for her.
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* Strauss's work is largely beside the point in the current context. That said, I do like it!

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22 June 2012

Genesis Update

Chinstrap penguins on icebergs between Zavodovski and Visokoi
 islands, South Sandwich Islands, 2009. From the project Genesis.
Photograph © Sebastião Salgado.
A slide show today - here - at The Guardian.

21 June 2012

Best Shots (210) ~ Leah Gordon

(236) Leah Gordon ~  From the series Caste, 2011 (20 June 2012).

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Felonious Infographic

Here is the indictment from The Economist.

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No Comment Needed

20 June 2012

Ai Weiwei Tweets

Here is a set of self portraits that Ai Weiwei recently has tweeted; you'll note that he is dressed in a slightly ill-fitting police uniform. According to this report in The New York Times, the tweets are prompted by Ai's ongoing legal battles with the Chinese tax authorities. Ai has been physically prevented from attending the proceedings. Essentially, the Chinese government (as I've noted here before) has adopted the Al Capone strategy - when you have a "trouble maker" charge him with tax fraud rather than with some substantive sort of wrongdoing.

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19 June 2012

Roberto Unger on Obama

This segment of commentary by Roberto Mangabeira Unger has created a bit of a stir. He insists - from the left - that Obama is a standing hindrance to progressive politics in the U.S.. I agree with much but not all of the assessment. Unger, who was among Obama's teachers at Harvard Law School,  is not naive - he concedes that a Republican in the White House will be costly in some ways (e.g. judicial appointments). But he also points out, rightly I think, that in terms of foreign policy a second term for Obama will make little difference. The point at which I really disagree is with Unger's tacit presumption that the democratic party can be transformed into a vehicle for progressive politics.

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17 June 2012

Best Shots (209) ~ Peter Fraser

(235) Peter Fraser ~ 'Small things are really important,' circa 2005 (13 June 2012).

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14 June 2012

Happy Birthday Jeff

Jeffrey would have been 20 today. This is him about a year before he died. I miss Jeff every single day, but especially so on days like this.  Go, please, and hug your kids, partner, lover, friends ...

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13 June 2012

Gustavo Germano ~ Ausencias (Absences)


One of my really smart former students Constanza Iribarne brought to my attention this work by Argentinian photographer Gustavo Germano. The graphic for Germano's project, I think, captures brilliantly the approach he adopts. Not only does it announce the subject - "30,000 Detained-Disappeared and killed by the military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983" - it suggests, with the only partly missing 'i' the way los desaparecidos continue to haunt families and politics in Argentina. Germano captures absence by rephotographing families, including his own, prior to and following the disappearance of one or more loved one.

 1969: Gustavo Germano, Guillermo Germano, Diego Germano, Eduardo Germano

 2006: Gustavo Germano, Guillermo Germano, Diego Germano. 

Both images © Gustavo Germano.* To the best of my knowledge his work has been exhibited across Latin America and Europe but not in the U.S.. His eldest brother, Eduardo was 'disappeared' by the Argentinian regime in 1976. 
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* See this slideshow for other images (text in German) from this series. 

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12 June 2012

Where is the Pornography in this Image?


For the second time in as many days I start by recommending that you head over to BagNewsNotes and read a post - this one - by Michael Shaw. Then head to Conscientious and read this one by Joerg Colberg. Each post explores the wide-ranging issues raised by the use of the image I have lifted here. It was taken by Katie Falkenberg and has become the center of political dispute because community-slash-environmental activist Maria Gunnoe incorporated the image into a slideshow she constructed as part of testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources. The image depicts a young girl bathing in nasty water caused by a mining technique called mountaintop removal in the area where she lives in West Virginia. For her efforts, Gunnoe was detained - at the instigation of staff from the committee - by Capitol police and questioned as to whether she is involved in the production and distribution of child pornography.*

I have written here repeatedly about the multiple vagaries of child porn. Whatever we might put into that category, this image here does not fit. Unless, that is, you find it pornographic that people are compelled to live in such conditions. But the pornography here is political as well. The Republican leadership of this committee - the Chair is Douglas Lamborn (R - Colorado), the staff who called the police are his minions  - is truly despicable. The act is called censorship - not just of this image but of Gunnoe's testimony.
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* If you want to see the context within which Gunnoe presented this image, you can find a link to a pdf of her testimony here.

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Passings ~ Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)

I woke this morning to the news that Elinor Ostrom has died. The news release from Indiana University is here. This is extremely sad. I often say that smart and decent are a rare combination among intellectuals. Lin combined the two in a nearly optimal way. That is quite a feat. I will link to obituaries and remembrances as they appear.
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P.S.: Obituaries from The Guardian and The New York Times here and here respectively.

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11 June 2012

Otherwise Known as Propaganda: Embedded Photojournalism as Seen by Michael Shaw

I highly recommend this recent post by Michael Shaw at BagNewsNotes, itself a follow-up to this earlier post on the same subject. Michael astutely points out that despite the intentions of dedicated and talented photojournalists, we are getting a highly conventionalized view of American military adventures. Why? The photographers are embedded and see what the military wants them to see. I have commented on other dimensions of such new conventions here and  here and here and here.  This is a troubling trajectory.

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10 June 2012

Reading Around - Art & Politics

"Without criticism, the only measure of value in art is money, and that measure has proven to be both fickle and stultifying. As a subject of inquiry, it’s a bore. I know why investment bankers and hedge fund managers prefer it, but why have artists put up with it for so long?" ~ David Levi Strauss

Sunflowers II (1992) ~ Lithograph © Joan Mitchell.

Bo Diddley (1999) ~ Etching © Richard Serra.

At The New Republic - a center-right mag apparently happy to have socialist dissidents, so long as they are not here in the U.S. - Michael Kazin offers this snapshot of the Polish New Left revolving around the group Krytyka Polityczna.

I've lifted the two images above from an advert for this newly opened exhibition of prints at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee - Selections from the Mary and Michael J. Tatalovich Collection (June 6 – August 5, 2012).

At  al Jazeera you can find this appreciation of Richard Rorty by Spanish philosopher Santiago Zabala.

Last month Guernica ran this extended conversation between Rebecca Solnit - all around talented and wickedly astute public intellectual - and anarchist anthropologist (nice alliteration) David Graeber who has been influential on the Occupy scene.

Finally, and also last month, David Levi Strauss published this essay ("From Metaphysics to Invective: Art Criticism as if It Still Mattered") at The Brooklyn Rail. That is where I lifted the opening question. I think the program in Art Criticism & Writing that Levi Strauss runs at the School of Visual Arts in New York sounds really terrific. Criticism is a contested activity aimed at establishing values and criteria for assessing and experiencing and talking about art. And the program aims, as I understand it, to provide young writers with a body of basic knowledge on which to start articulating such values and criteria.

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08 June 2012

Football & Politics & Philosophy

Three reports that came up in the news feed today prompt this post. The first is about Mahmoud Sarsak, a midfielder on the Palestinian National Team, who is being held without charge in an Israeli prison. (Detention without charge is something the US and Israel seem to be perfecting as a "democratic" tactic.) Sarsak is  past the 82nd day of a hunger strike protesting his detention. Yet another instance of senseless, repressive policy by the Israeli government.

The second report is simply a photographic record of the ongoing efforts of FEMEN to call attention to (among many other things) the sex trade that invariably surrounds major sporting events.  [More here.]  I have posted here before on FEMEN and its ongoing campaign for women's rights.

Friday June 8, 02:23 PM: French members of Ukrainian feminist group Femen protest against prostitution near the National Stadium in Warsaw on June 8, 2012, before the opening match of the Euro 2012 football championship between Poland and Greece. Photograph © AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINISARIS MESSINIS/AFP/GettyImages.

I've edited the caption supplied with the photo because the women shown here - Oksana Shachko and Inna Shevchenko - are Ukrainian, not French. These are astute, creative and brave young women.

Finally, there is this essay by philosopher Peter Singer asking whether it is "OK" to cheat in football. In fact, the answer seems to be "of course." And there is little surprise there. Why should football be different than, say, College Basketball in the US or riders doping in the Tour de France or steroid users in Major League Baseball or . . . cheating in virtually any other sport? In one sense, Singer is preaching virtue. And I think his notion that in the scenario he paints German fans might have been "disappointed" is more than a bit of an understatement. But, looked at in terms of its possible consequences, the sort of honesty he recommends might have a deep, longstanding impact. I think that is his point and, especially because football is infused with nationalism, we should not lose sight of it.

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07 June 2012

Best Shot (208) ~ Jim Lee

(234) Jim Lee ~ Vietnam, 1969 (6 June 2012).

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05 June 2012

Look Away

"Instead of focusing on the issues that have the most vocal proponents or the most heart-wrenching pictures, looking at costs and benefits puts the focus on solutions that will do the most good for the least money." ~ Bjørn Lomborg
That is one way to think about the relation between depictions of human suffering and mobilizing policies and politics to remedy the sources of that suffering. Avert your eyes altogether, the images are necessarily a distraction.

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Daniel Hernández-Salazar (Again)

Daniel Hernández-Salazar is among my very favorite photographers. I respect him immensely and have posted on his work here on several occasions before. His photography - and the ongoing struggle for political memory in his native Guatemala with which it is entangled - are featured in this recent post on the Lens blog at The New York Times. Daniel Hernández-Salazar stands as a striking counterexample to those who blindly insist that art and politics don't mix.

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Eeyore and Inequality in the US


This new Op-Ed by Joe Stiglitz popped up on my news feed today. Here is an edited version of his opening salvo:
America likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity, and others view it in much the same light. But [. . .] the statistics [. . .] show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.
This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. [. . .]  Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.
Sometimes I feel like such an Eeyore, harping on this theme of persistent, increasing political-economic inequality in the US and its consequences.  But what is pretty stunning is how much resistance I encounter when I mention things like this in conversation - say, with students - which I take as simply one indicator of how thoroughly Americans acquiesce in this state of affairs.

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03 June 2012

Another Intervention by OWS into the Realm "Experts" Hope to Reserve to Themselves

In February Occupy the SEC filed a comment with the agency as part of the rule-making process. I posted on that at the time because it seemed to me to be an important step in the movement's trajectory and because, more generally, it represented an important example of the use of expertise in democratic politics. I recently learned that last week Occupy Wall Street - Alternative Banking Group has filed an amicus brief as part of an appeals case regarding the proposed settlement between the SEC and Citigroup. I am noting this here for the same reasons.

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01 June 2012

Portraits of Opposition (Russia) ~ Davide Monteleone

Socialists, Moscow, Russia, March 19, 2012
Photograph © Davide Monteleone.

The folks at The New Yorker have run this brief post consisting of a baker's dozen of portraits Davide Monteleone has made of various political and cultural opposition groupings in contemporary Russia.

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Guns at the Beach?

This story from Ha'aretz popped up in my news feed. All I can say is not only in Israel. And, of course, just because men do something does not make it a good idea. You can find my views about this sort of nonsense by following the handguns label below. Carrying guns in this sort of situation disqualifies one from the presumptive judgment needed to carry a gun in the first place.

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Best Shots (207) ~ Lawrence Schiller

(234) Lawrence Schiller ~ Marilyn Monroe, 1962 (30 May 2012).

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