27 February 2013

Rosa Parks

There were, according to the news reports, warm feelings all around at the unveiling of a memorial statue for Rosa Parks at the U.S. Capitol.  My sense is that - as is so often the case -  the politicos and journalists all are honoring a sanitized version of whomever they are anointing as hero. In this case, it is important to recall something of the actual Rosa Parks and the radical politics she espoused over many, many years.

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Partisanship, Poverty & Paychecks

Susan and I have this Op-Ed in the City Newspaper (Rochester) this week on the importance and limits of minimum wage reform. Here it is:
Partisanship, poverty, and paychecks
Guest Commentary
Susan Orr and James Johnson
In his State of the Union address, President Obama issued a challenge: "Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour." On this he finds support from Governor Cuomo, who proposes increasing the New York State minimum wage because, among other things, it "reduces poverty."

Conservatives, of course, reject these proposed increases. Raising the minimum wage, they insist, will kill jobs, especially low-wage jobs. Commentator David Brooks made this claim on PBS immediately following the State of the Union address.

And House Speaker John Boehner quickly tried to puncture the president's proposal: "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it. At a time when American people are asking, 'Where are the jobs?' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?" Brooks and Boehner are pushing familiar talking points: minimum-wage legislation has negative consequences and there are better ways to address poverty.

As is frequently the case, our politicians and media analysts are roundly mistaken. Consider the conservative reaction. Economists have great difficulty establishing any significant negative relation between modest increases in the minimum wage and declines in employment levels.

Moreover, the common claim that low-wage workers are typically teenagers or are working part time – and so not "really" poor – is misleading. Projections conducted by the Economic Policy Institute regarding the impact of a higher federal minimum wage suggest a vast majority of those affected would be over 20. A majority would be women. Most would be working full time. And nearly 30 percent of those affected would be parents.

Finally, conservatives often insist that targeted programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit are a better way to alleviate poverty than minimum wage legislation. This too is debatable. On the one hand, such tax policies largely represent a hidden subsidy to employers who are spared the burden of paying reasonable wages. On the other hand, they might actually dampen wages because employers assume, often erroneously, that their workers will be eligible for a tax break. For that reason tax credits are better understood as complementing rather than replacing minimum wage legislation.

If conservative skepticism seems merely to mask basic resistance to government intervention, the Democratic case is overly optimistic. The federal poverty level for a family of four was $23,050 for 2012. Imagine, as President Obama suggests, we increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. That means a full-time minimum wage worker would earn a gross annual income of $18,720. If she lives on her own, this would sustain her above the federal poverty level for individuals. But if the worker has a family, it obviously falls well short.

Our point is not that the president and governor are wrong to recommend raising the minimum wage. Doing so, even to the levels being proposed, can make many people better off. But doing so is quite unlikely to propel many households out of poverty.

This hardly is an abstract complaint. It is directly relevant to Rochester where, in 2011, the overall poverty rate stood at over 29 percent and where just over 43 percent of all children lived in poverty. Raising the minimum wage can go some way to mitigating economic hardship in the city. But it would be only a start. It is the least we can do.

Susan Orr is assistant professor of political science at SUNY College at Brockport. James Johnson is professor of political science at the University of Rochester. They live in Hamlin.

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26 February 2013

Charles Simic at Aperture

Charles Simic is one of my favorite poets. I've posted about he and his work here several times. I knew that he had written some on photography - including a review of Sontag that I link to in an earlier post. I had not known, however, that he once had worked for Aperture. This week the NYRB blog has published this post - a memoir of his time there, prompted by the 6oth anniversary of the magazine.
"In one of the older issues, Minor White had an essay called “What is Meant by ‘Reading’ Photographs” that made a big impression on me. He writes in it about hearing photographers often say that if they could write they would not take pictures. With me, I realized, it was the other way around. If I could take pictures, I would not write poems—or at least, this is what I thought every time I fell in love with some photograph in the office, in many cases with one that I had already seen, but somehow, to my surprise, failed to properly notice before. There is a wonderful moment when we realize that the picture we’ve been looking at for a long time has become a part of us as much as some childhood memory or some dream we once had. The attentive eye makes the world interesting. A good photograph, like a good poem, is a self-contained little universe inexhaustible to scrutiny."

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25 February 2013

Best Shoot (239) ~ Joel Sternfeld

(265) Joel Sternfeld ~ Discarded headphones at the UN Climate Change Conference, 
Montreal 2005 (20 February 2013).

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24 February 2013

Best Shot (238) ~ Shadi Ghadirian

(264) Shadi Ghadirian ~ My Sister Nikki ... from the series Qajar 1998 

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23 February 2013

Ivan Martin Jirous ~ leben/werke/zeit


Keeping this blog has had regular unexpected pleasures. I have met (usually no more than virtually) many kind and generous people from all over the world. I also have had numerous 'professional' opportunities as a result of things I've written here. (I use scare quotes because many of my academic colleagues - here in Rochester and elsewhere - look askance at such endeavors.)

A while ago I received an email out of the blue (that is how these things happen) from Barbara Zeidler at the Institut für Kulturresistente Güter (Institute for Culture-Resistant Goods) in Vienna. Barbara explained that she and her colleagues were compiling a book about the recently deceased Ivan "Magor" Jirous and that, in the course of her web explorations, she'd come across this post - "The Lesson of Ivan Jirous" - I had written shortly after the man had died in the fall of 2011. She wondered whether they might include a translation of my very brief comments in the book. And so she has.* I am grateful and honored to be included.

The book release event took place this past week. It is likely you missed it. Likewise, it is unlikely you'll stumble across this book at your local Barnes & Noble. But, if you don't know much about Jirous it is worth your time to find out. He is a wonderful example of how what appear to be irredeemably offbeat, inconsequential lives can have immense influence.
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* Barbara Zeidler und Abbé Libansky, eds. 2013. Ivan Martin Jirous ~ leben/werk/zeit. Braumüller GmbH.

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Magnum in ROC ~ Fallout

 I have on several occasions posted here about the descent, last spring, of a group of Magnum photographers on Rochester, New York [1] [2] [3]. I work in the city, my son lives there and I live in the nearby countryside. Yesterday my friend Michael Shaw, perpetrator of the terrific web site BagNewsNotes published this post questioning some of the award-winning work that emerged from the Magnum visit. In particular, Michael raised a set of pointed questions about work by Paolo Pellegrin. I invite readers to head off to (1) view the work at issue, for which Pellegrin recently won a World Press Photo prize and (2) read Micheal's initial post. You might also have a look at Pellegrin's reply here, at this post at The New York Times and Micheal's response to all the hubbub here.

I had planned to write a post on this, I even concocted the map above to discuss relevant local matters. But I find that most of what I have to say is covered at the links above. My bottom line? Pellegrin's rationalization of his behavior displays a stunning lack of professionalism backed by obliviousness, excuses and cliches. I think Micheal's defense of the role of critic undermines the hand-wringing of journalists who think he ought to have contacted Pellegrin prior to making his initial post. I don't think Michael had any obligation to do so and, given Pellegrin's reply, there is no reason to think anything would have been gained had he done so.

*****
Update: This map, accompanying this story on the fracas in our local newspaper, is much better than mine. It shows the difference having even modest facility with computer graphics can make!


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19 February 2013

Local Event ~ Juliet Schor at SUNY Brockport

On Wednesday evening (February 20th) at 7:00 Juliet Schor - economist, sociologist, environmentalist - will be speaking at SUNY Brockport in the New York Room or Copper Hall. The talk is free and open to the public. Schor's most recent book is Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (Penguin 2010). She is also author of the national best-seller, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1992) and The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need (Basic Books, 1998).

If you are concerned about issues of sustainability and how they impact economic and social arrangements int he U.S. I highly recommend coming out.

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18 February 2013

Picturing Rochester ~ This is 'News'?

 Eine Hausdurchsuchung. Doch dem Drogenhandel ist so nicht beizukommen. 
(A house search. But the drug trade has survived this.)
Photograph © Paolo Pellegrin für ZEITmagazin.

Last month I offered these critical comments about a project that Paolo Pellegrin did on Rochester last spring. Well, the series has taken 2nd  Prize in the General News Stories category of the World Press Photo. In my earlier comments I was pretty harsh about Pellegrin's project as an exemplar of photojournalism. My question for the judges at World Press Photo is this - where is the "News" here? The poverty, crime, racial conflict and segregation, and so forth in Rochester that Pellegrin depicts surely do not qualify. And Rochester hardly is unique in being afflicted by such blights. I have, in the past, been extremely critical here of the World Press Photo awards. Not much has changed.

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The Fall & Rise of Occupy Wall Street

"A  year and a half after the takeover of Zuccotti Park there exists a widespread conviction that Occupy Wall Street ultimately failed, and that it did so for lack of commitment, organization, and clear objectives. [. . .] But it has become increasingly clear that OWS didn’t fizzle because its objectives were too muddled or its talk too abstract or its organization too chaotic. In fact, the movement was undone by a concerted government effort to undo it."

Madrick persuasively argues two things: OWS neither failed nor fizzled. It accomplished several things - including focusing attention on glaring political economic inequalities that somehow escaped attention - and was actively suppressed.*
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* And, for those who think this is just so much paranoid whining, here is a report from the Assembly Rights & Protest Project documenting the unjustified and illegal violent tactics the government used to suppress OWS in New York City.

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14 February 2013

Self-Evident Truths

Image © iO Tillett Wright 2012

I am now not sure just where I came across this project - Self-Evident Truths by iO Tillett Wright. But it consists in a remarkable set of portraits, initiated in 2010 of "anyone that felt like they qualified to fall on some part of the LGBTQ spectrum, from bisexual, to transgender"and " intended to humanize the very varied face of gays in America today." The project started out as small but has burgeoned and is ongoing. Very nice, forceful work. And what I like most, perhaps, is that Wright invokes not the Constitution but the Declaration of Independence.

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13 February 2013

Political Science In The News: They Say Political Science is Arcane and Silly. And They Say That As Though It Is A Bad Thing!

What are we to make of this essay at The Atlantic? It is easy enough just to be snarky. We could point out that Mr. Ferenstein actually learned something important from his foray into grad school: he was not cut out for the profession. He simply did not like - or was no good at - political science (although it turns out in the comments thread that he had gone off to study political philosophy, which is a whole other thing). Good! Hopefully his talents are better used elsewhere, although this essay is hardly evidence of that. And we might also point out that he seems to have no idea what he is talking about. Example: "The problem is that modern-day "political science" is rarely related to public policy or diplomacy at all. The scientific study of politics is the hyper-analytic mathematical, psychological, and anthropological study of civic behavior" Let's assume that this final sentence makes sense (it doesn't). Let's issue the same complaint about, say, evolutionary biology, which is not really related to direct practical human purposes either.

Such responses are nearly enough to make one stop at snickering. But what if we wanted to be constructive?  If we are reasonable and self-reflective we might grant that much political science research has no obvious public relevance. But where, if anywhere, does the difficulty lie? There is lots of natural science research with no obvious public relevance. It is hard to make such research relevant (however we define that notion).* And it is expensive too. My own university just spent buckets of money a building dedicated to "translational science" to help push biomedical research conducted in the Medical School from the lab closer to potential treatment applications. And, biomedical research is not typically 'pure' science so the distance to 'relevance' is relatively short in this domain. Why should we assume that it will be easier to make that translation from legitimate theoretical inquiry in social sciences? Ferenstein is correct: "the discipline of political science lacks a system for turning abstract research into practical outcomes." There have been attempts - starting Perspectives on Politics (in part)**, individual forays into journalistic outlets or non-academic publishing, The Monkey Cage. But those hardly are systematic. How might we remedy that?

What we do know is that journalism is part of the problem. Most journalists are ill-prepared and/or unwilling to understand social science. Need an example? Consider this meme: given the polarization of American politics 'both parties are to blame.' Unfortunately, that meme is false. Journalists are bending over backwards to maintain the appearance of neutrality or objectivity instead of actually reporting what is very well established. Need another example: It we raise  the minimum wage there will be immediate, significant negative impact on employment rates. (David Brooks out is out this canard on PBS following the State of the Union address last night.) Journalists typically are disabled in replying to such nonsense.

Then there are the entities that are meant to take up "social science" and make it relevant to the 'real world' - public opinion polling? think tanks? Much of what passes for "research" in such entities is too easily dismissed as being either ideologically driven, commercially oriented or simply mistaken (remember the way Clinton relied on the idea of 'primordial conflicts' to justify sitting on our hands in the face of genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans? Remember George W. Bush invoking the 'democratic peace' in order to rationalize unjustifiable military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?) One thing that makes academic research defensible is that there is at least the gesture toward quality control.

Finally, is "relevance" an easy criterion to endorse? Anyone who has read Sasha Isenberg's The Victory Lab, should understand why elected politicians might be reluctant to fund certain sorts of political science research. It might be used against them by their adversaries. And anyone who has thought at all about the involvement of the Rand Corporation (say) in the formulation and implementation of military strategies might hesitate to embrace relevance as well. You can surely think of other examples.

Mr. Ferenstein raises some important matters. He then makes a hash of it - mostly, I suspect, from a mix of resentment and misunderstanding. But the topic he puts on the agenda is indeed important for political scientists. Can we set aside the silly parts of Ferenstein's tirade and take up its important parts?
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* If you are really interested in this enterprise, I would recommend:  Phillip Kitcher. 2006. “Public Knowledge and the Difficulties of Democracy,” Social Research 73:1205-24; Phillip Kitcher. 2011. Science in a Democratic Society. Prometheus Books.
** Full disclosure - I am a former editor. 

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12 February 2013

"Black man, Chinese man, penguins" ~ Sports Illustrated

Did you know that Africa is home to many, many spear chuckers? This is a series of images from the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue for 2013. And here at Jezebel is an appropriately acerbic commentary on the spread. Model: Emily DiDonato. Location: Namibia.

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11 February 2013

Crooked Timber Seminar ~ The Priority of Democracy


Starting today Crooked Timber is rolling out this seminar (review symposium) on my book with Jack Knight, The Priority of Democracy: Political Consequences of Pragmatism (Princeton UP, 2011). The critics are Chris Ansell (Berkeley), Melissa Schwartzberg (Columbia), Peter Boettke (George Mason), Ingrid Robeyns (Erasmus), Adrian Vermeule (Harvard), Henry Farrell (George Washington) and Cosma Shalizi (Carnegie Mellon). Jack and I offer a reply.  Thanks to Henry for coordinating the affair.

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10 February 2013

Why Isn't Your ISP (if you have one) a Utility?

“The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality.” ~ Susan Crawford

The opening remark and this graphic are from an  interview Bill Moyers does this week with Susan Crawford on why the US is a disaster in terms of internet access and service.
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P.S.: The punchline to the interview is somewhat disappointing. Here it is:
BILL MOYERS: So briefly describe the need.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: All Americans need a fast, cheap connection to the internet.
BILL MOYERS: And the problem?
SUSAN CRAWFORD: A few companies control access in America and it's not in their interest to bring that fast, cheap access to us all.
BILL MOYERS: And the solution?
SUSAN CRAWFORD: The solution is for people to care about this issue, ask hard questions at every debate, make sure you elect people who will act and give your mayor air cover so that he or she can act to make sure that your city has this fast, competitive access.
Of course, Crawford wants to be appointed to the Federal Comunications Commission. So she is not able (willing?) to suggest that the solution actually is is something like an Occupy the FCC to put this on the political agenda and keep it there.

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Labor & New Deal Art exhibit @ Cleveland Public Library

There is an announcement here at The Cleveland Plain Dealer of an  exhibit of prints - Labor & New Deal Art - that is showing through March 24 at the main Cleveland Public Library, This might be worth a road trip down Route 90. Here are a couple of examples:

“Death of a Striker” Paul Meltsner

"Untitled" Hugo Gellert

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Bset Shot (237) ~ Candida Höfer

(263) Candida Höfer ~ Teatro Scientifico Bibiena Mantova (Detail) 2010 (6 February 2013).

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09 February 2013

Passings: Lawrence Douglas "Butch" Morris (1947-2013)

 Photograph © Claudio Casan

I missed this sad news at the end of last month, but the remarkable composer, cornetist, and conductor (of large improvising ensembles) Lawrence "Butch" Morris has died. You can find an obituary here at The Guardian, another here at The New York Times, and remembrances here and here at NPR and The New Yorker respectively.
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Update (27 February 2012): Over the past few days I have had the pleasure of watching Black February a film documenting the month, in 2005, during which Morris coordinated "44 performances in 28 days with 85 musicians pulled from all across New York’s musical community." In the film Morris comes across as brilliant, decent, demanding and exceptionally grounded. And I now have come across this touching remembrance of Morris by Wayne Horwitz who confirms that assessment.

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Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (4)

Here is the punchline of one Israeli assessment of the political attacks on the College:
"The Brooklyn College incident, after all, is far from isolated. It is, in fact, symptomatic. The distressing tone and self-defeating tactics of the most vocal elements of the so-called pro-Israeli camp in America have been the rule, not the exception, in recent years, and they are also bound to backfire on us all. [. . .]

Because the sad fact is that far too much of the public discourse on Israel has been dominated and dictated by super-conservatives and ultra-nationalists and the billionaires who fund them. These are people whose visceral hatred for Obama has driven them over the edge, who view any measured or nuanced debate about Israel as treason, who are hell bent on making their observation that liberals are turning away from Israel into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And who usually know very little about the actual Israel they are talking or writing about.

They make mountains out molehills, carve Nazis out of Palestinians, evoke pogroms and massacres from each and every violent incident. They don’t acknowledge the occupation, see nothing wrong with settlements or “Price Tag” violence, turn a blind eye to 46 years of Palestinian disenfranchisement, regardless of whose fault it is. They recognize only one truth, their own, and view all the rest as heresy and abomination. By their narrow definitions, no less than 50% of Israelis who voted in the last elections for parties that support a two-state solution should be condemned – possibly by the U.S. Senate itself – as Israel-hating, Arab-loving defeatists.

This preposterously simplistic portrayal of Israel is bound to backfire. It is dishonest, and therefore self-defeating. It quashes disagreement and abhors true debate. It distances anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to its narrow definitions of what it means to love Israel and to truly support it, warts and all." - Ha'aretz

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Best Shot (236) ~ Peter Schlesinger

 (262) Peter Schlesinger ~ David Hockney and Cecil Beaton, Reddish House, 1970
(30 January 2013).

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08 February 2013

RIJF Line Up Meets Expectations

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about my apprehensions regarding the upcoming Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF). Now, as I've made pretty clear here over the years I am what you might call an RIJF skeptic. I doubt very much that the event has sustained economic impact on the city in terms say, of creating real jobs, or encouraging people to brave downtown at times other than the week of the fest. And in terms of what the organizers pass off as "jazz," the entire undertaking is pretty much of an insult to the people who created the jazz tradition - musically and organizationally - in the first place. Consider the list of headliners for the 2013 version.

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Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (3)

I already have posted here and here on the recent goings on at Brooklyn College. Here, at Dissent, my friend and colleague Jeff Isaac offers some insightful reflections on academic freedom prompted by the controversy. And here, at The Nation, is the text of the - hardly incendiary - remarks Judith Butler made at the BDS "event" at Brooklyn Colege last night.

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One Small Step - Batchen on the "Dissemination" of Photography

In this very brief comment at The Brooklyn Rail, Geoffrey Batchen goes some distance toward suggesting what I have regularly argued for around here for several years: displacing the focus on objects (photographs) with attention to photography as a technology for doing things, specifically amplifying our abilities to see and imagine. He is concerned with "dissemination" which is but one segment of the process of doing things. But at least he is moving away in some measure from worrying about the semantics (meaning) of images toward attending to pragmatics (use) of photography. I suspect Batchen would exit the bus well before my destination. Too bad.

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06 February 2013

Local Event - Ethnic Heritage Ensemble at Lovin' Cup

TONIGHT!! - you really should, if at all possible, get out to Lovin' Cup and hear the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. This is a really fabulous  trio - Kahil El Zabar (percussion), Ernest Dawkins (tenor) & Corey Wilkes (trumpet). The EHE is among the longest running groups to come out of the AACM in Chicago and they play music that you will not likely hear, for instance, at the Rochester Jazz Festival (RIJF). Details on the show are available here. Two other reasons to turn out are (1)  that this part of the diverse series of shows put on by Tom Kohn at The Bop Shop and (2) the folks at Lovin' Cup work hard to bring good, off the equilibrium path music to town. Support them!

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04 February 2013

Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (2)

The controversy surrounding Brooklyn College and its Political Science Department - more precisely about the fact that the latter has agreed to sponsor a student initiated panel discussion about the movement to Boycott Israel over its policies toward Palestinians - has grown more heated and more visible since I posted on it here several days ago. A group of NYC politicos have now threatened the funding of the College and of CUNY more broadly. This prompted this column by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian (which includes links to relevant documents). In the meantime, The New York Times is reporting that the College President Karen Gould is resisting the threats and criticisms in stalwart fashion. And the editors of The Times now have come out in support of Gould in this comment that is disparaging of the critics and forthright about the need for serious discussions of Israeli policies.

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How Not to Run a Photo Contest

 The cloud cover over Mount Fuji.

I stumbled across this story at the BBC reporting on  a contest to pick the best satellite image of 2012.The image I've lifted above did not win. The prize went to an image of Burning Man. Any chance that the venue for the contest - Facebook - might have biased the sort of participants who 'voted'? Any chance that the typical Facebook user would be familiar with Burning Man but be clueless as to where Mt. Fuji is located? Fuji? Isn't that a film company?

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03 February 2013

Harry Belafonte on Guns, Artists and Radicalism



This is a remarkable statement not just about the matter of guns and their impact on the African American population, but about the role of leaders, and especially artists, in advocating radical thought and action. There is a report here at The Guardian.

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The Truly Incompetent

This morning in my dual role as chef and waitstaff, I was shuttling pancakes from our kitchen upstairs to the TV room where Susan was watching George Stephanopolis and his band of talking heads. This is our Sunday morning routine. Today George's crew included a journalist, a couple of politicians, and commentators Paul Krugman and Carly Fiorina. The latter occupied the chair George reserves for dim, under performing conservative woman; other occupants have been Liz Cheney (good at benefiting from nepotism), Mary Matalin (good at being a party hack), and Ann Coulter (good at? . . . writing a vacuous screed of the month). All are professional talking heads. Fiorina is too and she is as good an exemplar as any.

My question: How does anything Carly Fiorina has ever done  qualify her to speak credibly about anything having to do with politics or  economics? Let's see. She ran Hewlett-Packard into the ditch. She moved on to advise the losing McCain campaign, becoming in the process a promoter of the self-promoting Sarah Palin. She then ran for Senate in California, losing by double digits. This, politely, is a record of abject failure. Yet there's Carly, holding forth on This Week as though anyone should care what she has to say.

I'm confident that I could go out to the TOPS in Hamlin and get similar and less ill- informed views from my neighbors. Network TV is pathetic in  affording a forum to the truly incompetent. You might think Krugman is an  ideologue - you'd be wrong. Regardless, at least he is accomplished in his chosen field of endeavor.  Carly Fiorina?

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02 February 2013

Prove It! The Latest 'Birther' Angle

Why do I find this photo - actually, not the photo itself, but the political pressures to release it to the press - so thoroughly disturbing? You can read the context here at The Guardian.

I am not a shooter. I don't need to be one in order to appreciate the danger of firearms or to criticize 2nd Amendment fundamentalists. Likewise, I do not use, possess, or traffick in child pornography. I do not not need to have done so to appreciate the harm that it does or to criticize those who do use, possess or traffick in it. I am an absolutist on the second issue. But I am not an absolutist on gun control. Don't ask for a photograph of me shooting. Just take my word for it.

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Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas

I am not - as I have made clear here repeatedly - a proponent of boycotts generally or of current calls for boycotts of Israel in particular.  I think that boycotts tend to turn us away from politics as an activity and refocus issues around matters of consumption. In the process I think that they inject a generally unattractive, indeed disabling, moralism into what ought to be political debate and argument. It is not that I defend Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians. I do not - any more than I defend Hamas or Hezbollah attacks on Israelis. Rather, I simply think it is more useful to criticize such actions with words not currency.

Having said that, I find the current campaign against colleagues in the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College (CUNY) reprehensible.  The Department has voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion - initiated by student groups on campus - about the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" Campaign (BDS) against Israel.  For their trouble they and the College administration have been besieged by alums, the conservative press, and a diverse array of state and local politicians demanding that they rescind their sponsorship. You can find a report in The New York Times here.

Among the leaders of the critics is Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz - yes, he of the arguments for institutionalizing torture as a tool of American foreign policy via judicial warrant - who also is a Brooklyn College alum. Dershowitz is pretty much of a buffoon and his arguments, such as they are, against the Department and against the DBS speakers establish that for those not already so convinced. (I have in mind, for instance, his inability to differentiate sponsoring and endorsing, his inability to differentiate political issues from partisan elections, and his assertion without evidence that faculty in the Department grade students according to their political views, etc.) And Dershowitz, I would add, is among the calmer, more reasoned critics of the Department and the College in this affair. To the best of my knowledge Dershowitz - unlike other critics of the College - has not explicitly and publicly equated criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism. That is a sad state.

I recommend this column by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian for a dissection of events.
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Update: Mother Jones reports here.
Update #2: Kieran Healy skewers the critics here at Crooked Timber.

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"Inside and Outside the Cave: Plato and Visual Politics"

Here is the famous image from Hobbes's Leviathan. And here is the announcement of a talk at the Clark Art Institute my friend Mark Reinhardt will be giving - probably less on than prompted by - the image.

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