14 April 2014

Fuck the Poor

I came across this remarkable advert on my FB feed. I think the disconnect is that we treat poverty as a matter of charity rather than as a political problem requiring a political remedy. No offense to the (no doubt) well-intentioned folks at The Pilion Trust Charity, but they are framing the problem in a self-defeating way.

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13 April 2014

No, Photographers Do Not Have a First Amendment Right to Discriminate

From the ACLU, this report on the recent SCOTUS decision to not hear a case in which a photographer claimed a first amendment right to discriminate against customers seeking to hire her to chronicle same sex wedding ceremonies:
"When you make the decision to hold yourself out as a business that serves the general public, you have to be willing to actually serve the general public, which includes a diverse group of people whose values and beliefs may be different than the values and beliefs of the business owner. Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer's marriage. Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules in the public marketplace."
I suppose that in a time of truly ridiculous judicial decisions, this is a faint sign of sanity!

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Guggenheim, Workers, Protest

Here is a report on a protest yesterday at Guggenheim NYC about the labor standards in the construction of the new Abu Dhabi branch of the museum. Background on the matter are here and here in a recent argument at The New York Times. I must say, if the strongest defense the museum director can muster is that the living and working condition for construction laborers on the project "are the best in the region," the Guggenheim occupies extremely dubious ground.

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12 April 2014

The Company You Keep

I have to say that this story at ESPN is pretty stunning. Here we have Samantha Power, advocate of human rights, US Ambassador to the United Nations socializing with Henry Kissinger (they were taking in a Yankees game together!) recently. I suppose whether one finds a war criminal repugnant or not depends on whether he is our war criminal?

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11 April 2014

Jeffrey Milano-Johnson (14 June 1992 ~ 11 April 2007)

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10 April 2014

Losing Faith in the Possibility of Democracy

Here at the NYRB is a disconsolate howl by poet Charles Simic on the state of and prospects for American Democracy. Simic is one of my favorite poets. At times I agree with him. But not, by a long shot, do I always do so.

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08 April 2014

Reprint: "What To Do With Invidious Distinctions?"

 October 2007

What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?
By Jim Johnson

Critical discussion of contemporary photography is shaped by a largely unchallenged distinction between “documentary” and “art”. We expect photographers practicing the former to concentrate on the realism, veracity, and accuracy of the images they produce, while those engaged in the latter are freed from such preoccupations, and so given license to experiment stylistically and substantively. We define the poles of this distinction relative to one another. Thus, while introducing a recent issue of PRIVATE (No. 33. Summer 06), critic and curator Roberta Valtorta announces that “the strongest and truest photojournalism today is that which outlives itself without straining to be ‘beautiful’. It stays truthful to its ‘primitiveness,’ its leanness, and far from aesthetics.” Her comment perversely echos photographer Luc Delahaye who, having spent considerable energy over the course of several years justifying his distinctly not ‘primitive’ or ‘lean’ depictions of war-torn Afghanistan, felt compelled to “officially” declare himself an artist.

That this documentary/art distinction has stultifying consequences seems obvious when I list some contemporary photographers whose work, for disparate reasons, I find compelling –Andre Cypriano, Josef Koudelka, Randa Shaath, Sebastião Salgado, Martha Rosler, James Nachtwey, Lalla Essaydi, Alfredo Jaar, Edward Burtynsky, Antonin Kratochvil, Susan Meiselas, Raphaël Dallaporta, The Atlas Group, and Miguel Rio Branco. The documentary/art dichotomy obscures the work of these and many other photographers insofar as each tramples back and forth across the bounds of truth and beauty, content and form, and so on we purportedly use the distinction to police.

In her early essay “On Style” (Against Interpretation & Other Essays (1966), New York, Picador 2001, p. 15-16), Susan Sontag identifies our predicament: “It is not so easy, after all, to get unstuck from a distinction that practically holds together the fabric of critical discourse, and serves to perpetuate certain intellectual aims and vested interests which themselves remain unchallenged and would be difficult to surrender without a fully articulated working replacement at hand.” Sontag was concerned with the distinction between style and content that is different from, if related to, the one that concerns me. Her diagnosis of our broad predicament seems right. Yet her insistence that we must replace the problematic distinction with some more or less fully worked out alternative is misguided.

Near the start of Art as Experience John Dewey observes: “Wherever continuity is possible, the burden of proof rests upon those who assert opposition and dualism” (New York, Perigree 1980, p. 27). The problem is not that we make and use conceptual distinctions. That is unavoidable in any ongoing critical or creative undertaking. The problem, as Hilary Putnam, among the most insightful heirs to Dewey’s pragmatism notes, is that with repeated use conceptual distinctions too often become “inflated” into dichotomies that come to muddle our critical and creative practices. In contemporary discussions the documentary/ art distinction has assumed precisely this invidious status.

Faced with this dualism, we should heed Dewey’s advice and shift the burden of justification onto those who deploy it. This strategy is attractive since, as Sontag intimates, distinctions become inflated into dichotomies in ways and for purposes that hardly are innocent. Our art/documentary distinction, for instance, assumed exaggerated proportions through the usually self-serving efforts of identifiable photographers, curators, collectors, and critics. One thinks here of how Stieglitz differentiated “art” from “document” in order to facilitate acceptance of his preferred brand of photography by institutions of the art world. One thinks too of how, subsequently, Walker Evans and his critical allies devised hegemonic criteria for ‘legitimate’ documentary in hopes of countering the success of Margaret Bourke-White whom they cast as his competitor. Additional relevant episodes, animated by other more or less unsavory aims and interests will come to mind.

While genealogical accounts warrant the burden-shifting strategy Dewey proposes, they offer nothing remotely like the full-fledged “replacement” that Sontag thinks necessary. So what? Once historians reveal a dichotomy as an artifact of the thoroughly political and economic concerns of those who promulgate it, why aren’t we justified in simply turning our backs on it and those who purvey it? We should aim not to replace the dichotomy but to deflate it so as to open space for critical reflection.

Steve Edwards’ Photography: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006) is exemplary in this respect. He concedes that the documentary/art distinction is “central” to assessments of contemporary photography. His argument unfolds around the dichotomy in ways that undermine it, repeatedly demonstrating how it confounds efforts to grasp photography and the various uses to which it has been put. Edwards thus pursues a deflationary strategy I find congenial. In so doing, he invites us to worry much less about whether some image respects the boundaries set by an invidious conceptual distinction and considerably more about two constellations of questions. First, who produced the image, how, and for what purposes? Second, what exigencies shape how others subsequently experience and use it? This is an invitation we should accept.

[This essay appeared in the inaugural issue of Art Signal (Barcelona), unfortunately deunct. Here is a link http://art-signal.org/en/que-hacemos-con-las-distinciones-odiosas/.]

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Documentary? Photojournalism? Art? ... Oh My! What's a Critic to Do?

"Documentary" is an aesthetic. So, trying to differentiate in a clear and general way between documentary, photojournalism, and "art" photography is an impossible task. Hence it is a fruitless undertaking. I wrote an essay several years ago called "What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?" making this point. Here is a recent essay by Pernilla Holmes that does the same thing. There is little to disagree with in it. But the author also makes scant headway. Our aim, I think, ought to be to stop stating and restating the basic point that the boundaries between "genres" is porous and shifting and instead take that well-established observation as a premise in developing new ways of talking about photography. My view is that we ought to stop worrying about photographs as objects (hence asking what they are or how they work) and focus instead on the pragmatics of photography - how we use it and why. But there is no surprise there either!

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04 April 2014

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center

Founded in 2006, the Bophana Center is dedicated to collecting and preserving resources that capture the experience of Cambodia during the period when the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy all such materials. I learned of the Center from this report, focusing on the work of its founder filmmaker Rithy Panh, that aired on npr last weekend.

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Another View of Labor's Decline ...

Doug Henwood posted this revealing graphic recently; it traces the pacific state of American unions over the past half century or so.

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03 April 2014

Wolff Reads Piketty

A five part (yes,  a [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] part) review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century by philosopher Robert Paul Wolff.

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Reuters, Syria, Photojournalism and ... Standards?

This message from the inimitable Michael Shaw arrived in my In Box this morning. It is, unsurprisingly, pretty much right on point:
Friends and colleagues,

Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by The New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:

Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged? -- with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.

The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy -- details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.

In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.


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02 April 2014

The Oppression of Filthy Rich Guys - Part 2

Here is yet another missive at The Wall Street Journal from a rich guy who is really unhappy that many people don't like him or welcome his attempts to use his wealth to impose his political views on others. At least the last whiner - Tom Perkins - seems to have actually created something at some time in the past. As I understand things, Charles Koch inherited most of his money [1]. And he seems to think that being born rich gives him some special status that others ought to admire or some special insight into how polities ought to operate to which others ought to defer. Sorry. And, by the way, I've never read Schopenhauer!

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30 March 2014

Forget Heidegger

"The anti-Semitic passages total only about two and a half of the notebooks’ roughly 1,200 pages. Still, some scholars say, they put the lie to any claim that Heidegger’s Nazism can be kept separate from his philosophy, or confined only to the brief period in the early 1930s when he was the rector of the newly Nazified University of Freiburg."
Yes, and I only occasionally make racist comments too! No big deal.

So, apparently the issue is whether Martin Heidegger was a committed Nazi and anti-semite, or simply an opportunistic one. You have got to be kidding! Why are we even having this conversation? In either case - and I am unsure which is worse, to be honest - he was a bigot and an authoritarian. And he integrated his bigotry and authoritarianism into his day job [source here, and here too]. This was not simply a hobby for Martin. How much reason does anyone need to acknowledge that worrying about the man and his work is a waste of time?

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28 March 2014


I don't go in for the new age sorts of thing, but this is Sam Baker, an astonishing singer, offering a tune about angels ... and a story about why. Not new age.

Thanks Colin.


27 March 2014

Passings ~ Juan Gelman ( 1930-2014)

Poet Juan Gelman has died. The Los Angeles Review of Books has published this remembrance. As I noted here some years ago, I learned of Gelman, his life, and his work (as I learn so much) from reading John Berger.
P.S.: While I somehow missed them When Gelman died in January obituaries are here at The New York Times and here at The Guardian.

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17 March 2014

Globalization and Its Losers

Joseph Stiglitz here in The New York Times on the lopsided distributional impact of globalization and of the trade agreements imposed in the  attempt to manage it to the advantage of the rich.

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14 March 2014

Authoritarianism on Ice

Always Franco (2012) © Eugenio Merino.

And, no, I do not mean the US Figure Skating Association. Instead we have pieces by Eugenio Merino like the one above. There is a report on the artist, his work, and their political/legal vicissitudes here at The Guardian.

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Passings ~ Tony Benn (1925-2014)

"If one meets a powerful person . . . one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."
British Socialist Tony Benn has died. There is a report here at The New York Times, an obituary here at The Guardian, and a digest of pungent remarks - from which I lifted the one above - by him here at The New Statesman.

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Sports & Politics

Of course, this is at the intersection of two of my interests the Celtics and radical politics.

Star tour: Bill Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird toured the Eugene V. Debs Museum while in Terre Haute for the Bird statue dedication in November. (Submitted photo/Gary Daily).

December 8, 2013
Bill Walton, Larry Bird visit Eugene V. Debs Museum

Gary Daily
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards. The question goes something like this: “If you could sit down and have dinner/pizza/a beer with two famous people, who would be your choices?”

Now think about this exercise in historical imagination with changes along these lines: “If you had the opportunity to escort two renowned athletes on a tour of Terre Haute’s world-class Eugene V. Debs Museum, which two athletes would you choose?”

Maybe you would opt for two guys with personal integrity and grit (like Debs). Maybe your draft choices would lean toward team players (like Debs), guys who could lead (like Debs) but guys who knew sacrifice for the whole is a quality every leader possesses (like Debs).

Maybe you would choose guys like Bill Walton and Larry Bird.

Good choices. Walton and Bird are famous athletes, though they are very different in their public personalities. Walton is irrepressible, and Bird is more guarded and retiring (Debs could be both). Both are solid individuals who know the difference between surface and substance. (As Debs proved to all during his long political career).

It was my personal pleasure to guide Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird through the Debs Museum. (We were accompanied by the able director of this local jewel of a museum, Karen Brown.) This visit took place on the Sunday morning immediately following the Saturday dedication of the Larry Bird statue at Hulman Center. Thanks go out to Tribune-Star reporter David Hughes. He had written a story on Bird’s years with the Celtics, mentioning Walton’s knowledge and interest in Debs. Walton was contacted and offered a tour of the Debs Museum. The Big Red Head jumped at the offer.

When I arrived to pick up Walton for the tour, I was slightly floored to hear him ask if it was all right if Larry Bird and his wife Dinah (a graduate of Schulte High School and Indiana State University) could come along. Needless to say, this was one of the easiest “coaching” decisions I’ve made in my life.

What was this museum visit like for these celebrity sports heroes who, at least in our minds, live and work in such different worlds?

I can’t speak for Walton and Bird, of course. I can only report that they both showed deep interest and fascination in Debs’ home and his personal and political life. The museum holds many period artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings of great events in Debs’ life, and tributes and copies of letters to Debs from across the nation and around the world. These ISU and UCLA grads examined it all, with curiosity and concentration.

Bird seemed particularly interested in the fact that Eugene V. Debs was a native Hoosier, born and bred in Terre Haute, and that as a young man had worked for Hulman & Co. Walton spent some time looking over the list of distinguished recipients of the Debs Award, an honor bestowed on a person whose life work has been in concert with the ideals of Eugene V. Debs. He noted the names of people given this award each year over the past 51 years (what a great tradition this is!) by the Debs Foundation. Walton specifically pointed out the names of Pete Seeger, Correta Scott King and Howard Zinn.

The first Debs Award recipient was in 1965 and went to John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. I think Larry asked Bill, “Wasn’t Havlicek’s father a coal miner?” The two stars pondered this as they recalled the famous Celtic small forward from an earlier era. I think this thoughtful question says a lot.

Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.

Here’s another question asked (I believe by Larry Bird) while on the tour. Debs, as every Hautean should know, ran for president five times. Even at the turn of the 20th century candidates were expected to meet, speak with and press the flesh of voters and supporters. This meant extensive travel.

“How [I’m paraphrasing from memory] did Debs get around back then? How many miles did he travel on political and union organizing campaigns?”

Think about this question and think about the endless travel, the long waits in many cavernous air and train terminals, the myriad cookie-cutter hotel rooms Walton, Bird, and, yes, Debs, endured.

Monuments, museums, statues, history speaks to us. Bill Walton and Larry Bird found much in the Debs Home Museum that spoke to them. When was the last time you visited this wonderful museum and listened to what it has to say?

Gary Daily retired from Indiana State University as Associate Professor of History, Women’s Studies and African American Studies in 2000. He has been a member of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation since coming to Terre Haute in 1970. Though not much of a sports fan today, he attended every ISU home game during the Larry Bird era. Bill Walton is easily his favorite vegetarian, anti-Vietnam War college All-American.

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13 March 2014

Annals of Fair Use: Getty Images

I just noticed this news report on a policy change by Getty Images that "would allow noncommercial websites and social media users to publish the agency’s images at no cost using an “embedding” tool."

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12 March 2014

American Torture Redux, Undermining Democracy at Home

There is no news in this post. I have, in the past, devoted a multitude of posts to the all-American practice of torture. This was a regular topic during the G.W. Bush administration when decisions about who to torture and how were being made by those at the very highest reaches of the government - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et. al. - each of whom should be tried for their criminal actions. Our torturers are back in the news as a result of their alleged efforts to further subvert inquiry into their bad behavior. Yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took to the Senate floor to accuse the CIA of breaking domestic law in their efforts to shroud their prior (ongoing?) violations of domestic and international law as they carried out policies of - in the words of the Editorial Board at The New York Times - "illegal detention, rendition, torture and fruitless harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects." You can find a report of Feinstein's here at The Times. Feinstein's speech is especially telling because (as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) she has a well-deserved reputation as an apologist for our national security state. So, the BushCo policy (and, to be fair, the policy of prior, slightly more discreet, administrations of both parties) of torture in defense of freedom and democracy is coming around to subvert democracy at home too. No surprise.

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11 March 2014

T&A at American Apparel

What is wrong with this advert from American Apparel? First, the obvious titillation factor, inflected, of course, by the exoticism afforded by the model's brown skin.. That is something the company is notorious for. It is unacceptable when moralists like PETA do it. It is even less acceptable when done for profit. Second, the unsubtle Islam-bashing that inflects the company's rationalization of the image:

Third, the fact that Dov Charney CEO of American Apparel (whose name appears as signature at the lover left of the advert) could give a crap about sweat shop workers in Bangladesh. He is on his high horse here because, well, he thinks he can make money by mouthing off.  Like other "progressive" capitalists - like, say, the management of Starbucks, Charney is anti-union. So his concern for American workers stops just short of allowing them to actually decide whether they should rely on their own organizing or his beneficence regarding matters of pay, benefits, working conditions and so forth.

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Enthusiasms (40) ~ Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott

Last fall I heard this interview with Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott  about music and mining and other things. (There joint web page is here.) So, I bought their two (2000 & 2013) studio collaborations and have listened to them sporadically. But now that I am spending some days home with Esme, I have had a chance to listen more carefully. These fellows can play and harmonize; they write great tunes and appropriate great ones made by others; and they clearly have a commitment to their local landscape and environment.What else is there?

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William Kentridge at Syracuse

Recently I somehow missed a visit to UofR by William Kentridge. This is the final week of this exhibition of his recent work at the Syracuse University Art Galleries. I know that at this time of the year much attention at our nearest ACC institution is focused on basketball. But should you be looking to take a break, this is a good bet.

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06 March 2014

On the Legibility of Military Power and Political Authority.

From BagNewsNotes, this incredibly important, smart post by Robert Hariman on the frightening anonymity of Russian Troops in Crimea ...

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A coincidental pairing I stumbled across last night - the excitement of a military career.


Michnik on Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and . . . Elsewhere

At The New Republic Adam Michnik engages in a sort of historical analysis that I typically resist - drawing parallels between current events and those precipitated by the great criminals of the last century. But in this essay his assessment is foreboding and clear-headed.* The question is how great might be the distance between Putin's aspirations and his demise.
* Here is a report about the anti-war protests in Moscow & St. Petersberg that Michnik mentions.

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05 March 2014

The Demise of Shame

Shortly after I started my recent hiatus from the blog, Susie Linfield published this typically smart essay at The New York Times on the ways perpetrators of atrocities, horrors and abuses are using photography to advertise their achievements.

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Speaking With Solnit

A revelatory conversation with the inimitable Rebecca Solnit here at The Brooklyn Rail.

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03 March 2014

The Politics of Fair Use

I noticed this story in The New York Times about shifting strategies among photographers in the face of what they deem ill-considered court rulings on fair use.

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Photo Replay

This is a bit out of my normal range of interest, but I found these images of the women's Olympic figure skating - lifted from this story at The New York Times - pretty amazing.  And they made the judge's decision pretty self-evident too.


28 February 2014

The Pussy Riot Media Campaign ~ From Infotainment to Politics

Over the past month or so Pussy Riot has been in the news in various sorts of way. First, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, recently released from prison, made a media tour of the US as reported here at The New York Times. During that tour The Guardian reported here that  letter purported from other members of the group had released a public letter announcing that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova no longer were affiliated with them. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, in turn, more or less ridiculed the letter. All of this had an infotainment flavor.

But shortly thereafter, Pussy Riot - including the putatively purged Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova - turned up in Sochi during the Olympics and were not only harassed by local police (accused here of theft from their hotel) and subsequently attacked by whip-wielding Cossacks (report here). This last episode is one Pussy Riot could not have made up. Chatting with Colbert is amusing, fending off Police and Cossacks focuses attention on precisely the matters Pussy Riot aims to subvert. As the MasterCard advert says, for a group protesting ( among other things) religiously based patriarchy, being set upon by uniformed Cossacks is "priceless."

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27 February 2014

Good News From ... the IMF?

Here is an article from The Guardian on a new report from the IMF of all places that claims not only that inequality hinders economic growth but that redistribution is effective policy. Wonders never cease.

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Salgado Before He Was A Superstar

This entry at the Lens blog (New York Times) on Sebastião Salgado is eye-opening both for what it reveals about his pre-superstar years and for the contrast it sets up with the many critics - think Susan Sontag, Ingrid Sischey, Michael Kimmelman, for starters - who are so incredibly dismissive of he, his motives, and his work.

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I have been on something of an informal hiatus here for the past month. Actually, I have thought seriously of closing up shop. I've felt that the blog - at least done right - is too time consuming. But I have decided not to do so. And during the time off I've collected a bunch of links to comment on. So, the hiatus is over.
PS: Stan B - thanks for noticing!


25 January 2014

Beware The Oppression of Filthy Rich Guys

Tom Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and what you might call a filthy rich guy. Apparently, he was a path-breaking scientist/engineer in the field of at optics. However, his historical vision seems to be pretty cloudy - distorted by self-serving ideology and resentment.

Tom recently made a fool of himself, publishing this letter at The Wall Street Journal drawing a parallel between critics in the contemporary U.S. who think it is outrageous that wealth and income are distributed in such absurdly skewed ways to - you guessed it - rampaging Nazis.

Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?

I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

Jan. 24, 2014 4:49 p.m. ET

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?
Poor, oppressed Tom! He is all worked up because luck and speculation are not rewarded just by ridiculous - might I say obscene? - wealth. He wants us to respect him too! And when people do not respect he and his rich friends, when people suggest that the views of the wealthy for what constitutes a decent state of the world might be self-serving or destructive, well Tom looks closely and thinks he discerns the jackboots marching.

So, Tom, let me be clear. I don't hate you or other people lucky enough to occupy the 1% (although you are likely in the top .0001%) of the income and wealth distributions. I  simply think that your position there is indefensible by any plausible moral, political or economic theory. Sorry to disappoint you.

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16 January 2014

Criticism as Instruction

At The Brooklyn Rail, philosopher Alva Noë offers this brief essay on criticism, relying on Dewey to push back on now fashionable neuro-scientific views of aesthetic experience.
"The connoisseur or critic, crucially, is not a measuring instrument, a kind of authorship- or value-detector. Rather, they are bent on seeing, and seeing is not mere detection. Unlike detecting, seeing is not instantaneous, nor is it all or nothing or once and for all. Seeing is itself thoroughly critical; it is thoughtful and it is contextual. Stanley Cavell captures this idea when he explains that what distinguishes the critic is not that he or she can discern qualities that you cannot, but rather that, in discerning them, the critic can give you the means to discern them as well. Criticism is less an art of discrimination than it is a discipline of accounting for what one sees; it is a practice of making it intelligible to oneself and another. Critics make sense, and they give you the tools you need to make sense too. Critics don’t just see, they teach us how to see."

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11 January 2014

Luc Sante on Brassaï

The Lamplighter, Place de la Concorde, circa 1933, PS 2 - © Estate Brassaï.

A very short comment on a new book, here at NYRB.


10 January 2014

This Is Your Face on Solitary Confinement

Journalist Michael Montgomery of the Center for Investigative Reporting has done this remarkable photo essay - portraits of prisoners consigned to long term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay (California). It is published at Politico.

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08 January 2014

The Consequences of Unemployment Benefits

Deflating yet another fact free conservative argument:
"On This Week With George Stephanopoulos last weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claimed that, when it comes to unemployment, the longer you have it, "it does provide some disincentive to work.”

According to Mark Killingsworth, a professor of economics at Rutgers University, “in a limited sense that’s true, but it’s not huge.”

“Most people would rather get a job than sit on unemployment benefits,” he says.

Another labor economist, Henry Farber, who teaches at Princeton University, says the evidence “is pretty clear.”

“It suggests that the extended unemployment insurance benefits that we have had in the Great Recession and its aftermath have not appreciably reduced the job-finding rate,” he says. Having access to those benefits, Farber says, might extend the period of time someone is unemployed, but just by a couple of days.

“The view that somehow, by providing people with extended benefits," he says, "they are just living the-fat-and happy life and don’t need to look for work and are not finding jobs, does not seem to be borne out in any data that I have seen.”

What the benefits have done, Farber notes, is keep out-of-work Americans from leaving the workforce altogether. Killingsworth says what is missing from the U.S. economy right now is demand – both for goods and services, and workers.

“If we don’t do anything much to demand, then everybody is going to be scurrying around looking for jobs that don’t exist,” Killingsworth says." [Source]

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04 January 2014

Say It With Flowers

From the series "Study in Perspective” (1995-2003) © Ai Weiwei.

Over the past week or so, The New York Times has run two stories [1] [2] on the floral war Ai Weiwei is waging against the Chinese regime. At issue is the fact that the government has impounded Ai's passport, preventing him from traveling. It seems that the flowers carry pretty much the same message as the photo lifted above.

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02 January 2014

Solnit Offerings

From Guernica, Rebacca Solnit's year end manifesto for hope; while I agree that we have to keep an eye our for unforeseeable consequences, I am not sanguine about the arc of the moral universe. And, from Businessweek, this interview with Solnit about the gentrification and commodification of San Francisco by minions from Silicon Valley tech companies, and the protests against that pattern.

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28 December 2013

Noting Gerda Taro

Back from Christmas hiatus. Came across this nice piece from the BBC on Gerda Taro who was killed in 1937 while covering the Spanish Civil War.

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22 December 2013

Janet Delaney South of Market

Pat serves a customer at the Budget Hotel's Gordon Café, Mission and 7th streets. 
Photograph © Janet Delaney.

I have posted links here to various commentaries Rebecca Solnit has offered on the political-economic development of San Francisco. Here are links to a couple of her recent missives [1] [2]. I've just come across this new book South of Market by photographer Janet Delaney, who has spent three plus decades chronicling the neighborhood from which she borrows her title. Delaney depicts precisely what Solnit underscores - that "development" is at best partially assessed by focusing on the shiny new buildings and teeming masses of young recruits to the high-tech sector. Any such assessment needs to focus too on inflated housing markets and homogenized culture as existing populations are displaced by newcomers and their money.

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17 December 2013

So, Yes, Republicans Do Indeed Impose Voter Restrictions In Response to High Turnout by Minority and Lower Income Voters

OK, OK! This may fall into the "My Grandmother Knows That!" category. But it is nice to have solid research to confirm Nana's suspicion that, yes, Republicans propose and pass voter restrictions in states where turnout by m minority and lower income voters is relatively high. Shocking, I know!

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15 December 2013

Interpreting Mandela

14 December 2013

Enthusiasms (39) - William Parker Quartet ...

I bought this big box of live performances by The William Parker Quartet (augmented in numerous ways) last week and have been listening more or less non-stop. There is a lot of terrifically creative music here. The label is AUM Fidelity.(And lest you think I've gone off the deep end totally: "Wood Flute Song" is among Parker's compositions. The Quartet is Parker (bass), Hamid Drake (drums) Rob Brown (alto) and Lewis Barnes (trumpet).

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Occupy the SEC and Administrative Politics (2)

I posted here (and then updated) on the impact Occupy the SEC has had on the rule making process among Federal bureaucrats charged with regulating the financial services industry. Rather than update again, I will add a second post. I do so because the outcome this week raises important theoretical questions.

First, here is a press release from Occupy the SEC on the  newly adopted version of the Volker Rule. They offer a middling grade - let's call it a "gentleman's C-." But, second, given what research carried out by the Sunlight Foundation reveals about access to the regulators, it is surprising that we ended up with that a good a deal. The graphic above suggests who the 'real' players were. And, of course, this leads to an interesting social science question: how is it that access like this does not translate into a total gutting of the regulation?

Second, it is interesting to note that this success, this willingness to plunge into the details of bureaucratic politics, raises significant issues regarding the general political lessons we derive from rise and demise of the Occupy movement. It is common to characterize Occupy as a movement with no point, no demands, no interest in engaging in tired political activity. For instance, political theorist Bernard Harcourt* credits the movement for "resolutely resisting the call for specific demands and constantly reinventing itself" and suggests that, in so doing, "the movement liberated itself from imposed stereotypes and projections, and from others' prejudgements - from the tyranny of facile solutions and narrow-minded policy talk." Harcourt specifically invokes the refusal to become bogged down in debates over the Volker Rule as an example of this admirable propensity. Such engagement might simply issue in "a set of demands that could easily be met, yet amount to nothing." What does this say about the work of the folks who have been participating for years now in Occupy the SEC?
* Bernard Harcourt. 2013. "Political Disobedience." In Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. University of Chicago Press, pages 48,61. The paper originally appeared in 2012 in the journal Critical Inquiry. You can find an early, abridge version of the argument here at The Stone blog from The New York Times.

PS: In light of the above, it perhaps might help to look back on the early Adbusters announcement from 2011. 

 In the same volume (cited above) in which Harcourt's essay most accessibly appears, anthropologist Michael Taussig chastises "the politicians and the experts" as follows:
They see OWS as primitive and diffuse because it has no precise demands - as if the demand for equality were not a demand, at once moral and economic, redefining personhood and reality itself. ... What the experts want is for OWS to submit to the language of the prevailing system. Yet is it not the case that merely to articulate such is to sell out the movement?" (39-40)
But if, as seems clear the demand for equality is one (a demand that is), then what follows is how to make equality real. The various occupations did so prefiguratively. On that I agree. But, the occupations succumbed to a concerted effort to clear them and to reclaim and secure the various "public" spaces in which they had appeared. What was left behind was the task, among others, of subverting the barriers to entry surrounding the category "expert." Enter Occupy the SEC.

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13 December 2013

Occupy the SEC & Administrative Politics

I have noted here numerous times the work of Occupy the SEC, a spin-off of OWS that has been intervening in the regulatory hearing process in hopes of deflating initiatives from the finance sector regarding banking regulation. This week a thousand page document aimed at interpreting and implementing the so-called Volker Rule - which basically prevents banks from speculating with depositor's money for their own (the banks') economic advantage - was adopted by a handful of Federal regulatory agencies. For reports and commentary see [1] [2] [3] [4] from The Economist and The New York Times. Reports at WaPo and WSJ both note that the Occupy analysts have had significant impact on this document. For all sorts of reasons - not the least the intervention of regular citizens as 'experts' in a forbidding governance system - this is impressive news!
Update: Here, from The Nation is a quick assessment of the new regulation written by Alexis Goldstein who participates in Occupy the SEC.

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12 December 2013


I heard this story today on npr but had not seen the image. It turns out to be about this beautiful, sweet picture.


11 December 2013

Philosophy, For Example ~ What Happens When Even Those (Men) Concerned About Gender Troubles in a Discipline Neglect to Pay Attention to What Their Female Colleagues Say

Last week, political theorist Jonathan Wolff published this essay at The Guardian regarding the gender troubles in the discipline of philosophy. Unfortunately, he seemed to have overlooked a set of posts the very same issue in September at "The Stone" here at The New York Times. Had he noted the earlier interventions we perhaps might've been spared some, at least, of the hand-wringing in the comments thread about the need to be snarky and snide and bullying in order to reach "truth" or "get things right." Here is one passage from a post by Linda Martin Alcoff  in the series at The Times that is directly on point:
The issue is not debate, simpliciter, but how it is done. Too many philosophers accept the idea that truth is best achieved by a marketplace of ideas conducted in the fashion of ultimate fighting. But aggressive styles that seek easy victories by harping on arcane counterexamples do not maximize truth. Nor does making use of the social advantages one might have by virtue of one’s gender, ethnicity or seniority. Nor does stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the real world contexts, rife with implicit bias and power distortions, in which even philosophical debates always occur.

Sometimes, interestingly, the aim of truth is enhanced less by adversarial argument than by a receptivity that holds back on disagreement long enough to try out the new ideas on offer, push them further, see where they might go. Sometimes pedagogy works best not by challenging but by getting on board a student’s own agenda. Sometimes understanding is best reached when we expend our skeptical faculties, as Montaigne did, on our own beliefs, our own opinions. If debate is meant to be a means to truth — an idea we philosophers like to believe — the best forms turn out to be a variegated rather than uniform set.
And, lest it seem as though I am calling attention to the foibles of philosophers from the perspective of an outsider, recall this post on gender trouble in political science.

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Rochester NY - Economic Disaster Area

The poverty rate in the US has not changed much over the past several decades. No surprise there [1]. That things are bad all over, however, is small consolation to those of us here in Western NY. The Rochester Area Community Foundation as just released this report (pdf) identifying the City proper and the surrounding area as an economic disaster area. At a time when (1) the outgoing Mayor claimed that matters of poverty and inequality fell outside his job description; (2) the Superintendent of schools is lecturing parents and communities about "responsibility,"while proposing that we turn public schools over to be run by local colleges and Universities and (3) local "faith leaders" (why can we not just call clergy, clergy?) are harping about the need for moral renewal as a remedy for the area's problems, this report is a breath of fresh air. It identifies reality - the primary local problem is poverty. And that will not be fixed though denial or hectoring or administrative readjustment or moral uplift or philanthropy or by a combination of those things. It will be fixed by developing strategies for creating accessible jobs that pay a living wage. There are ways that this task might be addressed - I posted on this example from not-so-distant Cleveland some time ago - but that will require major institutions in town (including the University of Rochester) to acknowledge the problem and their potential role in remedying it. That, in turn, will require political pressure, since powerful institutions never take the initiative in situations like the one we confront.

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Passings ~ Jim Hall (1930-2013)

Jazz guitarist Jim Hall has died. There is an obituary here at The New York Times.

PS: In case an obit at The Times seems uninspiring, here are reflections on Jim Hall and his passing by the wonderful Nels Cline.

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07 December 2013

Dr. Higgs & The Bean Counters

The Guardian has run this sobering story about physicist Peter Higgs. Here are come of the pointed bits:
The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.
He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."
Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.
Edinburgh University's authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he "might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn't we can always get rid of him".
Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."
A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
I recommend this to those of my friends and colleagues about to launch into a Faculty Activity Report for the bean counters in one or another College or University. Of course, you shouldn't use this to persuade yourself that but for all those distracting demands - administration, teaching and publishing bundles of literature-driven papers - you'd be a Nobel laureate. Resist self-deception. But it is a nice counter-example to those pushing the rationalization of educational institutions.

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On Koudelka ~ Luc Sante

"An appreciation of stony texture also marks WALL ­(Aperture), by the veteran Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, although to somewhat different effect. Koudelka is no stranger to conflict — he documented the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and became a political refugee two years later. Here he has produced a remarkable collection of panoramic photos (each 29-by-10-inch spread is a single picture) of the barrier that has been erected over the past decade in defiance of the internationally recognized border. The wall, which divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb from the rest of Bethlehem, the proposed capital of the Palestinian state from the rest of East Jerusalem, farmers from their fields, families from their relatives, and Palestinian Bedouins from their native environment, is made up of concrete slabs, steel plates, razor-wire fences, boulders and bricked-up buildings as in the Berlin of yore. The vistas are resolutely grim, and Koudelka makes no attempt to aestheticize them, yet his sweeping photos are overwhelming. The moral chasm that opens between the sheer impact of the visual and knowledge of what is being depicted is fully intended: an invitation to consider, rather than to simply turn the page in horror and sadness." (Source)

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05 December 2013

Passings ~ Nelson Mandela (1918~2013)

1964: Eight men, among them Nelson Mandela, with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car, leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, having been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy, sabotage and treason. Photograph: AFP/Getty Image
Nelson Mandela has died. An obituary is here at The Guardian. It is perhaps more appropriate to recall his own words - The New York Times offers a digest of of his own letters and speeches here. Advice: don't stop with the inspiring but sanitized blurbs excerpted by The Times, click through to the texts themselves.

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Come to Rochester - Learn to Approach Photography in Thoroughly Conventionalized Ways

The University of Rochester and George Eastman House Announce Joint Master's Degree Program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

This is one of the headlines from the UR daily e-noticeboard this morning. The story is here. Despite the fact that I have been teaching a course on and writing about the politics of photography for half a dozen years, I have not been involved in any way. So much for interdisciplinary initiatives, I suppose. The real irony, however, is that while the  program (as described) may be in keeping with fundamental views in the humanities about photographs as objects which have meaning, it really is contributing to shaping the world in ways that conform to just that theoretical approach. My own views are that that is precisely the wrong way to think about photography. Rather than worrying incessantly about semantics of photographs, it would be more fruitful to focus on pragmatics, on the ways we (a deliberately ambiguous term) use photography and the purposes for which we do so. Recently, I invoked Rancière's essay "The Intolerable Image" which I think underscores pretty much just that point. And today in my class we read and discussed John Berger's 1978 essay "The Uses of Photography" which (I think) anticipates Rancière's argument in central ways.  Berger's essay is dedicated to Susan Sontag who, as much as anyone I suppose, is responsible for the view that thinking about photography (a technology for doing things) reduces to talking about photographs (objects and their characteristics). The new UR program is another step in making the world conform to Sontag's vision.

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02 December 2013

Koudelka Interview - Follow-Up (2)

I've just come across this critical and troubling post regarding the recent two part interview with Josef Koudelka on the Lens Blog at The New York Times. I noted the Koudelka interview here when it appeared. Prior to that I posted a link here to an essay by David Shulman on Koudelka's Wall; in that essay Shulman raises some of the factual matters noted in the post that prompted me to write on Koudelka once again.

Although I would need to inquire further, the problems seem to lie primarily with editorial decisions at The Times rather than with Koudelka. No one should be surprised by shenanigan's at The Times. Note what Shulman says of the "separation barrier": "If you haven’t seen it with your own eyes but would like to know what it is like, your best option is to study Wall, Josef Koudelka’s new book of eloquent black-and-white photographs, taken over four years in repeated trips to Israel and Palestine." Shulman notes that the wall does not actually separate Israel and Palestine, but encroaches systematically on the latter. Indeed, he suggests that: "The Wall has become one more instrument—some would say the most useful of all—in the ongoing land-grab that is the real, indeed perhaps the sole, raison d’être of the Occupation."

For his part, Koudelka makes clear that he is not sanguine. "Of course I don’t have any illusion about this book that it will change anything. I am just showing what I saw. That’s all." and "I am not this guy who wants to change the world — of course I would be happy if it helped." This strikes me as unexceptional. Critics, though, do seem to have taken exception to these remarks:
I think it is not only about the wall, my book is about the wall and the Israel and Palestinian landscape. You have this divided country and these people who react certain ways to these conditions.

For me, Palestinian or Israeli, I look at you for who you are. When I left Czechoslovakia people asked me: “Are you a Communist? Are you opposed to communism? Are you an anarchist?” How you label it doesn’t mean much to me.

We have a divided country and each of two groups of people tries to defend themselves. The one that can’t defend itself is the landscape. I call what is going on in this most holy landscape, which is most holy for a big part of humanity, is the crime against the landscape. As there exists crimes against humanity there should exist the crime against the landscape.

I am principally against destruction — and what’s going on is a crime against the landscape that is enormous in one of the most important landscapes in the world.
 But this strikes me, too, as unexceptional. (Meaning I see no reason to take exception to his comments.) Why? I read that passage in light of this one:
An Israeli poet said to me, “You did something important — you made the invisible visible.” He meant that Israelis don’t want to see the wall and they don’t even want to speak about it. They don’t go across it. It is very easy to live in one country, in France or Czechoslovakia, and ignore completely one thing, one important thing, that you want to ignore.
And, surprisingly, this comment brought to mind Jacques Rancière's essay on the intolerable image.* I don't have time to offer a detailed discussion. But Rancière invokes this image of an Israeli constructed roadblock on a Palestinian road from the series WB by Sophie Ristelhueber.

From: WB. Photograph © Sophie Ristelhueber.

As Shulman notes: "We tend to imagine the Wall as a single, monolithic structure. In reality it is a set or system of walls and fences within walls and fences, a recursive infinite regress of barbed wire, rock, and cement that turns inward as it slithers over the hills, enclosing most Palestinian villages on the occupied West Bank in non-contiguous enclaves even as it incorporates into Israel as many Jewish settlements as possible." Apparently, it is not even continuous. It is simply part, as Shulman suggests, of a wider, more concerted strategy.

As in Koudelka's images there is intolerable suffering and behavior in this image. But it is not shown. This illustrates Rancière's point:
The classic use of the intolerable image traced a straight line from the intolerable spectacle to awareness of the reality it was expressing; and from that to the desire to act in order to change it. But this link between representation, knowledge and action was sheer presupposition.  . . . Renewed confidence in the political capacity of images assumes a critique of this strategic schema. The images of art do not supply weapons for battles. They help sketch new configurations of what can be seen, what can be said, and what can be thought and, consequently a new landscape of the possible.
Rancière thinks Ristelhueber's "little pile of stones" performs just this function. So too does Koudelka's series on the separation barrier. Not because he, like Ristelhueber, on Rancière's account, "has refused to photograph the great separation wall that embodies the policy of the state and is a media icon of 'the Middle East problem'," but because he too has focused on the various segments of the wall as "elements of the landscape" that inflict "wounds and scars ... on a territory." Koudelka is uninterested in the indignation his critics express. (He knows first hand about living behind a wall.) He is interested in making the scars and wounds on landscape visible. In that, it seems to me, he succeeds.
* In Jacques Rancière. 2009. The Emancipated Spectator. Verso. I thank Mark Reinhardt for persuading me that it is worth reading Rancière. I finally seem to have gotten something from the exercise!

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01 December 2013

fierce pussy ~ For The Record

Visual AIDS presents For The Record, an exhibition and broadside project by fierce pussy for the 24th annual Day With(out) Art, on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2013. [Details]
ABOUT: fierce pussy is a collective of queer women artists working in New York City. Formed in 1991, the members of fierce pussy came together through their shared involvement in AIDS activism. During a decade of increasing political mobilization around gay rights, fierce pussy brought lesbian identity and visibility directly into the streets with posters, stickers, t-shirts and various public interventions. They have continued to engage in a reclaiming of language and public space with installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums. Originally composed of a fluid and often shifting cadre of dykes, four of the original core members —Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka— continue to work together.

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29 November 2013

Political Economy in the Kitchen

28 November 2013

COBRA Update (And No - this is not about the program for maintaining health insurance if you lose your job.)

Not long ago I included this paragraph in a digest:
In 1984 the British government established a special committee - COBRA (or Cabinet Office briefing room A) - that meets to address quickly political emergencies perceived or actual. The Guardian reports here on a newer, parallel COBRA, consisting of artists aiming "to engage critically and creatively with the increased use of aesthetics and performance by the UK government to promote, explain and justify its labelling of an event as 'an emergency'." The parallel entity meets whenever the official COBRA does in order to formulate a creative response to the the putative emergency.
Yesterday The Guardian ran this story about an interesting graduate program in art and politics and featured a fellow, Theo Price, who both did the program and is a principal in the un-official COBRA undertaking.

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Chris Hedges on Art & Politics ~ Just What You'd Expect

"Well, the role of art is transcendence. It’s about dealing with what we call the nonrational forces in human life, those forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being but are not quantifiable. Not empirically measureable. Grief, beauty, the struggle with our own mortality, the search for meaning, love—Freud said he could write about sex, he could never write about love—and that’s only going to come through art. I mean, I don’t think it’s accidental that the origins of all religions are always fused with art, with poetry, with music. Because you’re dealing with a transcendence or a reality that is beyond articulation." ~ Chris Hedges

I generally find Chris Hedges actively unhelpful. Here he confirms my view.  His view of art as necessarily concerned with "transcendence" is bunk.  (To note only the most obvious thing, poetry is largely about articulating emotions, thoughts, insights.) But I suppose it makes sense since he is trying to connect art with politics. And his politics are unbearably moralistic. I suppose there is something to be said for consistency.

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27 November 2013

Passings ~ Saul Leiter (1923-2013)

Photographer Saul Leiter has died. There is an obituary here at The New York Times.


26 November 2013

Koudelka (Follow Up)

I recently posted here on a NYRB essay by David Shulman on Josef Koudelka and his images of the "separation barrier" the Israeli's have constructed. A bit later the Lens Blog posted this two part interview [1] [2] with the photographer. The interview is revealing about Koudelka's personality as much as anything.

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Pope to American GOP ... Your Libertarian Views are Anathama

According to this report, Pope Francis has issued an apostolic statement that, among other things, directly calls into question many of the primary tenets of libertarian economic and political thought. Now, I myself am not a big fan of the Pope or the Church. But isn't Paul Ryan Catholic? And, how about Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum? And Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell? Or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.)? Just wondering. Remember, for these folks the Pope is infallible - except, perhaps, when his views puncture our own ideology!

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23 November 2013

Outlier - A Definition

There is the US leading a pack of post-Communist states in life expectancy at only 4 times the cost. (Source)

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Britten at 100

 "In Britten I have found a new hero, a musically surprising and multi-dimensional citizen of the world." ~ Marin Alsop
Here is a piece from npr on composer Benjamin Britten (and specifically his War Requiem) on the centenary of his birth. I did not know his music or politics at all.

Update (11/26):  There also is a recent essay here from NYRB reviewing a troika of recent works on Britten. The essay is more straightforward about Britten's sexuality and his politics than the npr piece. And it comes down, I think, on the right side of the continuing debate about Britten's accomplishment and stature. That debate seems to be heated: " . . . [I]n Britten’s centennial year (he was born in 1913 and died in 1976), the “battle of Britten” . . . continues. Britten’s reputation—the need to decide once and for all whether he is great or overrated—is central to discussion of him, in a way that is not true for more acclaimed contemporaries (like Stravinsky) or lesser ones (like Finzi). A peevish, aggrieved tone persists on either side."

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22 November 2013

Filibuster Repeal - Spinning the Data Graphics

Here, from this story at WaPo, is a a pair of data graphics released by the GOP and the Dems in the wake of the Filibuster reform passed in the Senate yesterday.The top graph was released by Mitch McConnell's office. The Bottom was released by Harry Reid's office.

So, as the WaPo suggests, which you find persuasive will depend on whether you think a nomination to the Federal DC Circuit Court of Appeals is equivalent to the Deputy Vice Assistant to the Ambassador to Fiji. McConnell seems to think 'yes'; Reid 'no.'

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21 November 2013

Politics, Movement and Electoral

Interesting political developments. In Chile, according to this report at The Guardian,  Camila Vallejo Dowling, was one among several leaders of student mobilizations in 2011 elected to Congress. And The Los Angeles Times reports that here, in the U.S., Kshama Sawant - OWS activist and freakn' self-proclaimed socialist - was elected to the City Council in Seattle.  You can find another report on Sawant here at The Guardian. These may seem blips on the radar. Perhaps they are. But each raises the issue of what possibilities a movement might generate.

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