14 May 2013
Mapping Racial Segregation in the US
P.S.: "Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other, and each dot is 25 residents." The designer here, by the way, is Eric Fischer.
10 May 2013
What's Truth Got To Do WIth It?
Just in time for the Image Ethics symposium at Northwestern comes this discussion at Spiegel Online on the ethics of post-production enhancement of images. I have said this here before: this is not a new issue. If you watch the documentary War Photographer, for instance, you see Nachtwey and his photo editors engaged in extended, detailed discussions about how to adjust the lighting in the image I've lifted above as they prepare it for publication. I think too much of this trades on the philosophically naive idea that photographs simply record; that should be replaced with a serious discussion of how photography is used to communicate and, then, about the institutional entities (agencies, foundations, media outlets, etc.) that structure such communication.
09 May 2013
08 May 2013
Independence & Gumption ...
This is August. Not my August, though. Somehow this clip appeared on my FB news feed and I find this little girl really funny and sweet. Independence and gumption to spare, I'd say.
07 May 2013
Image Ethics: Professional Photojournalism and Public Commentary in the New Media Environment
Public Commentary in the New Media Environment
Northwestern University - School of Communication
Alice Kaplan Seminar Room (Kresge 2-370), Saturday - 11 May, 9am to 4pm
This symposium will be devoted to analysis of the images and commentary in an online debate following the exposé at BagNewsNotes of a photograph from Paolo Pellegrin’s award-winning series, “The Crescent.”"
Presenters include Michael Shaw, the publisher of BagNewsNotes, as well as Meg Handler, James Johnson, Jens Kjeldsen, Peter Meyers, and Joseph Rodriquez.
To encourage robust discussions, attendees are encouraged to read the relevant online postings postings and accompanying comments in advance to the symposium (links below).
Money, Race and Jazz - Okeh?
06 May 2013
Rubinstein on Game Theory
Uses of Image Technology
Consider this example of an interesting and admirable use of a hardly unambiguously attractive technology. This campaign against child abuse by the ANAR Foundation is useful (but not flawless). But can you imagine all sorts of less well-meaning outfits who'd like to surreptitiously communicate with kids?
30 April 2013
Renaissance Photography Prize
I tend to take a reasonably dim view of prize competitions in photography or any other profession, including my own. Most are thoroughly politicized, self-congratulatory in an unseemly way, and work primarily to reinforce tired conventions and practices.
That said, not all competitions are the alike. And I recently received an email from Jo Caldwell, who works with the Renaissance Photography Prize. It seems like a terrifically worthy undertaking. Here is there short self-description. Note - the deadline is nigh!
The Renaissance Photography Prize is an international competition showcasing outstanding photography from emerging or established photographers.
Funds raised from entries are donated to support younger women with breast cancer.
Entering gives photographers the chance to have their work judged by some of the top names in the industry as well as being exhibited in London.
There are over £5,000 worth of prizes to be won and the winning series will be published in HotShoe Magazine.
The competition closes on 7 May 2013.
Mother Jones is running this photo essay of work by Bruce Jackson - from a decades long project on prison farms in Texas and Arkansas.
P.S.: In the small world category, it seems that Jackson lives just down the road in Buffalo!
26 April 2013
25 April 2013
24 April 2013
David Levi Strauss on Tsarnaev Photos
An Interview with Bob Moses . . .
22 April 2013
Tom Waits, Yet Again ...
21 April 2013
I have lifted this image from this slideshow at The New York Times. Salgado is a genius. Newsflash, right?
20 April 2013
Remembering Eric Hobsbawm
"We used to range widely in our chats in those ending years, discussing everything from gossip, which he loved, to the goings-on in the political world. He was always completely up to speed. He engaged in the lives of all of us, his two sons and his daughter, his nine grandchildren, and his young great-granddaughter. He always asked me avidly “How’s business?” during each visit, enjoying my tales from the front line of capitalism. He celebrated every entrepreneurial step forward but was always a bit anxious, leaving answerphone messages saying: “It’s Dad. Just checking in to see how you are. Don’t overdo it. Kiss, kiss.” My dad, the academic historian and giant of “the left”, and me, his degreeless, politically plural daughter who loves doing business. I never felt so close to him as towards the end."
Lessons From Boston
There is no question, the marathon bombing was despicable. It is easy and proper to call it an act of terror. A few of things, though.
First, those gun fundamentalists who think they are going to fight off the government when, as they fantasize, it decides to clamp down, are truly hallucinatory. Look at the mobilization of force against the Tsarnaev brothers. All those suburban patriots do not stand a chance. What other ways are there to defend democracy?
Second, Americans are so insulated that they fail to see that such terrorist acts are commonplace. (Susan grew up in Manchester, UK and her family still lives there. Think IRA.) That does not in any way excuse the Boston bombing. But just maybe, this episode should prompt us to see our commonalities with the rest of the world?
Third, mourning for those killed in the bombings and aiding those injured are appropriate responses. Dancing in the streets is not. The behavior of Bostonians last night was revolting.
Finally, the younger Tsarnaev is a US citizen and has not forfeited that status or the rights that come with it. Recognizing that is a first step toward defending democracy.
Here and here and here are offerings from The New Yorker that bear reading as well.
19 April 2013
Sports and Sexuality
The Senate is Pathetic (2)
18 April 2013
Interviews with Jurgen Habermas and Phillipe Van Parijs ...
17 April 2013
The Senate is Pathetic
Austerity - Getting the Economics Right
"They [Herndon/Ash/Pollin] find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result."And, beyond the pedestrian errors, there is the issue of taking correlation to imply causation. This point is central to the additional commentary here and here and here at Paul Krugman's blog. He concludes his first post by extending the point beyond the economists to the policy-makers who accepted the research without question:
"If true, this is embarrassing and worse for R-R [Reinhart and Rogoff]. But the really guilty parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they wanted to hear."Krugman, though, is being too generous by half, at least, since Rogoff himself peddled the disputed findings in public. That said, you can find further reflections on the matter of how policy makers and their mouthpieces in the press embraced the Reinhart-Rogoff position by Peter Frase here at Jacobin. The point? This is a technical debate but one with crucially important political implications.
* Please note: This debate speaks highly of social science research insofar as it includes (or ought to) a built in impetus for critical re-assessment of findings and criticism of both results and policies premised upon them.
P.S.: More discussion here regarding the policy implications. One matter I would like to note is that many mainstream economists seem to have simply accepted the Reinhart.Rogoff results. It is plausible to suggest that Herndon/Ash/Pollin stand outside the mainstream - and hence represent an example of the importance of intellectual pluralism.
14 April 2013
What Counts as Success? That Depends ...
“The photographs really didn’t have any of the effect that I had hoped they would. . . . I was hoping to prevent the war. And of course, there was no reaction. The war started, 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed on all sides and several million more became refugees." ~ Ron Haviv
One lesson of Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark comes in the form of a warning: do not prejudge success or failure. I have explored this theme here and here before. This post on Ron Haviv's work at Lens is a terrific reminder of the incredibly important, unintended, unforeseen impact photography can have. It also is a reminder that the moralization of photography is a mistake - after all, one of Haviv's images (lifted above) plays a central role in Susan Sontag's despairing stance in Regarding the Pain of Others. The photographs, on their own, cannot have the sorts of impact Haviv wants, they can only do so when they are taken up and used for this or that purpose by people engaged in political practices or occupying institutions. And that transforms Haviv's ethical predicaments (whether to snap these pictures despite being forbidden to do so, whether to testify in court) into a political problem.
13 April 2013
A Perfect Match ~ Anthony Weiner & Elinor Carucci
What initially caught my eye here and made me pay attention to this story - in which The Times is playing its duly appointed role in Weiner's PR campaign - is that the editors have placed Huma Abedin center stage in the cover photo. And, of course, who better to document this blurring of personal and public than Elinor Carucci, a photographer who is a master of that fatuous genre.
11 April 2013
Late last year Johnson published a couple of pieces - you can find them here and here - that generated an uproar among artists and critics. Recently, Levi Strauss published this reply to those pieces in Art in America. And here is Johnson's response. I will come back to this fracas. But it is worth noting the controversy.
08 April 2013
Art, Capitalism, Criticism
"I am both sad and sorry that my recent blog post has distressed so many people so deeply, both on campus and off. I am particularly sad because many readers got the impression that I was endorsing rape, while my intent was to say exactly the opposite—namely that the horror of rape is so great that we should rethink accepted principles of policy analysis that might sometimes minimize that horror. This is not the place to rehash those issues, but interested readers might want to look at the follow-up post where I tried to say things more clearly. I very much wish I'd said them more clearly in the first place, and I do very much regret having caused any unnecessary offense."Here is the report in the local paper.
04 April 2013
"Muslimah Pride Day" vs. "Topless Jihad"
I have on several occasions posted about FEMEN, a group of young feminists whose protests against sex trafficking and human rights violations are in many ways admirable. Well, al Jezeera has run this report on an initiative "Muslimah Pride Day" organized in response to FEMEN's "Topless Jihad Day." The disagreement here raises all sorts of important issues. There is much hyperbole (as is evident in the comment thread on the al Jazeera story) getting in the way. And I am not especially well situated to comment at the moment. But it surely is important to note the debate.
Update: And here at The New York Times is a report on the dire circumstances that Amina, the Tunisian Femen activist finds herself in.
Update 2 (9 April): A reply to critics by Femen's Inna Shevchenko - here.
There He Goes Again - Steve Landsburg Plays the Fool
"The one lesson I most want my students to learn is this: You can’t just say anything. It’s important to care about making sense. So I find it particularly galling when people violate this rule while presenting themselves to the public as economists." ~ Steve LandsburgLast year Steve Landsburg, a faculty member in our Economics Department*, created a minor media fracas by channeling Rush Limbaugh's bigoted comments about Sandra Fluke. I commented here several times on Landsburg's sophomoric behavior.
Well, Landsburg is at it again. A short while ago he offered up this more or less incoherent blog post, which he has followed up with this typically condescending and dismissive set of rationalizations. Having offered up a conceptually flawed 'thought experiment' - one that any reasonable person would see not as intellectually intrepid but just inflammatory - Steve seems to opt for the standard 'I've been misunderstood' defense. And he then blames his audience for misunderstanding. Interesting, among the lessons I try to get students to embrace is that if someone misunderstands an argument I advance or point I make, the fault is likely mine, not theirs. The basic presumption, in other words that the burden falls on me to be clear. Not so for Landsburg, apparently.
But let's focus on substance for a moment. When I say Landsburg's initial post is conceptually flawed I have in mind such elementary matters as failing to differentiate intentional from unintentional consequences, failing to see that rape is an act of power from which perpetrators derive 'psychic' benefits, failing to differentiate between the impact of ideas and physical assault, failing to see that in a democracy even erroneous or odd views get weighed in decision-making processes ... The post is not just offensive in its juvenile provocations, it is a mess. I would give my undergraduates maybe a C- if they submitted it in a course.
The episode has, predictably enough, now made a splash in the press - look here, here, here, here, here, for instance. Much of the publicity is critical (mocking, even) and was initiated because some outraged students alerted The Gawker. All this criticism - public, mostly reasoned - is wholly appropriate. What is inappropriate is calling for his censure (as this on-line petition does) or disrupting Landsburg's classes. The best way to respond is to argue back in public - whether by showing just how flawed Landsburg's views are or by symbolic collective actions like this:
In this video from fall 2011 the Chancellor at UC Davis - who had whined that she felt threatened by peacefully protesting students - is shamed quite effectively. This is an episode of collective disapproval, no threat, no mayhem, simple shame mobilized to great effect.
I opened this post with a quote from another blog post by Landsburg. I think it is a lesson he needs to learn himself before imparting it to students. His posturing, his attempts at provocation, are truly embarrassing not just to the university but to himself.
Landsburg can say whatever he likes, however ignorant or offensive. But he has no expectation that anyone will treat he or his ideas seriously. He has to expect that others will respond - with arguments, mockery or silence. I hope he gets what he deserves in that regard.
*Please note: Landsburg is hardly an intellectual heavyweight. He is an nontenured faculty member, hired because our 'real' economists think teaching undergraduates is beneath them. His writing is mostly journalistic - a sort of poor man's freakonomics. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is a mistake to think his ideas carry immense weight on campus or anywhere else.
01 April 2013
Local Event - Jeanne Theoharis on Rosa Parks ... TODAY!
29 March 2013
The Grey Line
27 March 2013
LEGO's Gender Issues
26 March 2013
25 March 2013
The Priority of Democracy ~ Reviews (3)
19 March 2013
Cause for Opitimism
17 March 2013
What Do Prizes Do for Photography? Encourage clichés and carelessness.
What I find more troubling is the topic of clichés, the tired conventions that the prize competitions simply encourage:
“Also: this is World Press Photo. A place which year after year provides a rather predictable vision of the world which, in a sort of self-castigating or suicidal mode, fits perfectly in a dwindling and whining editorial market. . . . Perpetuating an ailing system. It’s not that the photographs aren’t any good. It is that pre-formatted vision of the world I have difficulties with." ~ John VinkLast year I leveled precisely this criticism of the World Press Photo overall winner    and I have raised similar complaints in the past as well .
And, of course, I also think that the fracas over Paolo Pellegrin's visit to Rochester this year     raises important questions about the relationship between images and text, and between photographers and locations that the various prize-giving outfits - to say nothing of the photographers, editors, and so on - ought to attend to.
* Thanks to Loret Steinberg for calling this to my attention.
16 March 2013
Local (sort of) Event ~ Susan Meiselas at Syracuse University
Ríos Montt Trial to Begin
Last month I noticed this OpEd at The New York Times, noting the prospects that former Guatemalan dictator (read U.S. surrogate, alum of the School of the Americas, etc.) General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Over the course of three decades an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed by various military regimes; a vastly disproportionate number of the victims were indigenous peoples. The crimes have been documented by multiple inquiries . Now The Times reports the trial is set to commence this week. What is that saying about the 'arch of the moral universe?' The ex-dictator actually seems to be caught in the vagaries of practical political bargaining between the current Guatemalan government and the Obama administration. But that is close enough. It is lesson enough that the powerful cannot arrange for protection in perpetuity.Maya villagers gathered in a courtroom in Guatemala City in January (2012) for the evidentiary hearing in Mr. Ríos Montt’s case. Photograph © Victor J. Blue for The New York Times.
“Reading Wisława Szymborska's words gave me many ideas and insights. Meeting her and interacting with her poetry also gave impetus to this music, which I would like to dedicate, respectfully, to her memory.”Wisława Szymborska; I've also posted about trumpeter Tomasz Stańko. The album is due out from ECM this week. Stańko is a wonderfully understated musician who tends to gather really talented young collaborators.
This is Why the Govenment is so Intent on Prosecuting Bradley Manning
"For over a year The Guardian has been trying to contact Steele, 68, to ask him about his role during the Iraq war as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's personal envoy to Iraq's Special Police Commandos: a fearsome paramilitary force that ran a secret network of detention centres across the country – where those suspected of rebelling against the US-led invasion were tortured for information.here). And it comes out just in time to accompany these stories from The Guardian further implicating Don Rumsfeld and other BushCo higher-ups in crimes against humanity    . Apparently, Rumsfeld sent "Colonel James Steele, a retired special forces" officer to Iraq to coordinate Shia' paramilitaries to fight Sunni resistance to the U.S. invasion. The paramilitaries served as death squads, and operated torture centers, all under the supervision of and with funding provided by Steele reported to Rumsfeld. We know who Rumsfeld reported to. It is alleged that Steele's collaborator Colonel James Coffman (ret) reported on their activities directly to David Petreaus. No "bad apples" excuse here. As the passage I've lifted above makes clear The Guardian reports are grounded in the documents disseminated by Bradley Manning. No wonder the Obama administration is so intent on prosecuting him.
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion the allegations of American links to the units that eventually accelerated Iraq's descent into civil war cast the US occupation in a new and even more controversial light. The investigation was sparked over a year ago by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets."
14 March 2013
Jumping Off the Garage
My two boys Doug and August are terrific. They are much alike - feet on the ground, thoughtful, a bit cautious. Their brother Jeff was not. This morning I heard this song on the radio and it reminded me of Jeffrey so much: "he did not know he could not fly and so he did." Jeffrey definitely trusted his cape. I am missing him a lot today.
13 March 2013
The Pope and the Dictator
I've posted about this work here and here numerous times. With the election of the new pope - Francis I or the Cardinal formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio - today, we confront another deeply troubling aspect of official Catholicism - it's complicity with that authoritarian politics across the continent, but specifically in Argentina.
This undated picture popped up on my FB news feed. It is - according to the Portuguese source, Indignados Lisboa, "Foto do novo Papa Francisco I ao lado do ditador argentino Videla." Jorge Rafael Videla was head of the Military Junta that terrorized Argentina from 1976 though 1981. I mentioned him here most recently last summer when he and some of his minions were convicted for some of their more horrendous offenses (like stealing babies from people whom they had tortured, then murdered and selling them).
In this picture Videla is accompanied by, you guessed it, Jorge Mario Bergoglio!* The image is symbolic of the interactions between the Church hierarchy and the murderous junta during Argentina's 'dirty war.' There is no real news in this - here is a report from this afternoon and here, for instance, is a report from several years ago, both in The Guardian. What is shameful is that the church hierarchy apparently deems it all irrelevant.
* It reminds me of the embarrassing photo of Don Rumsfeld, who under George W Bush supervised the invasion of Iraq, shaking hands two decades earlier with Saddam Hussein. At the time Rumsfeld had been in a functionary for Ronald Reagan (that great supporter of Latin American dictators) who was supplying Hussein with arms.
The American Aristocracy
12 March 2013
Best Shots (241) ~ Rä di Martino
11 March 2013
Beth Wilson on Maggie Sherwood
09 March 2013
Literati Bookstore - Ann Arbor
Photographers & Law Enforcement (2)
08 March 2013
Passings ~ Stéphane Frédéric Hessel (1917-2013)
Photographers & Law Enforcement
U.S. weighs in favor of right to record police
By Tal Kopan
3/8/13 9:59 AM EST
The Justice Department is urging a court to affirm individuals’ rights to record police under the First Amendment, filing a statement of interest in support of a journalist suing over his arrest while photographing Maryland officers.
In the statement filed this week in a federal court in Maryland, the Justice Department argues that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and 14th Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process. The DOJ urges the court to uphold these rights and to reject a motion to dismiss from Montgomery Co. in Garcia v. Montgomery Co., a case that has implications for an increasing crop of litigation on the subject in the era of ubiquitous smartphones.
“The United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. … Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges,” wrote the DOJ Civil Rights Division.
In June 2011, Mannie Garcia, a White House and Senate-credentialed photojournalist, took pictures of two police officers from the Montgomery County Police Department as they were arresting two men, concerned that they might be using excessive force. According to the complaint, he began taking pictures from 30 feet away, then moved back to 100 feet after police shined a spotlight at him. The only interaction Garcia had with the officers was declaring he was a member of the press and he was only in possession of a camera.
The complaint states that police placed dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close and took his camera. While they had his camera, he saw police take out the battery and video card, the latter of which he said was never returned. The complaint also denies that Garcia in any way resisted arrest.
In December 2011, Garcia was acquitted of disorderly conduct during a bench trial, and he subsequently filed a lawsuit against the officers and department. The Justice Department, echoing its position in another recent case, Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept, et al., filed in January 2012, urges the court to affirm individuals’ right to record police. “Both the location of Mr. Garcia’s photography, a public street, and the content of his photography, speech alleging government misconduct, lie at the center of the First Amendment,” the DOJ representatives wrote.
Additionally, while Garcia is a White House–credentialed journalist and alleges in his lawsuit that the county violated its policy toward the press during his arrest, Justice argues his status as a journalist has no bearing on his First Amendment rights. Both as a member of the press and as a member of the public, they argue, Garcia has a fundamental right to do what he did. Justice’s filing touches on a trend of cases nationwide. As personal recording equipment becomes more common in the era of smartphones and tablets, police-recording cases have cropped up around the country.
In Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union recently won a challenge to a state law banning recording individuals without both parties’ consent, with a federal judge issuing a permanent ban on enforcing the law in regards to publicly recording officers after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge in the case.
In Washington, D.C., the police department last summer issued an order that its officers not interfere with people recording their public duties, echoing a similar memo issued by the city of Philadelphia, where another lawsuit has been filed challenging the arrest of a man who recorded police with his cellphone.
Federal appellate courts have upheld a First Amendment right to record police in cases including Glik v. Cunniffe in 2011, Smith v. Cummings in 2000 and Fordyce v. City of Seattle in 1995, all of which Justice cites in its statement in the Garcia case.
07 March 2013
The Banality of Technocratic Thinking
So, yesterday Rand Paul (R - Tenn) was nearly put up for canonization for having the temerity to confront the Obama administration on the potential use of drone attacks on US citizens on US soil. Paul's theatrics placed him in the limelight and rightly called the administration to account. Here are a couple of mostly unheralded performances that also deserve high praise. In each clip Elizabeth Warren (D - Mass) is questioning panels of "regulators" called to give testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. The first is from February 14th, the second is from today. In each instance her interlocutors find it extremely difficult - nearly impossible, in fact - to grasp the force of her questions. But note, that is not because she is inarticulate or unclear.The operative word is obtuse.
Look here for some indication of what rides on Warren's lines of questioning. And visit our friends at Occupy the SEC here for documentation of their efforts to address the issues.
06 March 2013
Deciphering Hugo Chávez?
"Over the last fourteen years, Chávez has submitted himself and his agenda to fourteen national votes, winning thirteen of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be “best in the world” out of the 92 elections that he has monitored. (It turns out it isn’t that difficult to have transparent elections: voters in Venezuela cast their ballot on an touch pad, which spits out a receipt they can check and then deposit in a box. At the end of the day, random polling stations are picked for ‘hot audits,’ to make sure the electronic and paper tallies add up). A case is made that this ballot-box proceduralism isn’t democratic, that Chávez dispenses patronage and dominates the media giving him an unfair advantage. But after the last presidential ballot—which Chávez won with the same percentage he did his first election yet with a greatly expanded electorate—even his opponents have admitted, despairingly, that a majority of Venezuelans liked, if not adored, the man. [. . .]"Hugo Chávez Frias . . . was probably more demonized than any democratically elected president in world history. But he was repeatedly re-elected by wide margins, and will be mourned not only by Venezuelans but by many Latin Americans who appreciate what he did for the region" (CEPR).
Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Chavismo’s social-welfare programs will endure now that Chávez is gone and shelve the leftwing hope that out of rank-and-file activism a new, sustainable way of organizing society will emerge. The participatory democracy that took place in barrios, in workplaces and in the countryside over the last fourteen years was a value in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to a better world.
There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars . . . on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere." (The Nation).
"Without doubt, chavismo will outlive its founder. Many ordinary Venezuelans will look back on his rule with fondness. But his heirs will have to grapple with some intractable problems."This is an important difference between the classical and radical populist eras. Juan Perón and his cohorts co-opted a rising Left. Chávez has seemingly resurrected one and has at times struggled to keep up with the forces he helped unleash. The Bolivarian Circles represent with exquisite precision the ethos of the Revolution: These community councils were organized in an attempt to bury the state deep into civil society, to bypass potentially hostile local elected officials and to dole out patronage directly from the center. But they are, as Nikolas Kosloff puts it, at once “anti-democratic, creating a kind of vertical dependency around the cult figure of Chávez” and simultaneously creating a real terrain of democratic deliberation" (In These Times).
Venezuela comes towards the bottom of just about every league table for good governance or economic competitiveness. For 14 years Venezuelans have been told that their problems were caused by somebody else—the United States or “the oligarchy”. Getting ahead has depended on political loyalty rather than merit. The mass enrolment of millions in “universities” that mainly impart propaganda have raised expectations that are almost bound to be dashed. [. . .]
A majority of Venezuelans may eventually come to see that Mr Chávez squandered an extraordinary opportunity for his country, to use an unprecedented oil boom to equip it with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy. But this lesson will come the hard way, and there is no guarantee that it will be learned" (The Economist).
"He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn't hold regular cabinet meetings; he'd bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter."What is left, instead, after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a hero and a patron, someone who “cared” for them in a way that no political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had. For them, now, there will be a despair and an anxiety that there really will be no one else like him to come along, not with as big a heart and as radical a spirit, for the foreseeable future. And they are probably right. But it’s also Chávism that has not yet delivered. Chávez’s anointed successor, Maduro, will undoubtedly try to carry on the revolution, but the country’s untended economic and social ills are mounting, and it seems likely that, in the not so distant future, any Venezuelan despair about their leader’s loss will extend to the unfinished revolution he left behind" (The New Yorker).
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez's meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered" (The Guardian).
Update: Here are a couple of other provocative commentaries on Chávez. The first - "The Achievements of Hugo Chávez" - is from Counterpunch and documents the medical/health dimensions of contemporary Venezuela; the second, by a smart young political theorist Diego von Vacano, who is concerned with how we ought to conceptualize Chávez's politics.
05 March 2013
This past week The New York Times Magazine included this photo essay (above) from northern Norway by Simon Norfolk and this one (below) from Brazil by Massimo Vitali. Each photographer is pretty remarkable - in the sense of having a distinctive eye on the world - and the contrast in substantive preoccupations is pretty interesting.
Speed Dating with Roberto Unger
I think the guy has many smart things to say. He also has one of the most peculiar presentational styles I've encountered. But in this format he makes his point and gets out. I guess I wonder what it would be like to be an undergrad who wandered in to his course unawares.
04 March 2013
Hey! Yeah You! Wanna Buy a Bridge? ~ Marina Abramović Has One to Sell You
This clip has popped up on You Tube and has made its way onto my FB news feed a couple of times lately. As I have said here several times before, I find Abramović unbearably self-indulgent and manipulative. I think this performance in particular was an invitation to total passivity on the part of those who 'sat' with her. Here is the caption that accompanies the various postings I've seen:
"Marina Abramović and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again. In 2010, Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’, a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing it and this is what happened."Right. If you truly think that this magical appearance of Ulay the former lover was unscripted, I have a bridge to sell you. After all, this is a couple who transformed their break-up into a performance piece. And Abramović was, after all, filming the putatively spontaneous encounters for posterity.
03 March 2013
Best Shot (240) ~ Ken Grant
02 March 2013
Bangladesh ~ Photography, Politics
Since early last month Dhaka, Bangladesh has been beset by massive, peaceful, public protests. You can find coverage of the events and the sordid political history that has generated the ongoing protests at The Guardian     and, succinctly, in this Op-Ed by Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam from yesterday's New York Times.* I have posted on Alam and his work here several times in the past.
I lifted the image above from this series, also published at The Times* and did so for two reasons. The first is to suggest how Alam manages to depict a singularly troubling feature of the protests by indirection. The Shahbagh crowds are calling for the execution of individuals found guilty by a war crimes tribunal in Dhaka. That is problematic for advocates of justice and human rights who denounce the persistent use of official violence in Bangladesh. But, secondly, Alam's image also underscores the precipitating role photography has played in the protests. And in so doing, we can grasp, why the crowds calling for justice also clamor for death.
Here is the offending photograph, followed by some explanation taken from the first of The Guardian reports I link to above:
"It all began with a victory sign. When Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary-general of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami party, emerged from the supreme court on the afternoon of Tuesday 4 February, he turned to the press waiting outside, smiled, and made a victory sign. An odd reaction for a man just sentenced to life in prison.So, the apparent perversity of insisting on death as a token of justice perhaps is understandable. The issue - as Alam also make plain in his essay - is one of deserved punishment and lack of official credibility. It also raises issues of prudence, since supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami have begun to demonstrate their own displeasure at the proceedings and verdicts. The daunting political problem then, seems to be to create a way to sustain the hope that the Shahbagh protesters hold out, without reverting to violence and execution.**
Mollah smiled because for him, a man convicted of beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence – charges that have earned him the nickname the Butcher of Mirpur – the life sentence came as a surprise. Earlier this month, a fellow accused, Abul Kalam Azad, who is reputed to have fled to Pakistan, was sentenced to death in absentia.
When Mollah emerged from the courthouse, a group of online activists and bloggers assembled to protest against the verdict, demanding that Mollah, like Azad, be given the death sentence. They set up camp in Shahbag, an intersection at the heart of Dhaka, near the university campus, and staged a small sit-in. They collected a few donations and ordered khichuri (a mixture of rice and lentils) to keep them going through the night. Word spread on Facebook and Twitter. The next day, a few news channels began covering their protest. By the end of the week, they had managed to put together the biggest mass demonstration the country has seen in 20 years.
[. . .]
In addition to the perceived inadequacy of the sentence is an abiding anxiety about the way it will be carried out. It is ingrained in the public imagination that justice always takes second place to political expediency. Mollah knows that if his party or its allies were to come to power again, he would almost certainly be freed. That is why the protesters at Shahbag are calling for his death: it is the only way they can be sure the episode will come to an end."
* You can find the text of the Op-Ed integrated with the images here at Alam's blog.
** Update: In this regard you might also read this more extended analysis of events in Bangladesh by Nadine Murshid at The Economic & Political Weekly,
27 February 2013
Partisanship, Poverty & Paychecks
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.