Not Just Dancing: Our Music Carries Our Pain

There is an increasingly perceptible gap between our need for social transformation and America’s insistence on stability, between our impatience for change and American’s obsession with order, our move towards revolution and America’s belief in the plausibility of achieving reforms under the robber barons of the ‘third world’, our longing for absolute national sovereignty and America’s preference for pliable allies, our desires to see our national soil free of foreign occupation and America’s alleged need for military bases.

Eqbal Ahmed in a dialogue with Samuel Huntington, from No More Vietnams: War and the Future of American Policy Details »

The Definition of Courage: The Israelis Speak

The testimonies now being given by a number of Israeli soldiers who took part in the recent war on Gaza, a war that Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, called a criminal act, offer us a glimpse into acts of human and individual courage.

There is no other way to describe the actions of these young men who were involved in what was nothing short of an international war crime against the unarmed civilian population of Gaza.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has been publishing a series of testimonies – the paper’s Amos Harel’s has two pieces, IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement and ‘Shooting and crying’. Details »

Confused? The Crisis of Credit Visualized

Its quick and simple; we were taken to the cleaners by a group of people who knew exactly what they were doing. Or at least that when things fell apart they will just get away with it! If you still have the patience to try to understand what the sub-prime and the associated economic crisis in the USA (and the world) is, take a look at this:

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more about "Confused? The Crisis of Credit Visual…", posted with vodpod

Where The Head Spun: March 15th 2009

Michel Lewis tries to understand the Icelandic man, and the destruction of an entire country at the hands of fishermen-turned-bankers. Paragraph that made me laugh and reminded me of the rhetoric of the ‘Asian Tiger’ era:

Icelanders—or at any rate Icelandic men—had their own explanations for why, when they leapt into global finance, they broke world records: the natural superiority of Icelanders. Because they were small and isolated it had taken 1,100 years for them—and the world—to understand and exploit their natural gifts, but now that the world was flat and money flowed freely, unfair disadvantages had vanished. Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, gave speeches abroad in which he explained why Icelanders were banking prodigies. “Our heritage and training, our culture and home market, have provided a valuable advantage,” he said, then went on to list nine of these advantages, ending with how unthreatening to others Icelanders are. (“Some people even see us as fascinating eccentrics who can do no harm.”) There were many, many expressions of this same sentiment, most of them in Icelandic. “There were research projects at the university to explain why the Icelandic business model was superior,” says Gylfi Zoega, chairman of the economics department. “It was all about our informal channels of communication and ability to make quick decisions and so forth.”


William Pfaff ponders on why the citizcns of the Republic looked away while the Bush Administration tampled all over their constitution and interternational law. A comment that stuck out:

Very few people among the American public seemed to care-except Fox television executives, who recognize a commercial opportunity when it hits them between the eyes.

Fox began a drama in which each program was devoted to the American president’s torturer doing whatever had to be done to thwart a new threat to the American republic. The hero would apply one of the tortures pronounced legally OK for Americans to use, until the terrorist, gasping or screaming, blurts out where the nuclear bomb has been planted.

This turned out to be one of the most popular programs on the air. It seems that President Bush himself watched. People in the torturing business joked that they got some good ideas from the program.


The New York Times Book Review, generally predictable and pointless, did however carry an interesting review of a very interesting writer and on a very interesting subject.  Rashid Khalidi, is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, the director of its Middle East Institute and holds the ‘Edward Said’ chair of Arab studies at the University.  His new book is called Sowing Crisis: Cold War And American Dominance in the Middle East. For all the simpletons who may have asked ‘Why do they hate us!’ it may be time to actually read something and ask a more intelligent question.  An excerpt:

Immediately subsequent to the sudden disappearance of its Soviet rival, in 1990–91, the United States engaged in an extraordinarily confident assertion of its suddenly unrivaled power in the Middle East via its leadership of a grand coalition against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1991, and in convening the 1991 Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid, which led to the 1993 Oslo Accords, signed on the White House lawn. Both were unprecedented initiatives in various ways. Although nominally a collective effort, the 1991 Gulf War was the first American land war in Asia since Vietnam. Meanwhile, Madrid witnessed the first multilateral peace conference in history bringing together all the parties to the conflict, Arab and Israeli, and all relevant international actors. Moreover, it constituted the first and only serious and sustained American (or international) effort in over half a century at a comprehensive resolution of the Palestine conflict.

In light of these apparently radical departures in American policy immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be useful to revise our understanding of the Cold War as simply a prolegomenon to the current era of unfettered American dominance over the region. Such a revision would help us answer a number of questions: Was the United States previously as constrained by the presence of its Soviet rival as sometimes seemed to be the case, and as these two novel departures immediately after the demise of the USSR seemed to indicate? Alternatively, was America in fact more dominant in the Middle East throughout the Cold War era than may have appeared at the time?

No Pharaohs In The Modern World: The Liberal Muslim & Indian Democracy

The stranglehold of the orthodoxy, especially in its political and religious form, has to be loosened and slackened. The answer lies in more and more Muslim communities moving towards democracy. There is no short cut to democracy. . . . There is no place for pharaohs in the modern world. (Mushirul Hasan)

Martha Nussbaum has had a deep and committed engagement with India – a land she calls ‘her second home’, for many years now.  This American philosopher with an interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics, has found a deep interest in modern India’s struggles with democracy and ethics.

Nussbaum is currently Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, a chair that includes appointments in the Philosophy Department, the Law School, and the Divinity School. She also holds Associate appointments in Classics and Political Science, is a member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She previously taught at Harvard and Brown where she held the rank of university professor.

Her latest missive on the situation in India comes as a bit of a surprise because it addresses a subject few have had the will to address; liberal Muslims confronting violence, discrimination and injustice, and yet choosing the path of the law, non-violence and intellectualism to confront it.

A new essay Land of My Dreams: Islamic liberalism under fire in India Martha Nussbaum offers a fascinating history of one of Delhi’s great liberal educational institutions, the Jamia Millia Islamia.  As Nussbaum describes it in her piece:

Jamia was born radical. Its curriculum emphasized the study of nationalism as well as the study of Islamic history and the Qu’ran; its admissions policy welcomed male and female, Hindu and Muslim; its pedagogy emphasized debate and contestation in the teaching of all subjects, including religion, denouncing the mere “passive awareness of dead facts.” The school had strong links with theorists of progressive education such as Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore and thus gave substantial weight to the arts and vocational education.

The piece is as much about the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Mushirul Hasan, whose story, as Nussbaum points out, reminds us of 3 things:

First, the values we associate with classical liberalism-such as the defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and procedural due process-are not exclusively Western values. During the independence movement in India, they were reinvented by a colonized people who had seen just how little their Western masters honored such norms.

Second, these values are not tepid and centrist, as we sometimes hear, but rather, truly radical in a world of nations increasingly under pressure both from external violence and from internal quasi-fascist forces.

And finally, Hasan’s story shows that there is a distinctive and genuinely Islamic form of liberalism, long-lived and drawing inspiration from religious texts and their central concepts.

Unfortunately The Boston Review magazine allows people to comment on the essays they publish.  The reactions to Nussbaums’ piece stretch the realm of decency and coherency. I suspect that in the coming weeks the number of ‘comments’ consisting of slurs, abusive dismissals, sexist denigrations and outright insults against this scholar, philosopher, humanist and ethicist will only grow. These commentators do a disservice to not just Nussbaum, but to the very community that apparently think they are defending by abusing the writer and her works!

Martha Nussbaum is also the author of a book on the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the threat to Indian democracy called The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future which was reviewed by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books

The ICRC Torture Report & The Search For The Truth

Contents
Introduction
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….

This is the Table of Contents of the recently released ICRC Report On The Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody.

It is also clear and precise in its indictment, for example:

The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The tireless and determined Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books has written more on this report and it makes for compelling and anxious reading.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, has been speaking across the country trying to garner support for an investigation into the actions of the Bush Administration and its now nearly countless violations of American and International Law.  We, Americans and non-Americans, need to join our voices to his. In his own words, his actions are meant to:

One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts. If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions in order to get to the whole truth.

Whether this will come to pass, I can’t tell.  That he is at least demanding it gives me hope.

Crime Scene Investigation:Wall Street

“ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”

That is how this non-profit journalism site, let by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Stephen Engelberg, a former managing editor of The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon and former investigative editor of The New York Times, is ProPublica’s managing editor, describes itself.

They have initiated a series of investigations into the many financial corruptions scandals now breaking out as a result of the economic and business crisis now infecting America.

It makes for important and insightful reading, not the least because it reveals how so few took so many for so much!

This crisis is underpinned by theft and lies – by criminal acts that were either ignored or willfully accepted as the price of success.  And the investigations and court cases are only now beginning.

As an aside; ProPublica, despite lacking ‘cool tools’, or fancy multimedia, or even celebrity/entertainment gossip, appears to be quite successful.

They are one of a few such models being attempted by an industry that is struggling to find its way forward.  I find it interesting that a group of mainstream editors are in fact returning to the foundations of journalism; investigation, public interest, non-alliance with corporate advertisement dollars and  the avoidance of the push of profits.

I do not have data to judge how well these organizations are doing – though their reporting is first class.  I will add further information as I find it.

But I can only hope that this return to the responsibilities and intent of the 4th estate is successful and emulated by others.

Play It Again Sam!

There are articles/essays that I find myself repeatedly returning to. They stand the test of time and in this age of throw-away journalism and me-too punditry, these masterpieces are reminders of why real writing and engaged journalism holds such an appeal and how it can cut past prejudices and indifference.  I will continue to link to others in this post as I think of them.

Ken Silverstein’s Parties of God is perhaps one of the clearest and most honest pieces written about the emergence of popular democracy in the Middle East and in particular within Islamic political institutions. Its appearance in a mainstream American magazine was surprising, and necessary. Favorite paragraph:

Talking about political Islam, or Islam at all, is difficult for Americans because our stereotypes are so strongly held. Islamists are imagined as poor, uneducated fanatics who, having turned to God for comfort and sustenance, are particularly prone to irrationality and violence. They do not allow their women to drive (when in fact women drive in every Muslim country except Saudi Arabia); indeed, every woman in a veil is seen as a victim of male oppression. When Islamists in Indonesia attack Playboy or Muslim Brothers in Egypt denounce racy Lebanese dancers, it is a sign not only of backwardness but of sexual repression, which is smugly asserted to be a root of Islamic terrorism. (It is doubtful that Osama bin Laden, who has at least three wives, turned to terrorism out of sexual frustration.) Fear of appearing sympathetic to movements that are frankly hostile to the U.S. government is, I suspect, another barrier to frank discussion of Islamic movements, as is the media’s clear bias in favor of Israel.

Pankaj Mishra’s 3 part essay on Kashmir – Death In Kashmir, The Birth Of A Nation & Kashmir: The Unending War, about the conflict there remains amongst the best primers on the situation ever put to the news/magazine page.  A must read for anyone trying to figure out what is going on in Kashmir, even though it was written in 2000 at the height of the militancy, it still remains relevant and honest and insightful.  There are too many favorite paragraphs but here is one that reminds us that life in this so-called ‘heaven on earth’ was very difficult and cruel even before partition:

The oldest among Kashmiris often claim that there is nothing new about their condition; that they have been slaves of foreign rulers since the sixteenth century when the Moghul emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir and appointed a local governor to rule the state. In the chaos of post-Moghul India, the old empire rapidly disintegrating, Afghani and Sikh invaders plundered Kashmir at will. The peasantry was taxed and taxed into utter wretchedness; the cultural and intellectual life under indigenous rulers that had produced some of the greatest poetry, music, and philosophy in the subcontinent dried up. Barbaric rules were imposed in the early nineteenth century: a Sikh who killed a Muslim native of Kashmir was fined nothing more than two rupees. Victor Jacquemont, a botanist and friend of Stendhal who came to the valley in 1831, thought that “nowhere else in India were the masses as poor and denuded as they were in Kashmir.”

What Ails Photojournalism: Part IV

(Continued…) Many predicting the death of the newspaper are wrong.  It will not die.  It will change.  The newspaper will become something different, its content will not compete with the internet, but complement it.  It will be read differently, and it will not just be on your mobile phone.  It will be everywhere, and all sorts of media will continue to play a part.  Video has many limitations, not the least of which is that it has to be seen end to end and anything longer than a minute or two is taxing and difficult to concentrate on on a tiny hand held device. Details »

What Ails Photojournalism: Part III

(Continued)…Photojournalists will have to liberate their minds from these constraints – the weekly magazine editor looking for the ‘sensational’, and the printed page looking for the simplistic, to go after stories that are beyond news, beyond crisis, beyond the sensational and concentrate instead on the creative and the excitingly compelling.  Too many pander in the obvious.  Too many are purveyors of cliches.  I see so many photographers on your blog who continue to represent the world through the false exotic.  Steve McCurry too, with his recent work on Buddhists, carefully eradicated any evidence of the presence of the Han Chinese and the oppression of the Tibetans by the Chinese administration.  Instead, we received an idealized, fossilized, pre-18th century vision of the place.  Everything that would suggest our engagement with the current dilemmas facing Buddhism, Tibet etc. were just not there.  Cliches, false exotics.  They may have technique and such, but they lack story telling creativity and often just plain curiousity that could reveal new ideas and new ways of telling.  Furthermore, they have to stop ‘documenting’ the obvious that is in front of them.  For I am not talking about story telling as a method to layout photographs.  I mean the very ideas themselves – the issues and the subjects that are pursued, need to take a leap forward.

We have seen these changes in art, in literature, in poetry and such.  Yet, photojournalists young and old seem trapped in conventions, and prejudices.  they are offering variations to the same most of the time, rarely if ever a creative leap.

Why is this story idea shift important? Because it will allow us to engage a new community of people and work with groups, institutions, individuals and organizations far beyond that which we have so far.  Not that this is new, but it has to become a standard.  Photojournalism and photography schools are failing at this miserably.  Places like ICP produce hacks mostly, machine-tool photographers, me-too documentarians pushing out and working within structures of conformity.  Worse, they are never trained or educated to understand that there are markets outside of the editorial space.  Even I do not know this market, but I know that it is there.  It is more a matter of positioning yourself beyond the technicalities of photo making.

Ernesto Bazan, a photographer i believe you should feature on your site, has taken a very individual path to photography and such.  Workshops, his own publishing book, engaging students, a personal vision, a passion for the craft, a willingness to work in many different arenas, a talent to engage a wide range of people beyond the photo editor and the weekly magazine.  His career is a testament to the incredible opportunities available to professionals and creatives.  If you look at his work, his passion, you would not think that things are falling apart.  Rather, that there are more ways today to be a professional photographer and photojournalist than ever before!  That the old standards, the old outlets, are not necessary if you are creative, driven and intelligent enough to articulate to others.

So Anderson lamenting the decline of editorial sales is not related to the rise of amateurs.  The amateurs are in fact not competing with the professionals.  Again it is not as if they are a competitive alternative.  But, that editors are choosing to do away with a requirement of quality and rigor in order to save cash.  And why would i say that? Because where publications have the funds, they choose to work with the professionals consistently.  Look at the New York Times Sunday Magazine – Kathy Ryan still have the budget, and she works with the best she can find.  Until her budget is cut, and then things will change.  But she is not trawling Flickr.  But the news pages maybe, Time magazine is, but then again Time and Newsweek have lost their vision, their raison d’etre so to speak and since they are now mostly run by MBA hacks, there isn’t a soul there that can understand how these magazines need to change.  MBAs work with formula’s and strategies driven by an obsessive slavery to ‘customer preferences’.  This is one of the great falacies of our time.  Where customer preference is important, so too is creativity and offering an interesting product.  Something Apple understands, or peer-to-peer designers do too 🙂 (ok, poor analogies, i admit 🙂 ) Our newspapers are run and controlled by people who see news as just a product, apply MBA tools and spreadsheets to ‘improve sales’, assume that if you pander to the infantile and the consumerist, sales will increase.

And yet, The Economist goes from strength to strength, and Time/Newsweek are weaker than ever before.  The Economist offers nothing fancy, merely pretentious high brow and often complicated and engaging news.  They too are a public magazine and yet have found a segment to grow and expand.  Newsweek is pandering to the useless and the empty for example.

These rends more than technology is what has displaced hard news stories and hard documentary journalism.

Our industry, photojournalists, do not want to face the realities.  Newspapermen/women do not want to admit their limitations.  It is easier to suggest, sexier and commercially more lucrative for many companies, to suggest that what we are facing is a tectonic shift in technologies of use.  This sounds like the internet bubble when the store front was to disappear and the internet to win all.  Well, guess what? That did not happen, the sky did not fall, brick and mortar companies in fact won that battle by adjusting and become smarter about the dual store front strategy and outlasted and out foxed most all the badly designed and poorly managed internet only firms.  Today, a new generation of internet firms have a solid real world foot print e.g. Amazon, which maintains of the largest and most sophisticated warehousing and warehouse management systems in the world.  The future is an amalgamation. (Continued…)