For Our Own Good

Posted August 22, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Cool Images, Journalism and its discontents, MSM nonsense

Tags: , ,

If there was a golden age for American media, it was long ago and it was short.

Over at The Atlantic, Torie Rose DeGhett has an excellent, utterly unsurprising article about a photograph taken in the last hours in the first Gulf War.

The work of  the the then 28 year old  photographer Kenneth Jarecke, the image captures a fact of war hopelessly obscured by the shots that angered  Jarecke enough to postpone a planned hiatus from combat photography.  “’It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank.” — or, once combat actually began, gaudy displays of gee whiz toys, the disembodied beauty of missile exhausts, or bloodless shots of tires and twisted metal.  War as video game, or a spectacle for the folks back home.

Here’s DeGhett’s description of Jarecke’s riposte:

The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.

Go to the link.  Look at the shot.

It’s a great photograph — great technically, and better as a work of art, in that it tells a story and commands empathy, all  in a single frame.  Most of all, though, it is essential journalism.  It said, clearly, what war costs.  It reframed — really, it guttted — the narrative of violence without pain that was so much the preferred description of the Gulf War in Washington DC.  Its viewers got to see what was done in their names.*

Or rather, it didn’t and they didn’t.  DeGhett documents the photograph’s journey from the battlefield to it’s near complete obscuration.  The in-theater Time photo editor sent it back to New York; Time passed and so did Life.  The AP in New York pulled the shot from the wire.  No one would touch it in the US, and in Europe, only the British Sunday paper The Observer, and the French daily Libération ran the image.

The key here, as DeGhett writes, is that there was no military pressure not to publish Jarecke’s photograph.  The war was over by the time his film got back to the facility in Saudi Arabia where the press pools operated.  The decision to withhold the shot from the American public was made by the American press, by editors at the major magazines, at The New York Times, at the wire service. The chokehold on information at the top of the mainstream media was tight enough back then that most newspaper editors, DeGhett reports, never saw the image, never got to make their choice to publish or hide.

You can guess the excuses.  “Think of the children!” For the more sophisticated, a jaded response:

Aidan Sullivan, the pictures editor for the British Sunday Times, told the British Journal of Photography on March 14 that he had opted instead for a wide shot of the carnage: a desert highway littered with rubble. He challenged the Observer: “We would have thought our readers could work out that a lot of people had died in those vehicles. Do you have to show it to them?”

Why yes, Mr. Sullivan, you do.

This is an old story, and as DeGhett notes, it’s not one that would likely play out the same way today.  It’s not as if, what with Twitter and ‘net journalism and the camera phones and all that, horrible images of value and images that are violence porn are not hard to find.  (As always, for each of us, YMMV in drawing the line.)  But her piece is still a very useful piece of journalism, for two reasons.  For one — the picture is really extraordinary, and it has a minatory value that exceeds the tale of the moment it was not allowed to tell.  When John McCain and Lindsay Graham and their merry band of bombers call for war here, war there, war everywhere — and even or especially when a situation like the rise of ISIS seems to a broader slice of our country to merit the attention of the US military — we should remember what such attention looks like on the ground.

For the other:  this reminds us what it looks like when the media — national press in particular — conforms its narratives to the needs of its sources, or even just to the wisdom that prevails among a handful of fallible, comfortable, Village elders.  They’re doing it still, as best they can — and their best is still pretty effective.  This shot is a reminder of that power, and the amoral disdain for the reader, the viewer, the citizenry with which that power is too often wielded.

Let me (as DeGhett does) give Jarecke the last word:

As an angry 28-year-old Jarecke wrote in American Photo in 1991: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

*You’ll note the obvious.  Unusually for me, there is no image accompanying this post.  Jarecke’s photograph is under copyright and can be seen at the link.  No allusive work of fine art really works against that shot, I think, so, none is offered.

 

 

 

 

 

Profiles In Courage

Posted August 17, 2014 by Tom
Categories: climate, Climate follies, Republican follies, Republican knavery

Tags: , ,

Republicans and global warming:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem.

However, they see little political benefit to speaking out on the issue…

Anthony Adragna, writing in Bloomberg BNA, points out that it’s not simply the lack of benefit that constains his sources.  Rather,

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system.

Ah, Brave Sir Robin GOP!

To give themselves cover, as Adragna notes, those who spoke to him came up with all kinds of alternative explanations for their reticence:

…the devastating impacts of the economic crisis, the low priority Americans place on addressing climate change and what Republicans say is overheated rhetoric from Democrats. Also playing a role in the reluctance to speak out is skepticism among Republican voters about federal government intervention and the increasing role of special interest money in elections.

That last one is sweet, isn’t it — that nasty “special interest” money.  I believe that special interest is spelled K.O.C.H. et al., but never mind.

And as for overheated rhetoric — well, I’m gearing up to do some separate posts about how all the climate news lately is worse than we thought, so for now, let me just leave you with this reminder of how badly, f**ked we may already be.

Bertin,_Nicolas_-_Phaéton_on_the_Chariot_of_Apollo_-_c._1720

Of course, no discussion of Republican failure to lead — or even engage — an issue would be complete without laying the blame where it clearly belongs:

“I do believe there is some resistance to come out publicly and say what’s happening here,” Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who served in Congress from 1993 through 2011 and is now a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, told Bloomberg BNA. “One thing that would be helpful would be having a president who could articulate the issue well and who the Republicans have some confidence in.”

Yes, if only Barack Obama would stop presidenting while Black/Democrat, the Republican Party would leap into the breach.

To Adragna’s credit, he doesn’t let that claim go unchallenged — that Republicans who hold actual power, as opposed to those who are all ex- or former- somebodies, would actually be willing to take global warming seriously as soon as there’s a change at the White House:

[NRDC Action Fund spokesman David] Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Read the whole thing.  Adragna tries to present the notion that Republicans as a party, as opposed to a handful of dissidents, actually do take this most serious of issues at all seriously.  He lets his sources make their best case…and the take-away is of a party that is in the hands of anti-science crackpots whom those who do know better are powerless to control  Which seems about right.

Oh, and when Mitch McConnel says that:

he [does] not believe in human-caused climate change.

“For everybody who thinks [the planet] is warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn’t,” McConnell told the newspaper.

I say “shut your festering gob” you hopeless git.  For everyone who says you are any kind of a public servant, I can find someone who swears you enjoy the carnal knowledge of barnyard animals.

Image: Nicholas Bertin, Phaéton on the Chariot of Apollo, c. 1720.

Fables of the Reconstruction, Part Deux

Posted August 15, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags:

If you’re reading this, you owe it to yourself to check out my Balloon Juice colleague Richard Mayhew’s post on the con in conservative proposals for health care reform.  Shorter:  the “reform” is to make sure the wrong people get less and more expensive care under the guise of a variety of measures claimed to be (but not) free market efficiencies.  Also too, why Avik Roy isn’t an expert, but a marginally policy-literate hack.

With that out of the way, more on the joys of home renovation.

First the good news.  It turns out that this problem — the wire formation inside our kitchen walls that I’ve since dubbed “Cthulu’s Hairball” — isn’t actually live electrical wires.  Instead, its what you get before you texting became the way to call the kid to dinner.  Before the internet, kiddies, it turns out, people networked their houses in other ways — including setting up, in 1920, a house-wide intercom system.  “Come, child!”

So, not the fire hazard general wiring nightmare we expected.  We’ve still got plenty of knob and tube spread round the place — wiring we’re replacing in bits as we work on the house.  But Cthulu sleeps.

However…and as those of you who know, know, there’s always something.

Check out this:photo-2

That’s what you get when you open up the wall, and find a sill that has been so chewed up by termites you can sweep it away.  I mean, with a broom.  (We did chunk up the rotten timber a bit, before getting out the sweepers, but still.)

Which is to say, it seems our house was holding itself up out of habit.

Here’s another view:

photo-1

That’s the post at the end of that run of sill.

Ah, our six-legged friends.

What’s bugging y’all today?

Republicans Got Nothing…

Posted August 13, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Republican knavery, words mattter

Tags: ,

So they cheat:

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources.

The NRCC has created about two dozen of these new faux news sites targeting Democrats, both challengers and incumbents, and is promoting them across the country with localized Google search ads.

The NRCC’s single-page sites are designed to appear to be a local news portal, with logos like “North County Update” or “Central Valley Update.” The articles begin in the impartial voice of a political fact-checking site, hoping to lure in readers. “We’ll take a look at her record and let you decide,” starts one. Then they gradually morph into more biting language. At the very bottom, in a box, is the disclaimer that the NRCC paid for the site.

1534_Cranach_Die_Fabel_vom_Mund_der_Wahrheit_anagoria

This isn’t, apparently, illegal.  But it sure is telling.

The Republican party has a deep, long term problem.  The GOP is wrong on every major policy question.  Economics and recession? Wrong. Environment, climate change, public health? Wrong.  Health care? Wrong. Income inequality? Wrong.  Tax policy? A joke. Foreign policy? Explosively wrong. Infrastructure investment? Wrong.  Border security and immigration? Comically (if there weren’t so often tragic consequences) wrong.  Race in America? Viciously wrong.  Industrial safety? Wrong.  Regulation? Ask the phosphate loving folks of Toledo.  Scientific research? Wrong….and so on.  No links for now because I’m in the middle of day-job urgency, but they’re all there.*  For now, the take-away is that the major policy options that are the central pillars of the Republican party’s approach to governance have a track record, and to a startling degree (not to folks here, I know) those options have failed.  See, for just one example, Sam Brownback’s Kansas.

This is a problem come election season.  The voting – age population nation wide is, as widely documented, moving away from the Republican party.  A focus on certain issues produces real problems for the Republican brand – hence the desperate rush to hide from Obamacare repeal now that the program has actual winners who vastly outnumber any loses.   It’s simply toxic for a Republican to have to answer what he or she would do if the ACA were actually to give way to the status quo ante.  Americans really don’t want to send troops hither and yon…and so on.  Y’all know this stuff Ginger Rogers style:  backwards and in high heels.

So what do you do if you  are a Republican strategist determined to hold on to the House and capture the Senate, knowing that  if Americans were motivated to vote in the proportions that have the full range views on the core Republican policy platform, the Republicans would lose.  To avoid fighting an election on that turf, your weapons are three:

*The gerrymander, to make sure that Republican votes are worth more than Democratic ones in the amount of representation a given vote can “buy.”

*Voter suppression, because it’s always easier to simply deny the vote to the wrong folks than it is to risk even the engineered participation of gerrymandering.

and finally,

*Lie.  Pretend to be something other than you are.  Claim you are a “compassionate conservative” or even better — pretend to be an objective source of facts that are in fact bullshit.

It’s like that old lawyers joke:  when facts and law are both against you, pound the table.

One more thing — here’s the most telling detail in the story of the NRCC’s costly gambit, btw:

[NRCC communications director Andrea] Bozek’s response? “They’re just jealous,” she said, “that they didn’t think of this strategy first.”

Ummm. No. This is a strategy for the desperate, for those with nothing left.  It needs countering, to be sure, but not emulating.

One last note:  the basic GOP approach to elections: to deny the franchise; to construct the mechanics of elections to achieve near-certainty of result; and to create a fictional simulacrum of the media to make reality harder and harder to distinguish — all these are the tools of authoritarians, of one-party states, of dictators.  Which is to say, this is the work of an organization committing treason against the ideal of American democracy.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*I’m actually thinking about a long essay that expands on these one liners, which may someday see the light of day…but probably not soon, given the real world’s claim on my sorry butt.

Image:  Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Fable of the Mouth of Truth1534.

And the Internet Shall Make Us Free, Gender Equity Division

Posted August 12, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Gender, gender follies, Technology, words mattter

Tags: , ,

I have a friend in the science writing game (many actually; I’m a wealthy man that way).  This particular friend has built a career out of writing about physics, mostly, along with a bit of math,* all with a truly distinct style, voice, and stance.  The work begins from the true premise: physics and the habits of scientific thinking penetrate (or should) every aspect of experience.  Science ain’t just for the boffins — it’s of value and available to anyone willing to crack a book and wind their brain.

My friend has lots of strengths as a writer, full stop, and as a writer about science.  It’s not just the catchy and earned interplay the work achieves between popular culture and real scientific concepts.  What I love as I read books and articles from my friend is the way each piece is built experientially.  The ideas emerge as the narrative voice lives, does actual stuff (road-trip to Vegas! drop acid! check out the rides at Disneyland!).  This is a writer who wants readers to feel their new knowledge down to the bone.  And to have fun with it while they’re at it.

So my friend put out a book a couple of years ago that showcases all this fine writerly stuff on a topic that doesn’t usually make most folks’ lists of beach reading.  Titled The Calculus Diaries it tells the story of what happens when a fully grown adult — a former English major –sets out to master calculus,  both for the beauty of the math involved and to discover its power as a  guide to just about whatever one may encounter in daily life.

My friend has lots of friends, as it happens, many of whom we share.  One of those was talking to yet a third party a few nights ago, and told that person about the book.  The next day, some of the details had vanished, as they are wont to do.  And so this last person in the chain did what anyone would:  ask the magic Google machine to find that tome about the English major who decided to learn calculus.

Then this happened:

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 5.14.25 PM

Oops.

Or rather, what’s telling is that plenty of folks are pissed off at the Google-bot’s assumption here, but no one, I think, is even remotely surprised.  Ben Lillie — the man behind Story Collider, by the way — is the person who told McManus (whom I don’t know) about The Calculus Diaries, by Jennifer Ouellette, possibly also known to some of you as Jen-Luc Picard, proprietress of Cocktail Party Physics.

La_Leçon_d’astronomie_de_la_duchesse_du_Maine_-_François_de_Troy

Ben wrote up a lovely post for his Tumblr on all this, with at least two motives behind the writing, both of which I share.

One is simply to make sure that our mutual friend Jennifer gets all the credit she deserves for having written a wonderful tale and guide-for-the-math-perplexed that I believe serves as a great gateway drug to really important mathematical ideas.  Also, maybe, this’ll help sell some  books.

The other is to use this bit of search-algorithm-“optimization” to cast the obvious sidelight on the fact of embedded sexism in tech — and really society at large.  That pathology is easy to see when you get dudebros making obvious and public tools of themselves.  But (and of course you see this in the way racism persists) when you set the non-sexist/racist/bigot/asshole bar at the level of not being that guy, not using the c word or the n word, or what have you, the deep social and cultural conditions in which actual racism, sexism, discrimination makes itself felt don’t get touched.  Ben wrote a line I can’t beat on this theme:

One of the wonderful things about relying on computers to help us is that if we’re not careful they’ll tell us who we really are.

And so they do.  And what this one little story means as a practical matter is that as long as the assumption that men do math and women don’t runs so far below the surface that even the Google breathes it back at you….then that’s how you know the war on women, like plenty of other battles, ain’t close to over.  La lucha continua, as we used to say.

Discuss — and go buy some books.

*There’s been a recent detour into mind-brain stuff, but we all have our briar patches, don’t we?

Image: François de Troy, Astronomy Lesson of the Duchess du Main, 1702-1704

Welcome To Hell’s Nightclub

Posted August 9, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Mental Health Break

Tags:

Ladles and Jellyspoons!  I give you 36 seconds of the Guitar Center in Times Square.

(h/t @jodyavirgan)

Pity the poor workers there?

In that vein:  what’s the worst job you ever held? How long did you last?

Everything’s Bigger In Texas, Even The Stupid…

Posted August 8, 2014 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, Climate follies, Republican follies, Republican knavery, Stupidity

Tags: , , ,

….hell, especially the stupid.

Exhibit ∞:   A top Texas official just announced that the state plans both to sue the EPA over its new carbon rules, and just because nullification has always worked out so well, ignore the hell out of them too [vie The Hill]:

The top environmental regulator in Texas said the state may choose not to follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

At a policy event Thursday, Bryan Shaw said he is concerned the rules “are only the camel’s nose under the tent,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Edward_Lear_-_Camel_studies_-_Google_Art_Project

There are any number of ways to plumb the pure cretinism on display here, but if Mr. Shaw is really concerned about a camel proboscis poking across the line, he might want to think on this:

If Texas ignores the rules and refuses to write a plan to implement them, the EPA would have to step in and write a plan for the state.

IOW: stupid has consequences, as Texans have reason (if not apparently the willingness) to know:

Texas also ignored a 2010 federal rule requiring new industrial plants to obtain greenhouse gas permits. The EPA took over, leading to years-long delays for permits, which caused industrial interests to blame the state for its decision.

If they had Darwin awards for states…

Image:  Edward Lear, Camel Study, 1867

Bonus camel image after the jump: Read the rest of this post »


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