Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Pledging Allegiance to the United States of Obama"

I wanted to start an informal discussion on here about Obama's speech yesterday afternoon. My only critique is that Obama is advocating a type of humanitarian imperialism that continues our national trend of aid and developmental assistance through unfettered obedience to the empire's requests. Even I wanted to shed a few patriotic tears after hearing the speech yesterday afternoon, but let us remember that the United States is neither the arbiter of freedom, nor the city on the hill discussed in the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures. Wielding the verbal sword of power in a way that somehow manages to adjure us with the need for working together for peace, while warning our enemies of the potential violent consequences of their actions is nothing but a form of distorted messianism that manages to still ask for obedience out of fear, trading obedience for the type of safety that is guaranteed by militarization, a safety that has nothing to do with the courage needed for peace.

Will we be working together for the right reasons? Does this perpetuate the illusion of the state as salvific? Does this continue to promote the idea that we can look to enlightened self-interest as a source of our moral fervor, that what is best for everybody is for everyone to do what they do out of a regard for their own interests, that the unification of this is what legitimates our "national identity?"

Locke mentions that the development of industry and the establishment of a national power based upon fear are inseparable. Ardnt and Hobbes both would agree that liberalism is inseparable with fear, and Daniel Bell goes far enough to point out that "Liberalism is a political response to an extra-political fear that wards off terror and fear by means of the construction of complex space – dispersing governing authority and providing the individual cover amongst a plethora of civic institutions and associations." He continues to warn us that "Legitimating the moral elevation of self-preservation on the grounds that if one were dead, one could not pursue any goods, civic leaders could persuade the populace that it has a moral stake in perpetuating fear and moral grounds for collaborating in the establishment and maintenance of the sovereign’s authority."

The state refashions desire, reforms it so that it is fearful and paranoid, and as a necessary tool for its own legitimation, the state promotes the promise of its own existence: Surrender and you will be protected. Protected from what? Terrorists who don't appreciate our "values"?

I must be a terrorist.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Andrey Tarkovsky on Art and Sacrifice

"Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake. What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalized action is on intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of our human calling..."

- Andrey Tarkovsky
Sculpting in Time: Reflections on Cinema

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drick Boyd: "The Need for a New Paradigm" (on Palestine and Israel)

From Drick Boyd's Blog:


Upon receiving the letter from Adam Beach that I posted below, a colleague at Eastern who had received the same email, posted a response that simply supplied a link to “another perspective” on the issue. The link (below) was to an article by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

As I read the article I was convinced again of the futility of trying to say who is right or wrong, whose justified or not. While most seem to want to polarize the issue as , I consider myself anti-war, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israel, which in fact means I advocate a radically new paradigm for addressing the ongoing conflict there.

In his article Krauthammer states that the “moral clarity [of the Israel- Gaza war is] not only rare but excruciating.” He states that Israel is “morally scrupulous” about contacting Palestinians and telling them they are going to attack them, while Hamas “unscrupulously” positions its rocket launchers in civilian targets such as schools and hospitals. He says that Hamas has fired 6.664 rockets in the last three years, whereas Israel has fired fewer, though more accurate weapons. He claims that Hamas uses civilian noncombatant deaths and injuries as part of their strategy, going so far as to say, “For Hamas the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.” He points out that from an early age Palestinian children are taught in schools to believe that Israel as a nation must be eliminated, and that Hamas has a deliberate strategy of ongoing disruption and conflict. Furthermore, when Gaza was granted sovereignty and Hamas was elected to govern they did not begin building roads, schools and other infrastructure, but instead “devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.” By contrast in his view all Israel wants is “a sustainable and enduring ceasefire….If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost again.”

Krauthammer’s analysis and perspective has much to commend it. There is no doubt that Hamas has provoked this attack by its unrelenting attacks on Israel, and is morally culpable in the deaths of its own citizens. Furthermore, he may be correct in saying that Israel’s goal is “peace” and a ceasefire. Yet his analysis seems to ignore two important pieces of context.

First, Israel’s power and military strength completely dwarf Hamas. Furthermore, Israel’s policy of continual degradation of the Palestinian people has invited this response. The building of the wall, the cutting off of economic opportunity, and now the limiting of humanitarian aid to the region only cause the innocent to suffer more. Furthermore, their objective is not to “get even” but to obliterate the Palestinians; not just Hamas, but the whole region, hammering it into submission. Their tactics only fuel the very fire they seek to quell.

Second, while Hamas may be the enemy on the ground, they are not the real enemy; the real enemies are Syria and Iran who fund and fuel Hamas’ activities. For obvious reasons Israel does not want to directly take on those two nations (nor they Israel), and instead Israel obliterates Iran’s and Syria’s proxies, the Palestinian people. Though Israel recognizes this disparity, it seems to place its emphasis on oppressing the Palestinians rather than dealing with the root of the problem in its relations with Syria and Iran.

To say that Israel is morally scrupulous because it forewarns its victims, is to say the bully is justified in hammering the 90 pound weakling because he told him he was going to beat him up before he did it. Furthermore, having the right to defend oneself (which I affirm) does not therefore give one the right to kill innocent citizens (which I don’t affirm). The issue is not dead Jews vs. dead Palestinians; it is dead human beings, whose blood runs red no matter who fires the shots or who is killed. In its attempts to defend itself, Israel has contributed along with Hamas to causing untold suffering on innocent people. They have not tried to appeal to those innocent people, but have simply counted them as “collateral damage.”

Contrary to Krauthammer, I do not think there is any moral clarity on either side of this conflict. As long as both Hamas (& Syria and Iran) and Israel use violence as a means to peace (an oxymoron that most of the world’s governments have failed to understand), not only will the war continue, but also the innocent will bear the brunt of suffering. In that scenario no side can claim any moral high ground.

Krauthammer’s analysis only highlights the need for a new approach, one that (1) seeks to protect the innocent victims of war and oppression, and that (2) is willing to avoid the easy polarities and finger pointing and instead and call all responsible parties to account. Because of the vested interests of the governments involved, including our own, I don’t see this new approach coming from the politicians or even the United Nations. It will need to come from a counter community of international peacemakers, which alone has the moral authority to speak for justice and peace in such a morally vacuous situation. At this point all sides are operating solely out of a defensive and self-interested posture (as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us nations can and must do), and so morals may seem like a luxury the combatants are neither interested in nor can afford to consider. However in the end morality is not a luxury, but rather is the very essence of what is needed if there is to any semblance of peace in the region.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Magnum's "Wear Good Shoes: Advice to Young Photographers"

Photograph by Dan Boardman

Here is a pdf article from Magnum with advice for young photographers from numerous Magnum photographers...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

18 songs made before '09

Photograph from Czech Eden by Matthew Monteith

I strongly recommend staring at Peter Brueghel's two paintings of the Tower of Babel while listening to the last song.