I was thinking about Dave Weinberger’s post as I was flipping through a bit of ephemera I found tucked inside my newly acquired copy of Commercial Photography of Today (1914) by Geo. W. Hance. It is a booklet on filters, Color Plates and Filters for Commercial Photography from Eastman Kodak without a date, though it might be dated from their recent purchase of Wratten and Wainwright mentioned in the frontis. Their advice, though targeted at photographers, seems appropriate in a political context. I think we need a “B” filter.

Continue reading “Filters”



I try not to blog about politics, but as I watched the huge red stripe appear across the center of the country last night it made me want to scream. The conservative strategy of keeping the country in a crisis state has succeeded in swaying enough of the public to vote against it’s own interests in order to maintain security. It’s like sending out a big FTW, we’re going to maintain our own patch of ground whatever the cost. I don’t like being one of the bad guys on the international stage.

Worse still is the way that lower level politicians have ridden in on the coattails of terror to further oppress the poor in this country. And it is the people who were hoodwinked that will suffer. They think that elections are about values and morality when in reality they are about money and power.

It’s a sad day, I think. Sad because we’ll get four more years of focus on relatively trivial issues, while people suffer. No wartime president has been unseated in US history, so it isn’t necessarily surprising. It’s such a shame that the cost of power has to be war. This isn’t a sustainable model for a healthy world. But as long as the diversionary tactics work—terror, terror, terror—war, war, war—then people seem to forget that they are losing any real economic security.

Missionary Position

Missionary Position

Jonathon Delacour’s post about patriotism and Bean’s pointer to The End of the World (a charming little flash animation) coalesced for me in a strange way. I suppose, though I’ve been living in several different states, that I’d still label myself as a Californian. Though technically a part of the United States, California often seems like a separate country lacking the missionary zeal that fills the heartland. As the sixth largest economy in the world, perhaps that sense of being separate is warranted. However, it comes at a price.

Almost nothing in California is native. Its past is shallow; the town I grew up in was founded, like most of the state— after the Civil War. There are no memories of the divisiveness that founded the country, no sense that unity was something that people spilled blood to gain—just dreams and hopes wrapped around prosperity. The land was stolen and exploited, as were the people who flocked there in search of a better life. There is no sense of a “mission” beyond that of self-improvement. Somehow, electing an immigrant body-builder turned star to the position of governor seems poetic.

Few flags are waved proudly in California. One is more likely to see the Mexican flag, or a flag from another country (at least when I was last there, nearly a decade ago) than one is to see the state flag of the golden bear. While I suspect that the stars and stripes flag of the US is probably more prominent since 9/11, it wasn’t (when I was there) much of a flag-waving state. Corporate logos probably have a higher “recognition factor” than flags, at least in California.

The situation in Arkansas is different. The state was deeply divided during the Civil War. The state flag displays its connection with the south by mirroring the stars and bars flag of the confederacy. It can be seen in nearly every business, on many homes, and it is virtually impossible to pass through the state without seeing its colors, which remind me of the cape used to inflame bulls before a fight. I was unfamiliar with this sort of fierce regionalism, which contrasts deeply with the relatively mild narcissism and ahistoricism prevalent in California. Arkansas is often called “the buckle of the Bible belt” with good reason. I wouldn’t really call it “patriotism”— it is more akin to missionary zeal, at least in its darker forms.

However, such fierce dedication to nationalism or regionalism is not exclusively negative. With it comes an admirable dedication to tradition—to the remembrance of cultural values that have served, and continue to bind a country born filled with irreconcilable differences. In California, I never understood what being “American” was really all about. In the South and Midwest, it just sort of slaps you in the face. It isn’t really as much about the sort of “militarism” that Jonathon talks about (which seems a logical conclusion based on a reading of the media), but rather about ties of a different sort. Driving across the Midwest this summer, I think the most popular names for towns give a better clue.

Every state is filled with names stolen from other places—there is a Paris, Texas as well as Paris, Stuttgart, and London, Arkansas. People bring bits of their previous homes along with them, at least in name. But as near as I can figure, the most popular recurrent names for towns in America seem to be Independence and Hope. There are at least ten Independences, and ten Hopes (even more if you count variants like “Hopeville”). In the nineteenth century, the Midwest was filled with utopian communities that sprung up to declare their separatism from nationalistic values. The Midwest once rallied around those values—rather than the militarism that seems to fill our current media. It has been a tremendous coup by the conservatives in this country to make missionary hope equivalent to flag-waving nationalism in the twentieth century.

In the twentieth century, there seems to be no place left to plant a new flag and declare hope for independence. America, however, remains rigidly locked in its missionary position—forgetting that ideas provide a more lasting force than guns. The problem with old flags is that (appropriating Pound’s remarks about metaphor), they have lost their currency. The delicate etched faces that formed them have worn away leaving burnished gun barrels. Hope and independence are not found by staring down the barrel of a gun.

I think a lot about the power of tradition these days—is it possible to keep what is good about it without bathing in the blood it costs? Is it possible to maintain the self-reflexive identity it forms without pointlessly trading in dead metaphors? National identities are subject to constant reinvention; it seems imperative to keep those identities living and formative rather than dead and rote. I’m not convinced that nationalism or regionalism are entirely bad things—only the rote recital of ideas that are long past their sell-by date.

Gender and Politics

Gender and Politics

While I generally don’t say much about the gender and technology issues which fuel many of the people I read, or politics either—another favorite topic of many blogs I read— one of the blog threads now dying made me raise an eyebrow, Spock-like. Ms. Lauren wrote a nice attempt to quit obsessing about the latest permutation:

I don’t believe that female bloggers are so much entitled to higher readership and recognition as much as female bloggers are taken less seriously and relegated to second- and third-tier status. Various possible reasons have been cited for this phenomenon elsewhere on this blog and on others, but for the sake of time management, I’m not able to address this at this time. I think it’s more a reflection of several negative cultural values than a phenomenon that occurs on it’s own and brands others as “evil male chauvinist pigs,” as one commenter said.

. . . Call me Nostradamus when I predict that the question will be asked again by December.

The struggle to maintain visibility for women’s opinions seems to be a never-ending task. I was shuffling through some old articles gathered for my research and found “Political News and Female Readership in Antebellum Boston and its Region” by Ronald and Mary Zboray [Journalism History v. 22 (Spring 1996) p. 2-14]. Here’s the abstract:

The writers examine collections of Boston-area family papers containing references to women reading political news or otherwise demonstrating women’s awareness of events. They explain that although the women considered led mainly domestic lives, they were rooted in a familial or local culture that supported women’s participation in Whiggish, liberal Protestant, antislavery, and temperance causes. They find that these women exchanged news stories with men and other women and often made extensive commentary on newspaper reports of political events. They conclude that future historians should avoid assumptions that women in general were not devoted readers of newspapers and knowledgeable consumers and producers of political culture.

This debate does seem to return, over and over again. There is something deeply illogical about it. The less “visible” segments of society are often seen as totally unconcerned with the topics that those in power push. Why is it that historians (current and past) want to paint women with invisible paint? I just don’t get it—it makes the “conspiracy theories” of gender seem credible. However, as Barb L’Eplattenier used to be fond of pointing out—I’m a card-carrying member of the patriarchy, therefore my incredulity is understandable. I wish there was someplace I could burn that damn card. I didn’t volunteer— I was drafted.


George Wallace and Elvis

Disturbing Thoughts of George

For some reason yesterday I started to compare two incomparable events. I have been thrilled, as most of the more liberally minded people I read have been thrilled, by the move by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to allow the weddings to proceed. It’s nice to see a case of civil disobedience that results in lots of flowers, more than a few kisses, and some genuinely happy people. Ultimately though, the gesture is oddly comparable to the decision of George Wallace to bar the admission of African Americans to the University of Alabama.

Both Mayor Newsom and Governor Wallace were concerned about just who is allowed to enter into a specific institution. Both proclaimed that their decision was based in state laws that render them legal and right, as well as overarching moral imperatives of human rights (yes, Wallace really believed that). Both cases will probably result in federal intervention. But it is so nice to see flowers and kisses instead of angry dogs and beatings. The media circus is also comparable, and unfortunately, so is the probable net result of the action. I hate to be so pessimistic about it. I don’t understand why people wanting to sanction their love would be such a hot-button issue.

The rhetoric on either side is much the same— protecting the sanctity of institutions versus the dictum that separate really can’t be equal. But the legislation or amendments involved are far different—taking away rights rather than assuring them. That such a thing could even be considered makes me really sick inside.

But searching around lead me to D. Gorton’s Decline and Fall of the White South. Excellent photographs, really. Especially his picture of the Wallace supporters.

Creative Contracts

Anais Nin on Creative Contracts

From the Anais Nin oral history interview, 1972. Found at a great mother lode of such interviews, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

DOLORIS HOLMES: I asked you to read that because it seems to me as if one of the reasons for the antagonism between men and women is this real over-dependence, and that a good result from the Women’s Liberation Movement will be that men will be more separate from women, each will have more of a chance to define themselves as separate beings and then when they come back together there will be more chance for real love. Sylvia, does this get into anything that you have been thinking about?

SYLVIA GOLDSMITH: Well, it’s like Miss Nin said. I think what happens is that we’re so inter-role playing, we’re so conditioned very early to think of ourselves as helpless, as not wanting to compete with men in order to gain their love and feel that if we achieve something of our own very often we lost their love. So I think we’re psychologically conditioned to always accept and think of ourselves in a secondary way. We fear very much our freedom at the same time that we want it.

ANAIS NIN: I feel the solution to that is a real, very complex, creative labor with man about relationship, and when we can convince him that whatever we achieve is an enrichment of his life, that it doesn’t take anything away from him, that actually dependency is quite clear, that it is just as bad for him as it is for the woman: it puts a great burden on him and doesn’t free him. And I think the young men are beginning to realize that this is freeing them.

SYLVIA GOLDSMITH: I mean they say now too that Women’s Liberation is Men’s Liberation.

ANAIS NIN: So that when they don’t have this helpless woman, but somebody who is bringing enrichment and stimulation into their life �- I think that many men have seen that this is really an enrichment; it’s not taking something away. We still have the problem of when one artist is more successful than another, but this has always been true. I was reading about a very old woman photographer. She and her husband were photographers, she became famous and he divorced her.

The photographer in question might have been Doris Ulmann, I’m not sure.

The Price of Autonomy

The Price of Autonomy

The Tutor wisely paraphrases Milton. For those less familiar with Book IX of Paradise Lost, I feel there are several lessons worth mentioning. Before Eve bites the apple, she muses over the fact that the serpent had no power of speech before eating the fruit. The serpent has told her that it was the magical fruit of knowledge that gave him speech, which expands her appreciation of the paradoxical fruit of wisdom:

Great are thy Vertues, doubtless, best of Fruits,
Though kept from Man, and worthy to be admir’d,
Whose taste, too long forborn, at first assay
Gave elocution to the mute, and taught
Thy Tongue not made for speech to speak thy praise:
Thy praise hee also who forbids thy use,
Conceales not from us, naming thee the Tree
Of Knowledge, knowledge of both good and evil;
Forbids us then to taste, but his forbidding
Commends thee more, while it infers the good
By thee communicated, and our want:
For good unknown, sure is not had, or had
And yet unknown, is as not had at all. (IX 745-57)

Eve’s situation, and temptation, is made all the worse by the fact that she just had a fight with Adam over her own autonomy. Adam didn’t want her to stray from him. She wanted to be recognized as a being just as self-sufficient as Adam. It was a desire to be equal (at least as I read Milton) that drove Eve to the final temptation. Having such power visible, and yet forbidden, compelled her all the more. She had no idea that the serpent was lying about the “fruit of eloquence” stuff. However, Eve mused over the price of such power:

In plain then, what forbids he but to know,
Forbids us good, forbids us to be wise?
Such prohibitions binde not. But if Death
Bind us with after-bands, what profits then
Our inward freedom? (IX 758-62)

The paradox of the Enlightenment is that the structures that claim to free us, also enslave us because we seem doomed to replicate them. There is much to be said further; once bitten, the Enlightenment cannot be undone any more than the apple. It’s the “after-bands” that concern Foucault, and I share his concern. I think we stand at a moment where those “after-bands” are most transparent—in the policies of the Bush administration. Indeed, it is the quest for autonomy that has brought us here. It is a bitter fruit indeed.

However, I feel duty bound to point out to the Tutor that he if examines the opening of Book IX, he will find that Milton decries any knowledge of brands:

      . . . to describe Races and Games,
Bases and tinsel Trappings, gorgeous Knights
At Joust and Torneament; then marshal’d Feast
Serv’d up in Hall with Sewers and Seneshals;
The skill of Artifice or Office mean,
Not that which justly gives Heroic name
To person or poem. Mee of these
Nor skilld nor studious, higher Argument
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise (IX 33-44)

This tends to suggest that Milton chose to ignore the brands of war to look more deeply into the envy of autonomy which precipitates it. However, I think that it is precisely this fancy dress of envy in the guise of national independence that should be examined. We should all be familiar with the “higher Argument” by now—it’s the base application which cloaks itself in Enlightenment autonomy that needs the searing light of day. Maybe we need to choose our brands more carefully. I’m not buying the half-baked Bush brand. Some go so far as to suggest that it is time to shed the rotten rags of Enlightenment entirely, though that seems hardly possible. But I believe that the illness is not the cure.

A Long Walk Home

A Long Walk Home

Years ago, I used to argue with a friend of mine about school funding. A fan of vouchers and local district funding, he argued staunchly that if a person didn’t like where they were and was disappointed with the services offered, they could just leave. Use their feet. Walk to a better place.

My recent news addiction has left me with a hollow feeling in my stomach. I look at the faces of the talking heads and they all look like my old elementary school principal. I wouldn’t have a beer with any of these guys—especially Rumsfield. I’d be afraid of detention, or worse. They might haul out that paddle with the holes in it. I remember how that hurt. I keep hearing stuff about the “liberal media”—and I wonder where they are, where I might tune in. I watch mostly CNN these days, having tired of the “objective” flag-waving of the other alternatives, but all the newscasters and politicians on every network remind me of people I hated growing up. I tried to walk away from them many times, but my parents always made me go back.

Last night, as I watched the long column of soldiers leaving Northern Iraq, I got a Neil Young song stuck in my head from a largely forgotten album named Life —“Long Walk Home.”

If Liberty was a little girl
Watching all the flags unfurl
Standing at the big parade
How would she like us now?

We balance the power
From hour to hour
Giant guns rage
It’s such a long walk home
It’s such a long walk home
It’s such a long walk home.

Though Young has been branded as an arch-conservative by lots of people in the wake of 9/11 and his song “Let’s Roll,” he has always been complex politically. Some people have a talent for sloganeering, and some people mistake concision for simplicity. In this early song, written as I recall in the wake of the Iran-contra scandal, he really captures the feeling I have right now about recent events.

Continue reading “A Long Walk Home”



I woke up at 8am. I was falling through a dream. Falling doesn’t fill me with terror; I tend to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness. But I don’t enjoy waking up at 8am. I’m not a morning person at all. Because I am usually up until three or four a.m., I certainly didn’t feel rested. Something was bugging me.

I turned on the T.V. to a large statue of Saddam Hussein with a rope around his neck. Things were different today. Iraqis were pounding on the statue with a sledgehammer that the reporter kept calling an axe. I watched the spectacle for a couple of hours. A U.S. tow-tank pulled up and Iraqis piled on. It was certainly quite the public relations moment. I counted eight cameras watching one man trying to break a portrait of Hussein on the sidewalk nearby. Eventually, two other Iraqis joined in. Eight cameras and three civilians—the proportion just doesn’t seem right.

An American soldier, raised to the top on a crane arm (unlike the Iraqis who had been climbing up on a frayed rope), draped a flag over the face of Hussein. The reporter remarked that an audible gasp could be heard at the Pentagon. It was a curious turn of events. Footage of iconoclasm had been limited to the British rolling tanks over them in the south. This was different. The American flag, rubbed in the idol’s face, obscured it. A moment later, an Iraqi flag was hauled up and tied like a kerchief around the statue’s neck, and left to linger for a while before they hauled the statue down. It hung for a moment, and didn’t fall, at the edge of the pedestal. It was a manufactured drama.

It made me think of America by William Blake— Blake’s poem begins with a rape.

Continue reading “Falling”