Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rebirth Follow Up

I posted last week about a photo trip gone weird and promised pictures. They're here.


That person is being fully submerged under water.


This person is getting ready to be saved.

Interestingly, I just read a great piece from Sociological Images (a blog I highly recommend, by the way), about early socializing to Christianity. Included was this video. I've only seen it with the sound off, but it's still pretty amazing. Again, I'm refraining from judgement, but as an (extreme?) left-leaning person, it was fascinating to see something close up that I usually only see in snap shots. Read the full text from SI, don't just watch this video.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Santa Mac

(you've seen these if you follow my flickr, but I love them so much, that they're here again.

my santa

santa in the hood

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rebirth in Berkeley

It's been raining here, finally. I love the rain, but it doesn't make for great shooting. Yesterday I decided I'd go out and shoot, regardless of the weather. C recently gave me a Sparta Ful-Vue for my birthday because I was coveting hers. How awesome is it that first she gave hers to V, who has been been making great pictures with it, and then bought TWO to assemble a working camera for me for my birthday! Anyway, I needed to shoot, and I needed to shoot with my new toy. So I headed to the Albany bulb to take some pictures of weird art and muddy dogs. I figured it would be quiet there, which was fine, and sloshy, which was also fine. I just needed to shoot.

If you're not from around here, or just haven't been to the Albany Bulb, it's a weird place. I've been struggling to find a good website about it, but I can't find one. The Albany Bulb used to be a landfill, and is now a weird sort of multi-use piece of land that juts into the Bay. People make art on it, and walk dogs on it. It's not as giant and popular as its neighboring park, Point Isabel, probably partly because of the transient people that tend to live on the Bulb, along with the rough terrain and the steep cliffs that fall right into the ocean (I've had some close calls). One of the blogs I follow has some cool photos of the bulb, and has written extensively about it, if you browse through.

The point is, the crowd there is a little odd. There's the folks who make the Bulb part of their home, the artsy fartsy types, the punky people who walk their awkward dogs who can handle off-leash stuff but can't handle the crowds and amateur hour of Point Isabel, and a bunch of other motley crew. It was perfect for my purposes of trying out my new toys. It's next to the almost-defunct racetrack, and not somewhere you just GO. It's a destination, but for a certain only-in-Berkeley-or-at-least-the-East-Bay crowd.

So I get there yesterday and there are very few people, as I expected. It was really icky out, by Bay Area standards. But I notice right away that there are a few nicely dressed people- by nicely I mean, upstanding. Clean-cut. More normal looking than me, and I'm more 'sheveled than the average person at the Bulb. There are some 8-10 year old kids playing. I notice this and keep moving. On my way back towards the beach area, I see more people gathering, maybe 30 in total. They are huddled in a little amphitheatre area and I hear some applause, see quite a few cameras. I think maybe they're gathered for a family portrait. Although it's cold and blustery, it's actually a great place for a picture- even with the bad weather, I could see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I head to the beach area to take some more pictures, and the group also moves that way.

The group is made up of people dressed warmly, maybe for a hike. They're clean cut, REI or maybe Target type demographic, mostly white, a few Asian, and one or two black people mixed in. There are quite a few children. One man has his dog that is romping with the other dogs on the beach. The group gathers on the shoreline and I realize what is happening when the leader of the group emerges- a white guy maybe 35-40 years old walks into the bay with all of his clothes on up to about his waist. A younger woman of color follows him, in less clothes, but still clothed. He has her cross her arms in front of her, says a few words that sound like wedding vows, she answers that she does take Christ to be her savior, and he pushes her under the water. The crowd, including about 10 children about 10 years old cheers. This repeats twice, with a youngish black woman and a black man. The crowd then disperses. I take a few more pictures, including an attempt at the woman being shoved under the water baptized, and I also get moving. It was cold, I was hungry, and I had already shot two rolls of film, more than I ever do in one sitting, and I didn't even know if my new camera worked.

This was one of the oddest and unsettling things I have seen in a long time. People get baptized all the time, I suppose, but I've never seen it in person, only on TV or the movies, or in books. The juxtaposition of the scenery of the Bulb- the rough, overgrown foliage mixed with rusting out metal, remaindered outsider art, some piss-poor graffiti; the "regulars" at the Bulb- grey-haired-former-radicals, some people who live there, and people walking their scruffy rescue mutts- with this group of people who looked like they had taken a trip out to the Bulb from Antioch or San Ramon or Fairfield was bizarre enough. I had a feeling they had chosen Albany Bulb because no one would care what happened. The Bulb is a bit of a free-for-all. People watched, I even took pictures, but all 10 of us that happened to be at the Bulb that morning did just what we would do if we saw anything else strange going on there- shrugged and kept moving. It was 50ish degrees out there, and people were voluntarily walking into the sea, standing there, and then dunking. I didn't see anyone trying to get warm afterwards.

My friend keeps telling me I take things to far, but there was one further component of this that stayed with me. The group was largely white, but the three people baptized yesterday were people of color. Seeing the white man push them under water was disturbing in a way, as they didn't seem to have much agency in the act. I was driving out at the same time as the young black man who was baptized was, and he was being driven by a much older white man. Something felt almost like I was seeing missionaries in colonial Africa baptizing the happy natives. Taking things too far? Or watching happy white people feel self-righteous as their converts sacrifice a whole lot of creature comforts on a Sunday morning.

Again, I'm reading all of these things into this church group- I'm sure there are a million other explanations, but these were the impressions that I had. That this group had to come to a place where anything goes to practice their religion. That they'd do almost anything, including take a dip on a beach probably riddled with hypodermic needles in frigid temperatures to practice their religion. And that there were some racial overtones to Sunday morning baptism, as well as the unsettling enthusiasm of the small children cheering for a cold dunk.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mike Davis: Planet of Slums

"Planet of Slums" is one of the most apocalyptic books I've ever read. Basically, if you are reading this blog, you're literate, on a computer, and probably will never live in the kind of slum Mike Davis writes about. The kind of slum that pretty soon over half of the world's population will live in. Where you have no access to water, let alone sewage, you have a good chance of getting or dying from tuberculosis, malnutrition, or HIV/AIDS. You may share a room with 15 other people, and the toilet to human ratio may be something like 1 to 100, so you shit wherever you can. Really. "Planet of Slums" was a hard read. The global south is full of failed states that Davis chronicles briefly, jumping all over the world- Asia, Africa, Central and South America, etc. He writes about the IMF and World Bank's direct involvement and causation of these problems, and leaves the reader feeling both responsible and hopeless. I felt a sinking in my stomach each page. Fortunately I have a bathroom available about 10 feet away.

This is not a great book. Davis basically sums up about 50 other studies, maybe 500 other studies, there were a lot of footnotes. I felt like I was reading one of my college papers- I always did too much research and then summed it up without ever really writing my own thoughts. I was good at pulling together the pieces for unique work, but not so good at then saying "now what." The slums are bad. I get that from "Planet of Slums." Really, really, really atrociously bad. Disgusting overcrowded, environmental and economic disasters that 1st world people like us have no idea about. I'm reminded of this photo that is circulating on twitter of New York graffiti:

That is a first world problem. A third world, slum problem is having to rent living space on a sidewalk. Making less than $200 a year, to feed a family of 10. Having your neighborhood bulldozed every few months, with all your stuff being pushed underground. I have a feeling this will be an issue haunting me. One that I can't put a finger on, or think about much, because it's just too much. Davis rips the NGOs that claim to help, but don't make a dent. The "microeconomics" that don't allow for any accumulation of wealth, even for the "entrepeneurs" they claim to be helping. Slums in the global south are generally "out of sight, out of mind" for first world people. I will no longer have them out of mind, but Davis' book doesn't point me in any meaningful way to move forward.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dehumanizing Through Marketing

... it's still a problem.

I remember a younger version of me being so proud of boycotting Calvin Klein when Kate Moss was a teenage waif, naked and anorexic in his ads for perfume. Moss was 19 years old but looked 12, and looked like she hadn't eaten in a few months. I was an outraged young feminist, hot off readings of "The Beauty Myth" and "Backlash" and these ads were perfect examples of The Industry exploiting women, and "society" falling for it, hook line and sinker.

When I talk about these things now, people think I'm crazy. My peers- age and job-wise- think I'm nuts. They aren't the same peers of my early teens, and the second wave of feminism is even further in the past. We've fallen for it, and we've forgotten what it was we worried about swallowing. My last post, about my frustration with the Cosmo survey positing women's sex acts as deviance, was along the same lines: normalcy is dictated by the media, by ad-agencies, and constructed in an unachievable ways. Don't take my word for it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Survey Results and What That Was All About

Almost three weeks ago and two whole books ago I begged and pleaded for you to take my survey. I know it was weird, and I know I left you hanging, but I've been busy. I started to post the results post a couple times but a)it's complicated and b)I'm not good at charts or reading instructions. Google documents aren't that easy! Or, I'm not that good at reading instructions. Or los dos.

So, I'll start from the ridiculous and end up with the real reason I made the survey in the first place. It may take more than one blog. Ridiculous are two questions a friend and I fell on opposite sides of. We'll start where themacinator looked really dumb (only one of the bajillion times a week that this happened.) I went to a Warriors game and lo and behold they played the Clippers. What, says themacinator, is a Clipper? I suppose a clipper is something obvious.

I know my dear readers are smart and well edumacated, but I had no idea what a clipper was. I figured that it was basketball, maybe they clipped people. Whatever that means. But as the majority of you knew, a clipper is a ship with 3 masts. Right. Why, I asked, is a team from Los Angeles named after a sailboat? Like I should get that? Well, apparently the Clippers were orignially from San Diego. Where apparently they sail boats a lot. See more here, and pat yourself on the back if you got that one.

Next inane question was about dirigibles. A dirigible is basically a blimp. Most of you got this one, as did I. Some of you, wisely, didn't care. One has been flying daily over Oakland, which is kind of cool in an absurd sort of way.

Now we get more to the meat of the matter. I threw in a trick question here about shooting. I don't shoot guns, I don't like guns, but I was feeling sneaky. It's my stupid survey, I'll trick you if I want to.

I've written about this before- about my weirded-out-ness about shooting people wihtout noticing, but V and I recently had a conversation about how this kind of drive-by-shooting was "in" again. (Shootings of the gun kind are also "in" again in Oakland, but that's another story for another day and another survey, now that I'm so technologically awesome.) I really am curious about people's opinions: obviously a lot of people who read this blog think it's cool/edgy. I'm just not there, yet. Plus, with my obsession with film lately, I'm terrible at it. It's not easy to focus a twin lens reflex and then shoot cock the shutter AND shoot without looking. I'm too clutzy for that. The digi is big and bulky, and I'm too self concious to walk around with it in places that could take unseen photos. And I'm just not going to take pictures of sleeping/passed out/otherwise vulnerable people. But I'm open for photo-ethics-discussions.

The last question was the reason I made this quiz. It's also the question I screwed up, inadvertantly leaving Google Doc's "option #4" choice in. This is the choice that 9 out of 24 participants chose, basically screwing/skewing my data in an otherwise extremely statistically significant poll.

I know this seemed like an odd question to find on since I am unabashed prude. I will talk about feminism often and sexuality occasionally, but rarely actual sex or sex acts. The question: "Would you have a one night stand?" is definitely about sex. The choices that I meant to include (not "Option 4), "Yes, I've done it," "I'd do it, stuff happens," and "I thought themacinator was a prude. What's going on here?," were personal, and, well about sex. So what brought this on?

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the break room at work and encountered an issue of "Cosmo" magazine. I've heard of this magazine- even though I live in the dark ages in terms of pop culture, Cosmo is not totally beyond me. After picking it up, I kind of wish it was. It's gross. Peruse the front page of that link for a sampling of all kinds of things that I think should probably be covered in paper when sold on the newsstand. Anyway, I was possessed by an evil spirit to take a quiz. I mean, I was a teenager once, or more like a pre-teen once, who read 17 magazine and things like that, and quizes were the best part. The more I think about it, quizes in awful teenage magazines were how my friends and I determined what was "normal" or "acceptable." And Cosmo is still at it. Only, the magazine establishes what is "normal" by positioning everything else as deviant, "naughty," or objectionable. Which left me unsettled and in need of creating a quiz. Here is how the quiz is presented:

The quiz is set up in a catchy format, but hooks the reader/quiz-taker in by suggesting that OTHER women are doing naughty things. The first page is blank, and offers the three choices for each question (as I tried to do in my "real" question): "I've done it," "I haven't, but I'm curious," and "I wouldn't." Reader gets the chance to fill in all of these questions and then, on the next page, is presented with

What bugged me so much about this? (And why has it taken me so long to write this?) I guess I feel like, for whatever reason, the stats are skewed. And because of the way the data is presented- "Wicked things other women are doing," "Cosmo's naughtiest poll," etc, I feel like women are being demonized for, well, doing what women do. Here are a snippet of the results that really bugged.

Having sex with an ex, having a one night stand, and having sex on a first date all scored at or above 50% of women saying "I wouldn't." This wording that sounds like absolute "No," on a quiz that, I'm guessing most women my age, a little younger and a little older, would say is the kind of quiz that helped them figure out "what is normal," posits this kind of sexuality as abnormal. This kind of sexuality that is often described as "slutty," or "loose," or in Cosmo's terms, "naughty" and "wicked." Is it wrong to have sex with someone you just met? Or someone you've broken up with? Accroding to Cosmo's readers (or the numbers Cosmo's published), less acceptable than "sexting" naked pictures. The definitions of "naughty" and "wicked" are what got me here.

And what took me so long? Well, I don't like to talk about sex, for one. Those who answered that themacinator is a prude were absolutely right. Also, cutting and pasting and scanning was a pain in the ass. themacinator is also kind of lazy. I'm fascinated to hear your thoughts, though.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Amy Bach: Ordinary Injustice

Amy Bach's "Ordinary Injustice" is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Partially, I suppose, it's because I'm off of the horribly depressing food and drink kick I was on. And partially this was just a Really Great Book. A couple of years ago, I read Courtroom 302, which is the same genre as "Ordinary Injustice": intrepid journalist picks target in criminal justice system and tears it apart, making reader weep. Bach mentions Bogira's Chicago's courtroom, but has a larger scope in her book: how the US court system fails daily to do its job. She defines ordinary injustice as happening when "a community of legal professionals becomes so accustomed to a pattern of lapses that they can no longer see their role in them."

It's not one judge sleeping at the bench, or one public defender who doesn't even meet his clients, those these things happen, it's the whole system around the sleeping judge and the sloppy lawyer who let these things happen- either because they don't care, or because they're part of the system, too. And the people who suffer are myriad: the victims of crimes, the falsely accused, the communities who don't know how justice works, the communities who don't bleieve in justice because it's never served, the communities who see violent criminals re-released back into the streets, the communities who lose innocent family members.

America's justice system is "adversarial": trials are fought by a prosecutor (the state) and the defense attorney (on behalf of the accused). The judge plays umpire, making sure everyone stays in the lines. The accusee has rights to make sure that everyone does stay within the lines, that the playing ground is fair, etc. There are rules in place to make sure that the adversarial nature of the justice system doesn't collapse, taht the two sides don't become friendly, that the game doesn't become a scrimmage. When it does, when "collegiality and collaboration" enter the "practice of criminal justice they are in fact the cause of system failure. When professional alliances trump adversarilaism, ordinary injustice predominates." This can happen for a variety of reasons- the people involved think it will benefit the community to "speed up" the process, there is a mentality of "we've always done it this way," the court system is overburdened and underfunded, or the players are literally too friendly with eachother to be impartial. Both victims and suspects lose out here: they might not be read their rights, they might end up pleaing to something they ddin't do, they might take pleas they don't understand, they might not get an attorney, their cases might not get charged, etc.

Bach makes a lot of great suggestions on how to improve the court system, many involving helping the average person understand it more, and making it more transparent and accountable. In the meantime, I suggest not getting arrested.