Monday, February 28, 2011

Raj Patel: Stuffed and Starved

I've done it- I've gone too far. I've now read the book on food that makes it no longer possible (at least for now) for me to evaluate my food choices. It's just too much. Michael Pollan says you can eat locally and ethically, but watch it. Jonathan Safran Foer says yeah, not really. And now that I've read Raj Patel's "Stuffed and Starved," I'm not sure really what to eat at all. Patel decries that food chain- not the "food chain"- that supplies the first world with our food. I picked up the book for the catchiest part- how so many people can be starving while so many people can be obese (and so many malnutritioned people are also fat)- but there's lots to learn here. Patel puts together the stress on the Global South caused by genetically modified crops and monoculture. He talks about the extra pressure on farmers and rural people in general, and how this suffering is especially borne by women. He convincingly argues that first world food "choices" aren't really choices at all: our time in the supermarket is spent choosing between what megacorporations want us to eat, not what nature really could provide us. I finished this book over a week ago, so I can't go into much detail.

The book was good, readable, and utterly distressing. The highlights were definately the (surprise) mentions on Arizmendi and the West Oakland People's Grocery. Read globally, love locally!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Year of the Bug: Bath Attack

Mac doing his signature Macneuver, the shake (seen many moons ago). I suppose it doesn't really count when he's doing it like a normal dog because he's wet...

This was NOT the planned shot. I'm not going to give away the planned shot except to say that it was a major fail. I'm finding this project hard in an unexpected way- I was expecting it to be hard to find the time/inspiration/initiative to do this every week, but I'm loving it. The hard thing is that I've never really done posed pictures, even with Mac. Sometimes I'll have him sit and shoot him because he's So Damn Cute, but really, it's only when I'm inspired. I see something, I shoot it. I don't pose things or rearrange them, even slightly. It feels weird. But Mac always looks the same. And I keep getting these comments about how sad and forlorn he looks. He kind of does, in the pictures, even though he's not. If you know Mac, you know he's not forlorn. If you don't know Mac, and have read this blog at all, you know a forlorn Mac, even for a minute, is cause for alarm. So posing him has been a challenge. And posing him with treats is a challenge because training is Very Exciting and there goes the pose. We'll see how this goes- training and photography technique apparently go hand in hand. Surprise every time.

week 8/52: poochy bath aftermath

Friday, February 18, 2011

Luis Alberto Urrea: The Devil's Highway

I read everything I can about the Mexico-America border. I'm slightly obsessed with it- partially due to the first trip I spent in Mexico, where we studied border issues in depth. It's not really fair to speak of Mexico without the context of the United States and/or the border, and honestly, it's not really fair to talk about the United States without talking about Mexico. A whole lot of us (me included) live in what used to be Mexico (now referred to by people in the Chicano Movement as "Aztlan"), which was surrendered/taken/stolen by the US after the Spanish/American war in 1848. (See this dramatic map). It's a whole lot of white/colonial/American privilege that most people in el norte don't even know about this. And much more recently, a whole lot of incredibly destructive policies have created a push/pull situation where Mexican are both enticed to the United States and forced to look elsewhere for their income. This isn't a history lesson, so I'm not going to discuss all of these factors, or the US policy's back and forth ambivalence- sure, we'll take 'um, under these conditions, to "no way, Jose" (get it?), to "ok, we'll look the other way, someone's gotta do our dirty work," to half-hearted stimulus packages on the border. That's another story (and probably another book review).

One part of the story is that the Powers that Be in the United States have made it virtually impossible to cross the border in any of the major reasonable places to cross the border: San Deigo, Nogales, El Paso. This, in the name of the years of the "No way, Jose," policy. The ongoing militarization of the border (expanded exponentially since 9/11 with the merging of the US/Mexico border into the (creepy) Homeland Security department means that it gets harder and harder for immigrants to come into the US without (very difficult to come by) paperwork. But this hasn't stopped them from coming- the numbers of people crossing the border continues to increase, as the dangers of crossing increases. As Urrea writes, the fact that the dangers increase means that the likelihood of returning to Mexico decreases. Who wants to risk their lives multiple times?

By the time you get to the end of Urrea's book about the "Tucson 14," as they're sometimes called, you'd wonder who would want to risk their lives to come to El Norte at all. On the other hand, the genius of "The Devil's Highway" is that you understand totally. The close-to-30 men who came through the desert (all of home who suffered, 14 (at least) who died), came because they wanted a better life, which the United States, via some shady men, promised them. Even the shady coyotes who led the men to their deaths were human- they come across as men who also wanted better lives, and only got into being coyotes as a business venture, not as prey animals picking the carcasses of the weak, innocent Mexican campesinos. Surprisingly, even the Border Patrol agents come across as human- they spring into action to rescue the dying men, and although have an inter-agency spat about what to call the incident, even come up with fixes to help avoid this in the future.

Bottom line, this is a gripping book. People suffer and die. "Aliens" suffer and die. "Illegals" suffer and die. I can't imaginen reading this book and still believing crossers are "aliens." Or that they really are a threat to the "American way of life." These are not terrorists- in fact, Border Patrol agents repeatedly dismiss the idea that they are staving off any future terrorist attack. Urrea is a convincing documenter of the tragedy that is the relationship between Mexico and the United States, almost without documenting it all. Although this is almost an action book, it's a stark commentary on what we've become, on what the United States is doing to Mexico, and to MExicans. Read it and weep.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tim Wise: Colorblind

The full title of this book is "Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity." Basically, Tim Wise, an anti-racist intellectual, has written a treatise on the fatal flaws of the current "liberal" approach to race: i.e. to pretend it doesn't exist. (I put liberal approach in quotes, because I'm not sure how liberal the liberals that use this approach are. I guess qualifies as liberal now seems very central to me, and I feel progressive as opposed to radical? I don't know I guess that's not the point.) The theory is that talking about race can be perceived as racist, and worse, if we "liberals" acknowledge that it exists, and target policy towards it, the conservative elements are less likely to agree to go along with these policies. However, conservatives have already linked "hot" issues with race in the white mind: think immigration, schools, even something like swearing in music. The word "urban" has become a code word for talking about race. So pretending to be colorblind so that conservatives won't think liberals are trying to help people of color is ridiculous. They're already doing that.

Wise comes down hard on President Obama, who, he feels, has blown a chance to break open a chance to change the dialogue on race and improve the conditions of people of color. Instead, from the beginning of President Obama's rise to the top of political power, he has used the language of racial transcendence and racial neutrality to both explain his success and to push the success of others. Wise points to a speech then Senator-Obama gave in 2008 which simultaneously erased the United States' racist history and blamed black people for their second class status. Obama has specifically stated that he will not make programs that specifically aim to help black people; rather, he believes that universal aid "are most likely to be helped because they need the most help." Wise demonstrates that this is historically false: structural racism has denied black people for decades access to the very types of universal programs such as bank loans, job creation, etc. And his "when the tide lifts, all boats are lifted" metaphor smells very strongly to me of Reagan-era trickle down economics: don't worry, the folks will be helped after the whites get theirs.

When racism is institutionalised, and liberals pretend it doesn't exist, their solutions tend to negate the issue. For example, racism is institutionalized in health care: black people have substantially higher infant mortality rates and are dying of treatable and preventable diseases much more than the general (especially white) population. I wasn't surprised by this, but I was surprised about two of the main factors causing this. The first is literally stress on the body of fighting racism (institutionalized and other) day in and day out. It wears down the body and causes all kinds of issues such as hypertension and blood pressure problems in black people at very early ages. The second is that the quality of care that physicians give black men and women is definitively affected by the color of their skin. Doctors describe and perceive themselves as much less racist than they are. When it comes down to their treatment of patients, however, they're much more likely to give up on black patients, to recommend less treatment, etc. Universal health care won't fix this: just because it's cheaper doesn't mean physicians won't be racist, or that the generalized racism causing bodily stress will go away. But conservatives will have the upper hand: see? You got universal health care and black people are still sicker than everyone else. It must be something about them.

Wise cites many studies that show that talking about race and racism are much more effective than ignoring it and pretending that we're all the same or that economics are to blame for the mess that people of color are in. While being colorblind is a different issue than being "outwardly" racist (saying derogatory things, being outwardly discriminatory in hiring processes, etc), it's still detrimental to moving forward, and to entire (very large) groups of people, including white people. I would say detrimental to everyone. Colorblindness doesn't work, but it's how we do. Wise says we can start with the personal, as we should never wait for policies to catch up with much of anything. Teachers, parents, companies, schools, need to start acknowledging race, historical racism, institutionalised racism, and acting accordingly. Individuals can also realize that like it or not, we all see color, starting from as young as six months of age. Who we are affects how we interpret what we see. It's huge that we have a black President. But it's ridiculous to pretend that it doesn't matter.

Note: I have a few problems with Wise's book. First, it was extremely black and white. He throws in some stuff, mainly on Asian-Americans, and I felt he did little to negate the "model minority" stuff. There was almost nothing on Hispanics, or "brown" people in general except when Wise would say something to the effect of "black and brown people." Further, for someone very aware of his white privilege, Wise seems to have forgotten that he's a man. Gender is very much a part of colorblindness, and really any discussion of race- at one point I felt that Wise was alluding to tokenism- but didn't bother to mention the even trickier position women of color face (see the influential "This Bridge Called My Back.") I understand that "Colorblind" is a short book, almost a pamphlet, but these sins of omission are oft-repeated in the "liberal" discussions of race, and Wise should know better.

SAD, Shooting, and A Light at the End of the Tunnel

One winter ago I defined Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I explained why it's a very real phenomena: you just can't go out as much. People are stuck inside because the days are short, and baseball season is over. Daily activities are hindered which leads to more time in bed. Bed isn't a bad thing, obviously, but more time in bed and less time doing stuff leads to burnout/compassion fatigue, and yadda yadda, read the other post. Less shooting, etc. I'm particularly suffering from the less shooting part of this since my shooting partner/best friend went back to Australia (sidenote: it's summer there- where's the justice in that?).

But, there's light at the end of the tunnel. First of all, Opening Night for the A's is in 6 weeks, by my calculation, since it's April 1st. I'll be there. Spring Training has started. And my boyfriend, Joe Blanton, is very much back with the Phillies, which pleases me to no end, as I have hope for my backup team, as opposed to my same "maybe it's this year" feeling for the A's.

And, I may just have stumbled on a shooting project that will actually get me out and about. This dude shot with 52 cameras in 52 weeks. I have no interest in buying/shooting with 52 cameras (I've already got this little collection problem), but I do think it would be cool to shoot 52 cameras. His set is very cool. An awesome flickr contact of mine has a penchant for shooting film cameras (and the people that carry them) on the street. This could work. It would force me to get out again. The Year of the Bug project is awesome, but I don't have to leave the comfort of my own home. Must. Shoot. More. Whaddya think?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Year of the Bug: Valentine's Day

Well, I wanted something better than this, but my plan with him and his unrequited love (Pocket) failed. Pocket was freezing outside and shivering, which made her look even more like a squirrel. Mac decided to sniff her, which is a Very Bad Idea. So now she was a shivering squirrel with every intention of biting Mac. (He deserved it.) This was going nowhere good, we ended that plan. Then I tried T's plan of putting on every pink item he owned, but that was not physically possible. It just wouldn't fit. There are about 50 items, and they don't stretch enough to layer. I wanted red and pink and cheesy but artsy, but this is what you get.

week 7/52: is that him?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't Believe Them, See it For Yourself

So, because this is the way my mind works, I'm always making connections between things. Some would say, making connections where they don't exist, but I don't buy that. (Once, close to 15 years ago, a teacher said to me that she didn't believe in coincidences, that there was no such thing as a coincidence. I didn't know what to make of that- did she believe in fate? I still don't know what she meant, but what I think is that if you see a coincidence, there is probably some connection.) I'm finishing up a book now on the problem with the philosophy of racial colorblindness and find myself making all kinds of notes in the margins about "The Big Sort." (Yes, I make notes in the margins.) But I've also been collecting links for years about ads that link directly back to the discussion of "Reality Bites Back" from two books ago, if you can remember back that far. I still can, which means it was a good book (or that my memory is improving). And in December, I posted a more scholarly video on the subject.

So maybe you watched the Superbowl last week. Or maybe you've just heard about it. It's this weird event where the whole country stops what they're doing to watch a bunch of very well paid men crash into each other, potentially causing brain damage, all for the sake of a small brown ball. Or maybe, the whole country stops what they're doing to watch the ads between when the well paid beefy men crash into each other potentially causing brain damage. Somehow, the Superbowl has become synonymous with ads. I can't find anything precise on this (help?), but it sounds like basically, the theory is everyone watches the Superbowl, it's a family affair, and lots of money is spent, so marketers feel like this is the Time to Advertise. In 1984 Apple advertised for a new Macintosh and it was on. Now the ads themselves are the spectacle. I mean, you can see big, well paid men crashing into each other, potentially causing brain damage all year long, but the commercials are awesome-er the last game of the year.

Or not. Just like with reality TV, they're just that much less awesome. I don't watch the Superbowl. We all know that my sport of preference involves much more ballet and much less brain damage, and that I don't have a TV. And when a game becomes about the ads, just like in reality TV, it's just that much more dangerous. Check these two ads, nicely digested by About-Face. And read Colorlines' awesome take on this terrible Pepsi Max ad:
How many terrible stereotypes can they fit into one 30 second ad? The angry black woman one sure goes on for awhile. Then you get the black predator ogling the lovely blonde young thing... and apparently, this ad was made for $800 by an amateur. So the only way to make it is to buy into this master narrative. And the amateur sure made it big, straight into the Superbowl. Sweet.

Okay, so forget the Superbowl. What about the rest of the year? Well, in case you don't have a TV like me, and didn't know about "Toddlers and Tiaras," you probably (were lucky and) hadn't heard that 8 year olds need makeup. Yes, Walmart has their own line, through MAC, of makeup targeted to 8-12 year olds. And just like Pozner said, all us girls that wanted to be princesses in tiaras want to go up to be princesses in wedding dresses. With the perfect noses. So here comes Bridalplasty. (Pozner talks about it in the book, but really, this video makes it real. And really really bad.)
So we've got untrustworthy women fighting over someone carving into their bodies in order to have the Most Perfect Wedding because that's what it takes to a)get the man which is obviously what it takes to b)be happy. That's Reality.

Need more? In an advertising imitates life imitates advertising moment, Club Monaco (that's clothes, I believe) has made mannequins that are so starved that their clavicles and spines stick out. In animal welfare, we call that a body mass index of 1 or 2- starvation. But it's cool, because the fabric is draped on plastic women, obviously not real, right? Just like Reality TV. Just joking, it's fake! (Tell that to real models that die, who look like the mannequins.) So now we've got fake body parts being the key to the perfect wedding, fake mannequins selling us the way our clothes should fit us- and our role models as kids are fake cartoon characters who don't even stand naturally. Ads tell us what what men and women want, even down to the color water bottle. This is not fake, people.

I'm seeing connections. This is not a coincidence.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bill Bishop: The Big Sort

I'm going to do something really heinous and rehash the 2000 and 2004 elections. George W. Bush won them both. Well, you know what I mean- he became the President after both elections. Between 2000 and 2004, the Bush campaign figured out some important things that led to them winning the 2004 election. First, they realized that there was no more middle ground. The "undecided" voter was a miniscule population, not worth wasting resources on. Rather, the Bush campaign decided to spend the vast majority their funds on getting out the vote among already partisan Republicans. This was a wise move, Bill Bishop argues, because of what he calls "The Big Sort." Basically, since 1965, Americans have had the affluence to choose where they want to live. And they've chosen to live with people that are fundamentally like them. And as like chooses like, like becomes more like, which has a drastic effect on politics. In 2004, the Bush campaign figured this out and used it to their advantage. (I'm going to attempt to change the subject now.)

Recently I wrote about snap judgements that we make, whether we acknowledge them or not. Bishop's book is based on the premise that we do- whether we know what we're doing or not, Americans have begun self-selecting (sorting) into neighborhoods because they "just know" that they belong. While pundits and the media talks about red and blue "states," people don't live in states- they live in cities or towns, and even more, they live in neighborhoods and blocks. And these neighborhoods become tribes, and the tribes have political leanings. Very few neighborhoods, cities, and states now have competitive elections; rather, in the state and national elections that Bishop looks at, the elections are won by what he calls landslides (by a margin of over 20%). What that means is that within each area, people are unlikely to live near someone who voted differently than they did. Further, there is a lot of migration going on within the United States. But Bishop's research showed that people are migrating from one county with a landslide in their direction to another county with a landslide in their direction: i.e. I'm not likely to move from Alameda County to somewhere dark red. I'm going to move to another county just like this- where it's hard to find a very conservative voter. (Interestingly, during the Big Sort period while political segregation has risen, Bishop writes that racial integration has also risen.)

There have been serious political ramifications from the Big Sort. Bishop explains rather ominously that when like-minded people get together, they tend to move more to the extreme. And even though there's more information availalbe to us in the age of the internet, that doesn't mean we're likely to use it to evaluate the issues. Just like Americans have begun to seek out neighborhoods where they fit in, they also select media that meets their needs. Bishop describes why some exit polls may have been skewed in the Bush/Kerry election of 2004 (oops, I broke my promise): some Republicans did not want to answer questions if they felt the pollsters had graduate degrees. Some Republicans did not want to answer questions if the pollsters were carrying anything labeled with a mainstream media logo (the channels were sponsoring the polls). And worse, the majority of people now vote strictly on a partisan ticket. There are no more pro-choice Republican candidates or fiscally conservative Democrats. Bishop describes one County Commissioner who realized that his constituents were making decisions about him based on his position on land use: once they knew that, they figured they knew where he stood on abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc.

With the "Big Sort," the parties have moved to the extreme, but in unequal ways. The Republican party has moved much more to the right while the Democrats have "edged" to the left, in Bishop's words. Parties can count on their voters voting for them, since few people switch sides altogether, and since the number of true independents is so small. (True story: I voted for a Republican in this election, because I believed he had better credentials for the job, which wasn't particulary about parties. I told someone this and he was shocked. Jaw-dropped shocked.) And the parties now have very little to talk about, and no real way to communicate, or get anythign done. Without moderates in the House or Senate, what is there to talk about? And this leads to the dangerous position of "the president and the courts [being] encouraged to act unilaterally." (I won't mention him again.) In 2005, according to Bishop, there were less than 10 moderates in the Senate. If all of the people in Congress and the House are getting more extreme, and feel teh same way about all the issues, what is there to argue about? What is there even to discuss? (Don't worry, they don't discuss much- Congress barely meets anymore.) And how can we expect them to get anything done?

This is not a great book. Bishop dedicates the beginning of every section with a very convincing argument that he then argues against. I kept having to remind myself that I wasn't supposed to fall for this part- wait, no, that's not it- the real thing is coming soon! And the theory of The Big Sort is extremely convincing, and probably not in need of a full length book. But it's provocative, and combines a lot of disciplines into a good theory of what lots of us think- that "they" are taking over. It's not a conspiracy, it's how we live. And it affects how we vote, and how we will continue to live. What it leaves out is where we go from here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Year of the Bug: Camera Porn, Again

On one hand, I love this project. I'm always thinking of new themes, and can't wait for the next week to begin.

On the other, I've always found the passage of time slightly depressing, and have mastered having no idea how long it has been, and feeling like time flies. Counting the weeks is having an adverse affect on me. The only good part of the downside is that right now, I'm counting the weeks till baseball season.

This week, I shot yesterday and today with my grandpa's old Nikon film camera. The camera currently has a 35mm lens on it which makes for very wide pictures. Stupidly I shot in very narrow spaces which made for lots of ugly stuff on either side of Mac. So I did something I've never done before- I edited a film shot. All I did was crop it down to square, but it still somehow feels wrong to manipulate film. The purist in me shrieks at this shot. The photographer in me also shrieks at the crappy processing, but that's what you get when you take the film to CVS and pay for crappy drug store 1 hour processing...

6/52: Camera Porn, Diana Edition

Wednesday, February 02, 2011