"In a country occupied by a Western power, the locals are faced with a choice. Some have opted to reconcile their own traditions with those of their occupier, borrowing from Western ways that open the path to philosophy and science, and integrating themselves into a wider culture. Others fiercely resist, waging a bitter and bloody war not only on the occupier, but also on those in their own community who seek to collaborate or integrate with the occupiers who are denounced as defilers.
"If this were contemporary Afghanistan-Pakistan, you’d know who was whom, right? But before you bite into that latke or sing the dreidel song, you may want to consider that in Judea in the second century BC, the Taliban role is played by the Maccabees. And it is the Maccabees, of course, who are lionized in the Hanukah tale.
"In fact, they pretty much invented the holiday to celebrate their victory over the Greeks and all Jews who would embrace their ways, the “Hellenizers.” Hanukah is not mentioned in the Torah. It’s not really a religious holiday at all — the bubbemeis about an oil lamp burning for eight days was tacked on as an afterthought, and a way of smuggling God into what was a ritual celebrating a very temporal insurgent military triumph. Being what my son archly calls a “J-theist”, I’m not about to start trafficking in Biblical miracles (not that Hanukah is mentioned in the Jewish bible), but you have to figure that making a stash of olive oil burn for eight days while replenishments are cold-pressed and consecrated is uh, small potatoes compared with, you know, parting the Red Sea and such like. So the Jewish god really gets involved in such quotidian “miracles” as extending the life of fuel oil in to enable the proper observance of rituals in his honor in a temple recovered from defilers? You’d think if he cared enough to intervene at all, he might have prevented the defilers from taking over in the first place.
"But don’t get me wrong; I love Hanukah. I love it mostly because I’m a sucker for lox-’n-latkes and the communion around their consumption.
"It does strikes me, though, that the Hanukah story is so patently Disney, and its purpose so negatively nationalist, that we need to consider just what it is about our Jewish identity that we want to celebrate. If I’m going to light eight candles in affirmation of my Judaism — boiled down, in a nutshell to Rabbi Hillel’s famous thumbnail definition of the faith, “That which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others; all the rest is commentary” — I don’t want to honor the Maccabee Taliban or their latterday incarnation who’re just as keen to police Jewish identity and enforce fealty to the nationalist vision that is modern Zionism. I want to honor those that exemplify an expansive, ethical Judaism that connects with a universal community of values and uses justice as its only benchmark.
"Working with the format of eight candles, here’s a draft list of eight Jews for whom I’d be happy to light a yahrzeit candle to honor their contribution to enriching our identity through connecting it with and enriching a wider humanity. (There are, of course, hundreds more — send in your own!) But the point is that if you’re going to do Hanukah, think about what kind of Jew you want to be…
"1. Marek Edelman
"I can think of no greater example than Marek Edelman of a Jew whose life so eloquently combined the three essential principles of Hillel: That which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others; if I am not for me who is for me?; and, If not now, when?
" "A time comes in the life of every people, Nelson Mandela in 1961, when it faces but two choices: Submit, or fight. Marek Edelman confronted that choice head on in 1942, as a young activist of the Jewish Socialist Bund in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. Together with others of the left and Zionist organizations (the Bund was anti-Zionist), he helped form the Jewish Fighting Organization that organized the heroic (and the word is not used lightly here) uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto against the liquidationist plans of the Nazis. His account, The Ghetto Fights, makes gripping and moving reading, and negates the myth that Europe’s Jews went meekly to the slaughter. He survived the uprising and the ghetto’s liquidation, escaping with assistants from the leftist partisans of Poland’s People’s Army to become a leader of the underground, and eventually participate in a second heroic rising, the 1944 general Warsaw uprising. In the ultimate triumph over Nazi designs, he chose to remain in Poland after the war, and kept fighting the good fight — from 1976 onwards, he became a labor activist, and eventually in 1980 a leader of the Solidarity movement that helped end authoritarian rule in Poland. As he noted of his early affiliations, “The Bundists did not wait for the Messiah, nor did they plan to leave for Palestine. They believed that Poland was their country and they fought for a just, socialist Poland, in which each nationality would have its own cultural autonomy, and in which minorities’ rights would be guaranteed.” And he remained true to that vision.
"He watched, disgusted, as Israel pummeled the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in the Second Intifada, until he could contain his outrage no longer: In a move that infuriated the Israelis, who have constructed an elaborate — if ersatz — claim to be the heirs to the defenders of the Warsaw Ghetto, Edelman wrote a public letter to Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader then on trial for terrorism in Israel. It was the Palestinian fighting organizations, Edelman said, not the Israelis, who carry the mantle of the Warsaw Ghetto’s resistance. As Hillel said, that which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others. Edelman died last October."
"As always in violence, it’s impossible to put together a coherent story. You lose track of what happened first, what came next, who got hurt when; the moments stretch out endlessly, run together, overlap, images are superimposed or interwoven; the physical pain gets buried somewhere safe, more or less, inside the surreal limbo of your memory, which seems oddly to correspond to the external limbo of the action as you saw it unfold. So this time I won’t try to tell the story. Instead, a few vignettes:
"– Tonight is the first candle of Hanukah, another one of those alleged Jewish festivals of freedom. Early this morning, at Kafr Yasuf in the northern West Bank, settlers set fire to a mosque. They left some graffiti on the walls: "We will burn you all." Copies of the Koran were torn and torched, prayer-rugs burnt. Jews did this. It’s important to understand what this sentence means. Burning means something to us. No doubt the occupation system will protect the perpetrators; and even if, by some miracle, they’re pursued and arrested and, by a still greater miracle, brought to trial, you can depend upon the Israeli courts to set them free without punishment. It’s been that way for decades now. Soldiers, border police, probably plain-clothes intelligence agents too—they’re the ones beating my students, spraying us with gas, prodding us like cattle along the street; all this to protect the settler hooligans who have taken over these homes. These same soldiers and policemen routinely protect the settlers all over the territories. So I guess Hanukah doesn’t really count any more when it comes to freedom; or maybe it merely celebrates our freedom to lie to ourselves and to others, as Bibi does when he pretends he wants peace as he hurts and humiliates the Palestinians ever further. There’s no end to it, either, only deepening darkness, early winter of the soul. Suddenly I realize that we Israelis have never truly been free, despite what we say; for nature has a law: you cannot diminish another’s freedom without impairing or destroying your own. I hope a day will come when the Jews, too, will have the courage to be free."
"These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.
"To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent."
america the beautiful
The Devil and Mr. Obama
"Well lookee here! An invite from my limey comrades to recap Barack Obama's first year in office. Well comrades, I can do this thing two ways. I can simply state that the great mocha hope turned out to be a Trojan horse for Wall Street and the Pentagon. Or I can lay in an all-night stock of tequila, limes and reefer and puke up the entire miserable tale like some 5,000 word tequila purged Congolese stomach worm. I have chosen to do the latter.
"As you may know, Obama's public approval ratings are taking a beating. Millions of his former cult members have awakened with a splitting hangover to find their pockets turned inside out and eviction notices on the doors of their 4,000 square foot subprime mortgaged cardboard fuck boxes. Many who voted for Obama out of disgust for the Bush regime are now listening to the Republicans again on their car radios as they drive around looking for a suitable place to hide their vehicles from the repo man. Don't construe this as support for the GOP. It's just the standard ping ponging of disappointment and disgust that comes after the honeymoon is over with any administration. Most Americans' party affiliations are the same as they were when Bush was elected. After all, Obama did not get elected on a landslide by any means; he got 51% of the vote.
"Right now his approval ratings are in the 40th percentile and would be headed for the basement of the league were it not for the residual effect of the Kool-Aid love fest a year ago. However, millions of American liberals remain faithful, and believe Obama will arise from the dead in the third year and ascend to glory. You will find them at Huffington Post.
"This frustrating ping pong game in which the margin of first time, disenchanted and undecided voters are batted back and forth has become the whole of American elections. That makes both the Republican and Democratic parties very happy, since it keeps the game down to fighting the enemy they know, each other, as opposed to being forced to deal with the real issues, or worse yet, an independent or third party candidate who might have a solution or two.
"Thus, the game is limited to two players between two corporate parties. One is the Republican Party, which believes we should hand over our lives and resources directly to the local Chamber of Commerce, so the chamber can deliver them to the big corporations. The other, the Democratic Party, believes we should hand our lives and resources to a Democratic administration -- so it alone can deliver our asses to the big dogs who own the country. In the big picture it's always about who gets to deliver the money to the Wall Street hyena pack.
"Americans may be starting to get the big picture about politics, money and corporate power. But I doubt it. Given that most still believe the war on terrorism is real, and that terrorists always just happen to be found near gas and oil deposits, there is plenty of room left to blow more smoke up their asses. Especially considering how we are conditioned to go into blind fits of patriotism at the sight of the flag, an eagle, or the mention of "our heroes," even if the heroes happen to be killing and maiming Muslim babies at the moment. Patriotism is a cataract that blinds us to all national discrepancies."
This is the coolest clock. Ever.
There is not really a man in the clock.
Matt Taibbi strikes again. This is a must read.
Obama's Big Sellout
"Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.
"Then he got elected.
"What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.
"How could Obama let this happen? Is he just a rookie in the political big leagues, hoodwinked by Beltway old-timers? Or is the vacillating, ineffectual servant of banking interests we've been seeing on TV this fall who Obama really is?
"Whatever the president's real motives are, the extensive series of loophole-rich financial "reforms" that the Democrats are currently pushing may ultimately do more harm than good. In fact, some parts of the new reforms border on insanity, threatening to vastly amplify Wall Street's political power by institutionalizing the taxpayer's role as a welfare provider for the financial-services industry. At one point in the debate, Obama's top economic advisers demanded the power to award future bailouts without even going to Congress for approval — and without providing taxpayers a single dime in equity on the deals.
"How did we get here? It started just moments after the election — and almost nobody noticed."
If you watch television and think the recession is over you might not want to read this.
"The year 2010 threatens to be challenging for the global economy. Not only are leading industrialised economies entering it with very fragile recoveries, extraordinarily high unemployment rates and still-dysfunctional financial systems, but there remain too many risks inmuch of the global economy. Should any of these risks materialise, they could derail the incipient global recovery and set back the slow healing of the financial system.
"In considering the various risks, it is well to recall the poor state in which the global economy still finds itself. It is also well to remember how vulnerable and inter-connected the global financial system has become. In late-2007, a butterfly that flapped its wings in an economy as small as Iceland’s sent ripples throughout the world’s financial markets. Another that flapped its wings in Ireland had a big impact on the whole of the European banking system.
"In 2010, it is all but certain that butterflies will be vigorously flapping their wings in the hapless Baltic economies. Already during 2009, as their outsized property and credit market bubbles started to burst, the Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian economies contracted by nearly 20 per cent. At the same time, the public deficits of these countries ballooned to unsustainable levels as their tax collections collapsed along with their economies. Attempting to correct these budget deficits within the straitjacket of fixed currency arrangements, especially at a time of housing market busts, is all but certain to deepen those countries’ economic depressions and to heighten their social tensions. It is also all but certain to undermine fatally the political support for maintaining their fixed exchange rate pegs."
"At financial centers around the world bankers, brokers, and “the other rich” are getting ready to handle those people who might decide that enough is enough and attack them or their edifices. This is either a sign of good thinking on their part or overreacting to the realization that the “proles”, often throughout history, get pretty worked up when they find themselves without jobs, homeless, working for slave wages, or burying their kids. Alice Schroeder wrote a significant piece at Bloomberg on the number of gun permits being issued to high rolling investment bankers, et al this week and it piqued my interest to write a bit more on corresponding subjects.
"Thinking about the problem of Americans engaged in some form of fiscal civil war labeled “the haves against the have-nots” is not a painless task. I know many rich folks who would find it hard to take a shot at some dirt-poor homeless father and his teenage sons who are “borrowing” a couple of Picasso prints from the home theater on East 72nd Street. I know others who are better armed than the FBI or the NYPD and smacking their lips in anticipation of defeating anyone invading their usually un-earned fortunes.
"But these days are a far cry from the 1960s when those of old enough to remember many of our biggest cities set afire by minorities who had simply had enough. They began by burning their own neighborhoods and then moved on to wealthier areas, looting shopping centers, overturning cars, and committing other crimes using poverty as a beard. The latter, the petty criminals, did not care about who had more – they just wanted it all. Yet most simply wanted America’s promise which they had theretofore been denied.
"In that sense the richest among us were as bad as or worse than the thugs who nearly caused international chaos toward the late middle 20th Century. Why? Because it was the richest among us during those sad post WW II times that had not reached out to help those “less fortunate” – which is a grand term hinting that “fate” or “luck” is the basis for most wealth – not, as we were told, working oneself to death “for the man” so assuredly pounded into our little brains as children as the “way to get rich.” "
that was the two weeks that was
I can't believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. I wonder if the world wouldn't mind postponing it for a couple of weeks until I get caught up.
Cara Scissoria Greeting Cards
A couple of weeks ago I got swept up in a datathon. A couple of months ago my desktop hard drive died for the third time. At that point it became easier to let dead drives lie and switch over to only my laptop finally becoming desk top computerless for the first time. As I loaded my backup files onto my laptop (You do back up for hard drive regularly, don't you?) I noticed that most of the photos taken with my digital Olympus starting in 1998 were missing. I was bummed until I was cleaning up my basement and remembered I had two totes full of Zip disks (Remember those?) and CDs of archived files. I was worried I wouldn't be able to read the Zip disks but I bought a USB Zip drive on eBay for $20 and it read all but one. And there were all my old digital photos from 1998 on. I have a Maxtor external hard drive for regular backup but I bought another external hard drive for archive purposes.
A 1 terrabyte, as in 1,000 gigabytes, Western Digital Elements 1 USB external hard drive available on Amazon for $99. The Zip disks were from the late 1990s when I had a 4 gigabyte hard drive and no CD burner. The Zip disks held 100 megabytes and we thought that was big. How times have changed. Those photos and music files take a lot of room. So now I'm going through 13 years of data moved over 4 computers and about 8 hard drives and cleaning it up so that I can free up space on my laptop's 500 gigabyte hard drive. The amount of data you have expands to fill the space there is to store it. (Another corollary of Parkinson's Law) The plus side is that I miraculously seem to have most of my old data.
The Toyo View D45M is almost ready to shoot. I took it over to my friend Vern's for him to look at. He has a recent Horseman and is familiar with the newer 4x5 monorail cameras from the photography school he has been going to. My Toyo was made in the early 1970s and is a design that first went into production in 1958 so we are talking 1950s technology. I was sure the new 4x5 view cameras were much better. They sure are bigger. But that's not the case. It turns out that my Toyo is a much more solid and precise instrument then the new ones. It's a case of experienced technicians being replaced by cheap robots. The new cameras are much cheaper to make and are not as solid or smooth. They have easier to read scales but Vern thought that a camera like my Toyo, if it were made today, would be in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. Not bad for $150. I have a changing tent on the way and film is already here. As soon as I get my film holders loaded I can shoot but I only have a 90mm lens right now. I need to get my 254mm Elgeet (my portrait lens) to my machinist to get mounted. My main lenses will be barrel mounted 150mm and 210mm lenses but I still can't find my Packard shutter.
Then last week I was involved in an International trade dispute. One of my gordy strap customers let me know that someone in Singapore was copying my straps. Not only did he copy my straps but even much about my website. He calls his Andy's camera straps. My reseller in Singapore assures my that Andy's straps are not the same quality and not to worry. This did finally get me to put up my reseller's page so that people in Singapore know there are now two places they can go to see my straps. I know have authorized resellers. This is an aspect of my strap business I will me promoting more.
Merry Christmas to all!