Category Archives: Commentary

Video: John Berger – Ways of Seeing

I was just having a conversation about Berger’s book Ways of Seeing, and I was curious about the mini-series. Much of his theories from the 70’s still apply today, especially those about comodification of art.

Also posted in Art, cultural studies, Video

Photo essay: on morals, force, laws; a photo record of protest against police homicide of citizens

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” -Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; …” -Thomas Jefferson [Boyd, Julian P., ed. (1950). The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Volume 1: 1760-1776. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 243–247. OCLC 16353926]

Reading about, witnessing, and being part of the latest protests have affected me on an emotional and moral level, and to get at a better understanding of the process of protest, civic duty, equal rights, and democracy in general, I’d like to write a few words on the issue, but I also wish to dispense with the emotional aspects and focus just on logic and morals. After all, the law ought to deal with such issues similarly.

Also, I’ve posted photographs of the protests in Berkeley, CA from Saturday, December 6, and Monday, December 8, 2014. You can find them at the the bottom of this post.

Eric Garner was killed on July 17, 2014 after being confronted by police about selling untaxed cigarettes (of which he did not possess). Officer Panteleo, perceiving Garner to be resisting arrest,  put him in a choke hold (banned by the New York Police Department), and with the assistance of Officer Justin Damico, continued to subdue Garner, even after he repeatedly said he could not breathe, until he died. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, yet on December 3 the grand jury did not indict the officers for any crimes.

As we know from the Mike Brown case–along with countless others that haven’t been publicized–, the grand jury’s failure to indict follows a similar pattern: grand juries regularly indict regular citizens; they seem to rarely indict police. It’s probably safe to assume that that there is probable cause to indict regular citizens more often that there is to indict police officers. But illegal and immoral acts are still so regardless of their infrequent occurrence, and it is illegal and immoral acts and their resulting injustice that sparked, in part, the ongoing protests in Berkeley.

Putting aside the media arguments for and against Garner’s homicide, one might consider the greater issue: laws and how they relate to morals. Let’s entertain a scenario. If being arrested can be considered moral, then the person being arrested has no right to resist arrest. However, in Garner’s case we have clearly seen that what is legal is most certainly not what is moral, and, therefore, we can easily see that there can be immoral laws upheld by unjust police.

Furthermore, if we assume, using our current laws as a guide, that Garner had no right to resist, we must ask the question of whether or not his act of resistance justifies his homicide. There might be cases when resistance does morally justify force, and even lethal force is warranted. If, say, someone has already shot people and police are trying to subdue this dangerous person. If this person fires on police, or endangers others, it would seem morally right for police to use force to prevent this person from hurting other civilians, the police, or themselves. After all, the Declaration of Independence does provide for unalienable rights: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So, using these same set of morals, we could concede that police are justified in using enough force to subdue the person in relation to the danger the person presents to others, to himself, and to the police. Everyone has the right to to self-defense, even police, but police must accept some risk to prevent unnecessary harm or death; this is part of their job.

My point, finally, is this: Eric Garner’s death was not his fault no matter what the media pundits say. That he was overweight, that he resisted arrest, that he was–according to the media–a criminal are all non-arguments because they do not speak directly to the greater issue: the police took Garner’s life without suffering sufficient threat to the lives of others or theirs. Sure, if the police had not suspected him of a crime and he had not resisted arrest, he would most likely be alive today, but the more relevant truth is that if police had used force and procedure proportional to Garner’s actions, Garner would probably also still be alive today. Our laws do not allow police to enact on-street justice as they see fit, so if someone commits or is suspected of committing a crime, his or her death ought not to be automatically justified.

Using Lincoln’s thesis from the quote above, and in lieu of the obvious disproportionate force that many police officers use these days, it is our duty as citizens to abolish this immoral behavior by amending our government’s laws to protect all citizens from the police whose primary task is to protect us and not kill us! Otherwise, the people have no choice but to dismember government itself.

Berkeley, CA: Saturday December 6, 2014

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Berkeley, CA: Monday December 8, 2014

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Also posted in black and white, California, Documentary, landscape

Daily documentary photos…

I am bringing them back, finally. I’ve been on hiatus for a while, and I’ve got a lot of photos to sort through.

New Book (Cover): Wild Palms/Old Man (or If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem), by William Faulkner

This isn’t really a new book; we started reading it in book group in September and just discussed it a few nights ago.

However, there were some things that I didn’t have the energy or proper articulation to discuss. Here are my notes and thoughts:

First, it seems that the title was changed (with the 1990 printing of the “corrected text”) to If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem. That Faulkner didn’t originally title the dual novels using this resonant title tells me that reading the new title within the context of the novel’s goals may not offer a meritorious reading if one does so while considering the author’s intents. However, the new title still bears consideration within the greater meaning of the two intertwined stories. The title is taken from Psalms 137:5. The passage intimates at forgetting the song of Jerusalem, and the punishment for forgetting is becoming out of sync with God’s song and being cast out of Jerusalem itself. This notion carries over to the two stories in that both protagonists, Harry and the inmate, cannot carry the tune that would offer them admission into their world’s Kingdom, or the Jamesonian notion of “social order.”

Putting the notion of social order and the two protagonists place in it aside for a moment, one can also consider the dialogic aspects of the two stories. Each speaks to the other and mirrors each other in various ways. Here’s how I see the two elements intertwining and speaking to each other:

The first sections can be seen as points of departure for each protagonist; they are both roused from their slumber. Harry, an inexperienced, passive young man cannot meet his desired effectiveness as he sees it in the context of the world (of the ordinary). Likewise, the inmate is also inexperienced which the reader can see in his unsuccessful attempt to live out his “effectiveness”: he uses pulp novel stories guide his failed bank heist.

The second sections can be seen as an upheaval for both men. In each the protagonists are jolted from their existences via catalysts from the (ordinary) world. For Harry, this comes in the form of Charlotte Rittenmeyer and all she has to offer (56). For the inmate, this comes in the literal form of his chains being unlocked and removed.

The third section brings up the issue of normativity and how it affects each protagonist. In the case of Harry, normativity signals the decline in his and Charlotte’s hyperbolic relationship. The reader can find this normativity when the couple relaxes into the complacent, quotidian life of “normal” people who eat at normal hours, and who make a livable wage (74, 78). The respectability that they earn makes their relationship something that’s acceptable, which their plan to “vacation” in Minnesota shows to be a bane. For the inmate, normativity is disrupted when he must learn to navigate the skiff around the tumultuous waters of the flood. His normativity is then redefined again for him as he faces it head-on: he helps the pregnant woman have her baby.  From this point forward, he becomes the pseudo father in the group as he cares for their safety and procures food for them.

The fourth section in each protagonist’s story shows a shift in each of their roles. They must become more resourceful for each of their charges. Becoming more resourceful means that they must let go of their sense of self in exchange for the greater good of “the family.” The inmate acclimates more smoothly to this role, while Harry does not.

And then my notes skip to the last sections where I see a marked contrast in how Faulkner portrays the two men. Harry, during his incarceration, receives food, coffee, and the police officer stands over him passively (218). In contrast, the inmate is treated as an item on a ledger. The prison books are off, and either he must disappear or go back to prison, regardless of the fact that he turned himself in. This contrast presents an overt picture of the social order each faces, and their reactions to this force are telling.

At this point, my notes peter out. However, I find a number of key issues to consider and take away from the novel.

*Hapless submission does not necessarily equal self-preservation. For the initially (and eventually) submissive protagonists, their ability to preserve anything in their lives comes into question.

*Reading the novel as parallel and contingent stories. Doing so raises the question of reading the novel to discover the relationship between independent values and societal values about freedom and order.

*Issues of gender. Upon conception (and birth) comes the moment of cuckolding for each man. When Charlotte becomes pregnant, the couple’s incendiary love dies immediately because, as Charlotte notes, if they had loved hard enough, the baby would have been burned out of her. When the pregnant woman gives birth, the inmate is immediately removed as the object of affection in place of her baby.

*Issues of choice. The novel creates moments in which the protagonists must make choices, whether it’s Harry’s choosing to take up with Charlotte, or the inmate’s choice to continue down the river or turn himself in. These choices call into question the finite and infinite laws of “life” (culture) versus the potential for vitality the two men may be searching to find.

Also posted in Critical Theory, Essay, Faulkner, Gender, Jameson, Literature, New Book

New Book (Cover): Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

I haven’t read anything by Alfred Bester since my undergraduate days, yet I’ve been meaning to pick this up and read it for a while. Hopefully the anticipation won’t ruin the read.

Also posted in New Book, Science Fiction