What can you see from your car?

Or truck.

Other cars, lane lines, hopefully*. Traffic lights, parking lots. Some trees, a pedestrian*. A cyclist**.

A sidewalk – don’t stop looking at your phone.

Without a shift in perspective, it’s readily seen how none of this changes until people get out from behind the windshield. And no one will make you – that’s not how this works, at least not here, not yet. The costs could sway your decision-making, you could think about doing something differently. Not because you have to, but because you’re curious. You don’t live out in the country, but you also can’t quite walk to the store, much less to work. Still, you want to check out the view, have a look at the street from up close, from the other side of the windshield.

The prospect of seeing other drivers, reifying our fellow road-users, in recent parlance, into something other than the abstractions that we experience, which allow us to disconnect what we are doing from the consequences of doing it. That abstraction is what has to go. And if it’s only that, maybe we won’t feel like we’re losing so much.

See how fun this is? Fiddling with ways to trick ourselves into doing what’s best. So very child-like, this dependence on unsupportable habits to maintain, to remain in, abstract suspension, protected from the outside and other people, things that don’t actually mean us harm. “But I need to get from here to there,” though I don’t want to re-consider here or there. Just want to stay wrapped in this steel cocoon.

Conveyance. Economic drivers. These notes for later betray an urgency beneath the wheels, outside the windows.

Viewers like You

Ec_logo_800-300x225I love loathe stories like this – not because of how they’re reported or who they’re about, but because they are unfortunately true:

Most Americans likely assume that the NewsHour (which, after all, is made with support from viewers like you) is actually owned and produced by PBS. It is an understandable assumption considering PBS’s own president declared that the NewsHour “is ours, and ours alone,” and further considering that the program receives millions of public dollars every year.

However, since 1994, the NewsHour has been produced and primarily owned by the for-profit colossus, Liberty Media. Liberty, which is run by conservative billionaire John Malone, owns the majority stake in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions – the entity that produces the journalistic content of the show. While other standalone public television projects are often produced by small independent production companies, the NewsHour stands out for being owned by a major for-profit media conglomerate headed by a politically active billionaire.

But now that ownership is about to change. According to an internal memo sent to staff by NewsHour’s founders and minority owners Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, ownership of NewsHour will soon be transferred from Liberty Media to Washington, D.C.’s PBS member station, WETA.

I know – I have a public television project – there are all kinds of weird machines whirring within every sausage factory. But this split of an ostensible public good into partnerships with for-profit companies more resembles how/where democracy goes to die, if I can borrow from Pierce (And I can. Everyone can). Just look at the language MacNeil/Lehrer uses use to justify the need for an ownership change, proving you can tell yourself most anything.

And the point isn’t just the loss of a source once perhaps trusted that now should be applied only by trained cynical professionals. The realization, if that’s what it is, is that independent media outlets practically need to be hardcore believers to exist at all – despite the success of some, it’s a drag when the most important societal functions can only be left in the hands of the pure of heart and selfless of motive.

Image: 1970s PBS children’s series “The Electric Company.”

Anthony Shadid

Intrepid journalist Anthony Shadid died on Thursday while on assignment in Syria. If you don’t think you’re familiar with his work and you know anything  at all about what has been going on in the Middle East over the last 15 years, you actually probably have read quite a bit of his reporting. A tremendous loss.

Here is Nature has No Culture, an article he co-authored with Shiva Balaghi, about Abbas Kiarostami after he received the Akira Kurosawa Lifetime Achievement Award  at the San Francisco Film Festival in 2000.

A battered SUV rumbles across a country road, winding through wheat fields. We hear a conversation between the passengers, who are trying to decipher the vague driving directions they’ve been given for finding a small village tucked in the hillside. They are to take a turn just beyond the solitary tree. As they drive along, they pass a majestic free-standing tree, its branches sprawled against a crisp cloudless sky. Moments later, they pass another solitary tree — and then another and another. Which of these trees marks the spot, they wonder? So begins Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). Perhaps more than any other, this Kiarostami film treats the Iranian countryside as a character and not a placid backdrop. The landscapes — the contrasting colors of earth and sky, the stalks of wheat delicately moving to the breeze, the trees dotting the hillside — appear in characteristically long, uncut wide shots.

The title of the film is taken from the poetry of Forugh Farrokhzad and in a pivotal scene of the film, Forugh’s poem is recited. A leading feminist poet who rose to prominence in the 1960s, Forugh drew on nature to construct strikingly visual metaphors describing the complexities of her quest for independence as a woman writer in Iran. At times, she depicted herself in her poetry as enclosed and detached, watching the world through the frame of a window. Yet Forugh’s most evocative statement of intellectual and personal growth came in a verse where she exclaimed that she would plant her hands in the garden and grow. In Forugh’s writings, nature and the garden, common tropes in classical Persian poetry, came to represent the elemental quality of gender politics, the unnaturalness of restrictions on women’s lives. Kiarostami draws on and extends Forugh’s interpretation of nature in both his film and photographs.

The photographs exhibited in Manhattan in spring 2000 echo scenes from The Wind Will Carry Us. Though they are not film stills or location shots, Kiarostami said there is little difference between his filmmaking and photography. In the end, he sees their qualities merging.

“The nature that is in the location of my films can be seen in my photography, and I want my films to become closer to my photography and more distant from storytelling,” he said. “It is true that these are completely separate milieus, but in my opinion, the ideal situation for me is for these two areas — photography and cinema — to become closer to one another.”

Long before he began his career as a filmmaker, Kiarostami trained as a painter at the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University. He went on to work as a graphic artist and as a commercial director. In 1969, one of his commercials caught the eye of Firuz Shirvanlu, the director of the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. Kiarostami was asked to establish a film division at the center. In 1970, he produced his first film, a short entitled Bread and Alley[1] Since then, Kiarostami has directed nearly 30 films and has come to the attention of some of the leading figures of world cinema. [2] Akira Kurosawa has said, “When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing Kiarostami’s films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to take his place.” [3]

In his films, Kiarostami has explored the relationship between fiction and reality, the subjectivity of truth as framed by the camera’s lens. Resisting a comfortable narrative, Kiarostami challenges the viewer to engage with his films, rather than to view them passively. Photography, which he took up during the revolution at a time that he doubted his future as a filmmaker, offers him another way to interact with his audience; they are called on to actively participate in the generation of meaning in Kiarostami’s art. [4]

“I prefer the gaze of a viewer in front of a photograph to the kind of gaze that an audience of my films has in a theater,” Kiarostami said. “The expectation of a viewer in the theater is to look for the continuities and changes in a story. He has grown accustomed to sitting in a theater and listening to a story. But in a gallery, I have seen that the viewers look at each single photograph, their gaze is more focused on the photograph, because they do not expect to hear a story.”

Like his films, his photographs are presented without expected guideposts that explain their significance. There are no labels, no titles, no dates. It is left to the viewer to lend them a particular meaning. Though it may appear that his lens reveals an unchanging and placid nature, Kiarostami’s photographs, in fact, seem to reveal a deeply political use of the landscape. “Photographs of nature are universal,” he said. “A tree has no ethnicity, no birth certificate, no passport, no nationality, therefore what difference does it make where in the world this tree is? What is important is the similarity between all trees, the similarity between all skies, the similarity between all landscapes. Nature has no specific culture. I am emphasizing this lack of ethnicity of nature. Therefore I do not want to mark the specific time and place of my photographs.”

Handling the Scandal-ing

You might think throwing money at problems is one one to do it. Turns out: not so much.

Litigation can have an annealing effect on companies, forcing them to re-examine the way they do business. But as it was, the full extent and villainy of the hacking was never known because the News Corporation paid serious money to make sure it stayed that way.

And the money the company reportedly paid out to hacking victims is chicken feed compared with what it has spent trying to paper over the tactics of News America in a series of lawsuits filed by smaller competitors in the United States.

The thing is, they really didn’t want any ‘annealing’ effects on company practices to take effect after this or any other scandal. Not interested. There is a disconnect – one of many – between the perception that major corporate entities care about doing business honestly, even making huge money – honestly – and… reality. Which is that they don’t care about it at all. We’re not talking about their advertising and what it says about them. You can do it. But that’s not their game. Murdoch wasn’t interested; and if he had a private moment today, would probably say he still isn’t interested in running his or any company (or country, for that matter) honestly. What would be the point?

Watch this story; it will continue to evolve.

update: Suing his mother?


Critical piece by David Cay Johnston on why reporting is so bad, getting worse and going away, all at the same time.

This problem is not with the breakdown in the centuries-old economic model, a simple model that many journalists do not really understand. Connecting buyers and sellers who are in search of one another pays the bills. What draws them is a desire to find out that which is important but that they did not know. We call this information the news.

Far too much of what we produce today is already widely known. We fill so many pages with rehashed or known information that on many days these publications could properly be called oldspapers. It’s not like there isn’t important and revealing news all around us. There is. It’s just that we seem swept up in a herd mentality with too narrow a focus and too much eagerness to rely on what sources tell us rather than asking these same people to address important facts that lie in plain sight in the public record.

Lazy, incurious, often-times just plain dumb… know anybody like that? Relying on them for your world view?

Green Journalism

An inadvertent follow-up to the previous post but, there’s a well-laid out compendium about the media’s culpability in the run up to the current financial crisis, here. Using as its analogue the media’s roll in the breathless rush to war in Iraq, there are some startlingly appropriate comparisons to draw with other situations. In the midst of fiscal, geo-political, environmental meltdowns, we’re accustomed to the print and TV press just playing along, presenting false dichotomies and premises, compromised by corporate conflicts-of-interest, muddying a situation until it’s too late.

And even when the reporting was solid, which was rare enough, news organizations didn’t follow up in appropriate ways. If we can foresee a catastrophe, it’s not enough to mention it once or twice and then move on.

That common practice suggests an opportunity. When we can predict an inevitable calamity if we continue along the current path, we owe it to the public to do everything we can to encourage a change in that destructive behavior.

In practice, this means activism. It means relentless campaigning to point out what’s going wrong, and demanding corrective action from those who can do something about it.

Crushing and important issues with long-term implications become trivialized as a part of the infotainment experience the big media conglomerates, like the Big automakers and their rationales for the huge, gas-guzzling SUVs, say the public desires. It’s the guise of fairness in the trappings of drama and fragmentation that allow enormous and clear stories to become opaque and difficult to piece together. Global warming is one such story; how long will we read and hear stories from the perspective of both sides, about how it might be a problem, until we pass the last tipping point?

TPM’s Gillmor brings up yellow journalism and draws an interesting comparison to the few newspaper editors who decided to embrace racial integration and really forced the issue by keeping it front and center, drawing lines in the sand, digging footings and constructing the edifice that would become our present society. Because they knew it was being constructed anyway, and that if they didn’t, if they supported the status quo with their silence, they would be working in the service of segregation.