Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mine explosion at Montcoal - a safely repeatable tragedy


This is a terrible tragedy.  And it will happen again.  And again. 

And no one will be held accountable.  We read in story after story, the same line - "Massey Energy ... ranks among the industry's most profitable.  It also has a spotty safety record." 

That safety record earned it a whopping $382,000 in fines last year.  Gee I wonder if that even shows up on the financials of a company that takes in $2.5 billion in revenue per year.  Ahem, $2,500,000,000 > $382,000.  Shit.  The CEO could have paid that fine with the change that fell out of this pocket on payday ($11 million for Mr. Blankenship last year).

No one will be held accountable.  Nothing will change.  Oh, perhaps the company will be fined again, even sued, but I bet if we watch the stock price... nothing will change.

My thoughts are to massively increase fines for safety violations and to consider Sarbanes-Oxley type criminal penalties for management in cases where an accident is linked to safety violations.  Because that's the only thing that's going to make Mr. Blankenship, et al, give a damn.  Further, the annual report to shareholders should be required to have a description of the independent safety inspections performed (including context so the reader can understand the extent to which company operations were examined), any findings, and any fines.  I think this should be on page 2 (we'll let them keep the CEO's letter on page 1).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fragmentation of the Discussion

While it's cool to build new tools and enable people to drill down to just what they like and are looking for.... it's problematic as well.  http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/03/google-reader-play-ipad-friendly-news-reader/   Google Reader Play is a tool that will learn from your preferences and display items of interest to you, to you (of interest i.e. for which you clicked "Like").  It's becoming easier and easier to bury your head in the sand of your own ideas.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Contra-Flow Bike Lane in DC

A cool video that explains the city's thought process behind the bike lane, which basically boils down to -
  • There was a desire for more bike lanes
  • They found that they could remove a lane of car traffic on 15th St (a one-way going north) without affecting throughput
  • They realized they needed to protect the bike lane if it was going to go against the one-way
  • Adding bikes and signage, and bringing cars closer together had the added benefit of calming traffic
I like it.  Of course, there's always the unintended consequences.  The city added signage (including road paint) to indicate the right-most lane is to be shared with bikes going north (the protected contra-flow lane goes south on the other side of the parked cars).  However, based on personal experience and as described at Borderstan, many bikes do not want to use the on-road shared lane and are treating this lane as two-way.  I don't think it's quite wide enough for that, but hey - people want to feel safe.  Borderstan also describes the lane as being used by strollers, rollerbladers, and motorized wheelchairs, to which I react initially by not wanting them to clutter the dedicated lane, but Matty goes on to point out that the sidewalk may be in disrepair and this could be why people are jumping into the dedicated lane.  This is a point very well taken.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reflecting on "Regarding the Pain of Others" (Susan Sontag)

He never found a great deal of interest in photography.

Maybe once upon a time... They were all in photography club in 4th grade (at the time, pronounced /fo-to-graffy/), had fun with it - they put together two compositions for media fair. They put a great deal of effort into the first - stomping all over the fields, looking for the just right angle, framing, light, etc - and called it "Nature's Shadows and Silhouettes". And they were quite proud. At the last minute, they also slapped together a piece that was a series of photos taken of Matt, out camping, holding his walking stick - the first was the feet and ankles, then knees and waist, and so forth on up. They took 2 sets of these, pasted them to both sides of a series of pieces of card stock attached at the edges - the end result was an accordion book they called "Play With Matt." They thought it was stupid and fun.

The judges hated the first and loved the second.

Flash forward to any time spent in a museum. Photography just wasn't interesting. It seemed too exact, too easy, too representational?... He had a course on 'problems of representation', with a focus on impressionists (and some on the fauvists and cubists) and relating this to literary visual representations. This was interesting, complicated, and hard.

And now to Sontag. Photography was opened up for him again. (And it becomes apparent how little thought went into this before...) The point-of-view of the camera became more significant to his eyes. He became interested.... in the manipulations, the tricks, the tactics, what was shown as well as what wasn't. For example - this photo found at nytimes.com (3/19/10) is awesome in this regard.
The exploded pieces of rocket are theatrically reunited, with the soldier pointing them out for the sake of oblivious viewers. And - the camera is visible as a shadow in the bottom center. This is a perfect war photograph, I think.

Sontag writes -
Goy's images are a synthesis. They claim: things like this happened. In contrast, a single photograph or filmstrip claims to represent exactly what was before the camera's lens. A photograph is supposed not to evoke but to show.

Here, a worthwhile borrow from Aristotle. The photograph shows by its exacting nature - it is what it is. However, its meta is crucial, the context of "speaker" and "listener", ie whoever chose the content of the photo and their intention, and the interpretation of the photo by the viewer. This is how the photo evokes. Truly then, in the most literal sense, photographs are two-dimensional in what they show, and only become three dimensional when understood (superficially) or analyzed and understood (with depth, to avoid the manipulation so often implicit in a photo's effort to evoke).

In his efforts to draw, he emphasized sketching - representing an idea, mood, place, moment - not so exactingly as truthfully, and quickly. Emphasis on the quickly. A roommate recently brought home a book of photography published by a friend, and one of the reasons he gave for liking them was that they captured a moment and mood that he identified with.... setting aside the "identified with" part, there is a lot to be said for the moment and mood. Credit to the roommate for offering another perspective on the value and enjoyment of photography.

Back to the judges, then. "Play with Matt" was probably seen by them as a piece of childish fun and wisdom. Wasn't it? It was momentary, creative, interactive. Creative in two senses... that it was unconventional against the other items on display, and creative in that the viewer was also very obviously and physically a manipulator, and could create different pieces by playing. AND - could create their own point-of-view. Each photo in itself almost had no point-of-view, at least, what it had didn't say much. In fact, it's almost as if the only point-of-view that mattered was that chosen by the viewer. Hmm.

And so he finds a path back to being interested by photography. This passed through Sontag's book and was even a little spurred on by her, but in the end she seems to throw out the previous 100 pages of effort and arrives at "Have you not been in a war? Then you wouldn't understand these anyway." Which seems remarkably disappointing, even trite.

He hasn't finished thinking through if it stops here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

This was an intense movie. It tells the story of Kenzo Okuzaki's battle for the truth about what happened to his comrades during WWII. This took place in the 1980s.

He's wrong, an asshole, and harasses and even beats up elderly veterans trying to get the truth from them. He's right, too. War is hell. Look what it did - to his dead comrades, to his fellow veterans, to him. He's obsessed, crazy, driven, desperate, sociopathological. Ultimately (not in the movie) he tries to kill his superior from the war, who he holds most immediately responsible for the deaths of his comrades. He can't find him and settles on shooting his son instead - and is sentenced to hard labor.

I strongly appreciated that he held the Emperor ultimately accountable for the deaths of his comrades, and for all the suffering of the war.

Reader's Notes - Regarding the Pain of Others (Susan Sontag)

For now - reader's notes (mainly, things/people/ideas/images/etc that I want to look up). Also added a post reflecting on the book.

  • Yosuke Yamahata - man who saw both Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombed
  • Titian's "Flaying of Marsyas"
  • Goya's works on war and suffering... soldiers run amok. (update: a set of images like this is really cool to view through the space-time browser)
  • or dostoyevsky
  • Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" - refers to the Crimean War
  • Baudelaire's journals
  • Turgenev on the execution of Troppman
  • Hara's "The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On" (update - damn. watched this via netflix.)
  • Jeff Wall's "Dead Troops Talk"