Saturday, April 05, 2003
Friday, April 04, 2003
Riefenstahl, whose cinematic genius gave a heroic veneer to the horrible undercurrents of Hitler's Germany in the 30's, is a fascinating person to study, especially in light of the ubiquitous imagery we're currently seeing of the war in Iraq. Throughout the documentary, Riefenstahl maintains that her work was clearly nonpolitical. She did not orchestrate the events she filmed, she says. Instead she merely used creative cinematography to tell an interesting and artistic story. To back this up, she points out that her films even won awards in France prior to World War II.
Whether or not you believe Riefenstahl's convienient assertions that she was oblivious to politics and social issues, she raises interesting points about the nature of art and imagery in a politically-charged environment. Is it possible to be nonpolitical yet still produce meaniningful images? Are photographers, filmmakers, and journalists responsible for the reality they document?
Riefenstahl chose to document one side of the Nazi rise to power -- the glorious rallies and public events. At the same time, her art entirely ignored other defining elements of the Third Reich's rise to power -- including the vicious antisemitism that became boiled to the surface on Kristallnacht.
Riefenstahl's misdeeds were those of omission, not commission. Rather than impartially chronicling the important events occurring in 1930s Germany, she focused only on events that she felt portrayed the heroic spirit of the German people. She ignored the seamy aspects of this spirit, which fed on the hate, fear, and longings of a German people embittereed by war and depression. As a result, her work, while admittedly brilliant from a technical perspective, is seen as propaganda that presents a stilted image German life.
I have heard criticism of a photo that appeared in the paper a few days ago of a clearly-anguished Iraqui man crouching in the dirt between the coffins of his family, who were evidently killed by US bombs. Why would the paper run this photo? This, I hear, is merely propaganda that weakens our country.
By and large the front-line media coverage of this war has been nothing if not complementary. Embedded with the troops, photographers and videographers have sent back material that clearly portrays the hardship and confusion of war, and highlights the heroic acts soldiers undertake to carry out their mission in spite of all this.
Yet one photo showing what happens at the other end of our advanced weaponry is somehow considered unpatriotic -- something that we should not even think about when our brave soldiers are overseas.
But I'm glad that the photo was published. If a media organization bows to popular opinion and shows only heroic and monumental, it is in the propaganda business, not the news business. And no matter how popular or technically superior the material is, it can only lead to misperceptions and poor political judgement. Riefenstahl's films didn't tell lies -- they merely omitted critical truths to support an alternate view of what the Reich was up to. If we demand that the news media only cover things we are comfortable seeing, we are nudging our country toward a myopic and destructive worldview.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
The last time SU made it to the final four, I was still in school. I remember getting together in a friend's dorm room to watch the games, and then heading down to Marshall Street to celebrate after they made it into the Final 4, and again to commiserate after they lost. (Ignore any stories you might hear about me dancing on a table at Chuck's one of those nights -- the only people who know for sure were too drunk to be trusted!)
Ahem. Anyhow, I'm rooting for Boeheim and his boys on Saturday!
Recharging your cell phone might one day become a simple matter of giving it a shot of tequila. A new breed of battery, fueled by alcohol, may become the power source of choice for portable electronics.
"You can use any alcohol. You will be able to pour it straight out of the bottle and into your battery," said team member Nick Akers, a graduate student. "We have run it on various types. It didn't like carbonated beer and doesn't seem fond of wine, but any other works fine."
Users won't have to deplete their liquor cabinets to keep their portables powered up, because all it takes is a few drops.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
On a more sinister front, 59 Republican members of the House are asking the Pentagon to cancel food service contracts with Sodexho, a subsidiary of France's Sodexho SA headquartered in Gaithersburg, MD. The company has around 110,000 employees in the US, part of the more than 600,000 american jobs provided by French owned companies.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), whose district includes Sodexho's US headquarters, points out that setting off a trade war isn't going to help anyone:
"If the foreign governments that disagree with U.S. policy toward Iraq should respond in a similar fashion by canceling contracts with American companies, many more American jobs and companies would be at risk."
Monday, March 31, 2003
We are driving from Monaco to Venice, and were planning to spend a night in somewhere like Padua or Verona. But rather than trying to book something, I think we're just going to try to find something along the way.
Venice had been a problem because we really wanted to stay in the old city itself, and all the hotels there are crazy expensive. (You can get cheaper ones if you don't mind being a boat or train-ride away from all the cool stuff, but that wasn't ideal.) After looking at a number of options, we decided to try the Hotel Riva, a great-sounding hotel with almost no footprint on the Internet. I called them a few minutes ago, and luckily managed to speak to someone who spoke better English then I speak Italian. I'm pretty sure I reserved a double room with a bath for 110 Euros, which is a steal by the astronomical standards of Venice.
In Florence, we had a fallback plan of a McHotel out near the airport. But I really wanted to get something a little more adventurous and closer to the action. So I think we're going to stay at the Instituto Oblate dell'Assunzione, a convent in the old city that rents out rooms. I've been coordinating this by fax, and they speak very little English. Hopefully I worked it out right in advance. If not, there seem to be many options there, so hopefully we can find something on the fly.
So that's most of the big trip planning out of the way. My friend is actually leaving for Monaco tomorrow, and I'm going to catch up next week.
Now I've just got to figure out how I'm packing. Since we're going to be schlepping our stuff everywhere, I've decided that my rolling mega-suitcase is too big. So I'm looking for something smaller but still big enough to hold a week's worth of clothes. I've seem a few examples of rolling bags that convert into backpacks, including zip-off day packs. This seems like a really good solution, so I'll probably be searching for one of those this week.
I also have to try to get ahead in my online class so that no one notices when I more-or-less drop off the planet for the better part of two weeks. (I'm planning to check in a few times, but I doubt I'm going to feel like spending much time on Knowledge Management when there's a new city to explore.)
Not to mention dealing with all the loose ends at work and finishing a pro bono website for a nonprofit I help out. It's going to be a busy week!