26 June 2012

What Moral Authority?

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp
I'm loath to criticize President Obama when he's running against a coin-operated automaton like Mitt Romney, but the President's human rights record is abysmal.

President Obama, and by extension the US, has squandered the necessary high-ground for credible human rights advocacy around the world.
  1. The President didn't close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp despite a January 22, 2009 promise to close the camp within a year;
  2. The President did not immediately end the war in Afghanistan, rather he escalated troops; and
  3. The President has overseen the use of drone strikes.
In an Op-Ed called A Cruel and Unusual Record, former President Jimmy Carter says:
The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.
Carter is dead right.

US foreign policy, specifically its human rights record under the George W. Bush administration and continued under the Barack Obama administration, has cost the US whatever moral authority it had to decry human rights abuses around the world.

Pakistan furious as US drone
strike kills civilians
President Carter reminds us that in 1948 the US led the way in adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Fast forward 62 years -- Now the US targets people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens.

With little public outcry, drone strikes and assassinations have been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions. Controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division, the US has made hundreds of drone attacks in Pakistan alone since 2004.
As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.
~ Jimmy Carter
How does the world at large view these activities?  See for yourself -- this Guardian poll asks, Is Jimmy Carter right that drones have cost the US moral authority?

24 June 2012

Our Portraits

I finished a poem called Our Portraits. I started it last January after seeing the Francesca Woodman photography retrospective at SFMOMA.

The poem grew from notes I scribbled while processing Francesca Woodman's stunning body of black and white images. That evening, while hunched over the bar at Fino Ristorante on Post Street, I wrote a few lines that eventually grew into the poem. 

The poem was originally titled Dear Francesca because I had intended it to be written in the form of a postcard. I knew the poem would take time to emerge. In the marginalia of my notebook I wrote:
I've added the bottling sugar. I'll wait for it to bubble.
Francesca Woodman and I were photography students during the same years at different schools. We honed the craft of medium-format photography in opposite parts of the country. She at RISD. I at Montana State. 

My journey led me to the mountain west. I imagine Francesca, who went to Boulder High, wanted to go east to RISD. She was pedigreed in fine art. Her father George taught painting and art criticism at CU. Her mother Betty is an internationally known ceramic sculptor.

I was a fine art orphan, but latched on to a few life-saving mentors. I believe some of my more thoughtful images could have stood by Francesca's in a group show. She would have been a friend, although I imagine we would have competed for the attention of our teachers.

Francesca Woodman: House #3, Providence, Rhode Island

I was unfamiliar with Francesca Woodman's work before seeing the SFMOMA exhibit. Our work had obvious similarities -- black and white, medium-format (square) images that were soul-searching and achingly introspective.

Her photographs and life-story have etched a lasting impression. She built a large body of work with thematic consistency which is extraordinary for someone who died so young.

Perhaps she had more than me to prove.

Here is the poem:

Our Portraits
30 January 2012, SFMOMA, San Francisco
for fellow photography student, Francesca Woodman (1958-81) 

We made transient pictures of ourselves

our cable release hidden from view
no definitive light was ever found.

You fixed by suicide at twenty-two

left too few years for a double chin
your tits never sagged from gravity.

I became a sentimental gray beard
a flickering light with so few answers
to the same unanswerable questions.