Monday, September 29, 2008

Who regulates?

With the Western world's press fascination with the ongoing financial crisis in the United States, talk of government regulation (or in this case, the lack of it) in financial markets has once again been a topic for spirited conversation. People typically equate lack of government regulation with lack of regulation altogether.

Things don't work like that.

The great American sociologist C Wright Mills observed in his book The Power Elite "That both state and federal governments were decisively limited in their power to regulate, in fact meant that they were themselves regulatable by the larger moneyed interests."

That is what has happened. Financial traders followed rules. It's just that they made them up themselves. The rules were not developed by mechanisms in which the public had any kind of hope of meaningful participating in, which is was democracy is all about. Instead the larger money interests used their considerable financial and political clout to set things up in their interest, telling government they knew best. And the American power elite let them get away with it.

It's very often not a question of regulation vs. no regulation. Rather, it's a question of who makes the rules, and for whose benefit.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vodafone India and their "mobileconnect" internet access

As a rule I don't post on technical issues on this blog, but since I had a lot of trouble connecting to Vodafone India's Mobile Connect service, I hope this will be of help to folks out there. I registered for the service but it simply didn't work. Repeated google searches couldn't explain why I was constantly getting an error registering on the network, with "Error 31: A device attached to the system is not functioning" being the culprit. Calling their helpline was useless. Their support staff seemed like they had not been trained to deal with it. Finally I brought my notebook computer into a vodafone store and they suggested this line in the modem initialization commands:


It fixed the problem right away. They don't seem to mention this anywhere on the vodaphone site, which is odd.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Imagining violence

When I was in Lahore earlier this year, I heard a suicide bomb being detonated. I was not afraid. Last night there were approximately five terrorist bombings in Delhi. I did not hear them, but it left me far more disturbed. I think the reason why is because can vividly recollect where three and possibly four of the bombs were detonated. I have spent enough time in those areas to reconstruct the places that were attacked in my mind in good detail—the sights, sounds, and feel. I can easily imagine being a victim in the Delhi blasts, and I can imagine what the actual victims look like. In contrast, I had no idea about the site that was hit in Lahore. I cannot reconstruct the scene in my mind.

This reminds me of when I was a student in Carolyn Nordstrom's "Women and war" class at UC Berkeley in 1994. Carolyn taught that many civilian victims of modern war were tortured in environments familiar to them, using familiar objects. For instance someone might be tortured in their own home, using an ordinary household iron. The advantage for the perpetrator of the violence is that in comparison to violating someone in an unfamiliar environment, it will be better remembered. The power that violence has over people becomes magnified.

The people who chose the locations of last night's bombing probably had that in mind as they made their nefarious plans.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A different kind of sightseeing

"Buying things and sightseeing are fun for a while", said a German art therapy student visiting Delhi. "But after a while they are not so interesting". Given we had been having a conversation about Hinduism, I suggested to him that one could find plenty of sights by looking inside, within one's self.

He smiled and suggested a name for it: "insight seeing".

"How clever", I thought to myself. I smiled back, marveling at his command of English.

Sikh prays at Golden Temple - Amritsar
Sikh prays at Golden Temple - Amritsar

Friday, September 12, 2008

Becoming a better photographer

I am finding more frequently that people ask me for advice on improving their images. George Barr has some essays that I always recommend, Taking Your Photography To The Next Level:

Part one
Part two
Part three

Alan Briot also has some helpful essays.

There is plenty to read there! But for those who are serious about the artistic side of photography, I think they're worthwhile.

I will add only one brief observation of my own. It's easy to develop one's own personal style, and begin to see all your photographic possibilities through it. When you become good at something, if you're anything like me, you often seek to be better and better at it. But your style can obscure as much as it illuminates. It's hard to realize how powerful this effect is when you photograph by yourself. But when you're in a group of photographers, most of whom quite naturally will have a different style to you, the learning you get simply by looking at how others composed an image in the same place you were at is remarkable. You'll often find yourself thinking "why didn't I see that?!" You didn't see it maybe because you were thinking of something else, and they likewise didn't see what you saw. Maybe you were changing your lens at the wrong moment. But perhaps you couldn't see it because you simply weren't seeing it the same as they were. And even if you had the time, you still may not have seen it, because your personal style meant you simply missed it. It's a humbling and invaluable experience.

Here is an example. Here are a couple of my images:

Girl - Esfahan

And finally one by my friend, Alieh. I prefer her one!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Village alley - Lijiang, Yunnan, China

This image was made in December 1999. If I were to point to a single image that planted the seed of my interest in photography, this would be it. After this image, I became aware that merely taking snapshots would never again be satisfying.

Village alley - Lijiang, Yunnan, China

I remember it vividly. The first attempt at recording the scene had my companion in it. She was posing as people are inclined to do, especially when they're travelling. We moved on, and then coming back through the same alley some minutes later, I thought to myself "this is so beautiful, I should make another photo, but without my companion posing in it." This was the result.

At the time I using an ultra-cheap Minolta SLR camera, which I had purchased a little over three years before. I had no idea how to operate it, apart from pressing the button and loading the film. I did not use it very much. It was stolen the next year, and it would be five years before I purchased another SLR.

Ironically, these days I most enjoy taking photos of people!