Fine Arts

The news if Full of Energy Considerations this Week: Or, I should say, the Politicization of Energy, which in my view should be an economic activity (fat chance):

Former Soviet Union:
♦ A Mercantilism Too Far: Russia has agreed that Transneft, the state-owned oil pipeline network, and Gazprom, that incredible growing state-sponsored natural gas corporation, will be allowed to Bear Arms in protection of its assets.  Many oil installations have armed security to protect property: it’s not that.  It’s reflecting upon the incredibly wide-ranging disposition this force will have across Russia and, no doubt, in foreign states such as Armenia, Ukraine, and Belarus, who might well be agreeing to have standing armies on their territory.  It gives a different character to military activity in places like Chechnya and a greater potential threat to Georgia.  It will be interesting to see how these states and some collective security organizations will handle this: for instance, GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) could come up with a policy quick: and I think they’d better. 
♦ For those really interested in Russian pipeline deals–which are very significant: Robert Amsterdam has a 12-part series written by Grigory Pasko.  Most people don’t realize that distribution is as important as original location of reserves. . . at least read part 1.

Latin America:
Mercosur, the Latin American trading bloc, has been trying to entice Venezuela to join: but now Venezuela’s President Chavez is throwing in more conditions, including early ratification of their membership in Brazil and Paraguay.  Venezuela needs Mercosur more that Mercosur needs Mr. Chavez: it would help Venezuela develop a more diversified economy, but Mr. Chavez is not a great help in attracting world business.

Rule of law conference for Afghanistan in Rome.
♦ BBC updates “Plan Colombia“, where Afghanistan’s antinarcotics officers learn from Colombian officials.  Civilian and military casualties continue to escalate.

♦ Still pressure on Iran about nukes: Still accusations of interference in Iraq.
♦ Petroleum woes are forcing Iran to mandate change in automobile fuels.  Switching to natural gas, though, does not change the problems of subsidizing fuel, nor will it alleviate many of the problems of price and scarcity.  It will give flexibility, provided: distribution of both fuels is universal throughout the country.  And this argues more infrastructure development, which is also a problem for Iran. 

♦ Two articles by the persistently-trucking Ben Lando on Iraq’s oil law: Suddenly the law delegating federal versus regional controls was approved and out of committee on July 3.  The same debate over its provisions has not been settled and yet it has moved forward a step.  (?)  However, the vote on it, scheduled July 4, did not occur in the absence of a quorum. 
In the meantime, the bill that defines regional revenue versus federal revenue is still not settled (I’ve been following this debate, and I think this must be a spin-off to the regional control bill, but I can’t tell for sure–because for one thing, al-Jazeera is reporting the bill is about revenue). 
♦ Furthermore, the government’s legislation on the role of Iraq’s National Oil Company and the role of its Oil Ministry are both also still in committee.  The bill on Control is supposed to face legislative voting next week–don’t hold your breath.  Sixty-one Iraqi oil experts have written a letter to Iraq’s Shoura, protesting the language, original and amended, of the bill that has passed.   And perhaps more to the point, the politicians aren’t happy either.
♦ In the meantime, Australia’s Defense Minister has said that Australia is there “for the oil“, rapidly contradicted by the Prime Minister, who says that Australia is there “for the democracy.”  Can we all agree that oil is a factor here?  And then, once admitting it, agree that military engagement has been counterproductive in terms of ensuring supply in the short term, and, given blown-up infrastructure, the medium-term?  And then, given that Iraq is still fooling around with their oil bill, while the rest of us are clueless on results, can we say that we are still putting some faint hopes in a democratic approach? 
♦ Another death-dealing suicide bomber kills 105 people in Amirli, just on the edge of the region controlled by “The Surge.”
♦ An artificial, political deadline looms: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker must report on Iraq’s political and military progress mid-September.  A fiery wordstorm in D.C. to accompany the real firestorms in Iraq.
♦ Many of the alleged perpetrators of the foiled British car-bombings are doctors, and many from Iraq.

Energy:      See also Iraq and FSU above. 
♦ Prices: up again, more than two dollars this week per barrel: Brent crude, USD 73.80; West Texas Intermediate: USD 71.73. 
♦ U.S. Congresspeople who just happen to be Presidential Candidates make suggestions/campaign promises on new U.S. Energy bill.  Since the U.S. uses more energy than anyone, this is of world interest–the bill, I mean.
♦ U.S. Air Traffic controllers may get the technology and the go-ahead to more precisely route air flights, leading to large fuel saving for the airlines.  Well, yeah. 

The Two FridasThe Arts:
For the centenary of her birth: An exhibition that will turn ‘Fridamania’ into a deeper appreciation of Frida Kahlo’s work, in Mexico City’s Palacio de las Bellas Artes.  Senora Kahlo’s work stays in the public venue, almost always accompanied by biography.  This show, reviewed by Elizabeth Malkin, gives her audience a chance to reflect upon the work, and not the melodrama that so frequently becomes the first consideration–instead of the last.

Deziree Sex SafarisDan Eldon’s life has passed into a kind of cult legend.  His family moved to Kenya when he was six.  Unlike many transplanted citizens, he grew up to be not just familiar with Africa, but to embrace it.  From what I can investigate, his background gave him the chance to explore, and to use his publicity, organizing, and art talents to start small businesses, or, raise funds for refugees and organize aid distribution from the funds he raised.  He carried this off with groups of peers so that it was also a social event or “party” of sorts.  The confluence of personal and practical arises out of the strengths and contradictions of his personality. 

In a sense, his early death has turned him into a Saint Sebastian–a young martyr.  The eulogies on YouTube, for example, are somewhat mawkish and sweet.  It’s good to remember that he was also enjoying himself, as much as possible.  No one who (according to one report) had a human femur for a stick shift on his van Deziree, or called his journeys through Africa the Deziree Sex Safaris is a perfect saint.

US Soldier in SomaliaOn one of his journeys through Africa, he went to investigate rumors of famine in Somalia.  His photos and short films of the catastrophe led to world-wide concern, and he was engaged by Reuters as a photographer.   One short film shows The Lord of the Flies almost come to life, where desperate young children are fighting for food; another, a man whipping people to get them to stand back and fall in line for food.  His photos were sold to Reuters and received near-instant international dissemination.  Reuters put him on assignment. 

Dan EldonBased upon a more-intense world concern, UN Humanitarian aid began to pour into Mogadishu, and was promptly diverted by rival warlords.  Humanitarian forces came under attack, and the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid was judged to be the main cause of conflict.  The U.S. attempted to kill Aidid, and bombed Abdy House, killing instead 73 civilians (Mark Bowden writes that the ICRC reports 54).  When the Reuters team showed up to film, the crowd turned on the crew of five: four, including an almost 23 year old Dan Eldon, were pursued and stoned to death.  One was shot and was rescued.  Three months later, the operation familiar to those who have read Black Hawk Down occurred.

With artists who have a cult following, it’s often difficult to separate their biography from their art.  Upon Mr. Eldon’s death, his family published part of his journals, which brought the private to public scrutiny.  The journals are collaged with photos, clippings, paint, and other mixed media that is wordless, thus inviting verbal explanation. The Eldon family has called the journals intensely personal, and that Mr. Eldon did not share the with just anyone.  At least one person remembers Dan offering him a chance to collaborate on a page.   Whether or not they were held strictly private or not doesn’t really matter from an art standpoint: collaboration would have also been an extension of that immediate and situational quality in the works.  The journal form, like collage, suits Mr. Eldon’s situation: they are portable, for one thing, and can be worked on in small spaces.  Furthermore, in a life filled with Events, they provide narrative, which discrete pieces do not accomplish in the same way. 

Dan EldonEldon’s collages mix the random (newspaper clippings, for instance) with the particular (his own photos) and makes dynamic the relation of outsized events to reflective life.  The washes of paint and overlay of somewhat obsessive marks I see as the substitute for the verbal heartburnings he might have made, (and that his fans have made since).   At the very least, they represent a review and contemplation of the things he had seen and experienced, many of which would not be easily translatable into words.  Eldon’s work is generally seen in reproduction, but its quality in original would impart more crudity–crusts of paper and glue and paint on a thin paper backing, so much so that each of the seventeen journals fans out and strains the binding and the cover–another nice metaphor for the tissue of narrative order to which we bind events.

Dan Eldon

Therefore, one can look at Eldon’s journals as a place where a life of privilege and choice met a world where privilege and choice were hardly available.  He approached that divide repeatedly in his works.  The ability to organize and record gave him observer status, and the number of photos and film clips of him within the pages of his journals show a desire to not be outside of events, but within them.  That is the artistic tension in the work:  To abjure observer status is to be sucked into the maelstrom.  The conflict between the individual self and events that over-run self and take away the ability to reflect is constantly approached in these works and never quite resolved.  They will never be resolved.  That is where the art of Dan Eldon eventually contributes  the most to human understanding, and why it resonates past the cult that honors his untimely death. 

Further Reading/Viewing:
Dan Eldon’s notebooks on the Library of Cultural Curiosity page (on sidebar)
Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down
Committee to Protect Journalists: List of journalists who died in 1993
Mohammed Shaffi, who survived the Mogadishu event, was later killed in Jerusalem in 2001 on assignment

♦ China has executed one of its product-quality violators and initiated new consumer safety standards.  According to CSM, this was due more to domestic pressure than international outcries–just as happened in the U.S. (see my previous post).  They are also going after the recently discovered perpetrators of slave labour (see Rambling Intelligence, w/e June 10).
♦ Indonesia’s counter-terrorism squads are making headway, capturing the Afghanistan-trained head of Jemaa Islamiya head Abu Dujana.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ A strange argument that seems to combine Russian nationalism and Russian anti-nationalism to explain the fall of the Soviet Union; and one analysis of the argument.
♦ The future of Kazakhstan’s secession, press, financial infrastructure is inextricably mixed together in the criminal proceedings against the President’s son-in-law.  The son-in-law is no prize; so we have to hope that the President’s intents are as honorable as he says they are.
♦ Russia has new customers for its defense industry: Venezuela plans to buy nine submarines.  Economic globalization is undoing Monroe Doctrine?

The Middle East/North Africa:
Conflict in General: Up.  I missed this post on problems of insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq; and I also missed a more dispassionate review of the charges and denials over Iran’s assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
♦ Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood failed to win seats in Egypt’s June 11 elections, which did not enjoy a good turnout and were attended by violence.  the Muslim Brotherhood is commonly felt to be tied to Hamas; two weeks previous to elections, dozens of M.B. members were arrested.  The Constitution does not allow religious parties to hold office, but the M.B. was undeterred.  Another focus: border security, with an influx of Fata refugees from Gaza, and then those from Hamas looking for them.
♦ Iran nuclear impasse: The White House seems committed to working with the EU on Iran’s nuclear disarmament.  Cheney & Co. are still talking action a la Mr. Podhoretz  who has asked for bomb strikes.  Mr. Bolton’s mention of regime change is not in itself a way to stop Iran’s nuclear program: the Bushehr plant was an infrastructure program initiated by the Shah previous to 1979.
♦ Iraq: A new U.S. offensive begins today in Iraq, amid feelings that the surge has not worked.  Oil strikes are over, but oil controversy is not, and neither is oil smuggling
♦ Palestine: Fatah is routed in Gaza but takes the West Bank.  Now the minority politicians stranded in opposite territory are at risk.  The U.S. gets to support the very-corrupt Fatah government they wanted after the last elections, when Hamas won against U.S. calculations; and the potential for more conflict, to me, and despite this analysis, seems fairly straightforward.  The real loser, as always: Palestine’s people.  Some new analyses of democratization have been needed for this process for a long time, and now, and again, and continually, We See Why. 
♦ Just because Gaza and the West Bank have been featured in the rationed space on news frontpages and topstories, doesn’t mean that Lebanon still isn’t in extremis, either.

U.S. Politics:
♦ At last: a second conservative calls for parity for the gay in the military.  (The first conservative spoke up in March.)  This rule has always condemned our country to choosing by something other than strict meritocracy.  And as for military security, open acceptance of choice eradicates the waste of energy required for collusion, secrecy–and blackmail.  We need every talent we can get–troubled times have made this clear, but it has always been true.
♦ Bluster without a Pause: Two Florida Congressmen condemn Nicaragua’s President Ortega for visiting Mr. Ahmadinejad, and President Chavez of Venezuela for setting the Precedent.  It looks as if these two citrusheads have been reading the Houston Chronicle, which expects Mr. Chavez to raid Aruba with the Russian submarines he’s planning to buy, (see above-FSU) and then shoot missiles at Miami.
Announcement: Still somewhat under construction, but looking good: My respected friends at the Foreign Policy Association has created an U.S. Presidential Elections blog.  So far they have a page for each candidate plus some posts–this will become a great resource as it gains mass. 

♦ Oil prices, June 15th: Brent crude, USD 70.67; West Texas Intermediate, USD 67.43 per barrel. Luis at found a great bar graph and posted it on The Oil Drum.  It compares price per gallon world-wide –the U.S. isn’t paying very much–not even close–and is using the most.  For this reason, the new U.S. Energy Bill’s focus on decreased consumption is a far more realistic approach to energy policy than any policy that would increase U.S. production.  I see the barriers to this policy more a problem with the U.S. auto lobby than the oil lobby.  The car-making kings need to step out of their martini-clubs and start looking at the future of –not just domestic policies–but energy realities.  The auto lobby is out of the radar, but we need to bring it back to mind.

♦ In this world full of strife and pain, remember as Azar Nafisi writes, that art and literature are our solace and salvation.  Almost everything in this week’s R.I. is about folly, conflict, and division–some things though, are common to all of us and good.  And if you get a chance, listen to one of the following: Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa; or Miles Davis’ Kind of  Blue; or Yo Yo Ma; or anything that transports you to beauty and peace.

♦ Ostensibly this post at Xinjiang Watch is about Chinese education policy, but its real function is to make you aware of the way that news is manufactured at specific distribution points.  One decision at Associated Press shapes the cultural expectations of the rest of the world.  So, okay, China’s rough on females.  That’s all we need to know, right? 
♦ They found Slave labor at Shanxi brickworks.  The pictures tell it all.
♦ At the G-8, China agrees with climate change measures, with reservations, calling better environmental standards a “development issue”.  I wouldn’t focus as much on China’s small steps as U.S. failure to walk that walk at all: the two are directly related.

Former Soviet Union
♦ At the G-8, they wanted to talk about Africa, Climate Change, and HIV/AIDS.  Well, maybe they wanted to talk about energy, too; and someone wanted to discuss new missile defense arrangements:  Putin weighs in on NATO missile defense systems–a joint effort in Azerbaijan?  The latest: put them in Iraq.  I know that’s where I would like them to be.

Middle East
♦ The British Academics’ University and College Union (UCU) is boycotting Israeli academics.  That’s definitely who we should pick on over in Israel. 
♦ Apparently air power is more egregious than the suicide bomb:  The Taliban has decided to take the moral high ground as well as the Afghanistan countryside, denouncing ISAF forces for civilian casualties and calling for an international investigation.  All hypocrisy aside, we need to consider the use of air power as the predominant cause of Afghanistan’s civilian antipathy to NATO efforts.
♦ Iran gets more sanctions from the G-8 over the N-capability. but the UN Security Council isn’t united over the state’s condemnation.  Five U.S. citizens now in captivity in Iran. . . . 
♦ Turkey shells Dohuk Province in Iraq, who protested.  June 8: Fifty died, in separate attacks.  The real news is that every day the headline is the same, whether al-Jazeera or the Washington Post: only the numbers change.  But defeat is a bad idea.  Certainly no one can say it is a good idea?  Well, apparently. . .

U.S. Foreign Policy
♦ FPA War Crimes features ghost detainees, from a report compiled by 6 different human rights groups.  It’s not as long as you’d think it would be–because–it was damned difficult for them to get as much information as they did.  Most chilling: people who drop off the threat list without explanation.  And the children who are being detained in order to betray their parents.  This is not what we do in this country–no, unfortunately, it is now what we do.  To whom do we speak about the rule of law now?  What children’s advocate are we now?
♦ General Casualties:  Newest changes: General Pace has not been recommended by Secretary Gates to continue on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because Congress would get to re-visit our bright shining moments in Iraq.  Approvals will then be sought for Admiral Mullen–and currently–Lieutenant General Lute will be the new “war czar”, pending Congressional approval.  Since he has primary oversight over Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, plus a lot of military advice, some people are wondering why we need a Joint Chiefs of Staff–or National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. 

♦ Oil prices per barrel, June 8, 2007: Brent Crude, USD 70.83; West Texas Intermediate, USD 66.56.  Up from last week due to: forecasted summer consumption; cyclone Gonu over Oman, Iran; continued lack of resolution in Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, and increased tension in Venezuela.  Oh yeah.
♦ The Energy Blog discusses all sorts of fuels in great detail.  For instance: Brazil’s going to beat us all on development of cellulosic ethanol.  Oh, and the new wireless technology at MIT–that’s the laptop I want.

Cultural Rambling:
Elkhoury Photo♦ Time Magazine’s feature on the world’s food choices/resources for a week.
♦ The Venice Biennale opens today.  Something nice: Lebanon has a pavilion for the first time in the Biennale’s 112 year history, featuring five of that country’s artists: Lamia Joreige; Fouad Elkoury; Walid Sadek; Akram Zaatari; and Mounira Al Solh.  Featured here: Mr. Elkoury.