Linkdump for July 16th through July 30th

Sometime between July 16th and July 30th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

The Threat of Photography

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harrassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don’t seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it’s a movie-plot threat.

911survivor: Game? Art?

A couple days ago, I linked to something called 911survivor (the site is down as of this writing) in my ‘Destinations’ sidebar. The site was about an Unreal game modification that replaced the standard sci-fi battle arenas with the World Trade Center towers during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At the time, it looked to me like a surprisingly disturbing attempt to capitalize on the tragedy of the day, and I commented on the link as being tasteless.

This morning, Kirsten left a comment letting me know that while at Siggraph, she had met one of the creators of the 911survivor mod.

something to think about – the game is not a ‘game’ but an art mod (game modification). there are no points, there is no way to win, etc. the point of the game (art piece) for them was to explore the real experience of the victims in the WTC and to combat the commercialization of the event by big media. players also must realize the real experience and the real horror of that day (which has been glossed over by an administration and media that capitalizes on the event).

I mentioned that perhaps they should have made more of an indication of their intent on their website, as it wasn’t clear at all to me upon first viewing it what the point actually was.

Later, Kirsten was able to come back with a little more information, and she also said this:

if this is art…then truly the artist doesn’t have to offer you their interpretation on the subject. modern art never does. it simply presents itself, and then lets you decide. you therefore become a part of it through interaction and the decision process.

While searching around for more information on this piece of work, as their site seems to have gone down, I found this post at Fridgemagnet. In one paragraph, they managed to both grok the concept of the piece long before I did, but also touch on the very reason why I made the initial assumption that I did:

The level of customization allowed by Doom, then Quake, Half Life, Unreal etc, makes for an interesting artistic medium. We’ve had all sorts of ideologically-driven mods and FPSes already – see the America’s Army game (now available for Macs it seems) and that race-hate Quake mod where you get to kill Jews and blacks. It doesn’t appear that this is a propaganda piece, but it is going to be designed to deliver a message of some sort, whatever the designers want to say about 9-11. Assuming it’s not just publicity trash.

This started me wondering about two things in connection to this. Firstly, the role of the media used for a piece of work; and secondly, when introducing a new type of media, what responsibility the artist might have when the public finds that work.

I think that part of the issue I had where 911survivor is concerned is simply that the medium used here — the game interface — is one that hasn’t been used before (that I have heard of, at least) as an artistic medium. When presented with a gaming environment, my first thoughts are that the subject matter is intended to be just that: a game, some form of entertainment. Hence, when I was browsing the 911survivor site, seeing their concept art of panicked businessmen and women and a schematic of the floors affected by the impact of the airplane, and looking at the screenshots of walls of flame and bodies falling to the ground, I didn’t make the assumption that “this can’t be a game, therefore it must be some sort of interactive art project.” Instead, it appeared to simply be a game — a game with a truly disgusting choice of subject matter.

Given that, then, should it have been more obvious what the intent of the work was? Kirsten says that the artist “doesn’t have to offer you their interpretation on the subject.” Certainly true enough, but the majority of the time when seeing art, even when it’s art we haven’t seen before, we do know that it is art. We may not understand it or like it, we may wish that there was more interpretation provided for us, we may not understand the artists intent — we may not even agree that it should be called art. But whatever our reaction, we know that the artist intended their creation to be some form of art. With 911survivor, I had no such reference to work with.

While I’ve been working on this post, Kirsten was able to update her site with more details on what she heard during the workshop where this project was discussed.

The game was made by a group of students for a class (if memory serves) who had not been present at the fall of the towers in NYC, but felt that the media had been capitalizing on the situation and thus glossing over the horrific reality of the event). The game was never supposed to be publicized, it was simply a way for the students to understand the event and to ‘be a part of it’ as it were. The speaker mentioned that so often memorials of wars and tragedies gloss over and distort the truth of the situation, that the horror and the sorrow that was truly there is covered up as much as possible, and instead an idealistic presentation of the situation is given as a sort of ‘reaffirmation’ of life. However, this prevents future generations from understanding the pain/sorrow/horror of the original event. This game actually presents a significant attempt at building a new art form (in my humble opinion) by creating a truly interactive medium in which people feel trapped, upset, frustrated, frightened, disgusted, etc. by a piece of art that is truly interactive….

That bit of information alone does a lot to explain the nature of the project to me, and I have to say, I agree with a lot of the motivations mentioned here. The media (and the government) has not only glossed over the horrors of that day in the intervening months, but has gone on to capitalize on it in ways far more disturbing and far-reaching than I originally took this game to be attempting. Over the past two years, the fall of the WTC has gone from being presented as the tragedy that it was to being the justification for our incursions into foreign governments halfway around the world. 9-11 has become a motivation for revenge for far too many people (and to make it worse, that revenge hasn’t even been directed at the right targets, thanks to the propaganda techniques of our current administration).

I guess it was the combination of the medium of the game engine; the lack of a clear disclaimer that they were using the game engine because it was the best technology for their purpose, not because they were actually attempting to create a ‘9-11 game’; a website that seemed to support my initial assumption that it was a game; and the horrific imagery based on real events and real deaths that disturbed me. Knowing more about it now, I can understand and respect the aims of the creators. However, given the combination of a new medium not traditionally used for anything other than entertainment purposes, and the subject matter of the work, a little more caution and straightforward stating of ideals on the website may have been very much in order.

So it’s been a year

I’d like to come up with something amazingly deep and profound to say, but for one reason or another, it’s just not in me. Besides, plenty of other people have worthwhile things to say.

I think part of my little bout of writer’s block is just that the entire situation is frustrating. One year ago, something huge and immensely terrifying happened. In the year since then, however, a multitude of other, smaller, less immediately noticeable things have happened (usually in the name of ‘patriotism’), that added up scare me as much as (and quite possibly more than) the attacks themselves. It’s a different kind of scare, but it’s a scare, nothenless. Awareness of this side of things does seem to be growing, though, which is good.

I guess, most of what I’d really want to say I’ve said already, either in some of my rants over the past year or in the links I’ve chosen to highlight in this blog (the majority of which, unfortunately, still reside in limbo).

I dunno. I’m rambling. Caught between wanting to say something, and not really having anything of real import to say.

9-11 tributes

Yahoo! on 9/11 2002Several sites across the ‘net are altering their front pages as a tribute to the 9-11 attacks. Some aren’t bad, some seem to be pretty ridiculous (to me, at least).

Of the ones I’ve seen so far, Yahoo‘s seems the silliest. Essentially the same old Yahoo! as ever — just all in greyscale. I kind of prefer the approach that other sites have taken (such as Excite, who set their main page to a simple black background, a rememberance message, and links to enter the content area). This just gives me the feeling that while Yahoo figured they had to do something, they sure as heck weren’t going to hide their content — why, some poor soul might actually get distracted by thinking about actual issues and miss out on some ads!

Then again, maybe I’m just too cynical.

(via MeFi)

What kind of God…?

Thinking about the upcoming one year anniversary of Sept. 11th, Dave had this to say:

A common theme — what kind of God lets this happen. I answer that with another question. What kind of a country is so selfish that it doesn’t see that 9-11 was [the] tiniest big tragedy viewed from a global perspective. What about famine in Africa? What about AIDS? They wonder at the spiritual vision of a person who jumps from the World Trade Center to certain death, but don’t wonder about the millions of people who do the same thing with tobacco? It’s out of balance. We’re out of balance. 9-11 was, IMHO, a small upheaval in getting to some kind of equilibrium in how the U.S. participates in the world, both from the U.S. perspective, and the world’s perspective. That we got so much sympathy says how big the human heart is. That there wasn’t more celebrating in the streets of world capitals says that they forgive us for our selfish attitude, which is back in force as if 9-11 never happened.

So what was the lesson of 9-11 that the U.S. has failed to learn? I think it’s that God doesn’t think we’re as important as we do. The concept of national security is obsolete. We can’t close our borders. We live on this planet with everyone else. Global warming, AIDS, terrorism, all penetrate all borders. New York is a world city. The last gasps of isolationism will be snuffed out by more humiliation, until we get the truth, we aren’t above the rest of the world, but we are part of it.


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Americans are never this nice

I think this’ll be my last post for tonight…though, with me, you never know. I heard about this while we had the radio at work on to the Lionel Show, one of the talk shows on The Buzz, a local talk-radio station.

The original story was from the New York Times — “Where 9/11 News Is Late, but Aid Is Swift” (as the NYT site requires registration, and many people would rather not do that, I’ll include the article at the end of this post also). Basically, an African Masai tribesman who was visiting New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks went back to his tribe and, as they’re fairly cut off from the world, explained to them what had happened and how it had affected life here in America.

The tribe, then, felt that they wanted to do something to help — and so they took donations from members of the tribe, and are donating 14 head of cattle to the United States of America! I was just amazed at this — this is a fairly small tribe (the article mentions that a catastrophe that killed 3,000 people would be enough to wipe out their entire tribe) — 14 cattle is, by their standards, an amazing amount of wealth to give up freely! I’m not exactly sure how it would translate to our standards…possibly roughly equivalent to donating Texas to another country. Or Bill Gates. Whichever is worth more.

Anyway, I just thought it was one of the neatest stories I’d read in a long time, and while it may be incredibly bitter and jaded, I really can’t see us in the US doing anything like that. A shame, really — good to know that there are still some places in the world that seem to have their priorities straight.

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Tempus fugit

WTC 9-11-01Six months today. Might be good to take a moment for reflection when you have a chance.

Not too long ago, as part of my “Where were you?” post, I talked about how I found out about the events of Sep. 11th. Now it’s six months later, and in many ways, I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I am quite sure, however, that what we’ve seen happen in the past six months is just the beginning, and that the repurcussions are far from over.

More people died that day than many people can easily concieve of — especially, I think, people of my generation and younger. We’d never really seen attacks on this scale before outside of a movie theater, or the confines of a television set tuned to the History Channel. The three generations prior to mine have all had their conflicts — Vietnam for my parents, World War II for their parents, World War I for their parents — but there hadn’t really been anything to really affect the majority of my generation yet. Desert Shield/Desert Storm was about as close as we got, and for most people (at least, most people I know), it seemed more video-game inspired than anything else. Tune into your television each night and get the latest scores. See the video footage of bombs dropping straight down chimneys. It didn’t feel real — it was a world away, and I don’t think I or any of my friends actually knew anyone directly involved.

Suddenly, terrorists hit America — and at first, it seemed that everything had changed. Suddenly we were the victims, in much worse a fashion than we ever thought we could be. Thousands of people dead in the matter of a few hours. Civillians targeted, rather than a military target. Disbelief, shock, and terror swept across the nation — which quickly turned to outrage and a cry for revenge.

Looking around now, it seems to me that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The changes I see frighten me. As dad and I were talking a bit about in the comments to an earlier post, there’s a patriotic fervor sweeping the nation that seems to be blinding people to the all-too-possible consequences. Our government is passing legislation that appears to be heading us full-steam into becoming a police state, and because it’s all hidden behind a political smokescreen of “Homeland Security”, people are all too complacent about giving up their freedoms. We’ve declared war on a concept — finally, something that, at its core, strikes me as being both stupider and exponentially more brilliant than the long-running “War on Drugs”. Stupider, because of the infintesimal chances of ever ‘winning’ such a war, and more brilliant, because of its ability to capture the public’s approval for anything connected to it. I truly worry about where this nation will be, and what life will be like in another six months, or a year, or two years down the line.

In many ways, though, it’s the things that haven’t changed that scare me all the more. Primarily among these being a repeat of the “video game war” feeling I had during Desert Storm. I don’t know what it was really like, as I wasn’t there, but any time I’ve seen or read anything about the previous major conflicts that America was involved in, I always got a sense that the nation knew we were at war. The draft was active, and at any point, any eligible person could get snapped up to go to war, whether they wanted to or not. Everyone knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone who was fighting. Rationing of important supplies was in place. Women moved into the workforce to offset the number of men leaving for the military. These, and many other things that I’m sure I’ve missed, both helped the nation realize the situation it was in, and helped band everyone together towards a common goal.

Today, however, for the majority of people (including myself), for the most part, it’s like this war doesn’t exist. It’s the occasional headline in a newspaper, or story on the evening news, but again, it’s back to that “video game war”. There just isn’t that national feeling of being at war — it’s happening somewhere else, to someone else. Over here, life goes on, and it’s just another day. I’m not sure how better to put it like that, but that’s the feeling I get…and I’m not sure I like it, or what it may mean in a much larger sense.

Last week I was walking down the street and saw the headline “U.S. Suffers War’s Most Deadly Day” with a sub-heading detailing that there were 7 deaths when a helicopter was shot down. This may be overly cynical, but I have to admit my first thought was of some grizzled old Vietnam or World War II vet seeing that and laughing in derision. While I certainly don’t mean to belittle or demean the deaths of those soldiers — 7 deaths? There were probably times in previous conflicts where making it through a day — or sometimes even hours — with only seven deaths would have been practically cause for celebration. Today, it’s front-page, banner headline news. Maybe I’m being too cynical about it — I’m certainly not wishing for more deaths — but when the same report mentions that “100 to 200 enemy fighters had been killed,” it’s obvious that the low number of deaths on our side aren’t due to less overall casualties. I’m kind of losing my drift on this particular topic, but hopefully you got my point. If I’ve stumbled too much, let me know.

Anyway…. I guess that’s a lot of what’s on mind mind these days concerning all of this.