Thursday, August 31, 2006

Murder Case Photographs- #13









Murder Case Photographs- #13

"Sally's Do Drop Inn." "Do Drop"-"Dew Drop," get it?

The "Do Drop Inn" is gone, and so is the unsophisticated, charming culture that produced such cornball names. A few years ago in a simple, slow vacation town there was a sign for a Chinese restaurant, "Takee Outee." Same thing. Now we're hip, cutting- edge. Now our watering holes have names like Xanadu and Oasis and our murders are committed with AK-47's.

The location of this bar is now an urbanized intersection crowded with gas stations and fast food restaurants. The brown tinge to this photograph makes the bar look like it's caught in a dust storm and even more isolated than it was.

-Benjamin Harris

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

CNN: "New GOP Buzzword: Fascism"

CNN: "New GOP Buzzword: Fascism"

There has been a change in official language in describing la cosa nostra with Islam. As was posted about here* British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently redefined the post-9/11 world as a "struggle" over whether "our values can beat theirs." Then on August 10, President Bush reinforced Blair's redefinition by stating that the conflict was with "Islamic Fascists."**

Gone was the silly lumping of Islam's war against the U.S. with (1) North Korean psychopathology (2) Basque separatism (3) IRA terror (4) Chechnyn independence, (5) an abstraction, "Chaos", et al. Both of these vanguard leaders now view, talk about, and force their nations to think about this issue as a dichotomy between Islam and the U.S., England, and Israel.

An article on CNN.com today under the headline above reported on this critical rhetorical change, helping to insert it into the public consciousness. It will take scores of speeches and articles for the redefinition to be the subject of popular discussion but an important change has occurred. This is Public Occurrences.

*Tony Blair's Speech in Los Angeles: Public Occurrences, August 1, 2006.
**President Bush on "Islamic Fascists": Publocc, August 10, 2006.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation"

Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation.

In one of The Teaching Company's philosophy tapes on Emmanuel Kant the lecturer says that the "categorical imperative" is really just The Golden Rule restated. For a listener it was a jarring--and funny--thing to hear. "That's it? He must have felt foolish to have wasted all of that time and effort writing. I feel foolish at having spent the time I did trying to understand."

That statement stuck with me. It was a check on getting too impressed with the works of a "Philosopher," and with difficult reading. It was a reminder that there were some good lessons to be learned from our religion even if we reject practicing it. It was a reminder not to reject the simple in preference of the complex. E=mc2 was not less profound for being simply expressed.

The Golden Rule gets a featured role in Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation, the beginning of our Religious Traditions, humankind's religious traditions too: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, etc.

Ms. Armstrong's point is that there is common ground in the antecedents of these world religions, even as their contemporary practice shows only violent differences. The common pure as snow source for these different muddy rivers* is the lessons of the sages of the "Axial Age," from about 900-200 BCE.

To make a 400 page long story one sentence short that common source is some variant of The Golden Rule that each of these religious traditions had in the Axial Age and if all of us could follow The Golden Rule we could help ourselves out of the current pickle we're in.

In her introduction Ms. Armstrong wrote that she would propose a course of action in the last chapter, impressively titled "The Way Forward."

It is easy to make fun of a writer by quoting her out of context when the subject is the practical application of such an abstract principle:

"If, for example, every time we were tempted to say something hostile about...an enemy country, we considered how we would feel if such a remark were made about us--and refrained--we would, in that moment, have gone beyond ourselves. It would be a moment of transcendence."

"If you can't say something nice..." All right that's a considerate point to keep in mind but don't we already do that? The interpersonal conduct of world leaders is so pleasant, and "diplomatic language" is synonymous with tempered, measured speech.

"The test is simple: if people's beliefs--secular or religious--make them belligerent, intolerant, and unkind about other people's faith, they are not 'skillful' [in Buddhism's language]."

There is no way forward proposed here to deal with one of the most recurring dilemmas that tolerant people face: what to do when confronted by intolerance. In Manhattan, Woody Allen is having a discussion with some Manhattanites and tells them that Nazis plan on marching in New Jersey. He proposes violent confrontation. A female auditor says something like "Wouldn't it be more civilized to just talk to them?," and Allen responds "No, with Nazis baseball bats and bricks work better than words."

"What should be our response? [to "religiously inspired terrorism"]. The Axial sages gave us two important pieces of advice. First [italics hers], there must be self-criticism. Instead of simply lambasting the 'other side,' people must examine their own behavior..." "...in our current predicament, the Axial sages would probably tell us, reformation must start at home. Before stridently insisting that another religion clean up its act, we should look into our own traditions, scriptures, and history--and amend our own behavior. "

Oh my. Nothing is proposed about what we should require the other religion to do. In fact, to the extent there is anything concrete proposed here at all it is that we do nothing to or about the Other's conduct because a condition precedent to that--"before"--"we must amend our own behavior." Ms. Armstrong does not even suggest specifically what of our behavior we must change.

"Second [her italics], we should follow the example of the Axial sages and take practical, effective action.[my italics]. When they confronted aggression in their own traditions, they did not pretend that it was not there but worked vigorously to change their religion..."

Again, the emphasis is on what WE --not the Other--should do and again there is not even one example given of what in our religion we should work vigorously to change.

"In order to reclaim their faith, their coreligionists [unclear language here but in context she seems to mean all religious people] should embark on a program of disciplined and creative study, discussion, reflection and action."

That's it. Four pages later the book ends.

Ms. Armstrong seems like such a sincere, earnest writer. She does not write in a pompous way but rather with modesty and with evident intent to help, but how disappointing an ending. She is an intelligent, sincere, self-aware person. She knew how weak The Way Forward was. She should have had the courage and the self-critical intellectual honesty to postpone publication of the book until she had substantive steps to propose. This is Public Occurrences.


*This wonderful metaphor is credited to George Will who wrote it a generation ago: "Abraham Lincoln was the founder of the Republican party which is proof that even a muddy river can
have snow at its source."

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Word Museum


The Word Museum

...is a book of extinct words. Its author is Jeffrey Kacirk, who should win the Pulitzer Prize.

I at least never knew that there were words that just didn't exist anymore. Some words have become archaic but they're still in the dictionary. These words have just disappeared. I'm amazed that we wouldn't be able to understand much of what a 16th century Englishman was saying even though we were speaking the same language. In many instances the words disappeared because the practices that they described disappeared, so we also get a better look at life at the time. The Word Museum project is a brilliant one. Imagine doing a movie with the actors having to speak in the language of the time. Or writing a short story.

Mr. Kacirk has collected a small dictionary full of the most colorful of these extinct words. He also has an extinct word of the day on the web. Here are a few.

"Knocker up"-When personal timepieces were still too expensive to be common, the knocker up was the person who would go around and wake up the workers. He used a "knocking-up-stick," a long pole with buttons attached to the end which he would use to rap the bedroom windows.

"Piper's news"-old news. From the piper who would go from town to town calling the news.

"Queer plungers"-Working in twos, one man would throw himself into the river while the other shouted the the situation so that all could hear and then jump in the river to rescue the "victim." He would then take the victim to the Humane Society and collect the one guinea that was given to people who saved those from drowning.

"Resurrectionist"-a body snatcher.

"Carpet knight"-one who does better work in a lady's bedroom than on the battlefield.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Michael Chow's House

  Michael Chow's house, profiled in the current issue of Vogue is one of the greatest private residences ever built. The "indoor courtyard" (foyer) has 28' high ceilings. All other rooms of the house converge onto it.

The house is as stylishly eclectic as is Mr. Chow. The exterior of the residence is done in a Mexican/Spanish style that resembles that of Stanford University. A row of curved archways is composed of 400 year old Mexican stone.

The living room (paneled in gold leaf) contains antique Chinese chairs and walls hung with contemporary art.

The library combines art deco furniture, a Belgian tapestry, and a breathtaking, huge, mottled stone fireplace.

Everything about the dining room produces a dramatic, almost reverent, response: a table designed to seat 10, the high ceilings, the huge window veiled with vertical curtaining, the minimalist rest: oatmeal colored walls and floor covering.

The pool--water is an architect's medium--is a blue the color of David Hockney's California pool paintings, with an overlooking second-story balcony. The pool is surrounded by British Racing Green grass and lawn-hidden sprinklers that cascade the pool with their rainbow-producing droplets.

This house is the greatest of its generation, perhaps the greatest in America's history, equalling or surpassing Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. It is a living museum and will be preserved as one after Mr. Chow's passing. Michael Chow will live on through the architectural icon that he designed. This is Public Occurrences.

Murder Case Photographs- #12



Murder Case Photographs- #12

"Only 508 days to go till retirement."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Murder Case Photographs- #11



Murder Case Photographs- #11

This poor soul. One never gets too jaded not to feel sorrow at seeing a photograph of a murdered person.

Ahh, maybe it's faux poetic but here the photo itself seems to weep: the victim is shrouded by the mist, the rain drops are like tear drops on the camera lens. The victim glistens with the rain, the road he lays on glistens. The rain distorts, adding a gauze to the enchantment of black and white. The viewer is two steps removed from "reality" here.

In so many of these photographs--here and in # 2, and # 8--the isolation of the subject, in such complete contrast to the surroundings, adds to the viewer's sorrowful contemplation.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Murder Case Photographs- #10, A 1950's Homicide Dick


Murder Case Photographs- #10, A 1950's Homicide Dick


This photograph, originally published as #3 in this series, is odd and because of its oddity, humorous. There are four human beings in the photograph and it is apparent who the dead one is. For one of the living to be directing our attention to him by pointing from three feet away is comically superfluous.

There's also an odd look to the three detectives as a separate component of the picture. They don't seem to go together as part of a single scene. It's almost like they were cut and pasted from three different contexts. One absurdly points at a corpse three feet away. He looks angry. Maybe he lost a bet? Crime scene personel will often point to draw the viewer's attention to something that is not obvious like a bullet hole or spot of blood. Not a corpse. A friend "read" the Pointer as demonstrating perhaps the angle of the gunshot and how far away the barrel of the gun was. A light went on but on close examination that can't be what is going on. The pointer doesn't have an imaginary gun in his hand. You have to put the thumb up to make a gun. Conclusively though if Det Pointer was trying to demonstrate the bullet's trajectory he fucked up. Drawing an imaginary line from the end of his finger the bullet misses the victim entirely.

The taller detective behind Det. Pointer seems disconnected in every way from the rest of the scene. He is wearing sunglasses indoors. Ok, some people wear sunglasses indoors to be cool. Fine. But Shades also stands slightly apart from his partners, casually has his hands in his pockets and looks directly at the camera, seemingly oblivious to the others and, like, the corpse five feet away.

The detective to the Pointer's right has a tie on unlike the other two. Maybe that's over analyzing. At least he's lookng at the corpse and seems part of the scene but he looks like he's going to cry or throw up. Very un-homicide detective-like.

Murder Case Photographs- #10A, The Wittenberg Predella Painting.



Murder Case Photographs-#10A, The Wittenberg Predella Painting.

Opposite is "Luther Preaching to the Wittenberg Congregation" by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The painting is on the predella of the altarpiece in the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg, Germany. The image here was scanned from Joseph Leo Koerner's wonderful 2004 book The Reformation of the Image (The inklines on the photograph are mine).

This year, when I decided to share these old murder scene photographs with an audience in the tens, I hadn't looked at them for a year or so and when I pulled #10 out, I was reminded of the similarly composed work by Cranach.

The similarities were obvious and to me, eery, and funny. Both Luther and the detective in #10 gesture with their right arms. Both gestures vacuously draw the viewer's attention to the obvious dead person.

The theme song from The Outer Limits began playing in my head.

-Benjamin Harris

Murder Case Photographs-#10B


Murder Case Photographs- #10B, Martin Luther Reincarnated as a 1950's Homicide Dick?

Do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do. Could the parallels between this 16th century painting of Martin Luther and the 1950's murder scene photograph be taken one weird, comical step...Beyond?

In the color plate of the predella Luther's face did look like that of Det. Pointer, but we needed a better picture of Luther to be sure. Taking Koerner's book down from the shelf and leafing through it no closeup could be found. Frustratingly, the images referenced in the index didn't turn one up either. Then, while methodically going through the book almost page-by-page there it was, on page 332. Opposite, The Great Reformer is shown side-by-side with Det. Pointer. The stern expression is almost identical, the eyebrows are similar, the nose is the same, the mouth is the same, the chin is the same.

Martin Luther had been reincarnated as a 1950's homicide dick.

-Benjamin Harris

Monday, August 21, 2006

Djibouti Beckons

Djibouti Beckons*

"Area: 23,200 sq km
Population: 721,000
Life expectancy [special boxed section; they want you to know this]: men 51 yrs., women 54 yrs.
Climate: Desert [I...], torrid [am not...] and dry [making this up.]."


"...famine, AIDS, and war in this volatile region have orphaned thousands of children."
...
"Djibouti is above all, a carrier."
...
"The functioning 42-acre Free Zone may not be very big..."
...
"...virtually the only natural mineral resource being mined in Djibouti is salt..." ["Locusts, we have locusts of every race, color and creed..."]
"Since the discovery of salt in Ethiopia, however, prices have dropped from $50 a ton to $24. We are looking for other clients." [Oh God, those poor people.]
...
"In the district of Ali Sabieh alone, we have created 28 jobs..."
...
"Movie buffs may not be aware of Djibouti's** whereabouts on the world map, but they might well know what its interior looks like. People familiar with the 1968 science fiction classic 'Planet of the Apes'..." [Oh God, no. No]
...
"In 2005 we had an increase of nearly 15 percent [in tourism]. Starting in 1999, we had 14,000 tourists [about the same number as my bathroom]. Now, FOR THE FIRST TIME [emphasis added], we have exceeded a volume of 30,000 ["volume" protests its usage here]."


*16 page ad (costing one-half of Djibouti's GDP) in September/October 2006 Foreign Affairs.
**Spell check for "Djibouti's" is "despotism."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

An Islamic Attack on August 22?

An Islamic Attack on August 22?

That's the question that Bernard Lewis, dean of scholars on Islam, asks us to think about and prepare for in an August 8 op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Lewis cites the following reasons for his concern:

(1) Iran has or is close to acquiring nuclear weapons.
(2) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that he will give the United States an answer to its questions on Iran's nuclear intentions by the end of August.
(3) President Ahmadinejad and his government believe that the "terminal struggle" between Islam and the West is well underway.
(4) Islam is a very symbolic-oriented religion and this year August 22 has special meaning to Muslims. In the Muslim calendar this is the day that the Prophet took his famous flight on a mythological horse, flying first to Jerusalem, then to heaven, then back to his followers.

Mr. Lewis believes that if all of this adds up to an attack on Tuesday it will be Israel that is hit.

-Benjamin Harris

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Murder Case Photographs: #9



Murder Case Photographs: #9

1953

The live lineup is the standard, and fairest, way of ensuring an accurate identification of a subject by a stranger. There are six people in the lineup, now as then, the suspect and five others. The fillers are other inmates who for many years were bribed to participate with cigarettes. Now second-hand smoke laws have resulted in a burger and soft drink from Wendy's being the lure. For safety purposes, the lineup today is conducted in a special video-equipped room with a wall separating the witness from the lineup participants.

The key to the fairness of the lineup is matching the physical characteristics of the fillers with those of the subject: race and gender obviously, but age, height, hair style, etc. That's easy to do today in a big city jail with it's large inmate population. It wasn't so easy in 1953. Here you have six people of obviously different pysical characteristics. Number two is a bean pole, a full head taller than number three. Number one looks like he's eighteen, number six like he's thirty-eight. And then there's the James Caan looking character in the plaid shirt. He's not a member of the lineup. Who knows what he's doing there.

As with other photographs in this series this one personifies some human reactions. Look at the face of number five. That is Guilt. Callow number one--in for drinking in public maybe--looks on gape-jawed. "You did a murder?!"

Significant also here is that an African-American woman makes the identification of a white man. She's dressed proudly, she points to the culprit and looks at the camera with a face that says "That's him, there's no doubt."


-Benjamin Harris

Monday, August 14, 2006

Murder Case Photographs: #8



Murder Case Photographs: #8

1958


I remember this case. The Clerk's file contained a confession, I remember. It was the murder of a gay young man who had been set up by a straight young man feigning sexual interest in him. Once the killer got the gay victim to a remote location he robbed and killed him.

Don't know for sure what the defense was but have a good guess:

"He seemed like a regular guy. We talked, drank, he bought me a couple of drinks and he said he'd take me home. Next thing I know I'm in [remote location] and he wanted to perform these perversions on me. We fought, he had a gun, I was able to disarm him and shot him in self-defense."

I make that guess based on demoralizing experience. There is no group of people in American life so victimized for who they are as gay people. I have handled or tried maybe a half-dozen murders of gay men by straight men. All of them have had the same defense. It is discrimination, and the defense makes the most despicable homophobic arguments that are the counterpart to the racist arguments that prosecutors used against African-American people in 1958, but which no lawyer would get near today for fear of contempt and bar proceedings.

This is a beautiful photograph, the car is rendered in cameo by the old flash bulb against the dark, remote background. As with photo #2 in this series the black and white double as moral metaphors.

-Benjamin Harris

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Murder Case Photographs: #7


Murder Case Photographs: #7

1953

Some of the photographs here were chosen because of their personification of one of the human characteristics. Grief and Strength were never so movingly depicted in any art medium as in photograph #4 in this series. This photograph could be titled simply "Dejection."

This man has just been arrested for murder and took the silver medal in a battle with a nightstick. He is bent half over, he sits barely, his upper body held up only by his straightened arm against the bench. His chest is bare and streaked with dried blood. The dressing is still on his head wound. He stares off.

There is a reminder in this photograph of the same dejected condition in a famous work of art,"Defeated Gaul," I think.

-Benjamin Harris

Friday, August 11, 2006

Murder Case Photographs: #6




Murder Case Photographs: #6

1955

Dodge City in the 1880's? Some other frontier town? Sort of. This city has always been on the edge and this locale was on the edge of that edge.

This photograph has a vaguely different "look" to it. The only lighting other than the camera flash are a few bare bulbs hanging in front of some of the stores. This was an African-American part of town so there were no streetlights. Without streetlights there are no shadows so the camera's flash creates a look like looking at an object sink into a deep, dark lake.


-Benjamin Harris

Thursday, August 10, 2006

President Bush on "Islamic Fascists."

President Bush on "Islamic Fascists."

The change in rhetoric noted here in English Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech in Los Angeles on August 1* has been used now by President Bush. L-O-N-G gone are the days of "The War is Not With Islam." Gone too are "terrorists" generically and previous add-ons to any Islamic predicate--"terrorists," "extremists," "radicals"--, replaced now by the politically/philosophically/historically redolent term "fascists," as indeed the Syrians and Saudis are. The fig leaf of religion is now confusingly and we hope transitionally linked with Nazi ideology. Perhaps soon one of these leaders in the Clash will complete the transition to the horrible truth that we must face and defeat utterly, as we did Nazi Germany and Suicide-bomber Japan:

The war is with Islam as it is practiced and taught today.

That does not mean that we must kill every Muslim. We must kill no one whose actions pose no threat to us. But we must kill those, and all of those, who do. Even when we must kill we must not hate. We must go further still. We can not ignore the calls to arms of the Josef Goebels's of Islamic Fascism. These teachers and preachers must be silenced, voluntarily if they choose, by death if they won't. That is sickening and daunting enough a task to comprehend but Bush and Blair may be making that transition and preparing their countries for it. This is Public Occurrences.

*Tony Blair's Speech in Los Angeles, August 1, 2006

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Art and the "Murder Case Photographs" Series

Art and the "Murder Case Photographs" Series

The prevailing definition of art is based on the artist's intent. If (s)he intended it to be art then it's art. Marcel Duchamp's display of a men's urinal was the first example of this definition. He was an artist, he intended the urinal to be a work of art, so that's what it was.

Same with Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes. Arthur Danto persuasively calls that (1964?) creation one of the most important in the entire history of western art.

So, what of an object which was not intended to be a work of art but which is widely considered to be by viewers? For example, the pre-historic cave paintings of bulls and horses in Europe? Marcel de Cro Magnon did not intend those to be art but we call them art unhesitatingly.

Or the murder case photographs that we have begun to publish here. Number 2 in the series below, the beautiful, evocative, night time picture of the white car on the deserted unpaved road is art in the minds of most people who view it, I'm confident. However it's creator was not an artist nor did he intent it to be a work of art. He was a crime scene technician, and his intent was to document the scene of a murder.

What of our publishing it here? We view it as a work of art, we intended it to be art when we published it. Under the prevailing definition of art we are artistes.

Art is abstract nonlinguistic creation or expression of emotion.* Duchamp's Fountain and Warhol's Brillo Boxes are art because they made (some) people contemplative of the question "what is art?" So are the pre-historic cave paintings and these murder case photographs even though the creator of each was not an artist.

-Benjamin Harris

*Damn it, I had a definition of art all worked out (to MY satisfaction) and encapsulated in a short statement like the above but I don't think what's above is exactly what I wrote previously. So now this long explanation.

Arthur Danto and Hans Belting have written that "Art" began after painting ceased to be picture-writing as it was in the Church prior to about 1400. With widespread illiteracy the most efficacious method of teaching was with painting. Danto wrote that art ended with Brillo Boxes because Warhol had turned art into philosophy.

This idea of Art excludes pre-historic cave paintings and the magnificent medieval church paintings and stained glass. Those are considered by most people unquestionably to be art so the view here is that Belting's and Danto's definition is unsuitable. Those works of art are included in the definition offered above because of their effect on today's viewer even their creators did not intend them to be art.

Fountain and Brillo Boxes meet the definition because they were expressions (rather than communications) by their creators and intended to produce an emotion, or better here, a feeling, of contemplativeness.

The qualifier "abstract" in the definition is meant to exclude real creation of emotion, like if you actually see someone really kill another person (There the "creator" is called a "murderer" not an artist.)

"Nonlinguistic," is meant to exclude literature but not poetry. This is an attempt to account for this vexatious issue in art theory. Most art theorists consider literature to be in a different (not inferior) category from art. Obviously, it is completely linguistic. Poetry is considered by most to be a sub-category of art because although it uses words it creates its emotional effect by the abstract structure of the words and sentences.

"Creation or expression" is meant to account for the creator's intent (expression), and sometimes in the alternative, the effect (creation) of the work on the viewer, regardless of the creator's intent. Thus cave paintings and murder photographs can be considered art because of their effect on the viewer, not the creator's intent.

In the view here, the essential component of any definition of art is emotion. A work cannot be art if neither its intent or effect is unemotional, if it is for example intellectual or communicative. A work of philosophy, e.g. Hobbes Leviathan, no matter how influential or important is not art for several reasons: (1) it is communication rather than expression. (2) it is written, i.e. linguistic (3) it is aimed at the intellect not the emotions or the "soul." Our definition is influenced greatly by Arthur Schopenhauer's writings on art. To Schopenhauer the purest art form was music because it bypassed the intellect entirely and went straight to the soul. In our view, Schopenhauer was right.

In the same way the definition offered herecan be used to make normative distinctions among works of art. Duchamp's urinal and Warhol's Brillo Boxes are barely art by our definition because they are so intellectual. I guess "contemplativeness" is an emotion, but barely so. It's more a state of mind. The intent and effect of Fountain and Brillo Boxes were communicative and intellectual. In intent they are like the medieval church paintings but to most viewers, including me, they also do not produce emotion, as do the church paintings. Therefore, if Fountain and Brillo Boxes meet the definition of art, they do so barely and may be (and are considered by me) to be inferior art.

-BH



Friday, August 04, 2006

Murder Case Photographs: #5

Murder Case Photographs: #5




1958

How'd you like to be married to this woman? Her husband didn't either. And vice-versa. He abused her and the kids. So she got rid of him. She put poison in his mine-and-only-mine water pitcher. Not enough to kill him immediately, but slowly over time so that it looked like he contracted and succumbed to illness.

This photograph shows the lead detective and Miss Bats-in-the-Belfrey, 1958 with said water pitcher.

-Benjamin Harris

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Murder Case Photographs- #4



Murder Case Photographs #4

1953

"Legal identification" of the victim is an element of the crime of murder. It must be proven at trial just as the other elements, e.g. premeditation do, but it is the most technical of those elements. It is almost never contested, and its proof is only a formality.

This is how legal id was done in the 1950's. A friend or family member would go to the the morgue. The Coroner would pull out the metal tray with the body and a photographer would memorialize the moment. Now, a less emotionally difficult procedure is used. The body is cleaned and a face-only photograph is shown. The relative views the photograph and signs the back.

The pathos of the in-person procedure is vivid in this picture. Look at the contrast in the faces of the two women. The woman on the right is Grief, the woman on the left, Strength. Look at them together in close-up. The strong woman has taken the other's hand in hers. The grieving woman holds a tissue in her left hand.

The grieving woman stands but only with the support of the other woman. Her shoulders are slightly slumped, her cheeks have the sheen of shed tears, her eyes still seep. She holds a tissue in her left hand. She is overwhelmed, broken, resigned.

The face of the woman on the left is steely resolve, personal pride, strength, almost defiance. She will not be broken by this murder. She is physical and emotional support for the other woman. Her build is bigger and stronger, her posture more erect. She will not be broken by anything.

The coroner stands in a respectful posture. Head bowed and hands clasped in front he could be in church praying if his eyes were closed.

The purpose of this photograph was legal and technical but a transcendent depiction of the human soul was the result. This is Public Occurrences.

Murder Case Photographs: #4 (Close-Up)

Murder Case Photographs: #4 (Close-up)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tony Blair's Speech in Los Angeles

Tony Blair's Speech in Los Angeles

British Prime Minister Blair was clear in defining the dichotomy that exists in the world today. It is between Western (or more accurately Anglo-American and Judeo-Christian) values and Islam's hatred. In CNN's report on the speech Blair stated that the conflict de jour in the Middle East is no less than "part of the wider struggle for the soul of the region."

We must, he said, "recognize this struggle for what it truly is." It is whether "our values can beat theirs." That "would be at least along the first steps of the path to winning it." This is the language that is necessary to match the reality on the ground. Islam aims to destroy our culture and way of life. It is a struggle we must fight, and that we must and will win.

Blair is correct also in his "fear" that "a vast part of Western opinion is not remotely near this yet." For five years those of us who have seen this struggle for what it is have been exasperated at the learning curve of governmental and opinion leaders especially of President Bush's immediate declaration after 9/11 that "the war is not with Islam." You don't hear insouciant remarks like that as frequently now. Indeed you hear more what has been said in little blogs like this and from those, inter alia, like Daniel Pipes, those with more gravitas, that if the war isn't with Islam it is with a a critical mass of dedicated soldiers of Islam, bent on our utter destruction and backed by a strong minority of Muslim men-on-the-street and governments such as Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Blair states clearly what must be done: "it's about modernization within Islam and out of it."

Blair also unequivocally put his country's hand in with that of Israel: "Absent from so much of the coverage is any understanding of the Israeli predicament," he said. It is a struggle between the allied powers of Britain, America and Israel--not ridiculously against Terrorism, a fictional straw man--and Islam. Gone in Prime Minister Blair's speech is the confluence of this Islamic war, with the I.R.A., Basque separatists, Cheychyn rebels, and every other rag-tag bunch of guys with mortars. The struggle today is between Israel/America/Britain and Islam. Blair called out Syria and Iran for "their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability." "If they keep raising the stakes, they will find that they have miscalculated. "

"We need to make it clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: Come into the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us or be confronted."

The words highlighted above are changes in the rhetoric of leaders like Blair and our own courageous President Bush. Changes in rhetoric matter at this level of discourse with speakers of this gravitas. More than any speech since 9/11 Prime Minister Blair's speech has starkly cast the choice for Islam and the West.

It is the most important speech of our time. This is Public Occurrences.