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Blog Day, Belatedly

So yeah, I’ve been quite busy finishing my thesis over the last week or so, and will be until the deadline in mid-September, so this site has taken a backseat for the time being. But that being said, and though the day is almost over, I couldn’t let Blog Day go by unrecognised, could I?
Now the point of Blog Day is to recommend five new weblogs, places different from my culture, point of view or attitude. However, I haven’t really found any lately (with one exception, probably the greatest weblog ever). So this is the point where I cheat a little, and link to five weblogs that are not necessarily new, but are new to me.
And would you believe it? There’s even a method to my madness, because each of my choices is a photoblog:
Vudeja / The personal site and photoblog of Mark Hegge, a Canadian who visually documented his life in Japan until this summer. His photographs remind me of the cinematography of Takeshi Kitano’s films; I love his eye for the compelling in the relatively ordinary, for the atmosphere of seemingly empty spaces. He and his family have recently relocated to Canada, so I look forward to seeing his future work. / Samples: 33; Family Mart; Untitled (No. 176); Good Bye Sagami-Ono
Express Train / A photoblog by Brooklyn denizen Travis Ruse, who documents his subway commute to and from work in midtown Manhattan. I’m a sucker for trains, especially subways; I could philosophise about that for paragraphs, but I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking. / Samples: 6 Train, 23rd St., 9:15am; D Train, Broadway, 6:30pm; F Train, sitting over Carroll Gardens, 8pm
Infrangible / By Khoi Uong, another Brooklyn resident, this is a beautifully designed website with photographic richness to match — and more beyond that. Not only does his photoblog span a whole spectrum from headshots to candid action shots to stunning compositions like this one, but each shot is accompanied by an optional soundtrack to enhance the sensory experience. (Sure, a few of his musical choices leave something to be desired — Crystal Tips and Alistair, anyone? — but hey, nobody’s perfect.) / Samples: Haze; Goat; Shenandoah
Big Empty / The photoblog of Tim Gasperak, a San Francisco-based photographer and designer, it serves as a first-class portfolio for his skills in both areas. Just witness the entrancing purples and reds of this Italian sunset. Or check out the focus technique making this image of chairs seem like a macro shot of a minature model. / Samples: Bike at twilight on the Mura; Amphitheater chairs, Seattle Public Library
Absenter / By Nazarin Hamid. Quirky, colourful perspectives of everyday life in the Windy City, and then some — with a clean design that adapts in both layout an colour to match the image on display. Very impressive. / Samples: 08052005; The tracks of sunset; Shoes on a wire
Hopefully these five sites, and the many other photoblogs they link to, will keep you entertained until we return to our reguarly scheduled programming.

Perturbed by Prodigies

> The reason you get child prodigies in chess, arithmetic, and classical composition is that they are all worlds of discontinuous, parceled-up possibilities.
Reading an excerpt from an old Wired interview with Brian Eno at Peter Lindberg’s weblog, I was struck by this particular statement, concerning that most curious of phenomena: the child prodigy.
I’ve never been very impressed by child prodigies. For some time it’s been my suspicion that they’re cheating somewhat; that their advanced expertise — based on the recognition of patterns, on the calculation of logic — is a short-cut to genius. Their skills are to be encouraged, certainly, but they’re not particularly earth-shattering. Autistic children often have remarkable artithmetic abilities, too, but surely they’re much less gifted than they are afflicted.
British kids getting A-levels in computing, maths or science are ten a penny nowadays. Yet you don’t see any child prodigies in the humanities, do you? Eight-year-olds being certified by Microsoft or 14-year-olds reading science at Oxford (though their days may be numbered) make me yawn, uninterested. (I’d lump in here the celebrated spelling bee champions of America: they can spell the words, but do they know what they mean?)
If, however, a child their age was an English undergraduate? Or a teenager was reading for a doctorate in philosophy? That would surprise me.
There is a reason why you get young prodigies in chess, arithmetic, classical composition, computing, physics and other structural, systems-based disciplines — and not in the liberal arts, in English or in philosophy, where you need to understand, not just know; where you need to comprehend the interconnected wonder of everything, of the whole vista of knowledge, and not just its divisible elements. Even in logic or mathematics there’s an undeniable beauty, an abstract quality that even I, as someone who hates maths, can recognise.
But can they? Somehow I doubt it.

Oh My News, Where Art Thou?

I’ve been trying to find information — any information — about an alleged suicide attempt at my local DART station this afternoon.
Whether it was a suicide attempt or not (that’s what the staff at Pearse station reportedly relayed to commuters, at least) the incident was serious enough to cause suspension of part of the network on the northside for a significant part of the evening rush hour. (I know this because my mum was caught up in it on leaving work, and had to walk across the city to get a bus home instead.) This might be common on complex metro networks in other cities, but the DART is a one-route service; any major delays are out of the ordinary.
So one would expect to find a report about this on the web this evening, or a ‘breaking news’ headline on one of the newspaper websites. But do you think I can find any? Not at all. RTÉ News, the Irish Independent and The Irish Times are all coming up blank on this story. Not even a one-liner, even though it was briefly mentioned on TV at the 6pm bulletin (which I didn’t catch myself). The most I could find anywhere was a travel alert update on the Irish Rail website that referred to an ‘incident’ having occurred this afternoon at Raheny, but nothing more (the message has since been removed from the site).
It’s perplexing, particularly so when one sees reports of a derailment on the Luas line that occurred many hours later, and involved an empty tram at the end of the line. I don’t see why that’s deserving of recogniton while this isn’t, without getting into accusations of southside/northside snobbery.
I thought the web was supposed to expedite the breaking of news in cases like this, not leave us in the dark. Then again, a major part of what my thesis is about is that the mainstream media are recognised as having shortcomings (in terms of the stories and events they cover, etc.) that can, and should, be addressed by news consumers. The blogosphere acts when the news media are lacking – and in this case, they’re definitely lacking.
And that’s why I’m addressing it here. Pray tell, oh my news, where art thou?
Update 25/8: At last, something — a NIB on page 18 of this morning’s Irish Independent:
> A man in his 30s was killed after he fell in front of a train yesterday.
> The man fell in front of a Drogheda-Dublin commuter train at Raheny at 2:10pm. No Dart trains ran north of Harmonstown for some hours. Trains to Drogheda were delayed.
Still nothing on the web, though, even 20 hours later. My complaint still stands: the internet is supposed to expedite the provision of news, but in this instance our mainstream media are clearly lacking.

More Thoughts on the Tube Shooting

The Observer’s Rafael Behr puts it bluntly:
> A man slips on his denim jacket (unimpeded by explosives of any sort) and steps outside. He gets a bus to his local metropolitan railway station. He enters the station using the conventional, unathletic ticket-in-barrier walk-in method. He goes down to the platform, runs for a train and gets on it. He is then shot repeatedly in the head by armed police.
> It all raises certain questions about the judgement of our senior law enforcement officers.
Five weeks after the shooting at Stockwell Tube station, the truth about the events that lead to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes is finally beginning to emerge.
And it doesn’t look good for the Met. An investigation by The Observer, published last Sunday, has raised fresh questions about de Menezes’ killing: key errors were made by the surveillance team; security cameras were mysteriously not working; new testimony suggests he walked calmly through the station and to the platform, unchallenged; a photo of the scene of the shooting released by leaked from the Met Police shows a man wearing a light denim jacket, not a padded winter coat.
At the same time, it also emerged that Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Ian Blair tried to halt the independent investigation into the affair. Allegations of a cover-up abound.
The more evidence that comes to light, the less this incident seems like an accident and the more it looks like manslaughter, at best — or at worst, murder. If the armed officers involved, not to mention their superiors, don’t face any charges or disciplinary action for their part in this horrendous warping of justice, there could be some serious trouble ahead.

The Atom and the Damage Done, Part II

Last week saw Japan, and the world, commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which an estimated 220,000 people lost their lives. The bombings marked the horrific conclusion to not only the war in the Pacific, but also a series of napalm firebombing raids by the United States which laid waste to the country and killed many thousands more innocent civilians. (I wrote about this two years ago, in the entry to which this is a follow-up.)
While the firebombings in Japan, much like the carpetbombings of German cities before them, were terribly destructive and indiscriminate in their execution, they proved nothing compared to the inhuman power of the atom bomb, the first of which — codenamed ‘Little Boy’ — fell from a clear autumn sky over the city of Hiroshima, on the morning of August 6, 1945.
On July 20, The Guardian’s G2 section featured excerpts from John Hersey’s infamous account of the aftermath in Hiroshima as published by The New Yorker in 1946. Hersey was one of the first Western journalists to visit the city after the event, and he recorded the stories of some of those who survived the blast and the subsequent devastation. In a succession of scenes from different perspectives, his words convey the sheer chaos and disorientation of that fateful morning almost as vividly as if it were happening today:
>Dr Fujii sat down cross-legged in his underwear on the spotless matting of the porch, put on his glasses, and started reading the Osaka Asahi. He liked to read the Osaka news because his wife was there. He saw the flash. To him — faced away from the centre and looking at his paper — it seemed a brilliant yellow. Startled, he began to rise to his feet. In that moment (he was 1,550 yards from the centre), the hospital leaned behind his rising and, with a terrible ripping noise, toppled into the river. The doctor, still in the act of getting to his feet, was thrown forward and around and over; he was buffeted and gripped; he lost track of everything, because things were so speeded up; he felt the water.
>Dr Fujii hardly had time to think that he was dying before he realized that he was alive, squeezed tightly by two long timbers in a V across his chest, like a morsel suspended between two huge chopsticks — held upright, so that he could not move, with his head miraculously above water and his torso and legs in it. The remains of his hospital were all around him in a mad assortment of splintered lumber and materials for the relief of pain. His left shoulder hurt terribly. His glasses were gone.
On July 24 The Observer featured similarly affecting accounts of Hiroshima’s survivors, the hibakusha. But what’s also striking in the words of The Observer’s David Smith is how, even today, the destruction is still regarded more as a symbol than a real human tragedy:
>The Second World War, in many Western minds, was to make Hiroshima less a geographical place than an image and an event: a blasted landscape dated 6 August 1945, when the American B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay shimmered out of a beautiful blue sky and dropped on it the bomb, nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ by its makers, which seconds later became the most destructive weapon the world had ever seen. At 8.15am the uranium atom bomb exploded 580 metres above the city with a blinding flash, creating a fireball that blazed like a small sun with a temperature of more than a million degrees Celcius at the centre. In one second the fireball reached a diameter of 280 metres, sending surface temperatures to 4,000C. Fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, unleashing a high pressure shockwave, vaporising tens of thousands of people and animals, melting buildings and streetcars, reducing a 400-year-old city to dust.
For survivor Masaaki Tanabe, who was seven at the time,
>Hiroshima is not an image or event but home, a core of identity where his mother and baby brother perished. For decades he could not bring himself to return to the industrial promotion hall [where he played as a child], which has been renamed the A-bomb Dome and granted United Nations World Heritage status. It perches on the corner of a memorial peace park in the shadow of skyscrapers and that most American of landmarks, a baseball stadium.
Smith also spoke to Akihiro Takahashi, a 74-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima bomb who, while in Washington a number of years ago, met Paul Tibbets, commander of the Enola Gay:
>I told him “I’m not going to complain or hold a grudge against you.” I pushed my right hand towards him and he noticed the burns on my hand. He asked, “Is this the effect of the A-bomb?” I said, “Yes”. He looked surprised and shocked.
>I told him the sky over Hiroshima that day was so beautiful, so clear. We felt safe because the alarm was called off at the time. I told him I was even pointing at your airplane. He said, “Oh yes, I could see Hiroshima very well.”
>Before departing, I told him, “We believe as citizens of Hiroshima that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil, and this tragedy should not be repeated in any country in the world. I hope you will try whatever you can do.” He responded, “Mr Takahashi, I understand, but I know I would do the same thing once a war has started and I am ordered to drop the A-bomb.” I felt angry and also sad. But he also told me war shouldn’t happen again because, once a war breaks out, soldiers can do nothing but follow orders.
>The conversation lasted half an hour and he kept holding my right hand. I believe he felt some pain and remorse in his heart. But when I told a friend, he said, “I doubt it”.
Elsewhere, The New York Times asked Joi Ito to write an Op-Ed column to mark the week’s commemorations. He turned in a piece that presents an enlightening window on the complex emotional state of contemporary Japan, on the mixed feelings felt by the generations who have succeeded the atomic bombs:
>For my generation, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war in general now represent the equivalent of a cultural ‘game over’ or ‘reset’ button. Through a combination of conscious policy and unconscious culture, the painful memories and images of the war have lost their context, surfacing only as twisted echoes in our subculture. The result, for better and worse, is that, 60 years after Hiroshima, we dwell more on the future than the past.
Some Related Links:
* The burning and the haunting: how for some the nightmare of Hiroshima will never end
Survivors describe the horrors of August 6 1945 and the scars that remain.
* ‘I saw both of the bombs and lived’
The story of Kazuko Sadamaru, an extraordinary account of survival against the odds.
* Hiroshima: photography by Hiromi Tsuchida
* Suppressed film of 1945 nuclear attacks to air
Includes a link to a comprehensive Editor & Publisher article on the recently-declassified footage.
* Nagasaki remembers day of destruction, 60 years on
The Guardian’s report of Japan’s commemoration of the Nagasaki bombing on August 9.
* Jonathon Delacour: As We May Incinerate
From two years ago, a fascinating account of the napalm firebombings in Japan, months before the iconic destruction of Hiroshima.