- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009


“Take, for example, those melancholy Civil War photographs that depict a battlefield with a soldier’s corpse in the foreground, his rifle on the ground beside him.

” ‘Any viewer in the late 1860s would have realized that no one would have left a rifle on a battlefield,’ says [Harvard professor Robin] Kelsey. ‘Those corpses were looted for their boots, for money - and rifles were very scarce. Yet viewers weren’t upset; in the nineteenth century, people seemed much less concerned with the ways in which photographs were at times staged.

” ‘By the 1930s, when allegations arose that a New Deal photographer had inserted the skull of a steer into photographs of parched agricultural land to accentuate the sense of suffering, people were very disturbed. It had to do, in part, with the rise of journalism as a modern institution and a new ethical code that accompanied this.

- Craig Lambert, writing on “From Daguerreotype to Photoshop” in the January-February issue of Harvard magazine

Looking into dark

“I have spent the last two weeks in Israel trying to understand what exactly is going on here and what it means in the broader context of the global war on terror. I find myself dwelling on the question: Why do democratic and liberal nations condemn Israel for fighting against terrorists who deliberately target civilians?

“The usual answer - anti-Semitism - is certainly justified in some cases, but I reject it as the categorical cause of this illogical (or pathological) but common response to Israel’s efforts to survive. No, the fundamental answer to this question is that we, as democratic and liberty-loving societies, are afraid to identify candidly the defining nature of our common enemies. …

“Studying this fear is like peering uneasily into the dark after hearing an unusual sound. If we don’t have to, we’d rather not. Why are we afraid of candor? I see two connected reasons: 1) an honest understanding would require decisive action; therefore 2) it would make us feel weak.

“It would make us feel weak because we would sense that we were being compelled to do some unpleasant things in the belief that doing them would improve conditions enough to make up for the doing. We despise being coerced to do what we don’t really want to do, especially when it requires sacrifice and suffering. In this it is not only our love of liberty but also our love of comfort and leisure that causes our disquiet. The longer the period of sacrifice and concentrated effort is likely to be, the stronger is the resistance and hence the more troubling are the feelings of weakness.”

- Gabriel Ledeen, writing on “Be Not Afraid,” on Jan. 30 at National Review

Working-class leisure

“By the late 1990s, the working class were no longer a working class - their traditions, habits, jobs, even in some places their speech, were given over to new forms of transcendence offered by celebrity culture and credit cards and the bogus life of the fantasy rich. Woolworth’s was on its way to closing down for ever, as finally it did this week. Depression among the children of the poor, many of them third-generation unemployed, was recorded the other day as being the worst in Europe.

“And yet, weren’t their lives supposed to be better? Whatever else the credit crunch has done, and there will be many evils to follow, it has brought a generation up against the limits of its own fantasies. The leisured poor were [Prime Minister Tony] Blair’s gift to Britain, people who craved not values but designer labels and satellite dishes.

“It gives no one joy to observe that the English underclass, as it has increasingly been called, is now the most conservative force in Britain, in some quarters fascistic, hopped up on vengeance, tabloids, alcopops and sentiment.”

- Andrew O’Hagan, writing on “The Age of Indifference” on Jan. 10 at the Guardian

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