44 
Tuesday, January 20, 2009, 22:25 - Events, Commentary


'Nuff said...
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Happy MLK Day 
Monday, January 19, 2009, 16:03 - Commentary
Štúrovo, Slovakia


Happy MLK Day!

And of course it is a very special one because of what will happen tomorrow. Forty-six years after Dr. King gave his speech in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the moment for all Americans.


“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”

We are one step closer to making the dream a reality. If you haven’t read or heard the entire speech, or have not done so in a while, I suggest you take the time to do so right now. Listening to his words more than forty years later one realizes how far we have come and how much further down the road towards equality we must still travel…


© Damaso Reyes


“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."


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First Impressions 
Monday, January 19, 2009, 00:48 - Travel, Project News
Štúrovo, Slovakia


Greetings from Slovakia! It took a while to get here but I had a smooth flight from New York. I spent the afternoon in Budapest getting a brief tour (thanks Imre!) before taking the train here.


Home… © Damaso Reyes


First impressions are always just that: an imperfect view of something you don’t know very well. That said, I think I am going to like it here a lot. The people open, warm and friendly. The town is quite small, only about 11,000 people live here. Being a big city boy it is certainly a change of pace. As I was telling one of the locals yesterday, spending time in a small town like this is important to my project. After all, not everyone lives in Berlin and Paris. Getting a different perspective is the only way I can hope to capture the richness of life in Europe.









Four Views. © Damaso Reyes


So here I am. The next two and a half months will certainly be interesting, hopefully they will be productive as well!


Lovely Sturovo! © Damaso Reyes
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Photo of the Day #92 
Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 14:20 - Travel, Project News, Photo of the Day

Flying away on a jet plane…

So I’m heading for Slovakia on Thursday and there are still a million and one things for me to do so I won’t be blogging much this week. Of course on Monday I will fill you in on some first impressions. Until then, stay well!

Damaso

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Photo of the Day #91 
Friday, January 9, 2009, 12:07 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. As we have discussed before, us photographers are having a tough time of it. If we’re not being laid off or shot at, odds are we are being hassled by the Man, at least if we live in the United Kingdom, or as it is increasingly being called, the Nanny State. The latest chapter come courtesy of the Independent.


Artist or Terrorist?

“Reuben Powell is an unlikely terrorist. A white, middle-aged, middle-class artist, he has been photographing and drawing life around the capital's Elephant & Castle for 25 years.

“With a studio near the 1960s shopping centre at the heart of this area in south London, he is a familiar figure and is regularly seen snapping and sketching the people and buildings around his home – currently the site of Europe's largest regeneration project. But to the police officers who arrested him last week his photographing of the old HMSO print works close to the local police station posed an unacceptable security risk.

"The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act," he recalled.”


This would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. Billions of people have cameras on their mobile phones but it is the conspicuous photographer with real equipment that gets singled out. After all, if you were a terrorist why wouldn’t you use a mobile phone camera to do your recon? This is another sad example of the government trying to make us feel safe instead of actually doing something to keep us safe…

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Photo of the Day #90 
Thursday, January 8, 2009, 12:33 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
What to do about Russia? There is perhaps no larger foreign policy question echoing around the capitals of the European Union than this. A long simmering dispute between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas has exploded as Russia has cut off all deliveries of natural gas, not just to the Ukraine but to Europe as well. Because the pipeline that supplies Europe with gas goes through the Ukraine this is a crisis that has taken on much larger dimensions, as we learn in an article from the BBC.


The Big Chill…

“Heating systems shut down in some parts of central Europe, as outdoor temperatures plunged to -10C or lower.

“Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other, and the EU says it wants its own monitors to check the flow of gas.

“The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which is pumped through Ukraine.

“The list of countries that have reported a total halt of Russian supplies via Ukraine includes Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia, and Austria.

“Italy said it had received only 10% of its expected supply.”


The E.U. needs to engage Russia more aggressively instead of feeding its fears that Russia will somehow be diminished as the European Union expands. Until then Russian leaders will continue to try to find ways to show that they are still in control, especially in regards to their former satellites.

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Photo of the Day #89 
Wednesday, January 7, 2009, 13:17 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Well all the news concerning immigrants in Europe is not bad. In fact there are even a few examples of what I believe the future will look like and NRC Handelsblad gives us a fine example from The Netherlands.

“It is almost impossible to overestimate the symbolic value of Ahmed Aboutaleb's career: born in Morocco, moved to the Netherlands as an adolescent, local councillor in Amsterdam, junior minister and, from January 5, mayor of the country's second biggest city Rotterdam (population 583,000).

"For many immigrants the Aboutaleb success story must amount to a modest 'Yes we can'. "His appointment is a breakthrough," says Andreas Wüst, political researcher at Mannheim University in Germany. "He almost certainly will be an example to many immigrants, and not just in the Netherlands."

“Aboutaleb will be the first ethnic minority mayor of a major European city, a position which shows the relative openness of the Netherlands' political system for newcomers. In Holland people with an immigrant background are better represented in elected political and administrative functions than in most other European states. This may be because mayors in the Netherlands are not elected but appointed and because of the system of proportional representation and party lists.”



Perhaps I can be a General one day. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

Of course I’m not a big fan of appointments and prefer direct democracy but the fact that he was appointed is even more of a breakthrough (could you imagine Barack Obama being appointed over Hillary Clinton for any position?). Hopefully more and more Dutch citizens will understand that their national and cultural identity has less to do with race and heritage than it does with shared values and hopes for the future…

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February 2009 Isuue of Outdoor Photographer 
Tuesday, January 6, 2009, 12:38 - Personal, Project News
If you happen to stop by your local newsstand you can see my photograph advertising Kodak’s new Ektar 100 film on the back cover of Outdoor Photographer!




Special thanks to Audrey for making it possible!

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Photo of the Day #88 
Monday, January 5, 2009, 13:00 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
The new year has just begun but as in most years there is quite a bit of carryover from the past, as if the year gone by just doesn’t want to let go. The past is ever present in Europe, nowhere more so than in Germany where extreme right-wing attitudes and even violence are still prevalent as we learn first from Der Spiegel and then from our friends at the Economist.

“The mayor of the small town of Warin in eastern Germany has gone into hiding after a threat against him appeared on a far-right Web site.

“Hans-Peter Gossel, 53, has been under police protection for a week after the following entry appeared on Altermedia, a Web site popular with neo-Nazis: "Watch out!!! It's high time for Lebkuchen cake knives!! The next 'victim' is making himself available! Gossel?" Gossel said the Web site also contained a video showing a matchstick man being cut up with a knife.”



Not a good answer either… Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“ALOIS MANNICHL, police chief of Passau, in Bavaria, pursues neo-Nazis to great lengths. A group recently buried a leader in a coffin draped with the swastika. Mr. Mannichl had it dug up. On December 13th they took their revenge. Crying “you will not trample the graves of our comrades any more, you leftist pig,” somebody stabbed and almost killed Mr. Mannichl at the door of his house in Fürstenzell, near Passau. This brazen attack on a senior policeman brings a “completely new dimension” to violence by right-wing extremists, declared Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.”

Clearly what Germany has been doing up until now to combat right-wing violence has not been as successful as it needs to be. As I have said before, the nation’s policy of banning political parties and limiting speech and expression does nothing to solve the problem. A more intensive social dialogue needs to happen, from the top down as well as the bottom up. These areas, I’m talking to you east Germany, need to be targeted. A problem of this magnitude doesn’t go away overnight but it does seem like the German government needs to take a new tack.


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Happy New Year! 
Friday, January 2, 2009, 14:34 - Project News
Happy New Year! Hard to believe it’s 2009 already, isn’t it? I remember as a young child in elementary school the concept of the year 2000 seemed amazing and here we are already nine years past that! Well 2008 wasn’t as productive as I might have liked but I do feel like I learned a few things and certainly made some progress. 2009 is already getting off to a good start; in two weeks I am off to Slovakia!


What is it about bridges that I love so much? © Damaso Reyes


I will serve as the 14th Bridge Guard of the Mária Valéria bridge in Štúrovo, Slovakia, right on the Hungarian border and just an hour away from Budapest. I will be there until the 31st of March so feel free to drop in if you’re in the neighborhood. I certainly look forward to your suggestions on what to photograph and do while I will be in the region.

It’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time in Eastern Europe, something I’ve wanted to do since the project began. Hopefully while I am there I can raise some additional funds to keep traveling but these next few months will allow me to get my feet wet at least. I was getting a little stir crazy here in New York, not knowing when my next trip would be and all the rejections I got this year (twenty and counting) certainly didn’t help. But I only takes one as they say and I am looking forward to shooting as much as I can!

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Photo of the Day #87 
Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 12:43 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Looks like “Pay to Play” is not just an American phenomenon. When it is done by governments isn’t not called bribery, just persuasion. As we know the passage of the E.U. Constitution has been a carefully managed disaster. But instead of starting from scratch the big brains in Brussels has decided to go another route, as we read in a recent article form Der Spiegel.


Keep them voting until they get it right! London 2005 © Damaso Reyes


“The Irish "no" during the first referendum in June has derailed the entire EU reform process because the treaty, which has been in the works for many years, can only go into effect if it is ratified by all member states. In exchange for a new referendum, other EU member states are pledging that if Irish voters accept the treaty, they will be given a long-term commissioner seat in Brussels and assurances that they will be able to determine their own legislation on issues like taxation, neutrality and abortion largely independent of the EU. But the Irish would also like to see these concessions written in a way that is legally binding. Problem is: That's not an easy thing to do.”



Some people feel that the future of the E.U. can be decided as easily as its past: namely through backroom negotiations and treaties signed by heads of states. No, if the E.U. is to become a major force in the 21st century it can only do so by becoming legitimate in the eyes of its people. Stunts like this, which patently ignore the will of the voters will only make people feel as though their voices don’t count. Those who argue for a closer union need to make their case to the voters and convince, not compel them to accept their point of view.

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Photo of the Day #86 
Monday, December 29, 2008, 11:21 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
There is no question that politics is much like a pendulum, it swings back and forth over time. After eight very long years the pendulum has swung back to the left in America. In Europe it seems like the rightward swing has not yet reached its apogee, as we learn from IHT today.


What are you waiting for? Integrate! Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes


“Two weeks ago, the country's biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch "tolerance."

It came at the same time Nicolas Sarkozy was making a case in France for greater opportunities for minorities that also contained an admission that the French notion of equality "doesn't work anymore."

But there was a difference. If judged on the standard scale of caution in dealing with cultural clashes and Muslims' obligations to their new homes in Europe, the language of the Dutch position paper and Lilianne Ploumen, Labor's chairperson, was exceptional.

The paper said: "The mistake we can never repeat is stifling criticism of cultures and religions for reasons of tolerance."
Government and politicians had too long failed to acknowledge the feelings of "loss and estrangement" felt by Dutch society facing parallel communities that disregard its language, laws and customs.

Newcomers, according to Ploumen, must avoid "self-designated victimization."

She asserted, "the grip of the homeland has to disappear" for these immigrants who, news reports indicate, also retain their original nationality at a rate of about 80 percent once becoming Dutch citizens.”


Any government that believes it can force immigrants to integrate more quickly is deceiving itself. Integration is a process one that takes generations. The most important factor in how long this process takes is how welcome the immigrants feel and how able they are to succeed in their adopted society. Tolerance is an integral part of integration and anytime a government attacks the idea that diversity should be respected the agents of intolerance will see it as an opportunity.

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Happy Holidays! 
Thursday, December 25, 2008, 13:42 - Commentary
Season's Greetings!


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Photo of Day # 85 
Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 12:50 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
As Christmas approaches it is a great time to sit with family and enjoy some downtime. It is also a great opportunity to explore how other cultures celebrate the holiday. Almost none is as unique at The Netherlands who have the familiar face of Santa Claus but also a less recognizable fellow named Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete") as we learn from Der Spiegel.


Not so funny. Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“Perpetually in tow is Sinterklaas' slave, Black Pete. At least that's what he was called from his 19th century origins up until the 1950s, when a new focus on cultural sensitivity led to a slight watering down of a tradition that was slowly subjected to the rigors of political correctness. In the new tale told to children each year, that pesky black face paint on Zwarte Piet's face comes from soot collected as Santa's helper wriggles down chimneys to deposit branches in the shoes of badly behaving kids or to help deliver presents from Sinterklaas for the good ones. Some whitewashers of this racist little tale also like to say he's a chimney sweep. "It's just an excuse used by people because they don't like to be reminded of the dark nature of Black Pete," says Walraven.

“The arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is an event covered live on national television and the festivities are celebrated across the country. For several weeks, dozens of Zwarte Pieten and Sinterklaases can be seen crisscrossing the lowlands country, culminating on Dec. 5 with the exchange of gifts. Throughout the celebrations, you can buy Black Pete cakes, plush toys, balloons, chocolates and any number of knickknacks.”


I’m all for cultural diversity but this is one tradition that I think will begin to fade as the Dutch begin to accept the growing diversity of their nation not as a threat but as a blessing. That, of course, will take some time but in another two or three generations Black Pete will either fade to the background or be seen as a harmless cultural anachronism.

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Photo of the Day #84 
Thursday, December 18, 2008, 12:21 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
When it comes to reversing social views on discrimination the process is a marathon, not a sprint. Discrimination against gays and lesbians is one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry, at least when it comes to the law as Der Spiegal tells us.

“Last summer the European Commission presented draft guidelines concerning equal treatment. The guidelines stipulated "equal treatment ... irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation." Currently, legislation is only applicable to the job market and the workplace, but not beyond.

“But the new guidelines mean, for instance, that a bank issuing a loan would be forbidden from engaging in anti-gay discrimination. Consequently, gay organizations are "very happy" with the proposed legislation, says Björn van Roozendaal, international policy officer at the Dutch gay rights organization COC.

“Nevertheless, COC and the international gay rights umbrella organization ILGA Europe is lobbying for a revision of the text, arguing that it does very little to address issues relating to family law. "There is even a risk that the act is a step backwards," warns Evelyne Paradis of ILGA Europe.

“Paradis is "very worried" about a passage which explicitly excludes "national laws on marital or family status and reproductive rights" from the anti-discrimination regulations. The reason is that marriage and family law are not dealt with on a Europe-wide level. "Europe cannot force member states to introduce gay marriage," says Paradis. "The directive is not intended to do that and we accept that."



Dance for your right to love. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

One day I am sure that the European Union will get their act together and legalize gay marriage, just as the U.S. Supreme Court will no doubt do. The problem is will Europeans in more conservative countries see this as yet another heavy handed attempt at taking away their sovereignty? In America it took the federal courts to allow mix race marriages in many of our southern states. No doubt these laws would still be on the books in some places if the federal government had not intervened.

Everyone has the right to love and be happy…

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