Photo of the Day #77 
Friday, November 28, 2008, 12:55 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
I hope all my American friends had a happy Thanksgiving, I know I did. In Amsterdam they aren’t so happy as we learn from Reuters

Legalize it! The Hague 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“The Netherlands will ban the sale and cultivation of all hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms from next week, the latest target of a country seeking to shed its "anything goes" image.

“The Dutch government proposed the ban in April, citing the dangerous behavioural effects of magic mushrooms following the death of a French teenager who jumped from an Amsterdam bridge in 2007 after consuming the hallucinogenic fungus.”

Of course if this were really the problem the best thing to ban would be alcohol. The number of drunk driving and accidental deaths, not to mention embarrassing late night phone calls, exceed the number of mushroom related deaths by far. Of course it is just a matter of perspective and by making magic mushrooms illegal it is doubtful that demand will all of a sudden end. They will simply become more expensive and help fuel crime. For decades The Netherlands was a leader in harm reduction and decriminalization and it is sad to see them take a step backwards. Hopefully they will look closely at the results of this new ban and if the data warrants it repeal it down the line. But as we all know it is easier to pass laws than to repeal them.

In other news I will be posting only three days a week for the month of December. Not only is it my birthday on the 11th, but numerous holidays, not to mention grant application deadlines, will keep me pretty busy. I hope you still swing by every one in a while!

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Photo of the Day #76 
Wednesday, November 26, 2008, 16:18 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
We have concentrated a lot on racism and discrimination in Western Europe but of course the problem is not so neatly contained as we learn from our good friends at Der Spiegel online in an article about anti-immigrant violence in the Czech Republic.

The writing is STILL on the wall. Barcelona 2005.

“Czech police battled hundreds of far-right rioters armed with an array of weapons north of Prague on Monday in a successful attempt to prevent them from entering a Roma neighborhood.

“The riot took place in the northern town of Litvinov, which lies 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Prague. The estimated 500 members of the far-right Workers' Party had gathered for a march in the town before suddenly turning off the approved route toward Janov, a section of the town with a large Roma community.”

Racism and violence against foreigners continues in many E.U. member states and the governments that have the worst problems need to do the most. What really needs to happen is an open and honest debate about the pros and cons of immigration. It’s a hard conversation to have but the leaders of the European Union need to step up to the plate, and soon…

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Photo of the Day #75 
Monday, November 24, 2008, 15:07 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
All of you Francophiles who have long worried about English dominating Europe, especially its culture need not fear. As an article in the New York Times explained that a new digital library of European Culture has emerged and the French seem to have conquered it!

Vive la France! Paris 2008.

“But when the new site, called Europeana, begins life on Thursday, more than half of its two million items will come from just one of the 27 countries in the European Union: France.

"So comprehensive is France’s cultural dominance over this cyberspace outpost that other countries are having their own history written for them — in French, of course.”

So intense was the demand that the servers crashed within a day of the site opening (check back in December). But what this tells me is that the diversity that makes Europe so special is alive and well even as the Union grows stronger…

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Photo of the Day #74 
Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 13:48 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Official reports are usually pretty boring and don’t tell us much interesting but the European Commission has come out with a recent one that the International Herald Tribune tells us supports the idea that immigrants are good for Western European Economies.

Waiting for acceptance… Berlin 2006

“Despite heavy currents of migration among East Europeans over the past decade, their increased presence in Western countries has done virtually nothing to alter local job prospects or wages, according to a European Union report on Tuesday.
As a result, those nations that still restrict workers from Eastern Europe should abandon those curbs, the European Commission said.

The report essentially concluded that worries that the "Polish plumber" would displace West European jobs were ill founded.
In fact, the report said, migration "contributed significantly to overall economic growth and employment expansion in the EU." The report even suggested that some Eastern nations had paid a heavier price in terms of brain drain and social upheaval than Western nations who received an influx. In Poland, for example, people talk of the "EU orphan," or child brought up by relatives because both parents are working abroad,”
Stephen Castle writes.

This backs up an idea that Frau Bock, the director of an NGO that helps immigrants and asylum seekers in Vienna told me. She explained that people don’t give up their lives back home to come to Austria for no good reason. They seek a better life and desperately seek to become part of the society to which they have emigrated. But old prejudices die hard and there are still far too many people in Europe who see immigration as a threat, even when all evidence points to the contrary.

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In Memoriam: Mark Ferguson 1959-2008 
Monday, November 17, 2008, 14:17 - Personal, Commentary
Sorry that I haven’t been around for the past week but my very good friend Mark Ferguson died last week after a battle with cancer. He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family.

Mark in Action! Wheaton Village 2006 © Damaso Reyes

We met ten years ago when I was still a student at NYU. Needing to complete some elective credits I decided to try my hand at glass blowing and fell in love. After taking a few classes I was offered the chance to become a teaching assistant and one of the instructors I helped was Mark. I helped teach a number of classes with him and we became good friends over the years. His sense of humor and endless curiosity about the world are the things I will miss the most. His kindness and humility are the traits I will most try to emulate.

Mark at Sleepy Hollow 2008 © Damaso Reyes

I have very few close friends and Mark was one of the oldest and dearest. I will miss going with him to the Russian and Turkish Baths on a cold Sunday morning. I will miss having Thai food with his wife and children. I will miss his smile and how he never failed to play Devil’s advocate. He was patient and kind, two qualities the world needs more of.

Hayden and Mark Brooklyn 2007 © Damaso Reyes

During his illness he never gave up; never complained about his lot in life and even accepted help, something difficult for such a strong and independent man. If we could all live the way that he died we would be remembered well.

During the past few months I had a chance to spend a lot of time with Mark. Every other week I would pick him up from chemotherapy and when he was feeling up to it we hung out watching movies or even going for a walk. I remember wandering very slowly through the Village looking for a store that sold walking sticks. We never found what we were looking for but I remember his determination even in the face of death. As hard as it was to see him weaken over the past few months I was so happy that I got to spend the time with him that I did. I only wish it had been more.

Mark, Leah, Eleanor and Hayden in Brooklyn 2008 © Damaso Reyes

Mark, I love you and will think about you often. Take care…

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Photo of the Day #73 
Tuesday, November 11, 2008, 16:07 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
As we discussed yesterday there have been all kinds of reactions to Obama’s election. In an interesting story in The Guardian we get to hear from Trevor Phillips head of the U.K.’s equality watchdog.

Shout it out! London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

"If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour party."

Europe has to come to terms with its minorities, not as an inconvenient problem that won’t go away but as an important part of society that has a great deal to offer. That certainly means tacking institutional and societal racism. But it also means a frank and open discussion about how immigration is changing the face of European society. We have to address people’s fears, both the real and the irrational and find a way to try to bring people together because despite the fondest wishes of some on the right they ain’t goin’ home…

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Photo of the Day #72 
Monday, November 10, 2008, 15:54 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
There are two kinds of people: those who love mirrors, stopping at every one they see in order to check their appearance and those who do everything they can to avoid them. The lens is a kind of mirror too, holding up an image of ourselves, often one that we would rather not see.

Mirror, Mirror. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

The election last week of Barack Obama serves as a kind of mirror as well. Americans, even those who didn’t support Obama see his victory as an important milestone that deserves to be celebrated. Around the world the cheers have come. Of course there are always exceptions.

Der Spiegel tells us about how one prominent Austrian television personality viewed the American election.

“I wouldn't want the Western world to be directed by a black man. When you say that is a racist remark: right, without a doubt."
Americans are "racists, now as before, and it must be going very badly for them that they so convincingly ... send a black man, and a black, very good-looking woman, into the White House,"
Klaus Emmerich said.

This would be funny if it were in a satirical newspaper like The Onion which did run a very funny article titled Black Man gets Nation’s Worst Job. But it wasn’t.

Then we have our good friend Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy who the New York Times reports:

“amiably called the first African-American president-elect in United States history ‘young, handsome and suntanned.’”

Clearly there are many in Europe who would like to go back to the good old days before immigration, presumably sometime before the rise of the Roman republic I imagine. Both Austria and Italy are having problems dealing with immigration and xenophobia ao it is not so surprising that these comments come from these nations. Of course these two men don’t speak for the entire population. That said, they are indicators of who a not insubstantial percentage of the population feel. The question is how can we move past old prejudices and into a society that is reflective of the diversity of our world?

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Photo of the Day #71  
Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 12:18 - Events, Commentary, Photo of the Day
Our time for change has come.

Hope for Europe as well. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.” So said the New York Times today. Clearly this is a historic moment in American politics but one that I believe will serve as a symbol to Europe as well.

American elected the son of an immigrant from Africa. A member of a minority that makes up just 12% of the population. Today he has become the very face of our nation, the embodiment of our hopes and dreams. This is a powerful statement about what kind of nation America truly is and the kind of place it hopes to become.

In Vienna and Paris; Berlin and Rome there are millions of young men and women just like Barack Obama. Young boys and girls who want to take part in the fullness of their nation’s lives but for many reasons cannot. If the nations of Europe are to live up to their own ideals this must change. As in America it won’t be easy but Europeans must begin to see each other not simply as decedents but as aspirants to a common dream of a better future. And that future includes people of all races and heritages.

“For many months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.

It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.”
President Elect Barack Obama in January 2008.

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Yes We Can! 
Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 06:29 - Events, Commentary

Yes We Did...
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Photo of the Day #70 
Tuesday, November 4, 2008, 15:21 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
I woke up this morning ready to vote. When I went outside it was a warm, lovely fall day, the kind that reminds you fondly of summer. When I was a kid I used to love these days although I hated the fact that I had to waste one of the last fine days of the year in school.

In the shadow of history… © Damaso Reyes

Today I went back to my old elementary school to cast my ballot. It seemed like this day would never come but it finally has and I was quite happy to have a chance to pull the lever. In twelve short hours we should have a President-Elect and I will spend this evening like so many others around the country and around the world waiting for the results.

A change is coming… © Damaso Reyes

I don’t think I will be disappointed…

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Photo of the Day #69 
Monday, November 3, 2008, 12:03 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
It is going to be a busy week, what with the historic election happening tomorrow. But I thought I would start things off with a light little article from the U.K.’s Telegraph. Apparently an expat Brit has become the accidental mayor of a small Spanish village.

Sorry about that Mr. Mayor. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“Mark Lewis, 58, has been left in charge of the town hall in San Fulgencio after the mayor, deputy mayor and four senior councillors were all taken into police custody following allegations of real estate corruption.

"Mr Lewis, who lives in Spain with his wife and daughter, was given the title by default on Wednesday on the grounds that he is one of only two councillors from the ruling coalition not to be arrested.

"Mr Lewis has taken charge of the council on the grounds that he is the fourth deputy mayor. Everyone above him in the pecking order has been arrested," the source added.”

It seems that corruption is not just an issue in some of the newer members of the European Union!

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Photo of the Day #68 
Thursday, October 30, 2008, 12:56 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
For years people have been saying that the newspaper business is on its last legs. But like a patient who has a terminal illness one can ignore the diagnosis for a long time until the symptoms become too acute not to pay attention to. Today is one of those days.

The march of time. Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

The Christian Science Monitor has announced that next year it will stop printing its daily newspaper edition and exist only online. While the CSM is not a large newspaper it is prestigious and one of the few still doing a lot of original international reporting (I wrote a piece for them about Kosovo in 2006). It is the first large daily newspaper to take a leap that many commentators are suggesting is the trend of the future.

Personally I don’t think it is a bad thing. One of the reasons the editors gave for making this choice is so that that can keep their international bureaus open. I myself read at least three or four newspapers a day – online. I don’t know the last time I brought a physical newspaper. But when I get my Kindle I will most likely subscribe to two to three, that’s right, pay actual money for content. Still having grown up with newspapers that I can touch and fold I will be a little sad to see them go…

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Hard Times... 
Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 11:09 - Personal, Commentary
Yesterday I got yet another form letter in the mail thanking me for my application but due to the large numbers of excellent proposals mine was not selected. It’s not like I am new to this game but you get enough rejections in a row and you start to get frustrated, even discouraged.

The numbers don’t lie.

On my desk I keep a list of all the different grants, fellowships and residencies that I’ve applied for during the current year. As you can see, green is for ones which I’ve gotten, red for ones that I’ve been rejected and black are ones that I haven’t heard back from yet. Out o the seventeen that I have heard from I have been rejected by all but one. Those are some harsh odds.

I had hoped that the longer I do this and the better a body of work I produce the more success I would have but so far this year it seems not to be the case, which is really too bad since these grants and fellowships make up a large part of the funding for this project.

I try to keep it all in perspective and not let the rejections get to me but I have to say that lately it ain’t easy….

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Photo of the Day #67 
Tuesday, October 28, 2008, 14:11 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
See, I told you! They want all of us to shoot video…

And one camera to rule them all. Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

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Photo of the Day #66 
Monday, October 27, 2008, 17:08 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
It seems like the easiest way that politicians and government officials have to legislate morality or to inspire fear is to attack photography and photographers. As we learn in an article in The Guardian, the United Kingdom is considering prosecuting photographers to take certain kinds of sexually explicit images.

You are most certainly next! New York City 2001 © Damaso Reyes

“Campaigners fear the new law will criminalize thousands of people who use violent pornographic images as part of consensual sexual relationships. 'They say this is about violence but it's distinctly about sex,' said Westwood. 'I feel the stick is always pointed at pornography as this terrible corrupting influence, this idea that it makes people do things that they wouldn't have done otherwise.”

While that kind of imagery is not my cup of tea the question that always must be asked when government proposes to regulate speech or content is “who will draw the line and what will the standard be?” Clearly this kind of legislation provides a very slippery slope indeed especially in a country that has no written constitution or enshrined protections for free speech.

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