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Thursday, January 13, 2005
4:24 PM      

1/13/05, 3:30 PM – I can't post right now, because clicking on the “create new post” link results in a 404 error. Don't know how long that will last, and it's certainly very annoying.

4:24 PM – Aahhh. Good — it's working again.


Shutterbug Repellent
One question: why are people so busy trying to control photography, and who really thinks that blocking photography hampers terrorist activity in any way? It occurs to me that the people making photographic equipment need to lobby the way the cigarette people did: the cig makers easily blocked a ban against butane lighters on airplanes, even though such lighters could allow someone to start a fire or light a fuse inside the cabin.

This past Sunday, I was standing with Denise on 10th Avenue. I'd paused to take a picture when some guy walked up to Denise, and told her (yeah, I know... I don't know why he didn't just talk to me, either) that I wasn't allowed to point my camera in that particular direction! Last summer, I stood in the street to take a picture of the Empire State building looming over the buildings in the foreground. A guard in a nearby building told me that I couldn't take the picture. I've seen tourists at the WTC PATH station being told that they couldn't take pictures, and I've written before about how an undercover cop in the subway did nothing about panhandlers passing through a crowded subway car, but stopped me from taking a picture.

New rule: 1050.9.c. No photograph, film or video recording shall be made or taken on or in any conveyance or facility by any person, except members of the press holding valid press identification cards issued by the New York City Police Department or by others duly authorized in writing to engage in such activity by the authority. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

On November 24, 2004, The MTA published the above rules relating to the photography ban in the New York State Register. The 45-day comment period ended January 8, and will likely go to a vote soon. If passed, violators of the ban will be subject to a fine of up to $100, and up to ten days in jail.

These rules were strongly objected to by the public before, and so the measure did not pass. However, cops on the MTA have been busily enforcing the measure as if it had since May, 2004:

Posted by High St / Brooklyn Bridge on Mon May 24 22:50:47 2004
Tonight around 8:40PM I went to Stillwell Ave. with subtalker Mark W. to briefly photograph the new station. Immediately after entering fare control two plainclothes NYPD officers surrounded me (I was the only one taking photos). One officer flashed his badge and told me there is no photography allowed. I responded firmly and politely saying that I am aware of the rules and regulations which clearly do not prohibit photography. I elaborated saying I was not:
a) impeding passenger foot traffic
b) using a tripod
c) using a flash.
I explained that all of the aforementioned instances are in violation of the NYCTA photography policy while what I was doing was most certainly NOT.

The police officer then asked for identification and I complied, producing my New York State drivers license and explaining I have lived in Brooklyn my whole life and am using the photos solely for personal use.

Long story short, the police officer then said "I don't care about the law (referring to my explanation of it). I'm telling you NO PICTURES." He finished his 'discussion' with me stating: "if you're not gone in 10 minutes you are going to have a big problem."
-Harry, originally posted on

I think back to the speeches I heard, beginning around September 12, 2001. Politicians came out saying that we couldn't allow the attacks to change the way we lived. We couldn't allow what happened, to make us less free... Well, it's not like they were speaking under oath or anything!

Photographers, especially tourists, hobbyists, and artists, are a cheap shot for the MTA and the police. The bigger problem is what I alluded to at the top of this piece: many other institutions will take note of this ban and adopt similar restrictions. Can you imagine: no photography at the Statue of Liberty?

It gets better... We know the stated reason for the ban, but maybe there's another concern motivating the MTA: Controlling what images of the subway get published. Consider this bit from a commentary on the Margaret Cho blog:

... If a tree falls in the woods and no one gets a shot of it, apparently, it never happened....

The only explanation I can think of is that it’s some sort of is trickle-down logic from the Administration that dreamed up the Patriot Act. It’s an emotional reaction enacted on a national and international level, aimed at gaining power over a world and a domestic population that our leaders feel is out of control; a generalized assertion of authority aimed at preventing anyone else from stepping out of line. I felt it the four times a D.C. security guard growled at me “Who are you with?” It’s what I thought after reading about Rumsfeld banning cell phone cameras in the military. And it’s what I suspect lies behind the firing of a woman who dared to snap a photo of flag-draped coffins. Photographers are being targeted because sometimes they are able to capture powerful pieces of the truth, people in touch with reality can be awfully difficult to control.

It's also interesting to note that professional news organizations have been extremely susceptible to government pressure to suppress or modify their stories these days. Make sure that only the “official media” can produce images, and you have that much more control over the images people can see.


The Williams Story Gets Legs?
The New York Times picked up the story about Armstrong Williams. He has been on “Crossfire” to do some damage control, so the matter is getting some TV coverage, too. Reading the piece, I discovered that USA Today was the first to pick up the story.

The Times' article will run in the Sunday, January 16 “Arts and Ideas” section. The article, to use a Condoleeza Rice phrase, connects a lot of dots, and offers some significant appraisal of the state of news in America. It also exhibits what a busy and connected guy Armstrong Williams has been: when nobody else (i.e. no “real” newspeople) could get an interview with Cheney, Armstrong Williams could.

The article opens with a discussion of the farcical “Crossfire” segment where both hosts lobbed softballs at Williams, indicating that by allowing this, the network participated in the cover-up of the scandal. — This from the network that calls itself America's “most trusted” news source.

I do not mean to minimize the CBS News debacle and other recent journalistic outrages at The New York Times and elsewhere. But the Jan. 7 edition of CNN's signature show can stand as an exceptionally ripe paradigm of what is happening to the free flow of information in a country in which a timid news media, the fierce (and often covert) Bush administration propaganda machine, lax and sometimes corrupt journalistic practices, and a celebrity culture all combine to keep the public at many more than six degrees of separation from anything that might resemble the truth....

The piece sheds some light on Novak's “full disclosure” during the “Crossfire” segment, that he is a “personal friend” of Armstrong Williams, underscoring how Novak isn't always so forthright in his disclosures:

Last year Mr. Novak had failed to fully disclose - until others in the press called him on it - that his son is the director of marketing for Regnery, the company that published “Unfit for Command,” the Swift boat veterans' anti-Kerry screed that Mr. Novak flogged relentlessly on CNN and elsewhere throughout the campaign. Nor had he fully disclosed, as Mary Jacoby of Salon reported, that Regnery's owner also publishes his subscription newsletter ($297 a year). Nor has Mr. Novak fully disclosed why he has so far eluded any censure in the federal investigation of his outing of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Plame, while two other reporters, Judith Miller of The Times and Matt Cooper of Time, are facing possible prison terms in the same case....

It also punches holes in Williams' claims that he is simply ignorant of journalistic ethics:

...While on the administration payroll he was not only a cheerleader for No Child Left Behind but also for President Bush's Iraq policy and his performance in the presidential debates. And for a man who purports to have learned of media ethics only this month, Mr. Williams has spent an undue amount of time appearing as a media ethicist on both CNN and the cable news networks of NBC.

Other observations:

the Williams interview with the vice president, implicitly presented as an example of the kind of “objective” news Mr. Cheney endorses, was in reality a completely subjective, bought-and-paid-for fake news event for a broadcast company that barely bothers to fake objectivity and both of whose chief executives were major contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

...we now know that there have been at least three other cases in which federal agencies have succeeded in placing fake news reports on television during the Bush presidency. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have all sent out news “reports” in which, to take one example, fake newsmen purport to be “reporting” why the administration's Medicare prescription-drug policy is the best thing to come our way since the Salk vaccine. So far two Government Accountability Office investigations have found that these Orwellian stunts violated federal law that prohibits “covert propaganda” purchased with taxpayers' money....

Every time this administration puts out fiction through the news media - the "Rambo" exploits of Jessica Lynch, the initial cover-up of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire - it's assumed that a credulous and excessively deferential press was duped. But might there be more paid agents at loose in the media machine? In response to questions at the White House, Mr. McClellan has said that he is "not aware" of any other such case and that he hasn't "heard" whether the administration's senior staff knew of the Williams contract - nondenial denials with miles of wiggle room....

Frank Rich's piece gives a lot to chew on. He acknowledges that by lambasting “The Daily Show” for doing a puff piece with John Kerry, Williams demonstrated that he apparently has no clue that the show is a fake news show; or maybe Williams is onto something: As it becomes more obvious that the real news is often faked, people are turning to the fake news for its, **ehem**, honesty.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
2:40 PM      


Inexpensive, but definitely not cheap.
I got spoiled last summer, shooting models at SVA with Profoto lights. Every session, I got to set up and use several thousand dollars' worth of gear like it was nothing. I also realized how much better I could make a photo look, if I just lit it well. So, I started thinking I'd need to get some of that expensive equipment. Yeah, you can rent, but to do that you need a big, unused line of credit, because the rental places are going to freeze a big security deposit on your card, until you return with the goods. So, I figured owning a couple of monolights was probably the way to go.

As I explored the various monolight options, I realized I could do a lot with low-powered (~200 Watt/Sec) units. I began to wonder how some of those low - powered monolights compared to my SB-800, which has already served me very well in a number of settings. I've even been using the SB800 as a remote unit, triggering it with the built-in flash on the D100, producing a result that is even more similar to the kind of 2- light setups I envisioned with the monolights.

I found that the SB-800 is rated with a guide number, which doesn't directly convert to WS, but it clearly puts out less power than many of those monolights. On the other hand, its output is sufficient to be used with an umbrella in close portrait work. And, if I want to use two lights or more, they're cheap compared to even the least- expensive monolights, bottom-of-the line models that I definitely do not want!

I dug a little deeper, and found that I could create the set-up I needed with a swivel arm, a plastic shoe adapter, a convertible umbrella, and a light stand. I got all Manfrotto. The whole package cost me about $130. That's about $450 for a complete light tower, including the strobe, or $900 for a very portable pair of lights.

The shoe mates to the arm, providing a mount for the flash unit and the umbrella. The convertible umbrella can be used to bounce light, or the black outer umbrella can be removed to turn it into a shoot-through umbrella.

For the SB-800, it's important to use a plastic shoe. There are other swivel arms available, but they have an aluminum shoe — that would short the contacts on the SB-800, causing it to fire. In a pinch, you could probably cover the inside of a metal shoe with electrical tape, but the whole situation quickly gets messy.

As you can see from the pic, the whole assembly is clean, solid, and professional - looking. The SB-800 fits snugly into the shoe, but you can also use the lever on the SB-800 to lock it down. The shoe assembly has two opposing threaded parts, allowing you to rotate the mount and lock it precisely where you want it. The whole thing is a close fit for your fingers, though — I can get the shoe to fit snugly on the arm, but I'd like to be able to make the assembly more than finger-tight. Nonetheless, it's a minor quibble.

Considering that I was looking at spending about $800 for one Speedotron monolight and stand (and really more like $1900 for a pair in a kit) I came out way ahead. I'll experiment with the one SB-800 for a while, but I'm already thinking about picking up a second one plus some pocket wizards and a hand-held meter. The combination should be both potent, and very portable. In the event that I do upgrade to monolights or full pack and heads later, I can always use the SB-800s for kickers or hair lights, and the stands will work with anything I put on them.

Overall, a good, inexpensive investment.


Citizen Finally
After all those years of hearing references to Citizen Kane, we finally sat down and saw what all the buzz was about. The film has aged well, and it's worth the buzz, though It took some work to put the film into perspective. So many techniques that were groundbreaking when Citizen Kane was made, are commonplace in film now. I can see how the use of light in Citizen Kane influenced Ridley Scott in movies like Alien. In a featurette after the film, Martin Scorcese points out ingenious film editing techniques employed in the newsreel sequence near the opening. As I watched, I couldn't help but think of all the movies that have borrowed heavily from Citizen Kane. At the same time, I was engrossed in the story. Hard to believe that Welles was only 24, and that it was his first film — both as actor and as director!

That's one classic down, and a whole bunch to go... I think I'll have to see “Rashamon” soon.



Section 507 of the Communications Act, as amended, 47 U.S.C. § 508 requires that when anyone pays someone to include program matter in a broadcast, the fact of payment must be disclosed in advance of the broadcast to the station over which the mater is to be carried. Both the person making the payment and the recipient are obligated to disclose the payment so that the station may make the sponsorship identification announcement required by Section 317 of the Act. Failure to disclose such payments is commonly referred to as ``payola'' and is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year or both. These criminal penalties bring violations within the purview of the Department of Justice.
- Jon Henke on Willis' Blog

Thanks to Olliver Willis, I'm now aware that the Bush Administration paid African-American conservative shill Armstrong Williams $240,000 to “advertise” the No Child Left Behind Act. Small problem — he never disclosed that his commentary in support of the act was paid advertising.

The conservatives are arguing that Williams supported the act in any case, and would have commented favorably about it, money or not. Williams says it was advertising money, and that he will not be giving the money back. Still, the right-wingers quibble over whether any law was broken, and quibble further over whether it's an ethical breach. Interestingly, Williams also let slip that there are lots of conservative “pundits” who get extra dough for propagandizing administration positions under the guise of news commentary.

Lots of blogs are all over this story. It's been receiving a lot of attention since Friday, at least. I have yet to see any mention of it on National TV, though I admit I'm not watching TV news closely. It's scandalous, but there are no missing/presumed dead girls or soiled dresses involved, so it looks like the blogs may be the only coverage the story gets.

Note: Yesterday, I watched Fox news crow for several minutes about the firings of several CBS news people connected with the 60 Minutes piece that led to the media lynching of Dan Rather. They didn't cover the Williams story.

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