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The New Yorker: The Abandoning of Raqqa. Story by Luke Mogelson Photos by Mauricio Lima November 2, 2017

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Mauricio Lima, Metaphor Online, New Yorker , comments closed

An amazing story from The New Yorker. Sometimes I need to share information and literature that is significant in a world of weak news. In a complex world journalists dealing with complex stories are a breath of fresh air. Luke Mogelson worked for The New Yorker Magazine on a story funded by the Pulitzer Centre for crisis reporting. In the video below he explains his involvement. Below is an excerpt from The New Yorker article. 


In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or isis. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent. The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.

Qamishli, Felat’s home town, has long been a center of Kurdish political activity. In 2004, during a soccer match, Arab fans of a visiting team threw stones at Kurds, causing a stampede; a riot ensued, during which Kurds toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the father and predecessor of Syria’s current President, Bashar. Government security forces subsequently killed more than thirty Kurds. Amid the crackdown, a new Kurdish opposition group, the Democratic Union Party, organized and recruited clandestinely.

In 2011, when anti-government protests began spreading throughout Syria, Felat was studying Arabic literature at Hasakah University. The daughter of a poor farmer, she’d begun her studies late, “for economic reasons,” she told me. Along with several dozen other students, Felat left the university and returned to Qamishli. Within a week, Felat, who’d harbored ambitions of attending Syria’s national military academy and becoming an Army officer, had joined the Democratic Union Party’s militia, the Y.P.G. After a day of training, she was issued a Kalashnikov.

Felat expected to fight the regime. But, as the anti-government demonstrations evolved into an armed rebellion and insurrections broke out in major cities, Assad withdrew nearly all the troops he had stationed in the predominantly Kurdish north. The Democratic Union Party allowed the regime to maintain control of an airport and of administrative offices in downtown Qamishli. Arab opposition groups decried the arrangement as part of a tacit alliance between Assad and the Kurds. Islamist rebels began launching attacks in northern Syria, and the Y.P.G. went to war against them. “Many Kurdish families brought their daughters to join,” Felat told me. “Many women signed up.” She described her female compatriots as “women who had joined to protect other women” from extremists and their sexist ideologies.

In 1997, the United States added the P.K.K. to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, and two years later the Central Intelligence Agency helped Turkish agents capture Öcalan. Placed in solitary confinement on a prison island off Istanbul, he did what many people would do: he read. He became fascinated by an obscure American political theorist—a Communist turned libertarian socialist named Murray Bookchin. The œuvre of Bookchin, who died in 2006, is vast and dense (a typical title is “The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism”). Öcalan was particularly influenced by Bookchin’s advocacy of “libertarian municipalism”: the proposition that citizens, instead of attempting to change, overthrow, or secede from oppressive capitalist governments, should build confederations of “popular assemblies” that can function as a parallel system within existing states. In 2004, one of Öcalan’s German translators wrote to Bookchin—then eighty-three and bedridden, with osteoarthritis, in Vermont—to inform him that Öcalan was determined to “implement your ideas.” Bookchin confessed to the translator that he wasn’t really familiar with Öcalan. “Thanks to our parochial press, Americans are barely informed about Kurdish affairs,” he wrote.

Öcalan, who remains imprisoned, has published many pamphlets. In 2011, he released “Democratic Confederalism,” in which he repudiates the pursuit of an independent Kurdish state, on the ground that nation-states are inherently repressive, sexist, and complicit in the depravities of “the worldwide capitalist system.” He also discusses the peril of Middle Eastern nations’ being defined by religion or ethnicity. As an alternative, Öcalan suggests creating decentralized networks of community councils, where all “cultural identities can express themselves in local meetings.”

The P.K.K. had always included female guerrillas; the longer Öcalan remained in prison, however, the more preoccupied with feminism he became. In a 2013 manifesto, “Liberating Life,” he writes that “the 5,000-year-old history of civilization is essentially the history of the enslavement of women,” and argues that no genuine political emancipation can happen without first achieving gender equality.

The P.K.K. adapted to Öcalan’s evolving ideas with surprising facility. But over the years many of its members, seeking refuge from the Turkish authorities, decamped to Iraq’s remote Qandil Mountains, where there was little society to revolutionize. Öcalan’s vision seemed destined to remain the utopian fancy of—as Bookchin called himself—“an old radical.” But then the Democratic Union Party came into possession of most of northern Syria.

Photo Mauricio Lima for the New Yorker

Here is the complete story:


The Liberal Philanthropy of Agnes Gund, emerita of the Museum of Modern Art The New Yorker July 6, 2017

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Agnes Gund, the president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, sometimes runs out of ready cash for her liberal philanthropy. “This is why I have to sell so much art, because I promise things that I can’t really pay for,” she told Andrew Goldstein, the editor of Artnet, last month. Hence Gund’s sale of “Masterpiece” (1962), by Roy Lichtenstein, a painting that for years had hung above the mantel in her Park Avenue apartment. She has given a hundred million dollars, from the sale price of a hundred and sixty-five million, to establish the Art for Justice Fund, dedicated to relieving mass incarceration in the United States. (The Ford Foundation will administer the fund, as an extension of its prior commitment to criminal-justice reform.) This is a new cause for Gund, whose many past ones include Studio in a School, which she founded, in 1977, to counter cuts to city and state funding for art education in public schools, and, for the past fifteen years, a concerted opposition to repealing the estate tax.


From the New Yorker: In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing April 18, 2016

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The New Yorker’s analysis of our relationship with our mobile devices and our perception of reality.


As our relationship with photography shifts, will desktop-based photo-editing programs like the Google Nik Collection go the way of the film camera?
As our relationship with photography shifts, will desktop-based photo-editing programs like the Google Nik Collection go the way of the film camera?CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY JORDAN STRAUSS / INVISION / AP



“Today everything exists to end in a photograph,” Susan Sontag wrote in her seminal 1977 book “On Photography.” This was something I thought about when I recently read that Google was making its one-hundred-and-forty-nine-dollar photo-editing suite, the Google Nik Collection, free. This photo-editing software is as beloved among photographers as, say, Katz’s Deli is among those who dream of pastrami sandwiches.

Before Google bought it, in 2012, the collection cost five hundred dollars. It is made up of seven pieces of specialized software that, when used in combination with other photo-editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, give photographers a level of control akin to that once found in the darkroom. They can mimic old film stock, add analog photo effects, or turn color shots into black-and-white photos. The suite can transform modestly good photos into magical ones. Collectively, Nik’s intellectual sophistication is that of a chess grand master. I don’t mind paying for the software, and neither do thousands of photographers and enthusiasts. So, like many, I wondered, why would Google make it free?

 My guess is that it wants to kill the software, but it doesn’t want the P.R. nightmare that would follow. Remember the outcry over its decision to shut down its tool for R.S.S. feeds, Google Reader? Nik loyalists are even more rabid. By making the software free, the company can both ignore the product and avoid a backlash. But make no mistake: it is only a matter of time before Nik goes the way of the film camera—into the dustbin of technological history.

“The giveaway is bad news, as it means the software they paid for has almost [certainly] reached the end of the line in terms of updates,” wrote PC World. And, as Google explained in the blog post announcing the news, the company will “focus our long-term investments in building incredible photo editing tools for mobile.” That means Google Photos, the company’s tool for storing and sorting, and Nik’s own Snapseed app for mobile phones.

Google’s comments—disheartening as they might be—reflect the reality of our shifting technologies. Sure, we all like listening to music on vinyl, but that doesn’t mean streaming music on Spotify is bad. Streaming just fits today’s world better. I love my paper and ink, but I see the benefits of the iPad and Apple Pencil. Digital photography is going through a similar change, and Google is smart to refocus.

To understand Google’s decision, one needs to understand how our relationship with photographs has changed. From analog film cameras to digital cameras to iPhone cameras, it has become progressively easier to take and store photographs. Today we don’t even think twice about snapping a shot. About two years ago, Peter Neubauer, the co-founder of the Swedish database company Neo Technology, pointed out to me that photography has seen the value shift from “the stand-alone individual aesthetic of the artist to the collaborative and social aesthetic of services like Facebook and Instagram.” In the future, he said, the “real value creation will come from stitching together photos as a fabric, extracting information and then providing that cumulative information as a totally different package.”

His comments make sense: we have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.

“The definition of photography is changing, too, and becoming more of a language,” the Brooklyn-based artist and professional photographer Joshua Allen Harris told me. “We’re attaching imagery to tweets or text messages, almost like a period at the end of a sentence. It’s enhancing our communication in a whole new way.”

In other words, “the term ‘photographer’ is changing,” he said. As a result, photos are less markers of memories than they are Web-browser bookmarks for our lives. And, just as with bookmarks, after a few months it becomes hard to find photos or even to navigate back to the points worth remembering. Google made hoarding bookmarks futile. Today we think of something, and then we Google it. Photos are evolving along the same path as well.

Humans have two billion smartphones, and, based on the ultra-conservative assumption that we each upload about two photos a day to various Internet platforms, that means we take about four billion photographs a day. It’s hard to imagine how many photos total are sitting on our devices.

Thanks to our obsession with photography—and, in particular, the cultural rise of selfies—the problem of how to sort all these images has left the realm of human capabilities. Instead, we need to augment humans with machines, which are better at sifting through thousands of photos, analyzing them, finding commonalities, and drawing inferences around moments that matter. Machines can start to learn our style of photography.

The more photos Google has, the easier it is for its algorithms to learn and become even more precise and effective at the job of creatively editing. I worry about Google’s data ethics and about the idea of handing over the corpus of my life, but I can’t deny that it is exceptional at making sense of my ever-growing photo library. Facebook, too, is clever at arranging photos along the axis of relationships and time. This is a moment for incredible automation, because of the confluence of affordable and large-scale parallel computation, the increased availability of bigger data sets, and advanced deep-learning algorithms.

It’s not just improved technological capabilities bringing about this shift. Google, Facebook, and Instagram are also reacting to a larger shift away from desktop-oriented computing to always-on computing via our Chromebooks, phones, tablets, and other devices. These devices essentially need software that is built to work with the Cloud, not with one machine on your desk. The functionality of the desktop-centric Nik Collection and its plugins is going to be and should be shoved into mobile apps such as Snapseed and VSCO. Just as apps like Instagram and devices like iPhone made us all able to take decent photos, the new intelligent software should make all our shots effortlessly better, as well as much easier to find and share.

The amateur in me is thrilled by the prospect of living in the Cloud, editing on the go. The purist in me wonders if, in the future, desktop photo editing will be like the film-photography revival of today—a luxury to feed our nostalgia, a wistful effort to exercise human control over a task machines have taken over from us. I wonder what Sontag would make of that.