Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘world’

04 APRIL, 2011

Bureaucratics: A Global Portrait of Red Tape

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Unless you’ve lived in a country plagued by the kind of institutional inefficiency characteristic of oppressive political regimes (like we have — hello, motherland), you can never fully appreciate the sometimes comic, often tragic, and invariably debilitating magnitude of red tape. Now, thanks to Dutch historian and documentary photographer Jan Banning, you can: In Bureaucratics (public library), he brings a conceptual, typological approach to the dreariest of desk jobs, blending humor and absurdity with an astute portrait of sociopolitical ineptitude.

Bureaucratics [is] the product of an anarchist’s heart, a historian’s mind and an artist’s eye. It is a comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and its servants in eight countries on five continents, selected on the basis of political, historical and cultural considerations.” Jan Banning

The countries represented are Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen. In each, Banning visited dozens, in some cases hundreds, of offices across the spectrum of services and executive levels.

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-15/2003

Suresh Prasad (b. 1947) is assistant clerk of the 'Bihar House' department in The Old Secretariat, Patna, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 9,000 rupees ($197)

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-01/2003

Ram Prabodh Yadav (b. 1970) is sub-inspector (deputy inspector) of police in Maner Block, Patna district, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 10,000 rupees ($220)

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-21/2003

Dr. Munni Das (b. 1960) is Block Development Officer in Thakurganj block, an administrative entity within Kishanganj district, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: about 10,000 rupees ($220)

To preserve a maximum degree of authenticity, he kept the visits unannounced, preventing the subjects from tidying up for the interview.

India, Bihar, Bureaucracy, 2003. India-28/2003

Om Prakash (1963) is Block Development Officer (BDO) in Makhdumpur Block (200.000 inhabitants), district Jahanabad, Bihar. Prakash has 45 subordinates and is responsable for public order and the development of his block. As the highest civil servant in Makhdumpur, he has a towel on his chair. The plate behind him contains the names of his predecessors. Monthly salary: 12,000 rupees ($263)

Bolivia, bureaucracy, Potosi, 2005. Bolivia-13/2005

Rodolfo Villca Flores (b. 1958) is chief supervisor of market and sanitary services of the municipality of Betanzos, Cornelio Saavedra province. Previously he worked as a bricklayer, electrician, plumber and handyman. Monthly salary: 1,150 bolivianos ($143)

Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), Potosi, 2005. Bolivia-08/2005

Constantino Aya Viri Castro (b. 1950), previously a construction worker, is a police officer third class for the municipality of Tinguipaya, Tomás Frías province. The police station does not have a phone, car or typewriter. Monthly salary: 800 bolivianos ($100)

Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005

Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the Vice Squad: 'If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves.' The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out. Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos ($114)

China, bureaucracy, Shandong, 2007. China-09/2007

Wang Ning (b. 1983) works in the Economic Affairs office in Gu Lou community, Yanzhou city, Shandong province. She provides economic assistance to enterprises in her region and is the liaison officer between the government and local enterprises: she helps them get a permit for land use, personnel insurances, environmental permits and taxation registration. There was (at the time) no heating in the room. The maps show regional industrial zones. Wang Ning is not married. She lives at home with her parents. She works from 8.30 to 12 am and from 14 to 16 am. She has no official paid holidays, except the national bank holidays and the weekends. Monthly salary: 2,100 renminbi ($260)

Even the visual narrative of the book exudes the monotony of its subject matter: Shot from the same height, with the same and from the same distance, and framed in an appropriately square format, the 50 subjects may vary greatly in age, appearance and location, but appear somehow homogenous in their shared slavery to paperwork.

France, bureaucracy, Auvergne, 2006. France-05/2006

Maurice Winterstein (b. 1949) works in Clermont-Ferrand for the Commission for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity and Citizenship at the combined administrative offices of the Auvergne region and the Puy-de-Dome department. He also is in charge of the portfolio of religious affairs, Islam in particular. Monthly salary: 1,550 Euro ($2,038). The young lady next to him is Linda Khettabi (b. 1989), an intern pursuing training as a secretary.

France, bureaucracy, Auvergne, 2006. France-16/2006

Roger Vacher (b. 1957) is a narcotics agent with the national police force in Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dome department, Auvergne region. Monthly salary: 2,200 Euro ($2,893).

Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-04/2006

Major Adolph Dalaney (b. 1940) works in the Reconstruction Room of the Traffic Police at the Liberia National Police Headquarters in the capital Monrovia. Monthly salary: barely 1,000 Liberian dollars ($18). Traffic accident victims at times are willing to pay a little extra if Dalaney's department quickly draws up a favorable report to present to a judge.

Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-19/2006

Warford Weadatu Sr. (b. 1963), a former farmer and mail carrier, now is county commissioner (administrator) for Nyenawliken district, River Gee County. He has no budget and is not expecting any money soon from the poverty-stricken authorities in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,110 Liberian dollars ($20), but he hadn't received any salary for the previous year.

Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Russia-19/2004

Marina Nikolayevna Berezina (b. 1962), a former singer and choir director, is now the secretary to the head of the financial department of Tomsk province's Facility Services. She does not want to reveal her monthly salary.

Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Russia-23/2004

Sergej Michailovich Osipchuk (b. 1974) is the lone police officer in the village of Oktyabrsky (some 2000 inhabitants), Tomsk province. He does not have a police car or one of his own, not even a bicycle. He does not want to reveal his salary, but informed sources put the monthly salary of an officer of his rank and age at approximately 4,000 rubles ($143).

USA, bureaucracy, Texas, 2007. USA-11/2007

Shane Fenton (b. 1961) is sheriff of Crockett County (about 3000 inhabitants), Texas, and based in Ozona, the county seat. Monthly salary: $3,166

USA, bureaucracy, Texas, 2007. USA-04/2007

Dede McEachern (b. 1969) is director of licensing, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, in the state capital, Austin. Monthly salary: $5,833

Yemen, bureaucracy, 2006. Yemen-03/2006

Nadja Ali Gayt (b. 1969) is an adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture s education center for rural women in the district of Manakhah, Sana Governorate. Monthly salary: 28,500 rial ($160)

Yemen, bureaucracy, 2006

Mohammed Mohammed Shams Adeen (about 1950) is manager of the garbage collection service in At-Tawilah, governorate Al-Mahweet. He is responsible for 11 employees and 4 workers paid on a daily basis. Seven of them work in the office, eight (included 4 paid on a daily basis) collect the garbage. The service has two trash trucks and several handcarts. The garbage is being dumped and set on fire in the mountains outside the city. On the wall a letter from the prime minister about a banning order for smoking in public offices and two educational announcements, about Kleenex tissues that ought to be thrown in trash bins and 'don’t cut trees, they are the property of all of us.' Monthly salary: 29.000 Riyals ($163)

Poignant and petrifying in its institutional honesty, Bureaucratics holds up a mirror against humanity’s most ineffectual attempts at self-organization, and at the same time manages to elicit newfound empathy for these very human wardens of the red tape prison. Complement it with Hannah Arendt on how bureaucracy fuels violence.

via GMSV

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25 MARCH, 2011

East Meets West: From Mao to Mozart

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What Chairman Mao has to do with The Academy Awards and extracting passion from the cello.

It’s been a big week for music here at Brain Pickings. We started with 7 must-read books about music, emotion and the brain, then bowed before the deeply inspiring YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which brought together 101 of the world’s most talented amateur classical musicians in one remarkable performance, followed by a fascinating look at how musicians experience emotion. Today, we turn to a powerful testament to the cross-cultural power of music and a bridge-builder and heart-opener.

In 1979, shortly after the death of Chairman Mao, China reopened its doors to the West and the Chinese government invited iconic American violin virtuoso Isaac Stern to visit for a recital. But his visit soon turned into a full-blown goodwill tour, as Stern ended up playing a formal concert, touring two cities and, driven by his overwhelming love of music, teaching a number of classes to Chinese musicians, many of whom children. From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China tells the amazing story of Stern’s journey with beauty and tenderness as these two cultures collide and caress, from the inspirational encounter with a gifted adolescent cellist to the heartbreaking portrait of violinmaker imprisoned for over a year for the crime of crafting Western instruments. Interwoven with the musical story is a fascinating parallel narrative and rare glimpse of the Chinese countryside, culture and people at a pivotal moment in history after the final dismantling of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Stern’s style — passionate, empathic, lived to the bone — comes in stark contrast with the meticulously technical approach of the Chinese, but the warmth of their transformative exchange and the way in which the music brings them together bespeak a universal human language that transcends geography, politics and credo.

Their approach to Western classical music was somewhat limited. They were not accustomed to playing with passion and variety of color. They had an old-fashioned technical approach towards the manner in which they played their instruments, but with an almost instant understanding and reaction to a given musical stimulus, once they were shown what might be done.” ~ Isaac Stern

The film, which won the 1981 Academy Award for best documentary, is now available online in its entirety and we couldn’t recommend it more as your weekend viewing.

The DVD also features a wonderful postcript, Musical Encounters, chronicling Stern’s return to Beijing two decades later as he catches up with Wang, the young cellist, who by that point had made a name for himself as a successful international recording artist.

For a related cross-cultural bridge via classical music, don’t miss Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang’s incredible collaborative performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, which took place exactly two decades after Stern’s visit to China.

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17 MARCH, 2011

PICKED: Waste Land

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The world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho, lies in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where an eclectic group of local “catadores” — self-assigned pickers of recyclable materials — live, work and play. Jarred by the disconnect between these pickers’ bold creative spirit and the desolate conditions of their lives, acclaimed artist Vik Muniz decided to help. So he set out to change their lives through the very material of their livelihoods, creating powerful portraits of the garbage pickers that hover between dignity and desperation, selling them as high art, and giving all the money back to the community.

 

Waste Land is British filmmaker Lucy Walker‘s fantastic documentary about this beautiful social experiment, following Vik from his homebase in Brooklyn to his native Brazil for nearly three years as he collaborates with the pickers on these portraits and eventually helps them form a political association that empowers their existence. The film swept Sundance last year, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Thanks, Carr!), and is out on DVD this week.

The moment when one thing transforms into another is the most beautiful moment. That moment is really magical.” ~ Vik Muniz

It’s not just that Waste Land is a beautiful piece of cinematic storytelling. It’s also the kind of film that will make you look a bit more closely at your own life in a heartfelt, non-pedantic way, and maybe, just maybe, make you want to live a richer, fuller life.

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03 MARCH, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day Two

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Redefining life, understanding consciousness, and why technology is humanizing education.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Earlier, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers and kicked off with exclusive coverage of Day One yesterday. Today, we’re back — sleep-deprived and intellectually overstimulated in typical TED fashion — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day Two. Hold your heart and brace your brain.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: 'A conscious mind is a mind with a self in it.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The day’s first session, Deep Mystery, opened with one of our favorite brain-tinkerers, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose work on consciousness we’ve previously covered and whose new book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, is an absolute must-read. Damasio spoke of the three three levels of self — the proto self, the core self and the autobiographical self. While we share the first two with other species, the third, which deals with memory and weaves complex mental narratives, is uniquely human.

Antonio Damasio: 'Consciousness is how we know we exist.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Consciousness is what we regain when we awaken from deep sleep” ~ Antonio Damasio

Philosopher Damon Horowitz: 'I want to know about wrongness itself. The idea of wrong.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything around you is connected, and that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.” ~ Aaron O’Connell

Biochemist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, whose recent discovery of arsenic-utilizing bacteria that thrive in otherwise poisonous environments rewrote science textbooks in a profound way, reminded us of the importance of questioning our most fundamental understanding of life.

Astrochemist Felisa Woldfe-Simon is responsible for one of the most important discoveries in modern life science.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

If all life on Earth was made of the same pieces, how can we look for something different? I can only find what I know to look for. It’s really hard to look for something when you don’t know what it is.” ~ Felisa Wolfe-Simon

We’re fascinated by language, so MIT Media Lab’s Deb Roy blew us away with some astounding research on how children learn language, some of which is reflected in his Human Speechome Project and some in his fascinating observation of his baby son’s speech development, meticulously recording his development for three years. Listening to the evolution of the child’s pronunciation of the word “water.” Essentially, Roy made a 90,000-hour home video to explore the evolution of human speech.

As our world becomes increasingly instrumented and we gain the ability to connect the things people are saying with the context in which they’re saying it, new social structures are being revealed. And I think the implications for science and commerce will be significant.” ~ Deb Roy

Groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me and 30 Days fame, took us behind the scenes of his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold — an irreverent investigation of the make-believe world of product placement. In fact, he auctioned off the naming rights to this very TED talk, which EMC eventually acquired for $7,000. (Spurlock subsequently handed the check to The Sapling Foundation, TED’s parent entity, and joked that it was to be put towards his 2012 attendance.)

Embrace fear, embrace risk. Today, more than ever, we need to embrace transparency.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

Documentarian-provocateur Morgan Spurlock

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

When you’re traing your employees to be risk averse, you’re training your whole company to be reward-challenged.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

TED’s Tom Rielly brought this year’s remarkable class of TED Fellows on stage — exceptional doers and world-changers working across everything from documentary film to education to tissue engineering — for a well-deserved ovation.

Tom Reilly introduces 2011's class of fellows and senior fellows.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Astro-historian David Christian made a passionate argument for teaching kids Big History — essential knowledge about the origin of the universe. His 2005 book, Maps of Time, is an aboslutely must-read

Bill Gates with David Christian: Collective knowledge -- the ability to record information and pass it beyond the lifespan of the individual -- is what makes us different.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We can share what we learn with such precision that it can outlast the individual and remain in our collective memory. That’s why we have a history. I call this ability ‘collective learning.’ It’s what makes us different.” ~ David Christian

Polio is like a root fire — it can explode again if you don’t snuff it out completely.” ~ Bruce Aylward

The Khan Academy may just be the most important phenomenon in grassroots open education of our time, so it was an absolute pleasure to see its founder, Salman Khan, take the TED stage.

Bill Gates with Salman Khan.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Here I was, an analyst at a hedge fund, and I was doing something of social value.” ~ Salman Khan

Khan Academy founder Salman Khan: 'By removing the one-size fits all lecture from the classroom, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Khan was introduced by Bill Gates, who curated the entire Knowledge Revolution session — a new guest curation experiment at TED. Last fall, Gates eloquently captured just why the Khan Academy is such a formidable force of social change:

Learn math the way you learn anything, the way you learn to ride a bicycle. Fall off that bicycle and get back on. We encourage you to fall, we encourage failure, but we do expect mastery.” ~ Salman Khan

The day’s final session opened with a surprise talk directly from TEDxCairo. Wael Ghonim — the widely credited with sparking the Egyptian revolution by building a Facebook page for Khaled Said, the businessman slain by police brutality —

No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Internet activist Wael Ghonim delivers a powerful surprise talk.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything was done by the people for the people, and that’s the power of the Internet.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Deep-sea explorer Edith Widder studies bioluminescent creatures.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder delivered a fantastic follow-up to her 2010 TED Talk on the fascinating glowing world of the world’s deepest waters.

There’s a language of light in the deep ocean and we’re just beginning to understand it.” ~ Edith Widder

The day wrapped up with street artist JR, the most recent $100,000 TEDPrize winner, who showcased some of his incredible work and echoed our own beliefs about remix culture, and revealed his ambitious new global collaborative art project.

TEDPrize winner JR in Session 7: Radical Collaboration.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

It doesn’t matter today if it’s your photo or not. The importance is what you do with images.” ~ JR

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from Day Three.

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