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Martine Franck, an esteemed documentary and portrait photographer and second wife of Henri Cartier-Bresson, died of cancer in Paris on Aug. 16 at the age of 74. A member of Magnum Photos for more 32 years, Franck was a co-founder and president of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation.

“Martine was one classic Magnum photographer we could all agree with,” said photographer Elliott Erwitt. “Talented, charming, wise, modest and generous, she set a standard of class not often found in our profession. She will be profoundly missed.”

Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1938, Franck studied art history at the University of Madrid and at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. In 1963, she began her photographic career at Time-Life in Paris, assisting photographers Eliot Elisofan and Gjon Mili. Although somewhat reserved with her camera at first, she quickly blossomed photographing the refined world of Parisian theater and fashion. A friend, stage director Ariane Mnouchkine, helped establish Franck as the official photographer of the Théâtre du Soleil in 1964—a position she held for the next 48 years.

As her career grew, Franck pursued a wide range of photographic stories, from documentary reportage in Nepal and Tibet to gentle and evocative portraits of Paris’s creative class. Her portfolio of the cultural elite includes photographic peers Bill Brandt and Sarah Moon as well as artist Diego Giacometti and philosopher Michel Foucault, among others. In 1983, she became a full member of Magnum Photos, one of a small number of female members at the legendary photographic agency. Balancing her time between a variety of stories, her work reflects an innate sensitivity to stories of humanity.

In a piece published in the Guardian in 2006 about her time photographing a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, Franck chose to highlight a photo (slide #2 above) of an elder monk sitting with a young apprentice.

“I was there for an hour, just sitting quietly in a corner, observing,” she explained. “The picture is somehow a symbol of peace, and of young people getting on with old people. Although I didn’t think that at the time—in the moment, it’s just instinctive. Afterwards, maybe, you realize what the photograph means.”

Her humanitarian work paired her with numerous social humanitarian organizations and was heralded for the truths it revealed. But her name was also often associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In an interview on Charlie Rose, Franck recalled her first time meeting her future husband in 1965.

“His opening line was ‘Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets,’” she recalled. They married in 1970.

Throughout her career, Franck served as a powerful advocate, both for Magnum and for the continued legacy of her husband. Serving as the president and co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, Franck ensured that the spirit of his work survived.

Franck continued to work on her own photography, participating in group projects with Magnum, including “Georgian Spring.” As recently as this April, Franck’s expansive collection of portraits were exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Claude Bernard.

Magnum photographer and President Alex Majoli described Franck as a dear friend and a steady foundation within the photo agency. “Magnum has lost a point of reference, a lighthouse, and one our most influential and beloved members with her death,” he said in a statement released by Magnum over the weekend.

She is survived by her daughter, Melanie.

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Lilli-carre-list

Lilli Carré has all bases covered with her hugely applicable illustrative stylings. From editorial spots for top US magazines and papers (The Believer, The New Yorker, Best American Nonrequired Reading… you get my drift) to works on paper that begin to leave the page (literally) and a panoply of mini-narratives, from ten second loops of moving drawings to ingeniously crafted cartoons and animations, comics and graphic novels.

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

EPF 2012 Finalist

 

Ayman Oghanna

Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq

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My father left Iraq in the 1970s. He would not have recognised it, by the time I had gotten there. It was 2009 and Iraq had nearly car-bombed, kidnapped and executed itself into oblivion.

‘Cultures that may seem as durable as stone’ wrote Anthony Shadid, ‘can break like glass, leaving all the things that held them together unattended.’
And Iraq was broken. It’s shattered pieces unattended by the humming of generators and of U.S. drones overhead. Trust lay only in your family, in your tribe, in your sect. If you were lucky enough to be part of a sectarian majority, it lay in your neighborhood – now purged of rival tribal threats, both real and perceived.

The myth of Iraq a proud country, had stopped in my father’s time. Asir al thahabi. The golden age. Before Saddam, before the eight-year-war with Iran, before Kuwait, before sanctions, the myth before the fall. Today’s Iraq is many fractured pieces. A simmering federation of Sunni, Kurd, nationalistic and pro-Iranian Shia, whose first civil war has ended, whose second seems just at the corner. It’s a nation of many nations, lots of little failed states underneath the veil of a much larger one.They are identities by no means new. They have been laying dormant since the fall of the Ottomans, created alongside the artificial state carved out by the victorious imperial powers.

The goal of my project is to confront the multiple identities in Iraq today and examine their relationship to the greater Iraqi state. I have been living and working in Iraq since 2009 searching for a glimpse of the country that my father had left behind. I can’t see it. Perhaps it had never existed in the first place. A necessary nostalgia for better days, during such consistently disappointing ones. I don’t know yet.

If it does exist, however, it is within these smaller communities. Each vying for a future in the new Iraq. The project I am trying to fund, is an attempt to build a cultural narrative of the new Iraq.

 

Bio

Ayman Oghanna, 26, is an independent photographer and journalist working in the Arab World. A British-Iraqi, born and raised in London, he now lives out of Istanbul. His photography, writing and multimedia stories have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Review, Businessweek, The Guardian, The Economist, Time and Vice Magazine. He is currently based between Istanbul and Iraq, where he continues to work on ‘Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq’ an on going project on life in the new Iraq.

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TEDxWaterloo - Taylor Jones - Dear Photograph

"Now and then you hear a story that restores your faith in the internet, both as a global sharing tool that can be used as a force for good and as a means by which a moment of serendipity and a good idea can bring fame and fortune to an individual," said the UK Huffington Post. That individual is Taylor Jones. As the 22-year-old founder of the worldwide phenomenon dearphotograph.com, he is responsible for a site that has, in just six short months, become a conduit for the memories and emotions of millions of people. CBS named Dear Photograph the #1 website in 2011, and TIME Magazine included it as their #7 pick of the top 50 websites favorites. Now Taylor has a book deal with HarperCollins for the first Dear Photograph book, with never-before-seen photos, to be published later this year. Taylor admits he is a "consummate idea guy" who has always been active in the digital world. His other passions? Music, being Canadian and hockey. A graduate of Conestoga College's advertising program, Taylor currently resides in Kitchener, Ontario. "Dear Photograph started off as a nice nostalgic blog with six pictures of old family snaps lined up in their original setting. Then it went viral." The Guardian. ---- In thespirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local <b>...</b>
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On December 13th of 1963, at a dinner event in New York, the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee awarded its annual Tom Paine Award to Bob Dylan, for his contribution to the fight for civil liberties. Despite not having prepared one, a nervous and slightly drunk Dylan gave a speech that evening — a controversial speech in which he expressed sympathy for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who, just three weeks previous, had killed John F. Kennedy.

The backlash was immediate, and prompted a fascinating explanatory letter from Dylan to the committee in the days that followed. Transcripts of both the speech and letter can be found below.

(Source: No Direction Home: The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan and Corliss Lamont; Image: Bob Dylan in 1963, via The Guardian.)

Bob Dylan's speech:

I haven't got any guitar, I can talk though. I want to thank you for the Tom Paine award in behalf everybody that went down to Cuba. First of all because they're all young and it's took me a long time to get young and now I consider myself young. And I'm proud of it. I'm proud that I'm young. And I only wish that all you people who are sitting out here today or tonight weren't here and I could see all kinds of faces with hair on their head, and everything like that, everything leading to youngness, celebrating the anniversary when we overthrew the House Un-American Activities just yesterday. Because you people should be at the beach. You should be out there and you should be swimming and you should be just relaxing in the time you have to relax. [Laughter] It is not an old peoples' world. It is not an old peoples' world. It has nothing to do with old people. Old people when their hair grows out, they should go out. [Laughter] And I look down to see the people that are governing me and making my rules, and they haven't got any hair on their head — I get very uptight about it. [Laughter]

And they talk about Negroes, and they talk about black and white. And they talk about colors of red and blue and yellow. Man, I just don't see any colors at all when I look out. I don't see any colors at all and if people have taught through the years to look at colors — I've read history books, I've never seen one history book that tells how anybody feels. I've found facts about our history, I've found out what people know about what goes on but I never found anything about anybody feels about anything happens. It's all just plain facts. And it don't help me one little bit to look back.

I wish sometimes I could have come in here in the 1930's like my first idol — used to have an idol, Woody Guthrie, who came in the 1930's [Applause]. But it has sure changed in the time Woody's been here and the time I've been here. It's not that easy any more. People seem to have more fears.

I get different presents from people that I play for and they bring presents to me backstage — very weird, weird presents; presents that I couldn't buy. They buy — they bring me presents that... I've got George Lincoln Rockwell's tie clip that somebody robbed for me. [Laughter] I have General Walker's car trunk keys — keys to his trunk that somebody robbed for me. Now these are my presents. I have fallout shelter signs that people robbed for me from Philadelphia and these are the little signs. There's no black and white, left and right to me anymore; there's only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I'm trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics. They has got nothing to do with it. I'm thinking about the general people and when they get hurt.

I want to accept this award, the Tom Paine Award, from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. I want to accept it in my name but I'm not really accepting it in my name and I'm not accepting it in any kind of group's name, any Negro group or any other kind of group. There are Negroes — I was on the march on Washington up on the platform and I looked around at all the Negroes there and I didn't see any Negroes that looked like none of my friends. My friends don't wear suits. My friends don't have to wear suits. My friends don't have to wear any kind of thing to prove that they're respectable Negroes. My friends are my friends, and they're kind, gentle people if they're my friends. And I'm not going to try to push nothing over. So, I accept this reward — not reward [Laughter] — award on behalf of Phillip Luce who led the group to Cuba which all people should go down to Cuba. I don't see why anybody can't go to Cuba. I don't see what's going to hurt by going any place. I don't know what's going to hurt anybody's eyes to see anything. On the other hand, Phillip is a friend of mine who went to Cuba. I'll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where — what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too — I saw some of myself in him. I don't think it would have gone — I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me — not to go that far and shoot. [Boos and hisses] You can boo but booing's got nothing to do with it. It's a — I just a — I've got to tell you, man, its Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba. [Boos and Applause]
Bob Dylan's letter:

to anybody it may concern...
clark?
mairi?
phillip?
edith?
mr lamont?
countless faces I do not know
an all fighters for good things that I can not see

when I speak of bald heads, I mean bald minds
when I speak of the seashore, I mean the restin shore
I dont know why I mentioned either of them

my life runs in a series of moods
in private an in personal ways, sometimes,
I, myself, can change the mood I'm in t the
mood I'd like t be in. when I walked thru the
doors of the americana hotel, I needed to change
my mood... for reasons inside myself.

I am a restless soul
hungry
perhaps wretched

it is hard to hear someone you dont know, say
"this is what he meant t say" about something
you just said

for no one can say what I meant t say
absolutely no one
at times I even cant
that was one of those times

my life is lived out daily in the places I feel
most confortable in. these places are places where
I am unknown an unstared at. I perform rarely, an
when I do, there is a constant commotion burnin
at my body an at my mind because of the attention
aimed at me. instincts fight my emotions an fears
fight my instincts...

I do not claim t be smart by the standards set up
I dont even claim to be normal by the standards
set up
an I do not claim to know any kind of truth

but like an artist who puts his painting (after
he's painted it) in front of thousands of unknown
eyes, I also put my song there that way
(after I've made it)
it is as easy an as simple as that

I can not speak. I can not talk
I can only write an I can only sing
perhaps I should've sung a song
but that wouldn't a been right either
for I was given an award not to sing
but rather on what I have sung

no what I should've said was
"thank you very much ladies an gentlemen"
yes that is what I should've said
but unfortunatly... I didn't
an I didn't because I did not know

I thought something else was expected of me
other than just sayin "thank you"
an I did not know what it was
it is a fierce heavy feeling
thinkin something is expected of you
but you dont know what exactly it is...
it brings forth a wierd form of guilt

I should've remembered
"I am BOB DYLAN an I dont have t speak
I dont have t say nothin if I dont wanna"
but
I didn't remember

I constantly asked myself while eatin supper
"what should I say? what should I tell 'm?
everybody else is gonna tell 'm something"
but I could not answer myself
I even asked someone who was sittin nex t me
an he couldn't tell me neither. my mind blew
up an needless t say I had t get it back in its
rightful shape (whatever that might be) an so
I escaped from the big room... only t hear my
name being shouted an the words "git in here
git in here" overlappin with the findin of my
hand being pulled across hundreds of tables
with the lights turned on strong... guidin me
back t where I tried t escape from
"what should I say? what should I say?"
over an over again
oh God, I'd a given anything not t be there
"shut the lights off at least"
people were coughin an my head was poundin
an the sounds of mumble jumble sank deep in
my skull from all sides of the room
until I tore everything loose from my mind
an said "just be honest, dylan, just be honest"

an so I found myself in front of the plank
like I found myself once in the path of a car
an I jumped...
jumped with all my bloody might
just tryin t get out a the way
but first screamin one last song

when I spoke of Lee Oswald, I was speakin of the times
I was not speakin of his deed if it was his deed.
the deed speaks for itself
but I am sick
so sick
at hearin "we all share the blame" for every
church bombing, gun battle, mine disaster,
poverty explosion, an president killing that
comes about.
it is so easy t say "we" an bow our heads together
I must say "I" alone an bow my head alone
for it is I alone who is livin my life
I have beloved companions but they do not
eat nor sleep for me
an even they must say "I"
yes if there's violence in the times then
there must be violence in me
I am not a perfect mute.
I hear the thunder an I cant avoid hearin it
once this is straight between us, it's then an
only then that we can say "we" an really mean
it... an go on from there t do something about
it

When I spoke of Negroes
I was speakin of my Negro friends
from harlem
an Jackson
selma an birmingham
atlanta pittsburg, an all points east
west, north, south an wherever else they
might happen t be.
in rat filled rooms
an dirt land farms
schools, dimestores, factories
pool halls an street corners
the ones that dont own ties
but know proudly they dont have to
not one little bit
they dont have t be like they naturally aint
t get what they naturally own no more 'n anybody
else does
it only gets things complicated
an leads people into thinkin the wrong things
black skin is black skin
It cant be covered by clothes an made t seem
acceptable, well liked an respectable...
t teach that or t think that just tends the
flames of another monster myth...
it is naked black skin an nothin else
if a Negro has t wear a tie t be a Negro
then I must cut off all ties with who he has
t do it for.
I do not know why I wanted t say this that
nite.
perhaps it was just one of the many things
in my mind
born from the confusion of my times

when I spoke about the people that went t Cuba
I was speakin of the free right t travel
I am not afraid t see things
I challenge seein things
I am insulted t the depths of my soul
when someone I dont know commands that I
cant see this an gives me mysterious reasons
why I'll get hurt if I do see it... tellin me
at the same time about goodness an badness in
people that again I dont know...
I've been told about people all my life
about niggers, kikes, wops, bohunks, spicks, chinks,
an I been told how they eat, dress, walk, talk,
steal, rob, an kill but nobody tells me how any
of 'm feels... nobody tells me how any of 'm cries
or laughs or kisses. I'm fed up with most newspapers,
radios, tv an movies an the like t tell me. I want
now t see an know for myself...
an I accepted that award for all others like me
who want t see for themselves... an who dont want
that God-given right taken away
stolen away
or snuck out from beneath them
yes a travel ban in the south would protect
Americans more, I'm sure, than the one t Cuba
but in all honesty I would want t crash that
one too
do you understand?
do you really understand?
I mean I want t see. I want t see all I can
everyplace there is t see it
my life carries eyes
an they're there for one reason
the reason t see thru them

my country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory
that's where I was born an learned how t walk an
it's where I was raised an went t school... my
youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills an
sky blue lakes, willow fields an abandoned open
pit mines. contrary t rumors, I am very proud of
where I'm from an also of the many blood streams that
run in my roots. but I would not be doing what
I'm doing today if I hadn't come t New York. I was
given my direction from new york. I was fed in
new york. I was beaten down by new york an I was
picked up by new york. I was made t keep going on
by new york. I'm speakin now of the people I've met
who were strugglin for their lives an other peoples'
lives in the thirties an forties an the fifties
an I look t their times
I reach out t their times
an, in a sense, am jealous of their times
t think I have no use for "old" people is a betrayin thought
those that know me know otherwise
those that dont, probably're baffled
like a friend of mine, jack elliott, who says he
was reborn in Oklahoma, I say I was reborn in
New York...
there is no age limit stuck on it
an no one is more conscious of it than I

yes it is a fierce feeling, knowin something you
dont know about's expected of you. but it's worse
if you blindly try t follow with explodin words
(for that's all they can do is explode)
an the explodin words're misunderstood
I've heard I was misunderstood

I do not apologize for myself nor my fears
I do not apologize for any statement which led
some t believe "oh my God! I think he's the one
that really shot the president"

I am a writer an a singer of the words I write
I am no speaker nor any politician
an my songs speak for me because I write them
in the confinement of my own mind an have t cope
with no one except my own self. I dont have t face
anyone with them until long after they're done

no I do not apologize for being me nor any part of me

but I can return what is rightfully yours at any
given time. I have stared at it for a long while
now. it is a beautiful award. there is a kindness
t Mr Paine's face an there is almost a sadness in
his smile. his trials show thru his eyes. I know
really not much about him but somehow I would like
t sing for him. there is a gentleness t his way.
yes thru all my flounderin wildness, I am, when it
comes down to it, very proud that you have given this
t me. I would hang it high, an let my friends see in
it what I see, but I also would give it back if
you wish. There is no sense in keepin it if you've
made a mistake in givin it. for it means more'n any
store bought thing an it'd only be cheatin t keep it

also I did not know that the dinner was a donation
dinner. I did not know you were gonna ask anyone
for money. an I understand you lost money on the
masterful way I expressed myself... then I am in debt t you
not a money debt but rather a moral debt
if you'd a sold me something, then it'd be a money debt
but you sold nothin, so it is a moral debt
an moral debts're worse 'n money debts
for they have t be paid back in whatever is missin
an in this case, it's money

please send me my bill
an I shall pay it
no matter what the sum
I have a hatred of debts an want t be even in
the best way I can
you needn't think about this, for money means
very little t me

so then

I'll return once again t the road

I cant tell you why other people write, but I
write in order to keep from going insane.
my head, I expect'd turn inside out if my hands
were t leave me.

but I hardly ever talk about why I write. an I
scarcely ever think about it. the thought of it is
too alarmin

an I never ever talk about why I speak
but that's because I never do it. this is the
first time I am talkin about it... an I pray
the last
the thought of doing it again is too scary

ha! it's a scary world
but only once in a while huh?

I love you all up there an the ones I dont love,
it's only because I do not know them an have not
seen them... God it's so hard hatin. it's so
tiresome... an after hatin something to death,
it's never worth the bother an trouble

out! out! brief candle
life's but an open window
an I must jump back thru it now

see yuh
respectfully an unrespectfully

(signed, 'bob dylan')

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Residents of the besieged neighborhood of Khadeiye run through the streets to avoid snipers.  Sheets are hung and moved as the snipers move to try and block their view .
One of the members of the Free Army of Syria, and formerly a soldier in the Syrian Army, looks around a corner after hearing shots fired nearby in Khadeiya.  The collection of volunteers guard their neighborhood from inside houses as the Syrian Army fires at them from across the streets and high locations.
A well known wedding singer, whispers the words of a revolutionary song into the ears of children so they can sing them.
Water, and electricity have been cut since Khadeiya was taken by the opposition.  Now electricity is snuck in on clandestine power lines and water is distributed from old wells.
A member of the Free Syrian Army approaches the border of Khadeiya where the Syrian Army is firing on them.  Scattered machine gun fire can be heard coming from both sides but the real fear comes with the sound of artillery and RPGs.
Families have made a refugee camp out of an orphanage in Homs.  The only requirement is that a member of the family must have died or be in jail.  This room houses three families from beside Baba Amr, Homs.  After the fled the violence their houses were completely ransacked, allegedly by pro-government thugs.
In a house on the border of Baba Amr, Homs bullet holes riddle the walls and furniture.  Blocks of the city were abandoned and most shops were closed.
A small party is held in the center of Khadeiya where men and their children  come mainly to sing anti-government songs and dance.
One of the soldiers of the Syrian Free Army is brought into a makeshift hospital after he was hurt in an explosion.  The small clinic is the only one left after 3 other hospitals and clinics were shelled.
One of the officers of the Free Syrian Army sits with his family in their home in Khadeiya.  He is unusual for keeping his family in the middle of the bullet riddled neighborhood.  But he is too well know as a member of the opposition and as he says
Many of the remaining people and cars of Kahdeiya have been shot multiple times.    This soldier showed me 3 bullet holes.  One doctor showed me the 9 times he has been wounded while retrieving patients in their makeshift ambulance.
The main square of Khadeiya is pitted with holes from mortars and explosives.  At one time this square was used for organizing anti-government protests where many were originally killed.
A small party is held in the center of Khadeiya where men and their children  come mainly to sing anti-government songs and dance.
One of the residents of Khadeiya, Homs was shot in the legs by a sniper after leaving the evening protest.   After being patched up in the clinic he returned to the protest to tell his friends he is ok.
Damascus, Syria

Draft.

This report does not give an accurate description of all Syria’s current complexity. It is a look at one opposition neighborhood for one day.

After a year of intense fighting and low level suppression many parts of Khaldeya have bullet holes, the cars, the walls, the water tanks, the people. This suburb of Homs has been emptied of families and filled with bullet holes. The doctor that runs out to pick up wounded has 9 bullet holes. Sheets are hung in the street to block the view of snipers are like swiss cheese.

I was given one of the rare 7 day visas to enter Syria as a journalist. I wasn’t the best journalist to be sent, my expertise is Egypt, my Arabic language is Egyptian. But thanks to a good fixer and some digging we were able to travel around Homs relatively freely.

Getting into Khaldeya required a local guide and some quick driving down a road with a history of snipers. The bullet holes in other cars confirmed that sometimes they were shot. While in the neighborhood shots ring out at irregular intervals

The rebels are very aware of the Syrian government’s storyline that they are gangs of terrorists and were more than willing to show us around. Often when I start talking with a soldier he will pull out his army ID and go into the story of how he escaped.

Most of the soldiers claim that their weapons came from defecting soldiers, though they have had to buy ammunition from anywhere they can.

There was one former Syrian Army officer who told of how his brother was walking home from the first protest in Khaldeya when a sniper shot him through the stomach. At that moment he decided to defect and join the rebels. Now he is too well known so he stays with his family, unwilling to send them away. “I would rather have them die here with me than away from me” he says.

To defend their neighborhood the volunteers have smashed holes through the walls of the homes. A maze of paths are opened and closed as they move around the inside. As I move with them they aren’t so afraid of bullets as of the RPGs.

In one of the few houses with electricty a few volunteers write songs for the evening’s protest. It’s an almost daily event of a few men and children gathering in a central location. A couple of famous wedding singers lead the festivities.

One of the residents left the party early, half an hour later he was driven back in an ambulance, with fresh bandages. A sniper had shot him through the legs on his way home.

The rebellion in Syria is one of the most complex of the revolutions of the Arab spring. It isn’t a peacefull protest in a square, or violent fight from east to west, or easily described along majority, minority sectarian lines. It has many fronts, many divided families, is partially peaceful, partially violent, and has no clear majority of people or power. It also has many neighbors that want to influence the outcome.

This complexity is undercovered partially because there were relatively few foreign journalists based in Syria to start with and now it is excedingly hard for journalists to get in for long term coverage.

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Ju_information_graphics_13heroelist

Where once infographics were a bit of a niche specialism, in recent times they seemed to have gatecrashed the mainstream and you frequently see someone on Twitter drooling over the latest info-tastic offering. So it is with perfect timing Sandra Rendgen has produced a spectacular new book looking at this phenomenon – how infographics have developed, why they’re useful and how they work. There’s more than 400 examples in the book too, which proves Albert Einstein’s maxim: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” We spoke to her to find out more…

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hacker-dojo

Suddenly programming is sexy. Codecademy is drawing hundreds of thousands to its online programming tutorials. “Those jumping on board say they are preparing for a future in which the Internet is the foundation for entertainment, education and nearly everything else … ensuring that they are not left in the dark ages,” says a recent New York Times piece.

The NYT’s Randall Stross went on to write about how “many professors of computer science say college graduates in every major should understand software fundamentals.” At parties these days, people are more impressed when I say I write apps than when I say I’ve had a few novels published. How weird is that?

Is this the long-fabled Triumph of the Geek? If so, it should seem unreservedly great to those of us who started programming when we were ten and haven’t much stopped since. So why does this sudden surge of enthusiasm make me feel so uneasy?

Partly, I suppose, because something like this happened once before, and it didn’t end well. Remember how hackers were hot in the late ’90s, and would-be dot-commers flooded computer-science classes everywhere? Demand for programmers back then was so high — sound familiar? — that companies hired hordes of freshly minted coders whose ability did not match their ambition. Half of every team I worked in back then was composed of people who couldn’t be trusted with anything beyond basic programming grunt work, if that. It’s no coincidence that the best technical team I ever worked with was in 2002, right after the dot-bust weeded out all of the chaff.

But mostly, I think, I’m uneasy because it seems like the wrong people are taking up coding, for the wrong reasons.

It’s disconcerting that everyone quoted in the articles above say they want to be “literate” or “fluent”, to “understand” or to teach “computational thinking.” Nobody says they want to do something. But coding is a means, not an end. Learning how to program for its own sake is like learning French purely on the off chance that you one day find yourself in Paris. People who do that generally become people who think they know some French, only to discover, once in France, that they can’t actually communicate worth a damn. Shouldn’t people who want to take up programming have some kind of project in mind first? A purpose, however vague?

That first cited piece above begins with “Parlez-vous Python?”, a cutesy bit that’s also a pet peeve. Non-coders tend to think of different programming languages as, well, different languages. I’ve long maintained that while programming itself — “computational thinking”, as the professor put it — is indeed very like a language, “programming languages” are mere dialects; some crude and terse, some expressive and eloquent, but all broadly used to convey the same concepts in much the same way.

Like other languages, though, or like music, it’s best learned by the young. I am skeptical of the notion that many people who start learning to code in their 30s or even 20s will ever really grok the fundamental abstract notions of software architecture and design.

Stross quotes Michael Littman of Rutgers: “Computational thinking should have been covered in middle school, and it isn’t, so we in the C.S. department must offer the equivalent of a remedial course.” Similarly, the Guardian recently ran an excellent series of articles on why all children should be taught how to code. (One interesting if depressing side note there: the older the students, the more likely it is that girls will be peer-pressured out of the technical arena.)

That I can get behind. Codecademy and the White House teaming up to target a youthful audience? Awesome. So let’s focus on how we teach programming to the next generation. But tackling a few online tutorials in your 20s or later when you have no existing basis in the field, and/or learning a few remedial dumbed-down concepts in college? I fear that for the vast majority of people, that’s going to be much too little, far too late.

Of course there will always be exceptions. Joseph Conrad didn’t speak a word of English until his 20s, and he became one of the language’s great stylists. But most of us need to learn other languages when we’re young. I’m sorry to say that I think the same is true for programming.

Image credit: Jeff Keyzer, Flickr.

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TEDxVancouver - Jer Thorp - The Weight of Data

Jer Thorp is an artist and educator from Vancouver, Canada, currently living in New York. Coming from a background in genetics, his digital art practice explores the many-folded boundaries between science and art. Recently, his work has been featured by The New York Times, The Guardian, Scientific American, The New Yorker, and the CBC. Thorp's award-winning software-based work has been exhibited in Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia and all over the web. Most recently, he has presented at Carnegie Mellon's School of Art, at Eyebeam in New York City, and at IBM's Center for Social Software in Cambridge. He is currently Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times, and is an adjunct Professor in New York University's ITP program. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
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