26.9.12

Middle Class Murders and the Media


Amy Bishop was convicted on the same day that Brian Claunch was shot.
Still no coverage in The Guardian about the conviction of US professor Amy Bishop who shot 6 members of faculty, killing 3, after she was refused tenure.
Is it because neighbours criticised her as a left-wing extremist whose passion for Obama was hard to stomach?
Is the problem that she's a middle class academic, one of our liberal own - is it too hard to think that such killers can come from our own ranks?
Or that the story shows how the middle class pull strings: Her mother, a town councillor, intervened to remove Amy from police custody after Amy had shot and killed her brother and fled the scene, requisitioning a car at gunpoint.
Or that time and again, police did not intervene against this "goofy" middle class lady - despite mail bombs, threats and assaults?
Does not the story perfectly illustrate the class basis of much police action - and the media's double standards? It fits with the moral of the the Brian Claunch incident - one rule for the disadvantaged, another for bourgeois academics.
So why ignore it?
The Guardian's Richard Adams pointed at this in his blog of Feb 2010, contrasting the media's coverage of a supposedly "right wing" businessman who flew his plane into the tax office in Austin Texas. Adam's wrote:
"Several sites drew comparisons with coverage of the accused Alabama shooter Amy Bishop, who Ace of Spades characterised as "inarguably left-wing and goofy", as proof of the media's double standards."
The Guardian last mentioned the story more than two years ago.
Sure, her love of Obama is irrelevant. The Daily Telegraph carries the story with no mention of politics.
The shooting of a man in a wheelchair is a bad thing.
But do we only report and consider crime stories that fit into a liberal morality tale?
Her's is a compelling murder story by any standards - Harvard-educated professor fails to get tenure - kills three members of faculty. Turns out she shout her brother to death in a case that was never investigated. Had mailed pipe bombs to colleagues. Had punched a mother in restaurant over the use of a booster seat. And on and on.




5.9.12

Newspapers And The Breakdown Of Political Reporting


People knows that politics, like sport or entertainment is often a carefully scripted drama tailored for public consumption. Like boxing fans at the Olympics, the audience knows in advance the result is probably fixed but it pretends otherwise.

It wants to pretend. The public is eager for legends and is eager to assist in creating mythology, whether it surrounds a football player or a politician. Fans will ignore facts that don't fit the myth and will create legends that support it.

In moments of doubt, they chant. Chant to banish thought, chant to stimulate adrenaline, which banishes thought.

You can't blame the media. The power of the Press is breaking down. The voters are willingly deluding themselves.

For a long time politicians could use the newspapers and broadcasters to limit the discourse - limit the issues that are raised, control who can speak or be heard. They could disguise the hand that pulls the string and pretend that their plans and schemes were simply a response to "events, dear boy, events".

It is not the Internet that has weakened the power of the press. It is the breakdown of homogeneity in a society that shared a common outlook, that considered many issues settled and agreed.

The voters still willingly play along, limiting the issues that they will consider in casting their vote. Think of the man reading The Times on the train. His world, all he needed to know, was in those pages. It's not that the newspaper circumscribed the news. It presented only the news that he needed:  People who did not matter to him, his social circle and his job, were not mentioned.

That's breaking down. Not because people stopped reading but because the readership and society is less homogeneous and it no longer needs The Times to reflect who's in and who's out. The broadsheet  newspapers no longer represent the class which take decisions and which runs society. Nor do politicians come from a homogeneous, ruling class. Modern party politics requires lobby fodder that votes as required, with very few exceptions.

Political writers must pretend the people they interview actually make the decisions. They are trapped in a medium of declining relevance but that's not because people just stopped reading newspapers. It's because there is no conversation between politicians and the society from which they come. There is no constituency.

Newspapers and broadcasters could break out of this trap if they talked about the decisions behind the decisions, of the action off the pitch as well as on it. But that would require newspapers to identify and align themselves with a constituency rather than the government and journalists are too closely connected to those they write about.

Journalists have a rule of thumb. Any story must include the information: who, what, when, where and how. A minority of journalists also ask why, which is the only question that has a chance of revealing motives. All the rest is scenery. Even why is not enough. Journalists must dramatically broaden their terms of reference. That means becoming experts, sometimes greater experts than those whom they interview.

The Greek playwrights worked this out a millennium ago. Our newspaper columnists and television pundits put a question to a politician knowing they will get a false answer, and then turn to the audience and deliver a commentary based on false premises.

That is why the Greek playwrights, when satirising the politicians of the day, took it a step further, using the Greek Chorus. It did the job of reflecting, holding a mirror up to the politician as he was represented on the stage.

The politician claimed credit for winning a war; the chorus recalled the men who profited from blood and terror . Or the other way: the chorus sang the praises of man's humanity to man, creating a crushing irony as some self-seeking politician concluded his conspiracy.

It was a kind of two-step verification that did not let the rulers set the boundaries of debate, impose their version of history, their brand of political amnesia.

The comment sections on newspaper web sites provide something similar but it thrives, sadly, because of the poor quality of much reporting.

Newspapers cannot survive by default, leaving truth and verification to their readers.

22.10.11

Gaddafi dying

Obama shook the hand of Gaddafi real slow. And looked him in the eye.

That, my friend, is politics.

But I can also see many politicians (they like to be called leaders) watching with horror the video of Gaddafi pleading for his life.



Somehow I thought I was watching a Greek or Roman tragedy with a moral... the people own you. Not the other way around.

The man was a tyrant. And there was a Shakespearean truth in his dying.

22.9.11

Fed feints, prepares to print


The US Federal Reserve has played a feint with the market, delaying the third round of money printing while pretending that it's more concerned with keeping long-term interest rates low.

It's precisely bonds of longer maturities that stand to suffer from the inflation that will follow the printing and debasement of currency.

So before it embarks on a third round of "quantitative easing," probably early in 2012, the Fed has launched Twist, the policy of rebalancing the Treasury market to favour longer term bonds.

Nobody knows the Treasury market better than the primary dealer network which has an exclusive right to make the market in government securities. In practice, this network comprises the banks which both control the Treasury market - and which are the chief beneficiaries of quantitative easing through which the Fed prints money and gives it to the banks in return for assets at a price they mutually agree, and the value of which the Fed will not disclose.

Getting ready to print

The public relations guys at the Federal Reserve have learned a trick. Financial journalists, dealing with numbers and lots of grey matter, often struggle to brighten their copy. Throw them a snappy name for a new product and they’ll run with it.

Operation Twist is the Fed’s latest economic stimulus programme, churning money from short-dated bonds into longer ones. With near-term interest rates at zero, there is not much else the Fed can do but try to depress longer-term yields - while getting ready to print again.

Sure enough, the tired strategy won corny headlines (Twist and doubt, was my favourite). Reasons for doubt that it will boost the economy: two per cent is the historical floor for 10-year yields; the housing market has its own problems that lower rates are unlikely to solve; large companies are cash rich and self financing and the banks won’t lend to the rest.

State welfare

Lovers of musicals or Dickens know that Twist is also the surname of Oliver, the Victorian boy condemned by poverty to that early form of welfare, the workhouse.

He’s best know for holding out his empty gruel bowl and asking, "Please, sir, I want some more." To which the answer was an outraged, “What?”

Traders hoping for a dollop of liquidity were disappointed. Stock markets fell. Welfare, or state support for asset prices, was not on the Fed’s agenda this time. Although the Bank of England seems to be preparing a new round of money printing, the Federal Reserve is holding fire, at least until next year.

The Fed has printed in excess of $2 trillion, buying bank assets, increasing their reserves, but also creating a bubble in commodity prices.

One policy, three years

High oil prices are hurting consumers and driving inflation. It is not the right time to print more money, though it seems to be the only idea, the only tool in the box of western central bankers: to print money and give to the banks.

This money is not lent into the economy. The banks deposit it with the same central banks that printed it, with the sole aim of offsetting the declining value of their asset base (which the banks decline to reveal). The one policy has continued for three years.

In contrast to the Asian and Russian crises of late nineties, the leadership of the emerging markets looks more sober, today, in financial terms.

Brazil, Russia, India and China are unwilling to pump more money into the euro zone. Hopes that the BRICs would buy more bonds from euro members were fading as finance ministers met on Thursday in Washington.

They hold combined reserves of $4.3 trillion, but the BRIC countries are unlikely to put their own stability at risk by wagering their assets on an early end to Europe’s crisis.



17.7.11

Leica M9 Titanium, the Titan






The first impression when you pick up the Titan is that the M9 is still a handy camera. It feels solid and you cannot miss the metal, yet it is very comfortable to graps.

Finger loop
Part of this is due to the finger loop which is perfectly positioned. Slipping the middle two fingers though the loop, it draws the curved side of the camera snug into the cradle of my palm.

As I lift the camera to my eye, the finger loop rotates to leave my index finger poised above the shutter. It rotates, not on a bearing but actually a butterfly shaped insert that swivels within a slot in the side of the camera.






Cladding
This ergonomic feeling is remarkable because the Titan looks thicker than a chrome M8 or black M9. This may be an aspect of the dark grey titanium. The central body is, in fact, slightly deeper but it's easier on the hand than an M8 plus handgrip.

The titanium cladding is wrapped around the existing shell, from the front right to the back left.


The titanium cladding stops on the front just where your middle fingers grip the body. This allows the body, where it is gripped between the right fingers and thumb, to be just 1mm thicker than the M8 and standard M9.

You can see how the titanium cladding overlays the camera's inner structure, only on this corner of the camera. The base plate follows this line around the whole of the camera. Whereas the base plate on the M8 is narrower than the top plate (which is built out to accommodate the viewfinder) on the Titan the baseplate is 0.5mm deeper than the top plate, giving the camera a more seated design.

You can clearly see the styling from the camera front, the titanium cladding flowing vertically, the leather wrap horizontally.


Body dimensions
I've made these measurements because size always comes up in discussions among Leica aficionados.

Leica measurements given in the technical specifications are not consistent, as the depth given for the Titan and the M7 is clearly measured from the tip of the control wheel to the front of the bayonet mount. The measurements for the M8 and standard M9 are for the top plate only.

My M8 measures 37mm on the top plate and 35.5m on the base plate. The full depth, from the control wheel to the bayonet mount, is 43mm and, if you account for the frame lever, about 45mm. Width 138.

The Titan measures  37.5 on the top plate and 38 on the base plate. The full depth is the 43mm as there is no frame lever. Width 140mm.

My M7 for comparison, measures 33.5mm on the top plate, 31.5mm on the base plate. The full depth is 38mm, from the DIN wheel to the frame selector. Width 143mm. Height 79mm.

Titan:    140 x 38 x 80 mm (width x depth x height)
M9 (P)  139 x 37 x 80 mm (Leica specs)
M8         138 (excl lugs) x 37 x 80 mm
M7         137 (143 inc winder) x 33.5 x 79 mm 

Base plate
This comparison of the baseplates gives a rough idea how far the digital Ms are from their slender forebears.


The M8, M9 baseplate is the one with the handgrip.



Accessorising
The Titan is not suited for much in the way of accessories. The built-in soft release precludes a cable release. The lack of lugs means you won't be carrying it on a traditional neck strap. However Leica does offer a leash, which holds the camera vertically as well as the under shoulder holster.

The Titan cannot take accessory handgrips made for the other digital Ms. They would fit except for the presence of the small lever which controls the socket for the finger loop.












 
On the other hand a standard grip would look pretty silly as it is externally narrower and the Titan’s baseplate is carefully sculpted to match the lens hood.

This is the one area where design has clearly come before functionality. In practice, however, the Titan’s finger loop replaces the need for a handgrip. I use a handgrip to control the weight of the Noctilux on the M8. I do not miss it on the Titan.

Weight.
My measurements except where stated:

Titan with battery, kit lens, hood 960g
Titan with battery, finger loop 598g
Titan without battery or finger loop, 540g
Finger loop 12g
35mm Summilux in Titanium with hood 356g

 M9 585g, M9-P 600g (with battery - Leica)

M8 with battery 544g
M8 with battery, 28mm Summicron, hood 854g
28mm Summicron with hood 304

M7 with 50mm Summicron 890g
M7 650g
35mm Summicron with goggles and hood 262g

Gripe
The only logical argument for splashing out on titanium is that it is lighter and stronger though more brittle than other metals. But the Leica M9 Titan is not made of titanium. It is the standard M9 with titanium wrapped around it. Titanium cladding.

Unfortunately the technical specifications on Leica’s website are vague. “External parts made of solid titanium with special coating to protect against fingerprints. Partially covered with slip­resistant calf leather.”

Some of these parts are replacements for the existing brass housing. Others are additional cladding.

The result is that the Titan weighs more than the M8 or M9. However, it's about the same as the M9-P.

Leica declares this in the German and Japanese language versions of its technical specifications though the error on the English has been widely repeated: “Weight approx. 335g.”

Given the lack of detail prior to selling the camera and the distinct impression that the Titan was made of titanium – and the unstated implication that the Titan might be assumed to be lighter than the standard M9 – this is an unfortunate, misleading error.

Even when purchasers of the Titan repeated the supposed 335 g weight in unboxing videos, Leica did not correct the data on their website.

Happily the Titan, naked, still weighs less than an M7.

Soft Release
The soft release is fixed, as far as I can see. I have never used a cable release with a digital M, finding the electronic timer adequate.
While the loss of any feature is a negative for some, I think in this case it is balanced by the far more useful soft release. Taken further, the design could help correct the much discussed lack of weatherproofing on the Ms.

Menu options control the soft release: Standard, soft, discreet, discreet & soft, 

The hot shoe cover is removable though you would not want to lose it. Leica thoughtfully provides a replacement cover for the oval hole on the right side where the finger loop attaches.

Framelines
The absence of a framelines preview lever is no loss to me. Getting rid of unnecessary points of egress at least moves in the direction of making the M more weather proof. However, the only such problem I have encountered in a digital M is dust between the LCD screen and its cover.

The framelines illumination is provided by an integral LED. They are evenly lit and dim instantly in response to changes in ambient light.

I use the LED-illuminated framelines much more than I did the standard framelines. I used to ignore them, estimating a lens's angle of view instead and concentrating on my subject.

Maybe it's something to do with my 50 year-old eyes but a light press of the shutter gives me a nice, contrasty reminder of the framelines and then they disappear, leaving me with an uncluttered view of the subject.

Isn't that just what people say they like about the M3?

As I humorously speculated on the Titan’s launch, the oversize Leica badge does indeed light up. Really. It does. You should always listen to fools.

There is a hole behind the badge that allows just a little of the LED light to reach the hand engraved resin. Close up, in the dark, you can see a faint red glow. Now I mean close up and not across the room!

There is also a red tinge to the focus patch. I wonder if there was some idea to illuminate the focus patch to make it easier to use in dim light. I have tested this and it seems, though counterintuitive, to work.

Firmware

The red light can appear to add contrast; other times the red flares out, rather like the viewfinders prior to the M7 mark ii or MP. You have to keep your eye centred.

The red tint to the focus patch is only present while the frameline illumination is activated.

However the firmware requires a tweak to allow one to determine how long the framelines remain illuminated. The default is 10 seconds. It would be nice to have the following options: Off, 2 secs, 30 secs, for tripod work. Why should this be less important than the LCD review screen?

Speed dial
One advantage of titanium is that milled, it has sharp edges. Both the shutter speed dial and the menu dial are very grippy, well torsioned and easy to use.

Auto review
The Titan shares the LCD screen of the standard M9. As one fellow member of LUF points out in his M9 review, the frustrations of the LCD have more to do with a lack of processing power and the review file itself, rather than the specification of the LCD screen.

Another firmware suggestion: A maximum setting of five seconds is barely enough time for the processor to finish rendering a review image. This should be increased to 7 seconds.


Not a triclops


The Titan is a happy camera. It feels good in the hand. Is as simple as any digital M yet it is stripped down further.

I am disappointed that it is no lighter the standard M8 or M9, but we are talking about cameras which are light by the standards of the competition, and compared with their film counterparts.

Coming up...
The Titan in use and some images with the new 35mm Summilux. Actually it does great stuff with this 1960s 35mm Summicron.

Sweet red dots


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