November 8th, 2010

[LINK] "Social Networks and global empathy"

In response to my [FORUM] post of last night, roseembolism wrote something nice, first as a comment then as a post at her LJ.

I have to admit, I do believe in James Nicoll's future, especially since historical trends seem to point toward it.. I also like to think that a good part of our ability to make a better future, will stem from an increased empathy with our fellow humans. On the other hand, from past experience I do think our ability to have empathy may be limited by our social circles. That is, I think it's easier to be sympathetic to someone who is part of our extended network, or who is in our circle of interests, than a generic, abstract "human". It's easy for that inner voice to say "Well, maybe that generic human of which I have no points of contact with, is actually deserving of whatever horrible thing is happening to them."

But this gives hope, because everyone in the modern world is a member of a flexible number of social groupings, and as the modern infrastructure expands across the world, it's more likely that people will share a group kinship. For example, consider the recent case of the woman who's cooking article was plagiarized. People who in earlier times would have nothing in common with her, came to her defense. And in the future, more and more people will be connected by social kinship. Maybe a person in Mobile cant understand the culture of a person in outer Mongolia, but damn it, he's been ripped off by Costco too, so he can sympathize if that happens to the other person.

There's more to it of course. The free and rapid flow of facts will have a lot to do with the development of a global empathy. But I think that expanding social networks. will more and more give people reasons to relate and empathize with others.

The future I think will be an odd place, neither a Singularity, nor a crapsack world. It may well be a place where the corporations we like to think of as villains, such as McDonalds and Microsoft, may inadvertently help to bind us closer together. I do think it will have wonder that we may envy, and others that will bewilder us. In any case, it's a future I want to see.

[PHOTO] On digital versus film

Over at Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew came up with a post I quite like about the mechanics of photography, "Learning to Shoot". Photography's an art. I indulge in its quite frequently, as you may have noticed. It's not much different from writing, actually, as a way of capturing images of some aspect of the world and sharing it.

Every second there are things that are forgotten, things that slip beneath notice or things that can only be carried in the memories of whoever witnessed them. Our capacity to rescue some of these things, these fleeting moments, and give them an endurance of their own is only as old as the first photograph. Sure, I know that people regularly depicted things by hand before that, but it's difficult to give a sketch or painting the same tincture of reality that a photograph has merely by existing.

Digital photography arguably enables much more thorough sharing of a photograph that before. How likely is it I'd be able to sent a printed photo to the readers (hundreds, I hope) of A Bit More Detail on any kind of regular basis, or even once? Digital photography can also have issues.

Take the photos themselves, and the ease of taking, collecting, and retaining them. That's only really become feasible within the last few years, thanks to the convergence of digital photography and advancements in information storage. It's probably for the best that my Hanimex 35SE film camera doesn't fit in my pocket, unlike my digital; I'd say that the second-most important lesson I learned about using film was photographic discipline. If I'm out and about with my digital, I'd think nothing of taking a hundred and fifty shots over the course of an outing, generally anything that catches my interest. Film cameras present bottlenecks that don't exist with digital cameras. At the most you'll likely have thirty-six exposures before you need to change out your film, and even then you won't know how well the photos turned out until you get them back from thelab.

It's the lab that makes photographic discipline necessary - or, more appropriately, the expense of developing that roll of film into glossy prints. Unless you're a professional or independently wealthy, you've got to practice photographic discipline if you want to see any of them again. Six years ago, when I travelled to the United Kingdom with a friend, he brought a film camera while I carried my first digital - and it's good that I did, because as far as I know all those rolls of film he took were never developed due to the expense. If I was to take ten thousand film photographs, the development costs would be somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand dollars - and that's not even taking the cost of the film itself into consideration.

I started off my [PHOTO] post series buying disposables, taking my fill of them, and then sending them to be developed. (Shopper's Drug Mart in Canada does a good, inexpensive job.) Last week I picked up some photos I took on disposable film back in August 2003 when I was in Montréal (a half-dozen disposables were involved). There is a certain physicality to film.

I'm pro-digital, though. Digital photography isn't necessarily connected with excessive numbers of photos, although I do admit I took ~150 photos during last month's visit with my parents to the Toronto Zoo. There can be a discipline with taking photos on film; there can be a discipline with taking digital photos. Being able to look back and say, this was a good photo, or that was badly framed, or maybe this third image can be cropped and tinted to some sort of acceptability, helped me improve my skills as a photographer more than I think photographic endeavours limited to film ever could have.

[LINK] "Northern Territories dispute highlights flawed diplomacy"

Continuing on the subject of the Kuril islands, an archived Japan Times article suggests that it was a combinatuion of Japanese nationalist bureaucrats and American pressure which kept the Soviet Union and Japan coming to an arrangement over the disputed islands, likely a partition of the spaces involved.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is willing to visit Tokyo this year to negotiate a much delayed peace treaty with Japan on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of Oct. 19, 1956, which promises the return to Japan of the Habomai islets and Shikotan (islands at the southern end of the Kuril archipelago that were occupied by Soviet forces in 1945). But Tokyo says Putin is not welcome unless he promises also to return the two much bigger islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri nearby.

Why should Tokyo today want seriously to amend an agreement it signed and ratified almost 50 years ago? The story begins with Japan's 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with the Allied Powers. Article 2(c) of the treaty said unequivocally that Japan would renounce all rights, title and claim to the Kuril islands chain (Chishima Retto) and southern Sakhalin (Karafuto) -- territories to the north of Japan that Japan had controlled up till 1945. But Japan's Foreign Ministry insists that Japan never recognized Etorofu and Kunashiri to be included in those renounced Kuril islands.

This Foreign Ministry claim simply is not true. Japanese materials at the time -- Foreign Ministry maps, statements by former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida at San Francisco and in his later memoirs, and newspaper reports all make it clear that Etorofu and Kunashiri were most definitely included.

The chief U.S. negotiator for the San Francisco treaty, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, agreed. Asked at San Francisco to define the territory of the Kurils, he said only that the Habomais might be excluded (at the time there were suggestions that Shikotan might be part of the Kurils).

[. . . In 1956, Foreign Minister Mamoru] Shigemitsu had begun with a strident demand for all four territories -- the Habomais, Shikotan, Etorofu and Kunashiri (what Japan was beginning to call its "Northern Territories." ) But in the face of blunt Soviet rejections and explanations, he suddenly about faced and on Aug. 12 declared that he would sign a peace treaty on Soviet conditions, i.e., he would accept the Habomais and Shikotan, and drop the demand for Etorofu and Kunashiri.

Problem over? Not quite.

Shigemitsu was immediately summoned to London for talks on the 1956 Suez Canal crisis and on Aug. 19 met Dulles again. According to Matsumoto, an ashen-faced Shigemitsu returned from the meeting saying, "Dulles has said something completely terrible (mattaku hidoi). He said if Japan lets the Soviet Union keep Etorofu and Kunashiri the U.S. will make Okinawa its own territory."

Dulles' threat worked. Shigemitsu returned to Tokyo and the talks could only be revived by Hatoyama himself visiting Moscow a month later. Once again there was impasse over territory claims, but both sides agreed on a Joint Declaration to restore diplomatic relations and to hold further talks on a peace treaty, with the promise of the Habomais and Shikotan to be returned if and when the treaty was signed. Despite strong Japanese pressures, there was no mention of continued talks about territory.