Aug 282015

Things change. Here we have a brick’n’mortar shop advertising its own online shop on the fence of its parking area.

Actually there’s wide-spread resistance among people against online shops, and of course there is massive resistance against Amazon. I know quite a few people who never ever buy from Amazon, some who always look for local alternatives first, some who at least try to buy online but elsewhere.

I’m well aware of the problems that monopolies create and I am aware of the fact that Amazon, although not a monopoly technically, is damn near being one. The problem is, they are so incredibly good at what they do, and they have whatever I need. Maybe I shouldn’t buy there but I do. I even bought one or two lenses there, something that I normally avoid.

Our individual desires go far beyond our needs and they are unfortunately opposed to the needs of the collective. As a society we should either decouple income from work, at least to a degree that a decent living is provided for everyone (what is “decent”?), or we should make sure that everybody has work and sufficient income from that.

Of course that doesn’t happen. There are experiments with unconditional minimum income, but they are frowned upon (to say the least!) by those who work, and work is increasingly shifted offshore or automated.

It does not take a prophet to come up with the conclusion, that we are running into a problem.

Aug 272015

Europe’s southern and south-eastern borders are beleaguered by refugees from the Middle East and from Africa. The most common reaction is xenophobia and a political shift to the right, but of course the right won’t solve the problem either. Neither will the proto-nazis. They only try to channel public frustration, try to increase the fear and to turn that into cheap political advantage.

In fact the problem can’t be solved by the right at all and it can’t be solved by capitalism, the eternal sponsor of the right. It is a problem of capitalism itself.

Some argue there has always been migration. We don’t know exactly what caused the massive migrational waves that finally brought down the mighty Roman Empire of the west, but there was without a doubt pressure from the east. Maybe it were already the Huns, who reached western Europe in the fifth century, maybe it were some unknown precursors. It does not make a difference, we see the pattern all through history.

From time to time, every few centuries, the saturated and sophisticated empires of the Middle East and Europe were overrun by central-Asian warriors, seemingly living on the backs of their horses, mighty experts of sword and bow. Huns, Mongolians, Turks, most came, destroyed, plundered and then vanished again, having over-stretched their ressources, having expanded their territories far over their capacities. They could conquer, but most were unable to permanently occupy. Still, some stayed. The Hungarians and the Turks are good examples. In any case the Germanic and the Slavic movements seem to have been caused by pressure from the east, maybe amplified by famines due to bad harvests.

There are also earlier examples, examples from different parts of the world, and obviously none of these phenomenons were caused by capitalism. So why insisting on a role of capitalism at all? This needs some more explanation, so I beg you to bear with me.

The root-cause of all migration is that, for one reason or another, people in some part of the world live a miserable life, and at some point the need to escape their wretched condition is so great, that they see no other way than to leave behind their homeland, the graves of their families, their languages, their customs, their history. They become refugees.

All through history people have fled natural disasters, wars and plagues, and they have always turned to the fabled lands where rich merchants had come from, to the rich lands that were the equals of today’s Europe, of today’s North America.

Did the Romans cause the Huns to force the Germanic tribes turn westward, against their own borders? Obviously not. Neither did the Emperor of Byzance cause the Turkish onslought on his empire. Something outside of their known world had happened, something likely never written down or at least long lost in history. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, Byzance, they occupied isolated parts of the world. Their world was open, it’s ultimate borders unknown. Cause and effect were not yet necessarily linked together.

All that has changed. Our world is a known entity, no white areas exist on the maps of our age. The enormous expansion of European empires from late Renaissance on has unified the world – and divided it. Columbus came to Hispaniola and soon began slaughtering and enslaving the people he found. Cortez tumbled the Aztec empire, Pizarro destroyed that of the Incas, they and the whole of Africa were conquered and enslaved.

Basically the beginnings of modern capitalism can be seen in high-mediaval Venice and the trade that was established with the temporarily re-conquered Holy Land. The Templars were early bankers. The Spanish and Portuguese conquests were capitalist ventures, financed by a banking system, and the British conquest of India was a private venture as well.

The world is not infinite, and at some point in time the whole of it had been conquered. Naturally shares got re-shuffled. The Spanish and Portuguese yielded to England and France, and much later, from the ashes of two world wars in the last century, rose the United States and the Soviet Union as the two dominant world powers. The Soviets failed, capitalism triumphed, and here we are: in a small, densely populated, highly interconnected world where no more a cause can stay without effect, where the chickens always come home to roost.

In history it is almost always impossible to find the origin of a conflict or of a phenomenon like migration. One of the most popular narratives, trying to explain the mess we’re in, begins with the CIA-supported coup against Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. When he tried to nationalize the oil industry, he confronted the capitalist interests of the UK and the USA. He, a strong supporter of a secular democracy, was replaced by Shah Reza Pahlevi, a willing tool of the USA, a totalitarian dictator, a suppressor of his people.

When in the late 1970s the people of Iran tried to get rid of him, where should they have turned to? The USA? Europe? Ridiculous, because these were the powers that had destroyed their democracy and replaced it with a fascist dictatorship. The Soviet Union and Communism? It could have went that way and that would have caused an entirely different conflict, but it didn’t. They turned to a religious leader. Instead of seeking recourse in communism, they sought it in their own traditions, in their own culture. They invented Political Islam.

Iran was important for the US and the West. It bordered on the Soviet Union, it had natural ressources that the West wanted to fuel its own industries and not that of the Soviets, thus losing Iran came hard. Since then, everything the US do in that region makes the situation only worse.

In the 1980s the US supported their buddy Saddam Hussein, a primitive dictator who could be turned into a weapon against Iran. He failed though. More than a million people were killed in eight years, but Iran stood against Iraq, and Saddam, deep in financial struggle, turned to a seemingly easier victim: Kuweit.

Suddenly friendship was over, Saddam turned into the “New Hitler” (a fate shared with almost everybody whom the Americans have disliked over the last 70 years; Putin is the current “New Hitler”). In order to fight Saddam, the US moved massive troops into the Gulf region, into the Holy Lands of Islam.

At that point the fanatic islamist warriers that the US had recruited from all over the Islamic world, financed, equipped and supported against the Soviets in Afghanistan, turned against those who had thought to control them. The age of islamist terror had begun.

But that is not all. There were some old allies of the Soviets in the region, the Assads and the Gaddafis, and the US had tried for ages to overturn them. Assad’s Syria was always under a strong protection of the Soviet Union and later Russia, and Gaddafi was popular, rich and independent.

Once again, already after their traumatic experience with 9/11 and the nightmare in Iraq, the US tried to use Islamists. Once again it worked – in a way. Lybia has been turned from a stable and rich country into the complete chaos of a failed state. Northern Iraq and parts of Syria have mutated into an “Islamic State”, an entity that seems to draw ist esteem from cruel beheadings of scientists, photographers, journalists, doctors and foreign workers.

Capitalism? Really?

Well, ultimately yes. We live in an interconnected world where only one political dogma is left, namely the natural dominance of capitalism. “Socialist” is a dirty word now, communism is dead. This is a capitalist world, a world shaped by the excesses of private enterprise, a world where the idea of regulation by a state borders on blasphemy. We live in a world where the dominating power insists that “There Is No Alternative”.

Well, there are no excuses either. Mosaddegh was unseated by the CIA, but the CIA was only the tool. Big Oil was the driving force. Korea and Vietnam? Greece and Chile? Every coup in South America? Big Capital’s fear of communism.

The US system of politics has made it almost impossible for anybody but the rich and their puppets to advance to any position of power. US foreign politics and US wars have been, are and will be for the interests of the rich.

But let’s take a step back. Does that mean the US are the original “Evil Empire”, its people sucking blood from the world? Far from that. The US are just in control of the dominant military force on the planet, and they themselves are controlled by the dominant social class on this planet, the rich.

The US military is a tool and so are US media. These tools are used by a comparatively small group of extremely influential and mighty people, partly in the US, partly in the other centers of financial dominance. Those people are no secret order. They are just a bunch of egoists struggling for control and power, everyone against every other, and at the same time in always shifting alliances. It’s the chaotic rule of self-interest, something that the apologets of capitalism (rightly so) deem its biggest strength.

The US are the tool, but the forces that control the US and their power are truly globalized like the economy that feeds them. US politics have long stopped to be in the interest of their population. Recently H-1B visa have been introduced, that allow big corporations to replace their US workforce by cheaper foreign workers, only increasing the effects of outsourcing. Some US politicians mime surprise now, but it is ridiculous as everybody knew it beforehand. And then it is shrugged off anyway because, you guess it, There Is No Alternative.

Here we are, that’s the situation. Nobody is in real control, the asylum is run by the inmates, and the only sure thing is, that the system known as capitalism wrecks the lives of more and more people on the peripheries of our world, makes them so miserable, that at one point they see no other way than to cross borders and become refugees.

Capitalism can’t solve that problem. Capitalism has created it. Capitalism has likely priced it in.

It’s about time to realize that there is always an alternative.

Aug 262015

When you spend nine hours a week on trains, you better begin liking railway stations. While yesterday’s image was taken in Vienna, this one is from Villach.

The sticker on the escalator spells “Sauber”, meaning “clean”. Kind of a hopeful declaration, but maybe it even works. At least the railway station is clean indeed :)

Aug 232015

I really wish I could change the firmware of my camera. Imagine it were open source and I could tune Auto-ISO to my use.

While this image is not at all bad at ISO 1250, f2.8 and 1/60 s, in my type of photography I’ve rarely a reason to use 1/60 s. As a default lower bound it seems sensible, because when you have slowly moving people in your images, at that shutter speed they will still be sharp. It won’t be enough to freeze bicycle riders, but for pedesterians photographed from a distance, it is normally sufficient.

For me it’s a waste. In this image I would have been able to hold 1/2 s. That’s more than four stops. I would have been back to base ISO with still more DOF.

In this case I forgot to change from aperture priority to manual mode. Again, not a problem, but I’d like to set the minimum shutter speed before the camera begins to raise ISO, depending on focal length. If the firmware were open source, this would be trivial. As it is, this is impossible. I hate it :)

3230 – A Red Car

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 3230 – A Red Car
Aug 222015

I’ve written some equipment reviews in the past and they still draw visitors to my blog. I won’t do it for the 7-14/2.8. There are plenty to choose from online, and most of them also compare it with the Panasonic 7-14/4.0.

In short: yes, it is really that good. It is excellent at f2.8 and it gets even better when stopped down to f4 or f5.6. You can focus close, much closer than with the Panasonic, and when doing so, you may also enjoy some pretty acceptable bokeh.

And, yes, yes, YES, the purple reflections that troubled me so much that I sold the Panasonic, they are all gone. You can provoke ghosts and flares when you have the sun in your frame, but they are even less obtrusive than with the excellent Sigma 8-16 on my D300.

In other words: it is a killer lens. If you are willing to pay the price and carry the weight, you definitely want to buy it, and even more so, if you own an Olympus camera.

3229 – Temple Of The Lord

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 3229 – Temple Of The Lord
Aug 212015

OK, I suppose you’ve guessed it, I’ve even announced I would buy it, it’s the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO.

As you read this, I’ve been having it for more than three weeks, while people still complain about unavailability via Amazon and other online dealers. It has a few advantages to buy at local premium dealers, at least as long as you’re lucky to live where there’s still one left.

Aug 202015

You can’t tell temperature from an image. My thought when I looked at this image was “looks damn cold”.

It wasn’t. It was an incredibly hot day, like so many days this summer. It’s by far the hottest summer in Vienna since records are kept, and that’s slightly longer than, for instance, the USA exist.

I was on my way to my favorite photo dealer, “Digitalstore” in Vienna’s 7th district. I had something on order and they had called me :)