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johnsu01

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Art in the US Political System [29 Aug 2005|02:25am]

Making art that is appreciated by only a small group of people --- poetry, for example --- is particularly political. Other forms of art --- ugly bronze park bench statues, for example (fuck Robert Frost) --- are less political because there is an economic incentive that will power them forward. They have the protection of the patron saint of Profit. Their freedom will disappear after ours. It's the stuff at the margins that really needs to be done.

But I'm sick of feelin' impotent
watchin' the world burn
in the era of apocalypse
waitin' my turn

(Immortal Technique, Harlem Streets)

There is a fear among artists with a political conscience that instead of doing art, they should be doing something to directly help reform the political system.

They shouldn't be painting or writing; they should be lobbying, collecting signatures, going on hunger strikes, kickin' it with Cindy Sheehan.

Most of us could probably lean more in that direction. We could do more. We should do more. But not necessarily at the expense of art.

The usual response is to rise to the challenge by explaining how one's art carries political content; it makes some statement, communicates a message, pushes some boundaries.

But, the fact is, art in the US American political system is inherently political.

Lobbying for a free society entails two things. One is working to get the right rules in place --- this is the part where we feel guilty. But the crucial second part is to exercise the freedom we think we should have in a free society. Use it or lose it. Doing art is an exercise of that freedom, whether or not there is a message being communicated. Rights and freedoms are containers we are given to fill. If we don't fill them, and show what things they can be filled with, it's harder for anyone to argue that we should have them at all.

Don't we need some criteria? Drinking a beer on my couch is an exercise of freedom. Is that political?

There's a good chance that if you're having a beer on my couch, I'm there, and we're complaining about the Republicans or the Democrats, so --- maybe. But it's pretty tough to say that the mere fact of sitting on my couch and drinking a beer is political, no matter who brought the beer.

The difference is the context. Art is at risk. Artists are at risk. Making a piece of art, being an artist, is political because it and we are an endangered species.

When they start corralling beer drinkers into Free Beer Zones and requiring permits, then only political criminals will drink beer on my couch.

Making art that is appreciated by only a small group of people --- poetry, for example --- is particularly political. Other forms of art --- ugly bronze park bench statues, for example (fuck Robert Frost) --- are less political because there is an economic incentive that will power them forward. They have the protection of the patron saint of Profit. Their freedom will disappear after ours. It's the stuff at the margins that really needs to be done.

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Letter to the MBTA [29 Aug 2005|10:53am]

I appreciate the inclusion of a Text Only link on your Trip Planner web site, because I often use a text only browser. I know that this also helps visually impaired people using screen readers, and people using older computers or slower Internet connections.

However, the Text Only link itself actually does not show up when you are using a text browser! This is because the link is in a <map> HTML element. I tried 3 different text browsers, the most popular ones, and none of them display the ALT text for <map> elements. They all show something useless and cryptic like, "[MAP]". I'm guessing you only actually tested this site in a graphical browser with images turned off, not in a fully text-based browser (like the programs "w3m", "links" and "lynx").

From the W3C's HTML Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/):

Until user agents render text equivalents for client-side image map links, provide redundant text links for each active region of a client-side image map. [Priority 3]

So, the first problem is that text browsers don't display the Text Only link, which means it's only available to people who already know the URL and can put it in by hand. The solution to this is to provide redundant text links. The W3C accessibility guidelines explain how to do this. This would not change the look of your site at all.

The second problem is that the trip planner requires JavaScript. None of the most popular text browsers have JavaScript capabilities. I haven't used screen readers much, but last I checked, they didn't have such capabilities either. Your trip planner is a series of simple forms. There is no reason why JavaScript should be required. If it adds bells and whistles to the site, that's great --- but you need to make sure that a basic version of the pages is accessible to people without JavaScript. This is also discussed in the above accessibility guidelines.

Thanks for thinking enough to include the Text Only link. The MBTA already gets criticized for accessibility at its physical stations, and is taking action to address those criticisms; I hope you'll consider these suggestions for its virtual station as part of this effort to make the T fully accessible to everyone.

Update

The MBTA responded immediately to my pressing of the Submit button on the feedback form. Their response?

An error occurred on the server when processing the URL. Please contact webmaster@mbta.com.

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