Friday, January 18, 2008

TGIF Presidential Countdown: Just 368 days and finally our long national nightmare will be over

At noon on January 20, 2009, George W. Bush will leave office, and our long national nightmare will be over, or at least the country will be able to start waking up. No longer will we have a president who sees every economic downturn as a cloud with a silver lining -- an opportunity to once again sell a tax cut for the rich as part of an economic stimulus package.
The president called again for Congress to make permanent the tax cuts that were enacted several years ago and are to expire in the next three years. Otherwise, he said, there will be such uncertainty that jobs and economic growth will be jeopardized.
Or an opportunity to play another cynical political shell game.
Call me cynical, but I'll be very surprised if the White House doesn't spend a few days telling the country everyone's gonna get an $800 check and then demand some bullshit in the bill which the Dems, frightened, will cave on...
NOTE: This will be a regular Friday feature, counting down the days left until the day when George Bush leaves office, which can't come too soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Handwriting on the wall, or rather, Kindle?

I was listening to On Point with Tom Ashbrook on the way home last night (select stream at the link). The guest was novelist Sue Miller, and they were talking about her new book, The Senator's Wife. They were talking about the emotional accomodations that go into keeping a long-term marriage going, and it was a good show. But I was especially struck by an aside in what one caller said, as it seemed to have a lot to say about the future of "hard copy" books.

"I opened a bookstore at the same time The Good Mother came out," the caller said. "You were the first author to read in our store, and I was always grateful." He went on to say he enjoyed her work and had read all her books, except the most recent. "I'm not buying any books right now, because I'm in a queue at Amazon, waiting to buy a Kindle."

If (former?) booksellers have stopped buying books printed on paper, can the end of the hard copy book be far behind?

When Brett Favre takes the field Sunday, his favorite weather deserves its own green and gold spelling

#4 Spelling Correction
On the photo sharing site Flickr, the word "Fave" is used as shorthand for the word "favorite," used as both a noun and a verb. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, they spell it with an "r" and pronounce it "Farve." Sunday night will truly be Favre Weather. The 38-year-old QB will take to the frozen tundra in his favorite weather -- subzero windchills are forecast for game time -- to lead his team against the NY Giants in the NFC conference championship.

The game takes place just forty years after the fabled "Ice Bowl" of Dec. 31, 1967, when Bart Starr led the Packers to the championship against the Dallas Cowboys, making his 1-yard dive across the goal line behind Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman to win the game in the closing seconds. The "deja vu all over again" makes for a fitting climax to a magical season, one of Favre's best. Two years ago, lots of folks were saying Favre was too old and should retire. Back in September, the odds of Hillary Clinton returning to the White House were far better than the odds of Favre returning to the Super Bowl for his third appearance.

The oldest starting QB in the playoffs is now a 7-point favorite to win the game Sunday night, leading the youngest team. Next stop: the Super Bowl. And that's why, when we write favorite, we spell it Favre around here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If the Democrats have problems holding Michigan in November, they only have themselves to blame

John Nichols blogged in The Nation about Hillary Clinton's win in the Michigan primary with an "uninspiring" 55% of the vote.
DETROIT -- The question in Tuesday's Michigan Democratic primary was not whether Hillary Clinton could beat anybody.

The question was whether Clinton could beat nobody.

As the only leading Democratic contender to keep her name on the ballot after Michigan officials moved their primary ahead of the opening date scheduled by the Democratic National Committee, Clinton was perfectly positioned. She had no serious opposition. She also had the strong support of top Michigan Democrats such as Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.
It sure seems odd to be analyzing the results of this farce as a horse race, when the DNC's threat to not seat the delegates is such a perversion of the Democratic process. The race to schedule early primaries is a real problem, but you don't solve it by disenfranchising an entire state -- especially if you're the party that so often, with good reason, accuses the Republican Party of voter suppression. If this cynical intraparty gamesmanship costs the Democrats a key blue state this fall, they only have themselves to blame. At least Hillary stayed on the ballot. The cynicism of her opponents John Edwards and Barack Obama pulling their names, knowing she had a lock on more than half the vote, is also distressing.

The whole shabby episode is also a reminder of Democrats' tendency to shoot themselves in the foot by being too cute by half. Al Gore lost the election when he started out by calling for a selective recount. As we now know, he would have won if he had called for a recount of the entire state from the beginning.

I'm a huge John Nichols fan, but he blew this one. He should know better -- the DNC also messed with our open primary in Wisconsin a few years ago. Democrats should seat democratically elected delegates. They should be encouraging the electoral process, not discouraging it. Period. Don't like the primary schedule? Fine. Work it out. But not by disenfranchising an entire state.

I couldn't help it, these guys reminded me of a joke

It Takes a Village to Raise a Billboard
I took this photo near the corner of South Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road the other day, because the busy scene on the scaffold made me smile. It reminded me of a joke. In fact, it reminded me of a number of jokes. They all take the form of "How many Xs does it take to Y a Z?" But I'm not gonna go there. Let's skip the alphabet soup and just agree that it takes a village to raise a billboard. (Click through the photo to Flickr, where it's best viewed in the original size.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Catching the Milwaukee Art Museum's Martín Ramírez exhibit at the on the last day of the show

Martín Ramírez Show
I'm incorrigible -- a deadline always seems to strike me as an invitation to meet it at the last posssible moment. That's why, although I had looked forward to its October opening for the better part of a year, we found ourselves in a last minute dash down the Interstate to Milwaukee from Madison Sunday afternoon to catch the amazing Martín Ramírez exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum before it closed. Darkness was already falling on the Calatrava pavilion when we got there, but the trip was worth it. It was a stunning show that makes you rethink what we mean by the term "outsider art," for this is not work that can easily be filed away and pigeonholed by such a well-worn term.

If you're not familiar with the work of Ramírez, Roberta Smith's NYT review when the show opened last year at the American Museum of Folk Art in New York provides a good introduction and is accompanied by a slide show (there's also a wealth of information, along with a video, at the MAM's website about the show).
The American Folk Art Museum’s transporting exhibition of the scroll-like drawings of the Mexican artist Martín Ramírez (1895-1963) should render null and void the insider-outsider distinction.

Ramírez, who created the roughly 300 drawings that make up his known work between 1948 and 1963 while confined to a mental hospital in Northern California, is simply one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He belongs to the group of accessible, irresistible genius draftsmen that includes Paul Klee, Saul Steinberg and Charles Schulz. Well selected and beautifully installed by Brooke Davis Anderson, a curator at the folk art museum, this show of 97 drawings, some mural-size, is the first museum exhibition of Ramírez’s work in New York and one of the best shows of the season.

Whatever ideas about art you hold dear, expect them to be healthily destabilized here. If a purely visual, white-cube experience of the autonomous art object is your thing, you may be startled by the illuminating correlations between the artist’s newly excavated biography and his pulsating images.

If you think art is anything but autonomous and that, rather than speaking for itself, it mainly says what we want it to say, then you must deal with the way these works made enough noise to survive against almost impossible odds.

If you revere outsider artists as pure, isolated, often insane visionaries who exist outside time and place, make way for a so-called outsider whose work reflected many of the specifics of his cultural and historic moment. In addition, Ramírez’s art was in step with the explorations of many “insider” artists of his time, especially in his use of collage and images from popular culture.
Although the drawings of Martín Ramírez are visually stunning in reproduction, you really have to see them up close, in person, to get a real sense of their scale and full impact. The huge horizontal and vertical scrolls have a power more often associated with paintings than drawings. It was an amazing experience.