Sunday, October 31, 2010

Basquiat

Talented? Yes. Exploited? Yes. Role model? No. Tragedy? Yes.

Jean-Michel Basquiat is to art what Jimi Hendrix was to music. Rare, talented, original, producing remarkable work, and dead by age 27, by his own self-destructive instability. I first heard of him through the film Basquiat, starring notables Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and David Bowie. Something about the film was off-putting at the time I began watching it and I turned it off in about twenty minutes. But the name stuck.

As a regular reader of the ArtDaily Newsletter, the recurring themes remind you of who and what are important in the art scene. Sotheby's, Museums of Mordern Art, Picasso and Warhol all receive their due portions. And then there's Basquiat. Black. Puerto Rican. Fifteen year old runaway. Graffiti artist who lived hard, died of a heroin overdose like his heroes.

I have been reading Phoebe Hoban's uncomplimentary and thoroughly researched bio called Basquiat: A Quick Killing In Art. I say "uncomplimentary" because it is essentially an honest telling of his life and of those who exploited him. There are a lot of not so pretty pictures in the mix. The book opens with his overdose, an acute mix of heroin and cocaine. At the time he claims to have been doing up to one hundred bags of heroin a day.

In order to properly shed light on a life, one must see the context of that life as well, and Hoban's work is equally devoted to shedding light on the New York art scene. Beneath all the glam is "a pressure-cooker art scene where quantity matters more than quality, aggressive art dealers push prices through the roof, avaricious new collectors speculate wildly, auction houses create instant inflation, and the media magnifies the entire circus through a hyperbolic lens."

Hoban goes on to write that "Basquiat's brief life was a little bang that attracted its own temporary universe of powerful planets, whose orbits were in every way more constant than his own."

"The players who instantly recognized the phenomenon of Jean-Michael Basquiat and knew how to market it were older, more cynical, and ultimately easier to analyze than the lonely, alienated, and disenfranchised artist whose constant need to produce -- out of his own untrammeled creativity, deep-seated desire for approval, and insatiable demand for the cash that would buy him drugs -- became their ready source of profit."

Sound like the troubled street walkers who put out only to have money for another fix. Except the latter are simply used, whereas Basquiat's name has been elevated to the theater marquis, his paintings worth millions each.

His story again raises questions. What gives art its value? If the life is ugly and the work is beautiful, is it beautiful art? If Basquiat had had a religious conversion, survived the drug scene, repudiated Warhol and stopped "playing the art dealers' games" would his work be worth less today? If Basquiat had ceased being a sexually-charged vagabond infecting women with VD, settled into a monogamous relationship, raised a family and made art for twenty five more years, would they have made a major film about him, canonizing his free spirited "life without boundaries"?

Let me say here that I think his paintings are incredible. I enjoy the vibrant colors, the bold statements, the scope of his work. If he had simply been a middle class art major and produced the same paintings, would he have been so lionized?

I remember reading about creative people who were afraid to get therapy because they somehow tied their creative achievements to their unbalance, inwardly disturbed state-of-mind. Where does this idea come from that creativity and madness go hand-in-hand?

Till next...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Last Night At Norm's


It's been quite a while since I attended a Halloween Party, but this one was definitely the biggest production I'd ever seen in terms of setting and environment. I donned my painting clothes and participated, "performing" as a painter, my work projected onto a large screen to the right of the stage. The bands were talented and the music energizing.... and it was easy to produce a variety of original pieces during a four hour outpouring.

If picture is worth a thousand words, here are four thousand for you.

Part II is tonight, if you're in the neighborhood. I'm fairly confident the bands will not disappoint.



Friday, October 29, 2010

The 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum

The other day I wrote about a stimulating magazine called Mental Floss. At the risk of being redundant I will share further on the same lines. Two days ago I wrote about The Ten Issue. This morning, the publication's "Spectacular 50th Issue" was just begging to be written about and I share it here.

Tucked up into the masthead is an interesting little phrase: feel smart again. There is no promise that reading it will make you smart, but by knowing all this stuff the publisher suggests that you will feel smart. And that five letter word "again" has a sexy suggestive quality as well, implying that you used to feel smart, but somehow lost it along the way. Feel smart, and feel confident, the way you were in your youth, robustly ready to tackle any obstacle.

So, the cover story for their Spectacular 50th Issue is, The 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum.

Teaser copy is stuffed around the edges of the big 5-0....
Inside Houdini's Barrel
The Center of a Black Hole
Warren Buffet's Desk
Inside a Tornado
The Supreme Court's Doomsday Shelter
Mob Boss Cemeteries
Catherine the Great's Backyard Amusement Park
The Tiniest Town in America
Where Antimatter Exists
An Island of Wingless Butterflies
America's Greatest Idea Factory
3 Hilarious Misfires in Propaganda

Interestingly, the cover story begins on page 39, so there's still plenty of other blather to soak up before hitting the big story. I did peek and found that the world's smallest town is in terms of population, is located in Nebraska, and even has a sign that lists that population as 2. One is the mayor. Evidently when the kids grew up they had to go somewhere else to find a job.
ON ANOTHER NOTE: Tonight I will be doing some Live Painting at Norm's Beer & Brats, from 9:00 till midnight, at which time I'll turn into a pumpkin and someone will have to carve me back into a person.
Enjoy your day... And here's hoping you have something to look forward to tonight as well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Halloween Party Invitation

Someone sent me an email with photos of Ray Villafane's incredible carved pumpkins. Evidently it's that time of year when half deranged adults are given free license to scare the living daylights out of other peoples' kids as they sprawl through the neighborhoods collecting treats or giving tricks.

When those kids grow up, the fond memories of dressing up once a year refuses to fade. And so, we have Halloween parties. Some places, like where I work, even wear Halloween costumes to the office once a year. That's right. People come as monsters and Raggedy Anns and Brett Favre. It's kinda cool.

Halloween parties abound, many of them becoming an excuse to express that repressed alter ego. A few too many are vampires and witches though, which in itself is a bit frightening.

One such party will be the two day event at Norm's Beer & Brats in Superior tomorrow night. I will be attending, dressed as an artist... because while the music plays I will be doing some painting, which will be projected on a large screen, if all the technology can be orchestrated properly. Chani Becker will be manning the camera while some of her own surrealistic film compositions set fire to a second projection screen. The stage set has been a couple months in the making with ghouls on stools, skulls on the walls.

There are four bands scheduled beginning with the Silk Sheets and their 60's genre style, followed by EerieArq, a hybrid between the Bauhaus sound and the Replacements. Slated third is the Rock Brigade at midnight, followed by Uprising, a Reggae rock band that will close the house down.

I won't be there, but Saturday five more bands will conduct the show including the heavy metal This Is Now, the sultry James & Younger, the Tinsel Faeries, Alan Sparhawk's Retribution Gospel Choir and the closer, Infrared.

If you like music there's plenty to like this weekend at Norm's. And if you like doing the costume thing, make yourself at home. The pre-party starts at 8:00 and the sound sensations at nine. See you there?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mental Floss

It's amazing how many different kinds of magazines there are. In the trade magazine category you will find mags like Engine Builder, Tire Business, and Golf Course Management. In fact, every industry from fishing to radio to hair styling has a publication. In the news category we find Newsweek, Time and World, among others. There are a host of financial magazines and then the pop culture mags like Us, People and... well the list goes on.

It's hard to imagine how people can come up with new magazine concepts, especially at a time when so many mags have been folding, but if you look around the magazine racks you will see new faces and titles popping up continuously. Look at all the new tattoo titles.

One of these off-the-beaten-path magazines that we get here in this household is a title called Mental Floss, now in its third year, I believe. They must have wondered what they were getting into starting a new publication one year before the collapse of the economy. But hey, they're still here, so they must be doing something right.
My take is that the mag is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Comedy Central, entertaining but with just enough grits to make you feel like you're chewing on something. Here are some of the contents of The 10 Issue, volume 3, issue 2.
10 Movies That Changed the World
10 Great Prison Escapes
10 Things That Aren't Boring About Chemistry
My Nest or Yours?: 10 Pick-Up Tricks from Across the Animal Kingdom
10 Dramas That Caused Drama: Plays That Really Made a Scene
10 Child Prodigies (Who Actually Ended Up Doing Something)
10 Bright Ideas In Science
10 Not-So-Bright Ideas In Science
10 Ads Lost in Translation
and a few other miscellaneous distractions and deliberate diversions.
It's not drama. It's not straight-up comedy. It's not earth-shakingly important. But it is entertaining in so many various ways that each month offers something worth the weight. Or, wait...
Have a good read.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Current Social Media Observations

For the fun of it I excavated some quotes about listening and gave them a twist of lemon.

"When people tweet, listen completely. Most people never listen.” — Ernest Hemingway

"Bore, n.: A person who tweets when you wish him to listen." — Ambrose Bierce

"I’ll defend to the death your right to tweet that, but I never said I’d listen to it!" — Tom Galloway

"An actor’s a guy who if you ain’t bloggin’ about him, ain’t listening." — Marlon Brando

"Just because I didn’t do what you told me, doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading your tweets!" — Hank Ketcham

"If tweeting is silver, then listening is gold." — Turkish Proverb

"Many attempts to communicate are nullified by tweeting too much." — Robert Greenleaf

"Seek first to understand, then how to blog about it." — Stephen R. Covey

"A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something." — Wilson Mizner

"I heard ten thousand tweeting and nobody listening." — Dylan

"I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention." — Diane Sawyer

Dialogue, not monologue, is a critical component of success in life, in marriage, in our careers and even in bringing about world peace. The best part of Twitter, Facebook and Blogging has not been the tiny little soapboxes we get to stand on, but rather the surprising relationships that have emerged through this experience. Thank you to each of you who has shared a bit of yourself with me. I've enjoyed getting to know you.

Have another great day in this adventure called life.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bro' Memories

Today I'm going to skip writing about Nevada, party foods and the SEMA Show to rush headlong into a few anecdotal reflections about my youngest brother, Robert, who today turns 50. Big five-oh, as they say, and one of the smartest and funniest people I know.

I was eight when he was born. One of the earliest memories was of him vomiting into my baseball glove when I was nine. He was still crawling around on all fours and had evidently crawled behind the couch with it. I wanted to ride up to the school to play ball and was unable to find my mitt. Naturally, when I found it it didn't take long to discover the culprit in the matter. The evidence was right there in my hand. Worse yet, as my hands and fingers grew longer each year, they would discover how deep that crust of spit up had drooled into that glove.

For some reason we were mean to Robert. He was too cute for words and we were all probably jealous of the attention he got. I don't really know my motivations but I am ashamed at how we used to hide his little crutch which mom and dad hung on the kitchen wall. Because he couldn't walk I would sometimes plop him on the back porch and just run back and forth laughing and pretending I was having fun. I actually hated running, and if I had been faster I might have gone further in my baseball career.
Before you hate me too much, let it be known that I made up that last paragraph. (Or most of it.)

I was a tie-dyed-in-the-wool hippie in college, with the attire and accoutrements that went with it. So you can imagine my shock when I came home from school one year and my two youngest brothers were wearing disco-style pants and shirts. The flared lime green pants, the puffed flowing sleeves and where did you get those shoes?

His television fare included the Monkees, Scooby-Doo and Lost In Space, each of which had an influence on the shaping of his character. And what a character he is.

In the mid-1990's there was a stand-up comedy competition here in Duluth in which the winner would go to Minneapolis and compete to go on Jay Leno's show. I prepared a routine and called Robert to tell him about it. He replied, "Why are you doing this? You're no funny." That response was indeed funnier than my whole routine, which I scrapped the next day and re-wrote for the following evening.

A tribute to Robert wouldn't be complete without mentioning his love of the Yankees. The stories along that line could run a Yankee mile, but I have to get ready for work, so... let's let it go.

Happy birthday, Li'l Bro.
Picture, top right, painted last night in haste, Robert in his mid-teens. Yes, I wasn't the only one who had hair back then.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is Oberstar In Trouble?

"And the leaves that at green turn to brown,
and they wither with the wind
and they crumble in your hand..."
~Simon & Garfunkel


A Political Digression

I remember during the Viet Nam War era when a Republican candidate for president came through Ohio University doing the stump speech thing. His name was Henry "Hawk" Jackson, a senator from Washington whom I'd never heard of. I did not go hear him at the Baker Center Student Union, but did read about the nearly unattended event in the student paper afterwards. He was shocked at how rude the students were. This was at a time when Sport Illustrated even wrote an editorial about how vulgar and rude students were at college football games with their obscene football cheers and jeers.

This past week Congressman Jim Oberstar met to debate his Republican opponent Chip Cravaack in a packed out AMSOIL Arena. The audience was notably disrespectful. A friend who was there commented that Jim even got visibly annoyed a couple time, having allowed the peanut gallery to get under his skin. Evidently, for possibly the first time in his long career -- having served the 8th District of Northen Minnesota since 1974 -- the lifetime public servant has a fight on his hands if he is to retain his seat.

In years past, my guess is that he hardly ever had to dip into his war chest because there's never been a viable challenger. I know that resentments have been fostered by many Oberstar naysayers who claim he is living inside the D.C. beltway and has lost touch with his constituents. I do not know what being in touch really means, though. Even if he lived here year 'round, how many of the 14 counties in his district could he really become intimately acquainted with? Isn't this why he has offices in various parts of his district? Besides, if he spent too much time here, then his opponents would level the criticism that he is not representing us well in Washington, etc. What's he doing rubbing shoulders with us when he should be studying the ramifications of that next 2,000 page piece of legislation?

Anecdotally, I know that when my daughter was having a visa issue, I contacted Jim's office here in Duluth and they were very responsive. They did not drop the ball or give me a pat answer. They looked into the situation. When a new business opened in Carlton this summer, Jim was there to cut the ribbon, went out of his way on a tight schedule to fit in visits with other constituents in the area.

There are two factors contributing to a potential Chip Cravaack upset on November 2. First, the guy is a union man. Like this is really a different animal, Republican with roots in the labor community. In Northern Minnesota, if you ain't for the working class, not just in word but also in deed, you are dead in the water. Cravaack has a history of being active in the fight for the people. The second factor is this: voters are unhappy with how long this recovery is taking. Ten per cent unemployment is bad for incumbents across the board.

This morning's Duluth News Tribune announced their endorsement of Cravaack. That has to be disappointing for the congressman. The most recent polls show a tight race. That alone is a first in this district over the past seventy years or more.

I once wrote (in 1988) that Congressman Oberstar would represent this district for as long as he wanted to. It looks like Chip Cravaack just might force me to eat my words.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Call Me Ted

"I did it my way." ~ Frank Sinatra

I'm currently reading Ted Turner's autobiography and it is quite fascinating. (For purists, I am actually listening to the audio book, which may be even more interesting because Ted himself is narrating with his distinctive Southern drawl. It also includes anecdotal stories by others in their own voices.)

It would be hard not to be aware of who the man is, but in all likelihood few of us know the full details of his roots and the formative features of his life. I find it interesting how a person goes from being a kid in a boarding school to becoming a multi-billionaire. In his intro he makes the tongue in cheek remark that he lost eighty per cent of his wealth at one point, but that somehow he is finding a way to make do on a couple billion dollars.

It's interesting to hear how he loved his father even though the guy could be violently abusive. He learned many things about business from his dad, and perhaps it was the mix of being at boarding school away from home, having a sister die early in life and having grown up working the business from an early age that instilled in him the creative spark that makes him one of a kind.

By telling the story one sees how the path made sense. They were in the billboard business. Billboards don't always sell, so when he got some radio stations, he used the unsold billboards to sell radio. He was in radio because initially he could not afford to get into television, but once he did he didn't follow the herd. He observed what was happening and did it his way.

When he got into television, he ran it like a business, which was not the way it happened to be going when he took it over. Most of the 35 employees were slugs on drugs who just loafed about and had no drive, no vision, no understanding what a business was supposed to be. He turned the station around and began looking at where the opportunities lay. What did people want that they couldn't get via the primary networks. Like me, he thought a lot of television programming was just stupid drivel. So he began airing classic films. He would sit in an easy chair and introduce the films, build a rapport with viewers.

Another niche which he exploited was baseball. The network affiliate only aired some of the games and he felt that fans would like more than just "some" which he intuited correctly. He became so tight with the Atlanta Braves that when the owners decided to bail (they had such a poor team and not only lost games they also lost fans and revenue) they offered it to Ted.

It's a great story, how he dove into the Braves as both a businessman and a fan. He was not your typical owner, as the many anecdotes point out.

Alongside all this is his sailing interest and the many lessons he learned which he applied to his business life. It is a good example of how our passions can contribute to the successes we experience in other areas of our careers. Early in life he became fascinated with boats. The stories about these experiences remind me a little of Richard Branson's experiences pushing the limits both in boating and ballooning. Neither of these men is an accidental billionaire. Each took risks, and both leveraged their successes to achieve greater success.

I'm but one third through the book, but know there is much of interest still to come. While not a perfect role model in every regard, he certainly makes an entertaining companion when commuting... or running to the hardware store as I am about to do.
And in case I don't see ya, have a great weekend.

Friday, October 22, 2010

White Space

“With everything emptying into white.”

White Space
It was a white space, and I didn't know what to put there.
First I started to write about Free Trade.
I tried to make a connection between
post-World War I economics
and the rise of Hitler.
Discarding that, I made a lame attempt to falteringly present
with varying degrees of interest and disinterest
in no particular order
the relationship between line and form, a digression
on Hollywood one-liners, the origin of panpipes,
Dylan’s debutants, kitsch, ambiguity,
the Zeitgeist, Perry Mason’s undiminished cool, the man
with rose-colored eyes, and the genius of Sitting Bull.
These, too, failed to get me jazzed and the center wouldn’t hold.
So we’re back… to the white space.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shannon Kringen, Part II

This is the second part portion of yesterday's interview with the spirited Shannon Kringen. Be sure to click on images to enlarge... and enjoy.

Ennyman: What made you choose your medium?

Shannon: When I was a kid painting was the easiest because I am naturally drawn to color and my shyness did not stop me from doing visual work. When I hear music I see shapes dancing in my head and I feel compelled to draw abstract shapes in response to this "inner seeing." I wanted to be a performer as kid but my shyness held me back. I took dance, ballet, tap, sang in the choir and did some plays and wrote some short stories but I was more confident and successful with my visual art and writing.

When I found photography and video I felt like FINALLY I can express fully all aspects of myself and my shy, introspective self won't get in my way! Video allows me to combine music/sound/spoken word/color/light/performance/photography/acting out emotions: so many sides of what I want to share... it feels like a VESSEL or container I can pour all my creative energy into when I make a video.

Ennyman: Which of your pieces best represents you as an artist?

Shannon: My videos. My self portrait photographs with my KringSPEAK as audio encapsulate me as a whole. Color/composition/reflection/transparent layers/metaphor/poetry/musical spoken word/my voice backwards making it's own abstract language is really what makes me feel fully expressive. Like my entire body/mind/heart/soul is fully active and participating in life. I love video the most because it enables me to combine all my passions in ONE final form. Audio/visual/movement/performance/color. Photography and video are amazing to me because they are so versatile. You can share your inner world through the medium OR you can point outward and capture the world around you and share that.

When I do my self portrait photographs I feel like I am "acting" in a scene for some larger story. it has this wonderful feeling of combining visual and performing arts.

Ennyman: What's your favorite piece of art? Why?

Shannon: I am not sure I can pick one piece. I make a new 28 minute video every week but the themes repeat. I would say some of my videos are my favorite pieces of work because they combine visual and performing arts. Sound/vision/movement and performance. I think my videos say the most. Combining my literal voice and words with my photographs really satisfies something inside me.

Ennyman: Who's you favorite artist? Why?

Shannon: I'm very fond of many. Sabrina Ward Harrison, Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman, Miranda July are a few... but the painter/architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser is my favorite of all. He had a whole philosophy about life and his artwork was the embodiment of that. He designed buildings with no straight lines that were in harmony with the natural world. Curvey shapes and textures and eco friendly, too. Rooftop gardens and compost toilets and such wonderful colors and balanced but asymmetrical shapes. His paintings look similar to his buildings. I took a train to Vienna, Austria just to see the museum he designed which houses his paintings. The walls and floors curve and you feel like the building "grew out of nature" and would blend into a forest yet it has very man-made shiny, glazed ceramic tile in all kinds of different sizes and shapes. I find his buildings happy and dazzling and inspiring. I love to stare at them. His buildings feel "fertile" to the imagination. Hundertwasser thought much of the modern "straight line" architecture was bad for people in terms of "energy" they give off. Like a feeling of "prison" and not being one with nature. I agree with him that humans are much happier and healthier when we see how WE are NATURE and not separate from it. His buildings look very organic and mirror the shapes of plants/animals/natural growing things. I believe mans place is to nurture nature and not to control or "conquer" it. So I love his work visually as much as I love his philosophy. (Hundertwasser buildings are a little like Antoni Gaudí and his paintings are a little like Gustav Klimt.)

Ennyman: Do you have any local gallery shows coming up we should watch out for?

Shannon: Right now my main outlet is my TV show "Goddess KRING" on Mondays at 1030pm (now also webcast live from scantv.org), my website:
http://www.shannonkringen.com and flickrstream
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shannonkringen/
I also screen video shorts once a month at the 911 media art centers open screening.
I'm thinking of putting out a book of my best photography. Really, I'd love to travel around the world, take photos and publish them and go on 'tour' sharing what I create. Maybe doing slide shows and talking about my travels then signing books after.

Ennyman: What do you like most about the art scene in Seattle?

Shannon: I like that Seattle is a kind of small city. It has a funky casual feeling. I enjoy that music and theatre are so lively here.

Ennyman: What would you like to see changed?

Shannon: I'd love to see more multi-media installations and more daring, risk taking and boldness being shared!

Ennyman: Have you tried to change it?

Shannon: Yes. I've shared a few multi-media installations myself including my video/audio/photography and painting. I'd like to do more of this in a public space.

Ennyman: I can't help but ask why you call yourself Goddess Kring?

Shannon: The whole Goddess Kring happened cuz of being a figure model nude all the time and then seeing those voluptous statues in spiritual bookstores and thinking a cool nickname for me would be Goddess Kring with my last name being Kringen (Kringen means multiple "circles" and "spirals" and Kring means one circle I think?)

When I say goddess I mean "god-us" like we are all gods and goddesses in our own ways on this planet... so i sort of mean it in a namaste, sacred me greets the sacred you... more than I mean any kind of "worship me I'm a goddess"... Its my way of saying I wish more people would see the sacred in each other and rise to that occasion and not be so low down inside... but rise up inside! And express from that space. the higher self instead of the lower self.

Ennyman: I'm glad I asked. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing yourself here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Justin Bieber, Bluewater Style

I was going to bring you part two of the interview with Shannon Kringen, but I am waiting for a few additional images to share first. So stayed tuned.... it's coming soon.

I also considered writing about Cy Twombly, whose show is inaugurating a new Paris gallery this week, the Gargosian. Here are some examples of his work located on a blog by someone who is just gushing over him. Frankly, I can't tell what I think. His paintings look like the work of an uninhibited five year old, except on very large canvases. Yet the stuff is worth millions and hangs in the world's most prestigious art galleries? I don't know what to think. Am I jealous? Is that was bothers me? Worst of it is, I find his paintings strangely interesting.

But on to my theme. This past year my interest in the various forms of creative visual expression has been expanding. While waiting to get my computer fixed in the back room of a funky, off-beat comic and gaming store downtown, I got my first exposure to Bluewater Comics. I was impressed.

I read through the life of Barbara Walters, and saw similar titles on Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and Joe Biden. What I read was well researched, seemingly straightforward biography but in graphic novel style, and was highly entertaining while simultaneously informative.

So today Bluewater's newest title has been released, on the life of Justin Bieber. The news release compares Bieber to the Beatles, with humble beginnings and a lot of screaming fans.

It's strange because at one point no one had ever heard of this kid, and then for months he was the hottest of the hot topics on Twitter.

This pop/celebrity fame reminds me of a William Gibson's cyberpunk novels of the future in which he envisioned (and coined the phrase" cyberspace. In that future world celebrity was godlike. Maybe Bieber is emblematic of this attitude in our own day, a need to worship something outside of oneself.

Bluewater Productions unveils the Justin Bieber story for their Fame series of biographical comics in a 32 page format that retails for $3.99.

Writer Tara Broeckel Ooten said that while researching the comic she became convinced that Bieber has what it takes to craft a long musical career. The comic book was drawn by Claudio Avella.

Here are excerpts from the press release:
Darren G. Davis, president of Bluewater Productions, says that the biographical comics continually bring new readers to sequential storytelling. “This is a great medium for kids as well as adults. I had a hard time reading as a kid and comic books really improved my reading skills. One of the goals is trying to get kids away from the video games and reading more”

Davis says, “Fame: Justin Bieber is tracking to sell out fast, even with an aggressive overprint our distributor is having a hard time keeping up with orders”

In addition to its Fame series, Bluewater publishes Female Force, which looks at successful women, and Political Power, which traces the history of the world’s most powerful politicians.

Maybe one day they'll do a series on famous artists. One of them made famous the famous quip about 15 minutes of it... By that standard Bieber has taken more than his share. This Bluewater volume undoubtedly tells how he did it.
For more information, visit www.bluewaterprod.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Artist Shannon Kringen, Poured Out

“Fortune favors the bold.”
~ Virgil, The Aenid

When I discovered her blog, I sensed a free spirit filled with a longing to express herself and share it with the world. As it turns out, when I interviewed her, she said this very thing. Her name is Shannon Kringen, the creative offspring of artists. I do not know her future trajectory, but in her short life she has certainly lived an interesting past.

Ennyman: How long have you considered yourself an artist?

Shannon: Since about age 6. I remember being in kindergarten and really getting into finger painting and loving how the colors mix together and make textures. My mom is a visual (clay and metal) artist and I grew up surrounded by art supplies and hung out with my mom in her art studio a lot making things by her side.

I was also very sensitive to music and took piano lessons when i was 9 and wrote a few songs. My dad wrote comedy and music so I was influenced by him in that way and was exposed to lots of music and movies.

Both my parents taught me in their own way to focus on the arts.

Though they both have very strong opinions about the arts and I sometimes feel like I need to break free from being aware of what they think and find my own space and separate myself from them and fully explore my way of seeing and share that full force, letting observers of my work have whatever opinion they want knowing I followed my heart in creating it: thus making it valid and sacred in itself regardless of others interpretation.

Ennyman: Why do you create art? To become famous? To send a message? Because you feel compelled to?

Shannon: I think mostly I create art to have a voice in this world. I've always been very expressive and sensitive/emotional but also very shy and introspective and a bit unsure of where I "belong" or "fit". I have a rich inner world that I want to express outward. somehow with my camera and paints and microphone/video camera and piano I feel more brave and free and like i have "permission" or i am "safe" to express outward through these "tools".

It's a relief when I feel confident and express freely. Being "shy and timid" is very uncomfortable and I seek out ways I can feel more relaxed and open to the world around me: where I can feel connected and included to that which is beyond myself. I am also learning to value and love my need for solitude and quiet time. Our society doesn't really encourage this but part of being an artist I think is to have the balance of solitude with outward expression.

Ennyman: I agree with that statement.

Shannon: I have always had a fascination with famous artists. Especially those who stand out, have charisma and are bold and expressive and passionately driven to share through the media. so, yes, I would like to be famous. Meaning I'd love to create in my own unique way and have it seen by many and hopefully inspire people with it.

I create art and share it because it's my bliss and joy. it's my outlet where I am free from being shy. I also feel driven to send a message of "be yourself, no matter what they say.” I believe everyone has unique gifts that can enrich the world. I'd love for people to value themselves highly and follow their passion in life and share their "spark" with others. I'd love to be known as someone who encourages others to be creative and trust their gut and not listen to those who discourage that which is "unique" and "unusual".

I also create artwork because I love getting feedback and learning about myself, how I affect others and how they affect me. I see everything as a reflection and mirror for something else. I think in metaphor a lot.

Ennyman: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Shannon: Travel inspires me greatly. I've had amazing travel adventures fall into my lap and have been to Mexico, Australia, Italy, Norway, France, UK, Austria, Switzerland, Spain. So far I've traveled to Europe five times. I love roaming the globe and seeing how other people live and photographing and writing about it. I hope to see Asia, Africa, more of Europe and Australia.

Mostly I'm inspired by light! Literally the light I see when walking or riding my bicycle around the city or through the woods. The way the sun shines on metal, glass, water, through trees. Or at night the way street lights or any man made light source interacts with everything: especially my own reflection! I like to use myself as a model and actor in my photography/video. I love the city at night in the rain. The way neon lights reflect on the wet street is thrilling to me. I take a lot of distorted self portraits in chrome on cars or any reflective surface I can find including water.

I see all this "light dancing" around and have to photograph it. I'm also inspired by my own sadness and pain. Grief compels me to try and heal myself. When I create something with my camera or a paintbrush or I write a poem and record it (KringSPEAK I call it) and I share this, I feel a huge sense of relief. It soothes me. I feel less alone and grateful for life itself.

It's also this amazing feeling of exploring and discovering something new. The quest for the unknown. I'm very improvisational with every medium I use. I never know exactly what I am going to make but when I see it I know it's the right direction in that moment. It's always a thrill when I take a new photograph that works or write a poem and record it or paint something I feel is solid and "meant to be". Sharing it online, TV or a gallery wall excites me. I feel like it's a luxury to create something and share it publicly. It fascinates me to see how people respond to it. Love it, hate it or feel neutral about it. I'm learning to appreciate the effect my work has on others and on myself.

In a way criticism and praise both inspire me to keep creating. When someone doesn't like my work I wanna "prove them wrong" or try to "win them over" or "tune them out and keep creating/sharing no matter what they say" and when someone enjoys my work I feel grateful and "fed" by this appreciation and like it's "permission" to keep going. I also feel like I wanna be independent from needing others to approve of my work but of course I want to find my audience and be connected to the world around me. I want people to get something out of my work. I like affecting others. I like being useful.

I'm also inspired by the people I model for. (Since 1992 I've been a figure model in Seattle.) Over the years I have listened to so many artists talk about color, composition and traveling... I've seen so many paintings and drawings of me and always find it fascinating how many different ways there are to draw and paint and sculpt the model. Before I became a model I mostly appreciated abstract and surreal artwork. Now I have more appreciation for realism and impressionism. I love the atmosphere in the room when I model for groups of artists. (Sometimes I get bored and day dream of all the creative things I want to do when done modeling or I have to endure a painful pose and find my stamina to keep with it. I once did a pose for 6 hours a day times 15 days. that was a real challenge in self discipline to stay still for that long and try and keep projecting good energy) and sometimes I am very inspired and love posing and projecting "muse" energy for the people painting/drawing me. I use my time modeling to meditate, daydream, trance out into my creative realm. Words come into my head in a musical way and I write them down on my breaks when modeling and they become spoken word poems later that I record and add echo too. so I guess I'm also inspired by being useful to others when I model. I feel a circular flow of energy between model and artist in addition to feeling this energy flow between artist and audience when I share my own artwork.

TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, October 18, 2010

Maxims of Francois, Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Does anyone else buy books that you never get around to reading? All too often our desire exceeds our reach. So in addition to having books in every room in our house, I have some shelves with books in my garage. Last night while organizing books there to reduce some of the clutter inside I found myself instead leafing through the pages of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Nowadays, when we need a handy quote to add pith to a page of prose, we Google... and instantly find a whole host of quote sources. But in ancient times, like when I was writing in the 1980's, one had to own a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

I actually have two copies of the book, this one being the 1938 version, printed in Boston by LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY. The one that sits on my shelf here in my office is of more recent vintage, the Fifteenth ans 125th Anniversary Edition, which I probably received as a gift in 1983, and which is itself littered with bookmarks.

This older one from my garage has a Post-It note on a page of quotes and maxims by François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld.

François was a 17th century French author of maxims and memoirs. I probably marked it because I enjoy reading books of maxims, which are like little pearls of distilled observation preserved in a literary form. And yes, there is a decidedly cynical slant in his keen eye.

Here are a few selections to get you started with your week.

1. Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.

2. We all have sufficient strength to endure the misfortunes of others.

3. If we were without faults, we should not take so much pleasure in remarking them in others.

4. We are never so happy nor so unhappy as we imagine.

5. The true way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others.

6. The greatest fault of a penetrating wit is to go beyond the mark.

7. There is great ability in knowing how to conceal one’s ability.

8. We should not be upset that others hide the truth from us, when we hide it so often from ourselves.

Pour s'établir dans le monde, on fait tout ce que l'on peut pour y paraître établi.


And c'est la vie!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Mission's Pointed Question

I first learned of through a friend who claimed it as one of his favorite movies. Directed by Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Scarlet Letter), this film features a set of interesting Hollywood luminaries grappling with one of the most challenging issues faced by the church throughout its history, including our current era. The Mission does a superb job of setting up the issues.

THIS BLOG ENTRY/REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Here is a few review from imdb.com:

I found myself emotionally devastated after seeing this film the first time. The film packs a punch in its contrast between the beauty of nature and human self-sacrifice on the one hand and the depths of human self-interest and ruthlessness on the other. Its theme is as relevant today as it was in the 1600s - what are the consequences of my actions, and what price must be paid by me and by others as a result? The film depicts several characters with whose choices the viewer can identify - the missionary, the repentant killer, the papal legate - and gives no easy answers to the choices that confront them. But the fact that there are no easy answers doesn't let them off the hook. In the end, they all have to take responsibility for what they do or fail to do.

The magnificent visuals of the Iguassu Falls and the moving score by Morricone (surely his best) all contribute to an unforgettable picture.

Listening to the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Untouchables, and 500 other films and television shows) this morning is what prompted me to write about this film today. The CD begins with a song titled "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" which is heartbreaking in its beauty and a perfect setup for the story.

The time frame of the story is the 1600's, and takes place in South America during a period when the Spanish conquistadores were simultaneously engaging in slave trade and in mission work. In this film, Irons plays Father Gabriel, a Jesuit priest and founder of a mission somewhat inland, above the falls, and succeeds in sowing the seeds of the Gospel to a remote tribe whose history has included killing all outsiders.

Robert DeNiro begins the film as a slave trader, but when his life bottoms out (he is imprisoned after killing his brother) Irons befriends him and leads him to liberation after a dramatic penance. De Niro turns from his former life to become a priest and help with the mission.

Here is how another imdb reviewer viewed the film:

While at college I was given the assignment of producing a 30 minute talk on the 'Guarana Republic' which is off course the subject matter of this movie. Hailing from the Protestant part of Europe I had never even heard about this aspect of Jesuit missionary work before, but as I researched the matter I became fascinated. So when I heard that a movie had been made about this topic I went to see it as soon as possible. Knowing how the film industry tended to treat historical events I was somewhat suspicious, but I was pleasantly surprised. This movie instantly became one of my all time favourites. I think the subject matter is handled sensitively and sensibly and the cinematography is stunning. What also impressed me was the clever way in which this story, which in reality spanned several generations, was compressed into a period of about ten years without becoming unbelievable. Even in a two hour movie there is a limit on what one can touch on, but I think that a good balance between dialogue, adventure, action, and character development, was struck. Even so if the movie would have lasted another hour I would still have been happy (perhaps even happier).

The Mission raises a number of issues which have confronted the church -- including situations in which the church has behaved badly. First is the issue of slavery. DeNiro the slave trader has no qualms about going on raiding parties to take captive the primitive people living in the forests of South America. He is making a killing at the practice. It's "good business." The State has no qualms either because these are not people. They are more like animals than human.

Father Gabriel seeks to demonstrate that these are people with souls and that they have value. An emissary from the Pope is sent to make a verdict about the situation, because if these are people, then buying and selling them as slaves is unconscionable. The business interests, however, have a vested interest in keeping their businesses profitable, and it would be favorable if the Church would decide these are not people.

Sadly, despite the efforts of the Jesuits to show that these were peoples who were responding to God, who loved worship, had even changed their ways, the verdict was that enslavement could continue.

As a consequence of the decision, armies are sent upstream to take captive all the natives who have been helping build the work of the mission. How does one respond, seeing armies of men with weapons approaching? That is the predicament.

DeNiro comes from a background that understands the ways of the world. He reverts to what he was, ready to lay down his life fighting the incursion. He similarly persuades Liam Neeson, another Jesuit priest who had been loyal to Father Gabriel, but was alarmed by the prospects of seeing all their labors destroyed.

Many of the natives joined the fight while others fled. But Irons/Father Gabriel saw the futility of these choices and instead placed himself in God's care, returned to the mission and trusted in a divine intervention, or rather, a pacifist response... or rather, "Love your enemies." As it turns out, all choices are futile.

Here are some great lines from the film:

DeNiro (Rodrigo Mendoza) insists the only way to survive is to take up arms. Gabriel answers, "If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don't have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo."

In another section when the verdict has been cast, Altamirano, Gabriel's superior states, "Tell them they must leave the missions. They must submit to the will of God." Gabriel replies, "They say it was the will of God that they came out of the jungle and built the mission. They don't understand why God has changed his mind."

So the pointed question: what are our options in today's culture wars? Fight? Flight? Faith and love? Active resistance? Try to change things from the inside?

Within the context of the film, all choices proved futile. In the context of our lives, there are choices we can make... foremost being to follow our conscience. Preceding that we would be wise to learn how to dialogue with others different from ourselves and inform our hearts so that we have the appropriate humility, living "wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Both the film and the soundtrack are here recommended.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cities That Love Women

Yesterday a friend from Italy sent me an article from his country's Greenhouse Chronicle titled, Minneapolis: The City That Loves Women. The article draws inspiration from on an annual Forbes study that ranks the nation's top fifty cities as regards to how they are for working women. I made an attempt, using Yahoo's Babelfish, to translate the article in order to share it here. The translation is a distinctively difficult when you use translation software, but one can discern the gist of it.

Tasks that, if a Scandinavian decides to emigrate, a place to the caldino chooses. Swedish, Finnish and instead Norwegian, when they caught up l' America in the 1800's, rather than to place itself in Florida under the palms, followed the callback of the tundra. And they salted up here in the Great semiArctic North, because, as I say to woman the commander of the first district of police of Minneapolis, Kris Arneson “for some reason our luterani garnishments work better under zero”.

Hmmm... Luterani garnishments?

Well, I got enough of the story to realize that Minneapolis-St. Paul received the honor of being selected as the best place for women to live and work in 2010, displacing the Big Apple, NYC, which this year stands at a bewildered eighth. Twin Cities business publications were eager to make hay with this distinction. The Twin Cities Business Journal in a story titled, Forbes: Twin Cities best place for working mothers, staff write Tara Bannow reported,

In rounding up the 2010 winners, the magazine factored in the cost of living, crime rates, unemployment rates, school systems and health care, among other items.

One reason Minneapolis beat out New York, which took the number one spot last year, was the list’s new emphasis on women’s earnings.

With only 216 crimes per 100,000 residents per year, Minneapolis’s violent crime rate is lower than any other U.S. city. That means fewer murders, rapes, robberies and assaults.

At 6.4 percent, the city’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the country.


Way to go, Minnesota.

Just in case you're interested, here's how the top ten shook out:

1 Minneapolis-St. Paul
2 Washington, D.C.
3 Boston
4 Pittsburgh
5 Baltimore-Towson, Md.
6 Denver
7 Hartford
8 New York Metro
9 Seattle-Tacoma
10 Buffalo-Niagara Falls

On the other hand, what if you like getting soil beneath your fingernails and you don't care much for the big city life? For the record, there are still some decent rural areas around... I wonder if Forbes has ever done a piece on rural areas that love women? It sure is pretty out here today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bad News.... Skunked Again

I turn twelve the year our family moved to New Jersey from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. When we moved into our new home late that summer, one of the first things mom told us was what to do if we got sprayed by a skunk. Half of our 3/4 acre lot was tree, with house and yard in the front half of the property. We played incessantly in the woods behind our back yard, and if we happened to get skunked we were supposed to take our clothes off there in the woods and yell to mom from behind the bushes there. What she was really saying was, "If you get sprayed by a skunk, stay out of the house!!!!!!"

Well, I guess we got lucky. Never got sprayed all those years, though the Browns next door had once gotten a skunk trapped in their attached garage, which became a little dicey. Even that one was successfully extricated without incident.

So, when we moved to a rural property in Northern Minnesota in 1993, the lessons of my childhood were resurrected. I do not recall the time of year, but Susie and the kids had gone to Dallas to visit her sister's family. We had a dog named Lady at the time. For some reason, both dogs and people seem required to learn things the hard way. I had opened the front door to let Lady out to go pee, and she took off running, making a beeline up across the front lawn. It was dusk but I could still make out the black and white trouble she was heading for.

Even though I've since been told its a myth that tomato soup or tomato paste is what you use to clean off skunk smell, at the time that is what I thought to do. I tied Lady up and ransacked the pantry for cans of tomato related products. She hung her head as I globbed all this stuff over her and rubbed it in. After washing her off, it seemed like she didn't smell so bad.

So last night, guess what? Our dog Hobo is a rambunctious, high energy species, half blue healer or Australian cattle dog. She, too, only learns lessons the hard way. And she, too, had her first encounter with a stinky little black and white neighbor of ours who has been coming around a lot lately.

It happened fast. I opened the door to let her out for the last time of the evening. We wanted to hit the hay early because we're al a bit tired and needed a little extra rest. In the darkness I heard Hobo running fast toward the north, barking her fool head off like she often does when chasing a rabbit or sees a deer. Suddenly, no sound and I knew even before the stench came that she met a formiddable foe.

The skunk smell is quite strong when you pass their dead carcasses on the road, but that is nothing like when you have it right there in your house. Oh, yes, that is the bad part. My son came running upstairs from the basement asking what happened. The whole basement stinks. I had gone out front to confirm and Hobo was slinking back to me. Unfortunately, Micah opened the door to see what was going on and Hobo scrambled quickly into the house. She has a habit of hiding under my desk when she has been a bad dog. Note to reader: incense does not adequately cover up a skunk smell in your office.

We did get Hobo back outside as quick as possible... and Micah found the following recipe for cleaning skunk smell off your dog. It begins with the advice, "Forget tomato juice." Hmmm.

Here's another web page on dealing with skunk odors.

Here's yet another page, aptly titled "Help! My Dog's Been Skunked.".

None of the websites mentioned this, but it is most helpful if you have a willing and able son who can take charge with the cleanup. Thank you, Micah.
Note: Soup Can by Andy Warhol. Used without permission until I find replacement image.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is It Really True?

Did you know that October this year has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays, and that this happens only once every 823 years?

That was something I saw Tweeted a few minutes ago, but I really do not have any way to verify it. Seems hard to believe. What do you think?

That's the way a lot of stuff is online. You read it, and it is stated so factually that your brain just nods its assent and you absorb it into your knowledge base. But how much of that knowledge base is misinformation that you just swallowed uncritically?

Misinformation didn't just begin with the Internet though. P.T. Barnum famously quipped, "A sucker is born every minute." Even before the online age, credible sources would be getting it wrong. For example, in 1949, Popular Mechanics asserted that "computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." The wording implies a fairly large measure of doubt, but we'll go out on a limb and weigh the possibility of it, even if unlikely.

The New York Times once warned that the electric light would cause blindness. How could it not be true? It was in the New York Times! Well, journalists make mistakes just like everyone else. Unfortunately, when it's in print it remains in print a long, long time. Whereas when it's on a blog or website, hey guess what? I can delete it or fix it in a minute.

That's a scary thought, too, though. If everything is transitory, if everything can be re-arranged, what's left that's firm and solid?

Better stop my rambling and get on with the day. Y'all have a good one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Letter N

Today, it's the letter N.

New. New is one of the five "hot button" words in advertising. For some reason, our modern era has especially made us thirst for the new. Most of us like new insights, new products, new features, meeting new people, new technologies, new experiences.

There are some new things I do not like, though. Like when you're online and a new window pops up, and you have to close it to get it out of your way because you're working on something else.

Now. Now is another of the five "hot button" words in advertising. Call Now, the guy on the TV says. You don't want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity, they urge. But as experience shows, another bus will be along in fifteen minutes.

Nightmares. When I was a kid I used to be into the mag Famous Monsters of Filmland. When my brother Ron was six I read him a story about Dracula that was in one of my magazines. Needless to say, that night he woke up with nightmares. And the next night, too, for a week. Mom was more than a little perturbed with me and I had to promise I would never do that again.

Never. Never is a long, long time. Vampires and zombies are back in vogue it seems. And it seems to me it's his wife that reads those kinds of stories to him now.

Norm's. Speaking of spooky stuff, on Halloween weekend at Norm's Beer & Brats there's a big event brewing, the 2010 Halloween Spookshow Spectacular. On the lower left side of the poster you can read, Live Painting By Artist Ennyman. I'll only be there Friday night, so if you're up for a spectacle, with live music and live painting, light shows and more, well... mark your calendars.

This will be my first live performance as a painter, though based on my experience making a few YouTube vids of me painting, I know the approach is different. You might say I'm getting pretty jazzed as I prepare my materials, including implements to paint with and surfaces to paint on.

Notch. A V-shaped slit or cut in an object or surface. Gunfighters used to put a notch in their guns when they shot someone. You might say this experience (live painting at Norm's) will be something new that is comparable to a notch on the gun for me. I suppose resumes are what we use to record the notches on our careers.

Noogie. A noogie (or nugie) is an aggressive poke or rub with the knuckles on another's head as a gesture of affection or annoyance. I remember in elementary school how some of the older kids gave noogie's to their little brothers. I was even envious to be ignored in that way. Even though they hated it, they were getting attention and I was left out. Strange how that works, isn't it.

Give someone a noogie today and let them know you love them. Or is that bullying?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Have You Written a Book on Bullying?

Last year I was going to interview a fellow from New York who had written a book about bullying. Things didn't come together at the time, but here are some of the questions I prepared. If you've written a book, send me your answers and I will put a link to your site her on my blog. If you haven't written a book, and want to answer a few questions, feel free to comment below.

1. How serious is the problem of bullying in America’s schools today?

2. How did you personally become interested in this issue?

3. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to not only write a book, but to attempt to lead a movement like this. To what do you attribute this high degree of motivation?

4. This is your first book. How long did it take and was it easier or harder than you expected?

5. I read through your ten tips to overcome being a victim of bullying. It made me think of some personal experiences in this arena. Briefly, how does a kid learn to not allow his buttons to be pushed? Isn’t it easier said than done?

6. At what point should kids appeal to a higher authority (teachers, parents, etc.) for protection from bullies, in your opinion?

7. A few decades ago I read a new age book (a NY Times bestseller) stating that today’s kids are more enlightened and wonderful than in the past. You point out that we’re actually going backward when it comes to the problem of bullying. Do you have documentation? In your heart of hearts, do you think it will turn around? How and when?

8. Bullying is only one problem in our modern education system. What are some of the others you see as you work within our school systems to resolve the bullying crisis?

Bullying takes all kinds of forms. If you do not feel safe, you need to find a way out of your situation... my heart goes out to you. As Robert Burns aptly noted, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Godwin's Law

While doing a little research for yesterday's entry on bullying I reflected on the concept of flaming, which was rampant in the earlier days of the Internet. Being part of a few Usenet groups, it was inevitable that sooner or later a heated discussion would arise. If you choose to take a side, you risk being the recipient of a whole lotta hostile comments. This was flaming.

So while looking up flaming, which could be a long discussion in and of itself addressing the ease with which people can say things under anonymity that they might never say face-to-face, I stumbled upon Godwin's Law.

Here's a brief synopsis on Godwin's Law from Wikipedia:

Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which has become an Internet adage. It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."In other words, Godwin put forth the sarcastic observation that, given enough time, all discussions—regardless of topic or scope—inevitably end up being about Hitler and the Nazis.

Godwin's law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the widespread reductio ad Hitlerum form. The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that
overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. (emphasis added)

This last statement is one that I've reflected upon many times.

Trivia question: Who was the last president not to be compared to Hitler?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bullying

I returned home from a trip to Ohio yesterday and found a front page story here in the Duluth paper on the role of bullying in four suicides at a small Ohio school. Writing about the bullying issue has suddenly become all the rage this week, and it brings a number of thoughts to mind.

The first is Steven Levitt's and Stephen Dubner's chapter on the shark attacks of 2001 in their super sequel, Superfreakonomics. The authors point out that though the media wrote hundreds more shark attack stories than in the previous or following years, even dubbing 2001 "The Summer of the Shark", there were in fact the same number of shark attacks on humans as always. The media essentially terrified the public about a risk that has always existed but is minimal.

Bullying, like shark attacks, has always been with us. Is it worse now?

When my kids were in school they used to bring "the Peace Lady" into the class rooms to teach about getting along. This was elementary school, and the schools did recognize that there were problems, but the Peace Lady did not stop certain kids from picking on other kids.

Now we have people calling for the government to fix the problem with legislation. Are laws going to make bad people good?

Some idealists believed that the New Age was going to result in everyone being nice. Charles A. Reich's 1970 NYTimes bestseller The Greening of America went to great extremes announcing the coming of a new generation with a new consciousness unlike any of its progenitors. He called it Consciousness III. This new generation of enlightened youth were going to change the world through love and compassion and a new set of values in opposition to the power games that led to Viet Nam. Kids in school would all get along, and be nice. Reich has evidently drunk a little too much of Ken Kesey's kool-aid.

With all the publicity surrounding the pervasiveness of bullying, it is even becoming an election issue. Here in Minnesota this weekend the gubernatorial candidates were asked what they would do about schoolyard bullying. In typical fashion, the Democrat Mark Dayton said we'll pass laws to deal with it. The Republican candidate Tom Emmer said we have too much government and more laws aren't the solution. He said that what we need is "more understanding" which unfortunately does not sound strong enough, or a very easy target to achieve.

In fact, some bullying may be the outcome of having too many laws already. Teachers are handcuffed against taking action when it might result in a lawsuit.

Independent candidate Tom Horner sides with Mark Dayton on this one, stating that we need more laws. But what will these laws look like? Don't we already have laws against hate crimes and invasion of privacy and libel? Where do the lines get drawn, and how will they be enforced? When it boils down to "he said, she said," does a tie go to the victim?

Bullying is a terrible thing. I doubt that anyone who ever went to school could have avoided seeing some measure of it. I saw it in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Kids can be cruel and merciless, even in the "good" schools.

I once had a long discussion with a fellow who murdered someone when he was fifteen. The other kid had been picking on him and picking on him and picking on him. One day he took the kid out. Twenty-five years later he still seethes about this other kid's bullying.

For sure, children must be kept safe in our schools, since for that period of their lives they are wards of the state. Parents are required by law to entrust their children to the supervision of the schools for three-fourths of the year. Will new legislation improve the school district's ability to eliminate this problem? What will that legislation look like? And who will write it? And, like the health care bill that was passed, will our elected officials vote for it without ever reading it, hoping that it will ultimately make a difference?

I'm not very optimistic about this issue.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

More Than A Game

A couple weeks ago I picked up Brian Billick’s More Than A Game, The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. I can’t tell if the title is overplaying the contents of the book yet, but for sure if you have been a fan of NFL Football for any length of time you will undoubtedly enjoy the book for the quantity of anecdotal insights about coaches, players and teams with whom you’ve become familiar with over the years.

According to a recent Esquire poll of 20 and 50 year old men, NFL football is the most watched spectator sport for young and old alike. For this reason alone a publisher like Scribner would take a chance publishing an insider's perspective on the game, especially when co-authored by a New York Times bestselling sportswriter.

This is not my first book by or about an NFL coach. Billick took his Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl, which gives him the privilege of having his story told. Last year I read Tony Dungy’s excellent Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life, and before that The Education of a Coach, about the fabled Bill Bellichek, who turned the disorganized New England Patriots into a dynasty in the new era of free agency.

Billick’s story is his own, but not unlike Bellichek’s or Dungy’s in this sense. Dungy went to Tampa Bay to coach a team of losers and turned them into winners, but having failed to bring home a Super Bowl trophy found himself displaced. At Indianapolis he helped put it all together, and did indeed achieve remarkable things, bringing home the big prize in Super Bowl XIV. Billick, who cut his teeth under the Minnesota Vikings’ Dennis Green, took over a Baltimore Ravens team that had never had a winning season in its history. The previous year his Vikings had been 15-1, so a daunting challenge lay ahead of him. Yet Billick turned the franchise around and did what needed to be done to build a formidable team.

This book is less about that and more about the challenges facing coaches, managers and teams today, not so much through citing statistics as by stringing together anecdotes. The chapter I’d just finished on the plane from Dayton to Detroit dealt with aspects of the college football draft, with insights into the various methodologies and criteria coaches use to select new talent. Tom Landry, for example did everything by the numbers, speed, height, weight, arm strength, etc. San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh would have tapes assembled featuring every candidate’s 15 best and worst plays from the college careers. Tony Dungee also added a character criteria to his assessments. If a player had had a minor scrape with the law, a small “c” would be written on the player’s sheet. If they’d had a major issue, there would appear a large “C” on his assessment, and the Colts never hired a player with that capital C.

What is interesting are the uncertainties in so many situations and decisions. Billick underscores the difficulties of assessing future success when drafting quarterbacks. Because of salary caps, a top quarterback can become an expensive bite from the pie you have to work with. And over the past fifty years the odds of getting winner are only 50/50. No matter how stellar an athletes numbers in college, the pros are a different animal. And no one gets it right more than half the time. Billick points out, however, that there is another stat that accompanies the drafting of top dollar quarterbacks in the first rounds. 100% of the time, the coach that drafted him is gone within three years if he turns out to be a lemon.

Another variable that makes things hard to anticipate are the hidden off-field behaviors that can ultimate become a distraction, or worse. Michael Vick's dog fighting activities were not only an embarrassment to the league, but damaging to his value to sponsors who invested so much in the aura he created as a superstar. This week's headline involving Brett Favre's "inappropriate passes" can't help be a distraction for the team as they face the Jets tomorrow.

In the book, Billick shares how difficult interviews with potential draftees can be. It becomes extremely difficult to uncover and evaluate the potential problem baggage a player might be carrying because they learn rote answers to put themselves in the best light possible for consideration. The Ravens' owner Steve Biscotti had an interesting interview question that cut through the mustard in these situations. He would ask, "Okay, what's the worst thing you ever got away with?" Not, what is the worst thing on your record, but what has been going on that nobody knows about. The players get confused, because they do not know what the owner knows or doesn't know.

Billick, after looking at a player's rap sheet, once asked, "Look, you're either a thug or you're stupid. Which is it?" The player looked straight back at Billick and asked, "Are those my only two choices?" Billick writes that he knew right then the guy wasn't stupid, and it turned out he wasn't a thug either, playing nine solid years without a spot of trouble.

The book is filled with the kinds of stories only an insider can tell. If you like football, check it out. It's an insight-filled read.