Livable Community

February 4, 2009

In 1996, I returned to Indiana from Pittsburgh. 

In my time away, I witnessed Pittsburgh’s Renaissance II, a redevelopment program that arguably helped lead to Pittsburgh’s recognition as “America’s Most Livable City” by Rand-McNally in 1985.  This recognition in 1985 was revolutionary and somewhat controversial, but Pittsburgh’s strengths included a catalog of “measurements” too overwhelming to ignore.  From “its low crime and housing costs” to “its high arts, education and health care quality” a new perception of the Steel City came to fruition. 

This shift began during Pittsburgh’s first Renaissance in the 1950s with Mayor David L. Lawrence’s proclamation that “The limiting factor [in our success] must always be our willingness and our ability to pay for what we want.”

It is that idea of what determines success and failure that I wish to share with Governor Daniels as he seeks to cut Indiana Arts funding.  It would also behoove Indiana’s legislative body and city executives to pay attention as they seek to negotiate our faltering economy and how to use stimulus monies. 

Do you want a livable state, or do you wish to rank near the bottom?

Art threat

February 3, 2009

Art faces budget cuts in Indiana. The Indiana Arts Commission specifically could face a 50 percent cut, and the money that will disappear is money that is typically distributed in grants to Indiana’s counties. That means the artistic communities of a number of small towns and cities across Indiana who are dependent upon public donations and grants for their very survival and who are already hurting from dwindling donations because of a depressed economy face grave danger.

These proposed cuts from Governor Daniels’ budget come only two years after Indiana’s overall spending on the arts ranked fortieth in the United States. While poised to grow at that time to thirtieth as seen in Laura Moran’s article for ArtsEverywhere.org — see page 25 of the Spring 2007 issue — Indiana’s spending on arts remained insufficient. The success of an artistic community is dependent upon the funding it receives, and the success of a community is partially dependent upon the success of its artistic community.

Tooting my own horn

January 22, 2009

Well, so much for writing frequently.

Anyway, today’s post is an early invitation. I am slated to appear in South Bend Civic Theatre‘s production of Almost, Maine.

The casting challenges Aristotelian theory that spectacle be treated differently than art; however, knowing much of the cast and being part of the cast, it is a product I am happy to be part of. The spectacle is that many of us are couples in real life playing couples on stage, and for my wife, it is her first speaking role on stage ever. I’m anxious for her, but she’s pretty great even if I do say so myself.

I’m selfishly more anxious for myself as I’ve been away from the stage for over a year and a half, and I’m particularly anxious about our three children who will be backstage for the production.

Come out to the show, won’t you?

SOUTH BEND CIVIC THEATRE, 403 N. Main St.

With Underwriting by VILLING & Co., and SUNNY 101.5

Presents:

“ALMOST, MAINE” by John Cariani.

February 6-7-8, 11-12-13-14-15

Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays 8:00 P.M. and Sundays at 3:00 P.M.

The Warner Studio Theatre

$17 Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday, $19 Friday & Saturday.

Ticket Sales: 574-234-1112 (12-6, Mon.-Fri.) or online at http://www.sbct.org
<http://www.sbct.org/&gt;

Cold Hands, Warm Hearts…

Our first 2009 STUDIO SEASON production in SBCT’s Warner Studio Theatre is
John Cariani’s quirky, romantic comedy, Almost, Maine, where, under a big,
moonless northern sky, town residents are falling in—and out—of love. Knees
are getting bruised, hearts are getting broken; but the bruises heal and
hearts mend—almost—in this “mid-winter night’s dream.” A magical look at
relationships of the heart, this story of a town and its people will leave
you spent from laughter and thoroughly warmed from the inside out.

Leigh Taylor directs a cast made up of mostly “real-life” couples,
including: Jeff Beyer & Jenny DeDario, David & Deborah Girasek-Chudzynski,
Michael & Terri Coffee, Kyle Curtis & Tabitha Lee, Rick Ellis & Steve
Gergacz, Ted & Melissa Manier, as well as Vincent Belancio, Kathleen
Canavan-Martin, Abbey Frick, Seyhan Kilic, Phil Kwiecinski, Nicole Brinkman
Reeves, and Doug Streich.

And . . . call NOW . . . about our special VALENTINE’S DAY PACKAGE!!

On Saturday, February 14, treat you and your Valentine to a Special Pre-show
Reception just for lovers. Whet your romantic appetite with a buffet that
includes:

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts, Buffalo Chicken
Éclairs, Assorted Canapés, Borsin Stuffed Redskins with Caviar, Chicken
Satays, White and Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, and topped off with a
glass of wine to toast your sweetheart (a cash bar also available).

Cost is $78 per couple and includes the buffet, your tickets to the show,
and a rose for your honeypie.

Doors open at 6:30 for the reception.
I don’t know about you, but Buffalo Chicken Eclairs don’t sound particularly appetizing to me, but maybe I’m reading the menu with improper emphasis.

No Child Left Behind at the High School

October 29, 2008

CNN informs us that the current administration is seeking to push NCLB at the secondary level in these last few months of their time at the helm of policy

Now I don’t disagree that dropping out of high school is a tragedy, and ashamedly I admit that I witnessed more than 10 percent of my Senior English class dropped from my original, first day of school roster over the course of 36 weeks.  That means of the 3 classes of 32 each I started with, I ended the school year with more than a dozen students missing from the original roster.  Some graduated in January.  Some went on to our night school program where students are eligible to fulfill their English requirements online.  Some dropped out entirely with plans to work at the factory down the road. 

It’s wonderful to target dropouts, but I’d like to know how the federal government would like local schools to go about making students turn in work that they do not turn in.

Admittedly, we failed to educate the student wishing to drop out and work in the factory down the road because that student clearly had no idea how to read his world.  There are no job opportunities in the factory down the road.  In fact, the factory down the road produces gas guzzling dinosaurs and is laying off workers — not hiring. 

When it comes to increasing our graduation rate, I’d like to know how to encourage the upper-classman to focus on schoolwork as her family struggles to make ends meet.  Are the feds planning on interviewing these drop-outs to find out why they drop out?

Presidential Debates — Greatest hits

October 16, 2008

Q:  Do you think we’re meeting our obligations properly?

A: 

I’m not sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be. I want to empower people. I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you. We went into Russia, we said here’s some IMF money. It ended up in Chernomyrdin’s pocket. And yet we played like there was reform. The only people who are going to reform Russia are Russians. I’m not sure where the vice president’s coming from, but I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, we do it this way, so should you. I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

October 11, 2000 — Wake Forest University — George W. Bush

Let’s be Honest

October 8, 2008

From Forbes:

McCain claims:

“They’re the ones that, with the encouragement of Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back.” 
Obama claims:  “I’ve got to correct a little bit of Senator McCain’s history, not surprisingly. … In fact, Senator McCain’s campaign chairman’s firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae, not me.”
Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  If we’re being honest, it’s not the fault of anybody in Washington, it’s not the fault of anybody at the banks, it’s not the fault of the individual mortgage agent who told you your original interest rate and how much you qualified for.  It’s your fault. 
I recognize predatory lenders exist, and I’ve been seduced by easy lines of credit, but as a consumer I’m getting smarter, and I’m learning what I can and can’t afford.  When my wife and I learned we qualified for 3 times as much as our combined income for a home mortgage loan, and we learned the monthly payment on such a loan would be 3 times as much as we were paying in rent at the time, we knew — let me say that again, we KNEW — we could not afford such a loan. 
We were ignorant about a lot of things regarding our mortgage, and a lot of education needs to happen for the average American consumer of loans.  At the same time, a little common sense goes a long way. 
We need a president who can change the climate of sense in this country.  We need a president who can say things we aren’t going to like, but who we can appreciate for telling us.  We need real straight talk, not the fake talk we get from the candidate who claims to provide it straight. 
I want sense.  I don’t want gut reactions. 

What I want to hear

October 3, 2008

When asked why he or she has changed position on a matter of national importance, why don’t we ever hear:  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of LITTLE MINDS.” 

Where would our nation be had not John Kennedy reconsidered Civil Rights as a moral issue rather than just a legal one

Where might our nation be had George W. Bush reconsidered our relationship with Iran in the days immediately following September 11, 2001, when a moderate Iranian president (Khatami) may have received political collateral, enabling sweeping philosophical change, in opening dialogue with a hurting yet furious United States who looked for a fight on Iran’s eastern and western borders. 

We would bring democracy to those nations on the eastern and western borders with assistance in the east by a military dictatorship armed with nuclear weapons (a situation we claim to abhor).  All the while, a moderate, democratically elected president watched from the middle.  

The possibility for dialogue existed prior to 9/11.  The need for dialogue existed before and after.  But maybe I’m just naïve.

Just when you think it’s safe to go back to school

October 1, 2008

Boy’s week has started out rough. 

Sunday night he cried at bedtime because he’s afraid of the dark despite the landing strip night lights available throughout the room. 

Monday night he cried at bedtime because his tummy hurt and his feet hurt because he ate too much and he’s afraid of the dark.  He may have eaten too much as we’re celebrating Big Sister’s birthday and cake and ice-cream were eaten after dinner, so I assumed maybe that was the issue. 

Last night at bedtime (Tuesday, marking three nights in a row), he cried because his legs hurt and his arms hurt because he ate too much and he’s afraid of the dark.  He continued to cry when I told him to go potty one last time and nobody would turn on the light for him. 

“Come here,” I said. 

He walked over with his head down and tears running down his face (I swear if I could make myself cry as an actor like he can, I’d probably be doing some serious paid gigs). 

I reminded him he could turn the light on when he was three and now that he’s four, he ought to be able to turn the light on by himself. 

While he was in the bathroom my wife told me he’d exited the bus that afternoon crying.  Someone “grabbed and twisted” his ear.  The bus driver knew the perpetrator and responded, and an apology was given from the offender, but I’m worried about the excessive crying and its root (not that little boys shouldn’t cry, but the more a little boy cries the bigger a target he paints on himself), and I’m worried about returning to bullying in preschool.  Is the crying symptomatic of not wanting to go to bed because waking up represents going back to school where we’re not having as much fun as we thought we would? 

Is it simply symptomatic of not wanting to go to bed and a fear of missing out on all the fun mom and dad might be having without him?  

Is he just overtired as he falls asleep within seconds of opening the bedtime book?   

So I have some reading to do: 

For empathy:  “Another Preschool Bully” is an Indianapolis’ mom’s reaction and reader commentary.    And for possible exploration (I haven’t had a chance to explore the whole yet:  the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute’s website looks like it has some resources. 

Luckily, we are in a school now that is both accredited and within the public system, so the network of assistance we have available is vast as evidenced by the bus driver’s immediate handling of the situation.  I just want to find out more.

Stupid Economy

September 19, 2008

I’ve been avoiding this because from the way John McCain talks about it, I know as much about the economy as he does, and I don’t have a Military or Congressional Pension coming to me in retirement, I owe another 22 years on my home, and I’m not running for President of the United States.  Okay, okay, the quotes have been taken out of context, but Senator McCain’s financial security is clear. 

I’m worried.  I’m not in a panic, but I’m actually watching financial news with a bit more interest. 

See, I’ve been worried about my retirement since I started my job.  I’ve socked away into a 403b and a Roth IRA, and any tax refunds went to my kids’ college funds or retirement for my wife and I.  I’m not stupid.  I listened to my dad’s advice and started with my retirement during my first year teaching.  I started a college fund immediately after the birth of each of my children — all the while heeding the advice to save for your children but not at the expense of your own financial security in retirement. 

What kind of loans will they have to take out?  What will they qualify for?  What kinds of outrageous interest rates will they be faced with?

But don’t worry about your children, worry about yourself. 

Social Security is in danger.  Word from the current administration was to invest early and often.  Privatize Social Security.  Put Americans in charge of their financial futures.  I’m okay with that, but I can’t help but feel my government is out to get me. 

The IRS recently changed rules, making non-profit businesses where employees are eligible for 403b’s jump through more hoops, in some cases limiting the number of plans employees might choose from.  I recently received notice that my current 403b provider is no longer an option for me through my place of business, but I can choose between AIG and another company. 

AIG.  That’s refreshing. 

Don’t even get me started on the Republican Party as the party of smaller government.  Not in the last 8 years it isn’t.

Ragged Dick

September 18, 2008

What follows is a review I wrote last year of David Greenberg’s book Nixon’s Shadow.   As we approach the election, you might consider this look at Nixon as a way to look at any candidate. 

 

            David Greenberg takes a thorough look at the political lives and related personalities of arguably the most contemplated, analyzed and maligned American political figure in Nixon’s Shadow:  The History Of An Image.  Greenberg acknowledges and mines the extensive work already done by historians, analysts and reporters before him.  By exploring the ways we look at Richard M. Nixon, Greenberg reveals both the capricious depths of Nixon as a politician and the resultant impact of his image craft upon the American voters’ psyche. 

            In explaining why Nixon and his images polarize — from the party faithful to the list of enemies — and create fascination for even the politically dispassionate, Greenberg enlightens the cave dweller as much as he can, arguing that the shadows cast by Nixon are both real and perceived (xii).  Alluding to Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm in his introduction, Greenberg establishes that the use of a Nixon mask in an adolescent sexual rite of passage begs interpretations ranging from its symbolism for Nixon’s own “awkwardness” and “inauthenticity” to American estrangement from the political system and ourselves (xvi).  While not the first and certainly not the last politician concerned with image, Nixon represents “the primacy of images in politics” for postwar America (xxvi).  By illustrating the mutable path of Nixon from congressman to symbol, Greenberg examines how and why “individual perceptions” (xii) permeate the pictures Americans have of Nixon, for every image of Nixon stems from something real in Nixon (xxxi).  Greenberg concedes this does not mean every image is accurate, yet each image does have a valid reason for existing. 

            By exploring the arc of Nixon’s postwar career, Greenberg opens with candidate Nixon’s populist image.  Recruited by Herman Perry for the Committee of 100, Nixon represented an ideal GOP challenge to the incumbent, New Deal supporting, Democratic congressman Voorhis.  Church-going, veteran, attorney Richard Nixon would prove to have an “affinity for image craft . . . rooted in the distinct political culture of twentieth-century California, where, before the rest of the country, the cultivation of a candidate’s image was a key to electoral success” (4).  Nixon crafted of himself a candidate who would enable him to win:  “a clean-cut, upright avatar of the hopes of Americans who looked forward to a new era of opportunity and ease after the depression and the war” (4).  Nixon used the imagery of his community and upbringing to fashion a victory.  Greenberg reminds readers that the critics of this early Nixon image came on the scene later, and regardless of the criticisms, the image and its “poten[t] . . . conservative populism” won the election in 1946 (5).  To the conservative populist, government was no longer doing its job of serving the people, it was now holding him back (10).  Nixon effectively walked the balance beam of running for office.  He was who he needed to be.  Greenberg informs us that Nixon was “aware of the issues,” yet he “refrained from offering a concrete platform” (14).  Rather than saying what he would do, Nixon asked what the public wanted (15), and “(i)f his policy was anti-labor, it was not anti-laborer” (17).  From this populist conservative image, Nixon established future threads for future elections.  He spoke of “the forgotten man” in that early campaign whom Greenberg indicates evolves into the “Middle Americans” and the “Silent Majority” of his presidency (17).  To get elected, one must speak for those who cannot or do not speak for themselves.  Not much controversy here.

 

Critics only later charged Nixon with attacking Voorhis “opportunistically” (22), I wonder why that would be surprising.  What politician, wanting to win, has not been opportunistic about his opponent’s record?  Nixon’s success in 1946, may have been a result of his image, his campaign, his policies, but as Greenberg points out, “Across the country, Republicans drove out New Dealers in what the news media heralded as a changing of the guard.  The GOP captured both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928” (26-27).  With his “affinity for ordinary, middle-class families, his capacity for straightforward talk, his authenticity” (32), Nixon may very well have simply been the right guy, in the right place, at the right time, all the while capitalizing on Boorstin’s pseudo-event (xix) which Greenberg suggests throughout the book. 

            In the House and the Senate for six years, and then as vice-president for another eight, Nixon put on the mantle of anti-communist during a time of fear and uncertainty for many Americans; he could be the hero to the common man.  It was also during this time that Nixon found himself with a new image crafted by others.  His fame became national, and Nixon was not only a popular Republican speaker, but he was also a popular target of the liberal Democrat (36).  Hated not just for his politics, but also for who he was, journalists and the public now crafted an image that “was a photographic negative of the conservatives’ all-American hero” (39).  The cries of opportunism helped create the notion that Nixon was a phony, tricky, yet in attacking Nixon, not only was the Tricky Dick image created, but so too was the elitist, out of touch, liberal Democrat (40). 

In distrusting Nixon, liberals demonstrated they distrusted the American public, and the Checkers speech solidified Nixon’s position as well-loved on the right and most-hated on the left for the next eight years (and for many the rest of his life):  “The address not only crystallized the conservatives’ image of Nixon as an all-American hero but proved seminal for liberals as well . . . transform[ing] Nixon from . . . corrupt, business-friendly right-winger into a uniquely sinister operator of the machinery of modern politics” (50).  In 1956, with his role in doubt as vice-presidential candidate for another four years, “Nixon tried to remake himself as more mature and less combative – the first of what would be many ‘New’ Nixons” (63).  This remake was not so very new, however, as “Nixon – devoid of beliefs, willing to do anything to win” (64) was only acting the same way he had acted a decade earlier.  Greenberg’s argument that there is validity in images created comes through again.  For ultimately liberal attacks on Nixon’s deceptions may have been accurate, but maybe liberals had lost the pulse of the public, contributing to “the neglect of poverty, public health, and the environment” (67).  This misreading by liberals might best be seen in the presidential election of 1960. 

            Democratic candidate John Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard Nixon and the results of the election itself reveal tremendous miscalculations from both sides.  “Some charged that the two nominations represented the triumph of style over substance” (69).  The closeness of the race and the emphasis on style indicate blindness from both sides.  “Nixon,” for one, “so skilled with TV during the Fifties, ironically now fell victim to an increasingly image-conscious culture” (71).  And “liberals forgot that Nixon’s defeat was almost a triumph,” (71), so they were stunned by Nixon’s victory another eight years later, but they would drag out their image of Tricky Dick over the course of Watergate, and they would remain out of touch with the very voters Tricky Dick managed to woo (72). 

            Through his populist rhetoric, Nixon won the election in 1968, but charges of phoniness remained, and Nixon and a radical fringe of the left would butt heads with each other over the course of his presidency.  By 1968, the nation was divided.  Government suspected the left, and the left suspected the government.  Both had good reason.  “[T]he left’s conspiratorial image of Nixon seeped into the wider culture and became a powerful force in hastening the president’s resignation” (76), contributing no doubt to Nixon’s view that he was “up against an enemy, a conspiracy . . . . They’re using any means.  We are going to use any means” (78).  Each side rightly feared the other.  Nixon faced a New Left, and they “reinforced each other’s fears” (80).  The images, while not absolutely accurate, harbor a reason for existence. 

            The left created an image of Nixon as conspirator, and Nixon did them the favor of fitting the bill:  “Nixon’s program of political repression was qualitatively different from anything American protest movements had recently experienced.  The assaults were concerted, coordinated, well financed and thorough” (84).  All the same, charges of conspiracy were not heard as rational, but they certainly grabbed “the imagination” (86).  

Because of the New Left Radicals, Nixon became a symbol of government corruption and conspiracy.  While such corruption did not start with Nixon, he certainly did not behave as an innocent would.  “During the Nixon era . . . indulging paranoid fantasies made sense” (93).  Not only were charges of violent provocation from the White House uncommon, but such charges were not beyond the “realm of possibility” (96).  Meanwhile, the charges against Nixon which at one time seemed outrageous contributed to making impeachment possible, according to Greenberg (97), and Nixon’s role in Watergate both confirmed the radical left’s fears and solidified Nixon’s role as symbol of the whole corrupt governmental system (103).  As Watergate grew in the media, the New Left Radicals’ image of Nixon as conspiracist gained strength and created a paranoid view of a paranoid president.  Greenberg insists the “radicals helped create the conditions that made impeachment possible” (124), yet “[p]olitics no longer seemed a realm in which we could expect to find anything authentic at all” (125).  The disillusionment created by Watergate and impeachment created a bloc of voters who may very well never vote again.

 

            The conspirator image, the manipulator (tricky) image, and the populist image all played a part in the image we have of “Nixon as News Manager” (126).  Greenberg insists this image we have of manipulative Nixon news managing is misleading.  “For all their protests about Nixon’s manipulation of the media, their interpretations of the president ultimately proved far more influential and enduring than his own” (129).  Nixon’s earliest political press coverage had been positive (133), according to Greenberg, but Nixon had to be the one controlling the image.  Not one to glad handle the press, they had a hard time liking him.  “Few reporters felt any warmth from Nixon, and the discomfort, not any political disagreement, fostered a distrust” (134).  After the success of the Checkers speech and addressing the people directly, Nixon hoped to continue with similar successes and leaving out the media.  As Greenberg says, deciding for himself “how he appeared” (135).  Ultimately, as long as the press looked favorably on him, so his popularity was strong.  When the press discovered his duplicity, however, the press created the image of Nixon as false, duplicitous, deceitful.  Greenberg feels reporters did not realize at the time that their role in presidential image making is just as significant as the President’s.  While reporters felt duped, they also helped turn public opinion in favor of impeachment, and as a result of the impeachment and journalisms role and Nixon’s manipulation, we look at news management in a different way:  “Any act of news management could be the tip of an iceberg of concealment; any hint of deceit could justify an investigation” (176).    

            Impeachment is bound to make anyone feel victimized, and it certainly had that impact upon Nixon, but it was not the first time he felt threatened.  From 1948 coverage of his role in the Hiss case to the fund scandal in 1952 to his suspicions of Kennedy stealing the election in 1960 (188) led Nixon to “believe his actions had been justified” with Watergate (189).  By Watergate, long-time loyal supporters had witnessed the media turn against their boy, “and many Americans realized that the [Tricky Dick] image said as much about the liberals’ enmity toward Nixon as about his own wiliness” (186-187).  When the President of the United States is under fire, even previously mild supporters are often bound to become rabid protectors, and for some of those protectors, the “victim image endure[s]” (231).  The question arising from the victim mentality, according to

Greenberg, is how could Nixon view himself as a victim?  

            Greenberg outlines the rise of popular psychology in the postwar years and its impact on historical analysis and journalism and how we view Nixon.  Greenberg explains that no psychological account of Nixon is complete, but American questioning of Nixon’s psychological health is the curious image to come out of the psychoanalysis.  “Nixon later admitted . . . that a self-destructive impulse had been at work” (262), and it is after Nixon that “Americans scrutinized the emotional fitness of all their potential leaders . . . . Watergate established ‘some link between the private and public person’” (263).  Greenberg argues psychiatry cannot give us the answers we are looking for about Nixon when he cites Fawn Brodie.  Psychiatry would allow us to put a label on Nixon, and we think a nice label would give us the answers we want (265).  But ultimately,    psychiatry may very well reveal to the American public that Nixon is very much like many of us – just as he campaigned that he was (267). 

           

     Greenberg shows us that Nixon is in many ways what he claimed to be.  Nixon is also everything we make him out to be, and he is much of what he was made to appear by other image makers.  Nixon was a crook, a liar, and he was one of us.  He was every New Nixon he created and then some.  Opening Greenberg’s book, I knew the resigned Nixon.  The elder statesman Nixon.  The tanned, rested and ready Nixon.  Greenberg presented sides to Nixon I did not know.  I can understand now why my family would have voted for him the times they did vote for him.  But, Greenberg also helps me to realize that I knew him outside of his history.  “Time can bring forgetfulness as well as perspective, distortion as easily as clarification” (327).  More than anything, Greenberg reveals to me not Nixon, but every candidate I consider.